THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear
no evil: For thou art with me ; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Th1s sweet Psalm of rest appropriately follows upon the previous description of the terrible contest, and the glorious victory achieved. The feast upon the sacrifice has been prepared, and here is the experience of those who have been bidden to share in it. Gethsemane and Calvary are past, and the morning of the resurrection has dawned. And now the soul need not cherish any further anxious care. Whether, as some suppose, this Psalm was written in a season of spiritual peace and refreshing, when nothing disturbed the enjoyment of His grace—as Calvin has it, His benefits forming the steps of the ladder by which he ascended ever nearer to God; or whether, as seems more likely, it expresses calm and settled confidence in the Lord at all times, even in view of the sharpest of pangs, those of death—the truths which it conveys are alike comforting. In the first verse the keynote is struck. Jehovah-Jesus is the Shepherd; He has become our Shepherd; and He provideth all. He is rest to the weary (ver. 2); quickening to the needy (ver. 3); safety and comfort in all danger (ver. 4); food and drink, and beauty to the hardly bestead (ver. 5); and that not only for time, but much more for eternity, so that, on a review of all His leadings, the experience of ver. 1 enlarges into the confident declaration of ver. 6. Thus have we 'quietness and assurance,' 'peace and joy' in believing.
It is indeed most difficult to enter fully into the experience of this Psalm. There is so much in it of what Christ is and of what Christ does, that after we have fed on these pastures and drunk of these waters, each according to his own wants, we feel that there is yet richest provision and most precious grace, all unnoticed by us, left for weary pilgrims. From first to last it is a song of praise to Him who is alike our Shepherd and our Host; who as our Shepherd is our Host, dispensing covenant provision in covenant mercy. For this expression, 'Jehovah is our Shepherd,' implies, indeed, everything needful for body and for soul, for time and for eternity. It indicates His constant faithfulness, care, provision, and defence. And it does so on the ground of His covenant relationship to us. 'We are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.' A sweeter or more precious designation of Christ than that of'Shepherd' Scripture itself does not afford. It expresses His work for us by which He purchased us to be His flock, and His work in us
s and with us, by which He taketh us in charge and careth for us. Accordingly, the one aspect of this truth is embodied in such prophecies as Zech. xi., and especially xiii. 7: 'Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow.' The other bearing of it had ever formed the hope of the Church, as in Isa. xl. 11: 'He shall feed his flock like a Shepherd, He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.' (See also Ezek. xxxiv. 13-20; Micah vii. 14, 15.) And these promises have been amply fulfilled in Him who is 'the good Shepherd' (John x.), 'that great Shepherd of the Sheep' (Heb. xiii. 20), and to whom by grace we 'are now returned' as 'unto the Shepherd and bishop of our souls' (1 Pet. ii. 25).
Thus by faith do we apprehend Jesus as our Shepherd, and resign ourselves to His guidance. He hath all things, and therefore we cannot want anything. What we have, we have from Him and in Him, and other we desire not. Luther very sweetly remarks: 'All the other designations of God sound so glorious and majestic, that they invariably carry with them awe and fear, when we hear them pronounced. Thus, when Scripture calls God our Lord, King, Creator, etc. But the word "Shepherd" is not of this kind, but sounds so friendly, and conveys to God's people, whenever they read or hear it, immediately a sense of confidence, comfort, and security, like the word "Father"' If anything were required to increase our appreciation of this truth, it would be that the corresponding idea of sheep, as applying to His people, implies our weakness and helplessness. Thus in our low and lost estate has He condescended to us, and meeteth all our wants in and by Himself. And here it is of the deepest importance to remember that this promise, or rather spiritual fact (' I shall not want'), holds good notwithstanding our feelings and apprehensions of desertion, sorrow, wrath, and fear. 'For straightway he turneth from his own feelings and lays hold upon God by His promise, and thinks, Let it be with me as it may, yet this is the comfort of my heart that I have a gracious, merciful Lord, who is my Shepherd, whose words and assurance strengthen and comfort me: therefore I shall not want. This alone is the golden art: to cling to His word and assurance, and to judge in accordance therewith, and not with the feelings of our hearts; then help and comfort will certainly follow, and nothing be wanting.' What an unlimited prospect is here opened to us; and how certainly may we, who have committed the keeping of our souls unto Him, dismiss all cares and anxieties! Yet is it only in measure as we realize the covenant-character of Christ, and our relationship to Him, that we can enjoy these promises.
The first benefit of which Christ's sheep are conscious, their first felt want supplied, is that of rest. This is frequently extolled in Scripture (Ps. cxvi. 7, and wherever the promise of peace is conveyed). And, indeed, our most urgent need is that of rest, in reference to the past, the present, and the future; in relation to God, to our own souls, and to our enemies. This is offered to us in Christ. He giveth it. Ours it is to seek Christ, His to give peace. No man ever found peace by seeking it primarily; every man may find it by seeking Christ. And this rest and our mode of enjoying it are equally peculiar. 'He maketh me to lie down' (the term being pastoral, employed for rest, especially in the heat of the day, as in Song i. 7) 'in pastures of fresh, soft, tender grass'—the term 'pasture' being derived from a word which originally denotes a place of rest, or an oasis,— 'He leadeth me beside the waters of quietness.' In the heat and weariness of the day He selecteth for us such quiet resting-places in tender soft grass, and by the sweet murmuring of cool waters. And this in 'a weary land :' what when the promise shall be fulfilled,—' The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters ; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes?' Nor is it only once and again, but by 'waters' There are many such rivers; many promises, many manifestations, many providences, many coincidences, many and divers comforts which serve as resting-places—not to speak of His own precious ordinances, and of His still more precious presence. And though these resting-places have been provided, yet, as being foolish, weak, and helpless sheep, He leadeth us to them, and causeth us lie down in them. For, were it not for the guidance of the good Shepherd, sometimes for very tears we would not see, or for very weariness not find them ; or, like Hagar, seem ready to die in despair, almost within sound of the rippling fountain. How well knows He our case, how tenderly cares He for it! 'And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, s/iall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.'
Such sweet rest do we enjoy in Jesus. All our sins are forgiven; we are under His guidance, and gently, well, safely, and comfortably He leadeth us. The second benefit resulting from our covenant-relationship to Him is quickening. Rest without holiness were not Christ's rest, nor the Christian's peace. But here 'the good Shepherd' confers twofold favour upon us. He has given His life for the sheep, and He giveth His life unto the sheep. The Christian life is the life of Christ applied unto us. He is made of God unto us 'wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.' At first 'He restoreth my soul,' bringeth it back, and causeth it to return, so that we are literally reminded of the description in 1 Pet. ii. 23. How far had we strayed from Him when He sought us, and with what infinite love and patience has He brought us back to Himself! Equally marked is the power of His grace, and the graciousness of His power. And still frequently have we to sing of such restorations, some so great as to seem almost new conversions. Most truly is the feeling of the soul, when brought from its darkness into the sunlight of His countenance, described as a restoring. For then we feel that formerly we had no life at all, and wonder at what through grace we now see, and hear, and feel. And what God has begun, He continueth and perfecteth. 'He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.' The form of the verb here employed gives the idea of assiduous, careful, and special leading, as in the parallel passage, Ps. cxliii. 10. This is the faithfulness of the good Shepherd. 'Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.' 'My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.' 'He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.' Much careful, assiduous, and special leading is required to make us walk 'in the paths of righteousness.' And if we believe this, why should we murmur, doubt, or repine as to the manner in which the good Shepherd leadeth us? The object which He has in view, and the end of our journey He hath clearly revealed, and all the dispensations of His providence and of His grace are only the 'how,' the manner in which He leadeth us. 0 weak and foolish heart, that knowest not what thou askest, nor what thou refusest, what thou hopest, nor what thou dreadest; that hast all too little faith in Him, and all too much trust in thyself; that art bold where thou shouldest tremble, and tremblest when thou shouldest be of good courage! Were it not for the good Shepherd, what would become of the sheep? Wayward themselves, how soon would they fall a prey to ravening wolves! Daily, hourly, and momentarily do we owe again to Jesus the life which He at first restored to us. Yet guided by Him—often unwittingly, oftener unwillingly, but always graciously—are we kept from falling, and led onward 'from strength to strength,' ' from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord,' till 'every one in Zion appeareth before God.'
All this is granted unto us, not for the sake of our own righteousness, but in free grace 'for His name's sake.' Not my prayers, nor my vows, nor my endeavours, but His covenant faithfulness is the ground of my preservation. In times past He has so revealed Himself, and He is 'the same yesterday and to-day and for ever.' What He is, is surety to me for good. What He has done is pledge of what He will do. He cannot lie. He will not change. And what evidence have we of this, who have not only all the records of His dealings with the Old but with the New Testament Church before us, and who have ourselves experienced His goodness and truth. And what plea is this to urge with our God in prayer, 'that our God would count' us ' worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power; that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified' in us, and we 'in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ'
1. What a precious and comprehensive title is that of Shepherd as given to Christ! In that name we read alike His love and our safety. And this conveys to us the provision of all we needed. Poor, weak, and straying, He gives us all, He supports us in all, and He guides us to all good. Verily we shall not want, we do not want, and we can never want any good thing while He is our Shepherd. Look upwards: we cannot want righteousness when He shed His precious blood for us. Look outwards: we cannot want provision when He gives Himself to us. Look forwards : we cannot want help when He is by our side. Look inwards: we cannot want comfort when He leaves His peace with us. But am I one of His sheep? Do I commit myself wholly to His guidance? Alas, how often do I wander from Him, and with how many sorrows do I pierce myself! Let me seek grace to covet this above all, to be entirely His. Not to seek mine own but His, to be prepared to follow Him; neither lagging behind, nor hastening before; and to depend for all upon Him alone, are the characteristics of those who know Him and hear His voice. Yet, Lord, when I do not know or recognise Thee, know Thou me, bring me to Thyself, and ever keep me there.
2. I must first seek Jesus, and mainly seek Jesus, so shall I find peace—both rest and quickening. To seek first peace, and then Christ, is to miss the way. Yet, when we look for some qualification or preparation before going to Christ, are we not guilty of this error? The cross is our qualification, and Himself our quickening. Other qualifications we neither have nor can obtain. If this day I feel burdened under a sense of sin, or faint under a sense of weakness, let me humble but not distress myself, and go anew to Him. 'He giveth more grace.'
3. And all this provision, now and hereafter, 'for His Name's sake!' Free grace dispenses to us the riches of Christ. Most kindly does He provide for us, taking notice of our weariness and faintness. What will it be hereafter, when ' eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him?' Truly, may the bride say, in grateful love: 'This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem!'
My God's my Shepherd! I'll not care
For any breath of moved air;
The winds may blow, the storm may roar,—
Jehovah will preserve His store.