The Heavenly Dwelling-Place and the Earthly Pilgrimage.

Psalm 84.

[04 1863 330] In this Psalm we have two different states — the enjoyed and, for us, heavenly privileges of a saint, and the experience of mercies by the way, and thus the lessons of God's faithfulness in them. These may be united, but very often are found separated. For a soul may know the experiences, without deep rest and the consciousness of heavenly joy — the heart's peace in the presence of God and in God Himself. It is evident that this is what our souls would desire, above all things, if we are now practically with God; that is, to be with Him according to the height of His own thoughts and goodness, and the display He has given, not only of His grace, but also of the place in which He has put us apart from all circumstances and experiences, that we may be able to enjoy Him to the uttermost. Now I am persuaded that this kind of enjoyment of God is comparatively rare, even among the beloved ones of His family; and that the continual tendency of our hearts is to be content with just that measure of knowledge of God which hinders our souls from getting into trouble, anxiety, questions of one kind and another. And this comes of the wretched selfishness of our hearts, and the disposition there is in us to enjoy present things, so far at least as our consciences can in any wise permit without damaging our confidence in God. Need I say that a soul born of God resents such a principle as this, and that no soul that is entangled by it thoroughly weighs and judges it — understands it in its real import? For there are many specious pretexts which the enemy uses to hinder souls and keep them back. He does not, of course, permit, as far as he can, that one should understand what he is seeking; but his object with the saint is, that in one way and measure or another he may hinder the triumph of our souls and the present glory of God in association with His people.

Let us, then, just look briefly at the twofold picture herein afforded. In an Israelite, the two things could not be together; but the Christian's peculiarity is, what was necessarily separated in others, we are entitled to enjoy — knowing what they had to learn in detail here and there. There are two blessings, or two classes of men said to be blest here. The first are those that abide in Jehovah's house: "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house." Then the effect is immediate and inseparable, and most glorifying to God: "They will be still praising thee." It is the spirit of worship. You have hearts near enough to God to be above the depression or the elation created by present changes. Around that house there might be bitterness, sorrow, deep dishonour; for the struggle of the enemy is always most keen in the neighbourhood of God's glory. But they are in His presence: and what matters it then if Satan rage, and rage ever so near them? They know that they are near Him to whom Satan, and all that Satan can do, is but a little thing that they are in the presence of Him who loves them, and controls all things. True moral elevation is theirs and spiritual power; for God is their measure of judgment and their rest; and this is only the more appreciated because of the boisterous waves and tempests that Satan may be permitted to excite. And they have the consciousness of this, those that are thus near to Him. They are those dwelling in His house, and they are still praising Him. It could not be otherwise. If I am so near to God that His glory fills my eye and my heart, I may know all other things outside, but this is the object that attracts my soul and keeps me in peace and gives me power to praise. "They will be still praising thee." "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts." It is no question now of Israel and of their tabernacles. The soul that has entered into the presence of God regards it less as the tabernacles of the people than of God, even Jehovah Himself. "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord." But the courts are not enough, though they might be near, for he adds, "My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." He wanted more than His courts — "the living God, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God." So far from being content with the outer circle, when once the desire to be near God is in the soul, the desire rises to "the living God." How near can I get to Him? Thine altars — taking in both golden and brazen altars — intercession and acceptance. My heart, he says, is longing to be there, "even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God." In the parenthetical word, which comes in so beautifully, the thought is this. The sparrow may be despised. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?" But let them be ever so common and contemned of man, yet are they cared for by our heavenly Father. Yes, the sparrow has found an house; and the swallow, restlessly as she may be upon the wing, yet the restless bird has found a nest where she may lay her young. And where is our house and our nest? O how blessed is the answer! In nearness to Himself, where His glory dwells — "Thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God." This is true of every saint of God. It is their full, eternal portion before Him. But I am not speaking of it now in the point of view of a fact that grace has given to every Christian, but in a practical way. What I aim at is that our souls enter into it and responding to such grace, and find our deep joy in the place which God has given us, in His beloved Son, near to Himself. There are, however, practical trials for each; and hence we find the second part of this Psalm, where the way is looked at rather than rest and enjoyment in God's presence. People often make their deepest blessings the resource of their souls in sorrow, rather than their present home. Is it not so with many of us? Do we not put aside the thoughts of being so near to God? Do we not wait for it as that which we trust will be our place by and by in heaven? But how is it now? Is it our present pavilion? Is it that to which we turn as the needle to the pole habitually'? It may be quivering under the pressure of outward circumstances, but there it surely turns. And is it to Christ Jesus that our souls turn habitually? Is it in the consciousness that we are brought into God's presence and seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, put there as our present home, that we walk through this world? Is this the experience of our hearts? But few of God's children could answer with simplicity and assurance of heart, that it is so with them. That there their souls habitually dwell. They may be able to say, It is my desire; but what is the actual state of the heart? Though there may be at times some bright gleams, yet is not praise rather the exception than the habit? It may be that we only know what praise is when we meet together on the Lord's day, or when we manifestly bow in worship. But is the tone of thanksgiving, the spirit of adoration, that which characterizes our souls throughout each day? or is not the power of praise, alas! the rare thing, and the trial of circumstances upon us, and the consciousness of failure, that which prevails? We have, as it were, to put on the garment of praise, instead of standing ever clothed with it. I do desire this for myself as for all the children of God, knowing how blessed it is, though how little entered into. Assuredly it is the sweetest place and the secret of real power. I do not allude now to the power which manifested itself in testifying to others (this is, no doubt, important in its place), but there is no power so blessed as the happy, peaceful, calm enjoyment of the presence of God. There is nothing that so wears through all the storms and difficulties and trials of persons and things here. The Lord grant that we may know it well. For if we are happy in our own souls, we make happy — we excite a spirit of praise in others. If our hearts, on the contrary, are always dull, and we are occupied with enemies and evils, disappointment, then thence follows a querulous weakness in ourselves, and we become rather the means of enfeebling souls, and filling Christ's members with that which is the reflection of our own weakness instead of evidencing the strength which is in Christ, The later verses, then, give us the Israelite on his way — he cannot be parted from the land. There are all sorts of difficulties in the way; but if God has called a soul to go there, He does not fail. There is the rain, too, that fills the pools — refreshment ever anon which God graciously vouchsafes. Therefore "they go from strength to strength," God mercifully sustaining and guiding. "Every one of them in Zion appeareth before God." But the characteristic feature that appears now is prayer, not praise. It is blessed really to pray. It is a true sign of new life, as we see in the case of Saul of Tarsus, "Behold he prayeth." The renewed soul cannot but bring its weakness and difficulties before God. But though we must not pray less, we should praise more. Not that we should not feel our weakness and the valley of Baca; but we are called to far, far more, every one of us; and it would be a poor thing to have a title to some blessing if it were not an enjoyed and appropriated title; if it was like a mere parchment deed, shut up in a strong box, instead of a flowing and tasted spring of delights. And how deep is then the joy? What we find in the early verses is rather the result of this. It is not the conflict, but the soul's rest in the presence of God, which we must not defer till we get to heaven. May our hearts turn there to the enjoyment of God Himself, even while we are here in this world. We shall feel the difficulties, but it will be as those that are above them. It will not be an easy path to the flesh. But felt as all may be, there is something better than being occupied with the sorrows and hindrances of the way, and this is joying in God Himself. Hence, while the trials are experienced, yet we may and should have such repose in God about them all, that while we feel everything, we should seem as if we felt nothing. That is what was realized by the Apostle Paul — "many tears," yet "none of these things move me." Did he know the truth of Rom. 5:3 experimentally as an apostle? Nay, but as a spiritual man. Other apostles may not have known it as he did. The triumph of faith is not connected with any particular place or office, but flows from the soul's appreciation of God's own grace in Christ Jesus. We know that even an apostle will be in hell; and to many who have wrought miracles and cast out devils in His name the Lord will say "I never knew you." Let us not suppose that the practical power which can give us to know our place with God depends on any state of the Church, or any special circumstances or position. These things have nothing to do with it, belonging, as it does, to the power of the Holy Ghost, who gives us to enjoy Christ. The soul that enjoys Him thoroughly will be most in God's presence, and most praising Him; and there, too, I am persuaded, will be most power of practical holiness. God makes us happy in Christ: what is the effect? Holiness. The soul is attracted to walk with God above the world; and without this there is no enjoyment, no praising Him. All is vexation of spirit — all is dark, weak, and wretched.

These two things, then, should coalesce in the Christian. We are wrong if we take the passage through the valley of Baca now to be so exclusively our place, as to exclude the rest and joy in God which are ours in His own presence. Blessed surely is the man that trusts God in both these conditions. But where the confidence now is simple, intelligent, and full, it will not be merely touching the circumstances of trial, but the heart near God, dwelling in God, and God in us, and still praising Him.

The Lord grant that if we know the one, we may enter into the still greater blessing of the other, more fully than ever, through Christ Jesus!