THE KING OUR HOST.
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.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou
anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life ; and I
will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.—Psalm Xx111.
Another scene now presents itself. Or rather only another aspect of the same case, for still is our want the same, and our supply is in Christ. No longer merely weariness and faintness, but danger in its extreme form is to be met and removed. The figure of the shepherd resolves itself into the reality of constant, all-sufficient, and all-efficient supply. Not only in good and tranquil, but in evil times, when the green pastures are exchanged for the dark valley, He proves His care for us. There is just enough of the pastoral left to tell us that He is the same, and that what helped us in days of peace will prove equally sufficient in seasons of adversity. Thus are we still His sheep. The pastoral'rod' of Jesus is still there, and it becomes to us the 'staff' on which we lean. 'Thy rod and Thy staff'—Thy guidance and Thy support, Thyself our guide and our support, and now more than ever in close fellowship with Thee—' comfort' us. Even here we have more than deliverance; we have peace and joy in believing. O enemy, thou hast done thine utmost, but thou canst not desolate us so long as Christ is with us. O darkness, however dense, cold, and dreary; O death, however bitter; O world, and its powers, however strong —behold your conqueror, the risen Saviour!
The holy confidence which the believer expresses, under a sense of Christ's sufficiency, is not trust in his own feelings. The experience, ' Yea, though I walk through the valley, the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,' is immediately followed by this explanation: 'for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.' Thus it is not a boast in our own but in His constancy; a fearlessness in view of the most dreaded evils, because of His presence and support. It is the praise of Jesus, not of faith, which is sung. Such boasting not man nor devil shall take from us—' that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.' On this point we must indeed be very watchful. For it is quite possible to commit the folly of trusting, if not in our unrenewed, in our renewed heart. Faith itself is ever an empty casket, valuable only in so far as it holds Christ. And our experience, even though triumphant, is but present experience, and as such extends not into the future, so that the 'I will not fear' is the expression of holy resolution, in view of Christ's sufficiency. This conviction is cherished, notwithstanding circumstances which, to the outward eye, might seem to betoken desertion on the part of God. 'Yea, though' we walk through the dark valley—and it is very dark,—we fear ' no evil,' neither moral evil nor outward destruction (the word in its etymology designating the latter). Those only who are not His sheep need fear in the hour of bitter trial. The reason alike of our safety and comfort is His presence, concerning which Luther aptly remarks, that ' it is not to be comprehended by our five senses, but faith perceives it, and holds it certain and sure that the Lord is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.' And as to our conduct under such circumstances, 'David here prescribes to all Christians a common rule, that there is no other means nor advice upon earth, to get rid of all manner of temptation, than that a man cast his burden upon the Lord, take hold of Him by the word of His grace, keep firmly to it, and allow it not to be taken from him in any way. He that does so may be content, whether it fare well or ill with him, whether he live or die, and will at last be able to stand, and must succeed as against all devils, world, and evil.'
Such trials will certainly overtake us. Dangers, anguish, and death are the common lot of humanity. Nor does our relationship to Christ set us free from them. It upholds and gives us joyous victory in them. And that is sufficient. Even God's people are prone to burden themselves by looking into the future. Some, if they have not fear of anything else, are almost 'all their lifetime subject to bondage,' 'through fear of death.' One has aptly said that Christians may fear dying, but they cannot fear death. There is physical weakness here, and spiritual weakness. The one the Lord wonderfully supports, from the other He graciously delivers. We may hold this as settled in reference to His people, that the Lord gives dying grace on the dying day -—then, but not before. In some instances, the sun may have gone down, as it seemed to onlookers, amidst clouds. Yet may there have been at last, and behind these clouds, all the greater brightness. These two practical advices we should gather: Dismiss all thoughts of the future, or at least do not dissociate them from Christ. Again, cultivate simplicity of faith. Such comfort springs not from within, from your faith, but from without—from Christ. Measure not your hopes by your feelings, but by His merits and by His grace. And if you cannot speak in the order in which David here sets it forth, try to reverse it. Say first, 'Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me,' and then you will be better able to add, ' I will not fear evil.' Yet remember that we must have present comfort in His rod and staff, if we are to fear no evil for the future.
But the benefits which believers receive from Christ are not merely of a negative character. Great as the relief is, implied in rest to the weary, quickening to the faint, and support in all danger, God has provided even ' better things for us.' Accordingly, the figure is now changed, and He who was our Shepherd is presented as our Host. In the feast which He spreads before us (ver. 5) nothing is wanting. Himself prepares the 'table' and the meat (the expression here .used denoting a board on which food is served). And it is 'food convenient' for us, exactly suited to our case and our wants. The cup which He filleth with the new wine of the kingdom is full to overflowing. God 'giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not' Not the world's meat and drink, but Christ's. 'My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.' And that nothing may be wanting to the picture, He anoints His guests with 'the oil of gladness.' All strength, refreshment, and joy does He provide. Such is the supply which sovereign grace has made, such is the welcome which greets poor, guilty, needy sinners. Well may we be lost in wonder at such a reception. How differently did we deserve, and perhaps how differently did we expect I Each vessel shall be filled according to its capacity, but each vessel shall be filled. And thus does He daily renew the miracle of Cana in Galilee, by changing the water into wine. For these blessings are not reserved till we reach the heavenly city, though there they are perfectly and unbrokenly enjoyed. Even here and ' in the presence of mine enemies' are they granted. These cannot interrupt our fellowship with God, nor our enjoyment in Him and from Him. Our feast is provided, altogether independently of anything outward. Nay, these enemies must look on; they are restrained and constrained. And all the more glorious appears the grace of God which triumphs over all such hindrances. Thus our quiet restingplaces are made the scenes of spiritual feasting and gladness. How often have God's people been made to experience this, and especially in face of their enemies. While they threatened and raged, the soul had not only much calm in God, but much communion with Him and great delight. 'With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the King's palace.'
Such being the believing anticipations, and such the experiences of the soul, the Psalm returns at its close (ver. 6) to the keynote struck in ver. 1. What at the outset was subject of conviction, a believing prospect, is now, on a review of the whole, a record of confirmatory experience, or a believing retrospect. Nor does he merely refer to the past. He looks forward, and this time his horizon is unbounded. He enters not into particulars. Sufficient, that He shall 'dwell in the house of Jehovah for ever.' 'Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions ; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.' The expressions in which he describes his review of God's dealings are very peculiar, indeed unique: 'Only good and mercy' (or grace) 'shall persecute me all the days of my life.' In contrast to the evil to be feared in 'the valley of the shadow of death,' he meets ' only good! And this 'good' is ministered and accompanied by 'grace! In opposition to the persecution of his enemies, he finds that in reality all the time 'only good and grace' have persecuted him in the guise and often by the instrumentality of enemies. Thus 'all things work together for good.' All persecutions are at last found to be really those of ' only good and grace.' This is the true commentary upon and interpretation of God's dealings and of our lives. Whenever we suffer or fear let us remember this verse, and by seeking grace seek to share in its consolations. For so shall we be lifted far above all our enemies. 'And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round
about me: therefore will I offer in His tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto Jehovah.' And this is but the beginning. Beyond this fleeting day, an everlasting day; beyond this tabernacle, a house; beyond this faith, sight; beyond this prayer, praise!
1. Once more, O my soul, consider what the Lord has done for thee. This wondrous provision is only equalled by the manner in which it was procured. It is ever the mystery of mysteries, how He who was 'in the form of God,' and 'thought it not robbery to be equal with God,' 'made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant.' Other and better will I not seek than to have Him for my Shepherd. But let me be all the more earnestly concerned to know Him whom to know is life eternal.
'I shall not want;' and if so, I need not be careful, and I may not be fearful. Nor let me narrow His promise in any way. It is as comprehensive as the assurance: 'Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it.' And this is repeated in the same form at least four times in the Gospels. Let me strongly believe this, put my finger upon it in seasons of doubt and darkness, and plead His own word. Nor is such a result, great as it is, at all incommensurate with its procuring cause. For, consider on the one hand what the blood of Jesus Christ speaketh; and think also of the depth of love which the sacrifice of Christ implies. Thus, to Thee would I commit my spirit, O Lord God, who hast redeemed it.
2. I know not which is more marvellous, the fulness or the unexpectedness of the provision which grace has made. All our wants are fully met, and nothing is left uncared for. But there is this peculiarity about it, that though we know it we ever seem to come unexpectedly upon it. While passing through some dark valley we scarcely realize that, when issuing from its gloom, we shall find a table spread for us, in face of our enemies. It seems so difficult to see a way out of all our troubles, that we are glad to be driven to what after all is the right state of mind, to give up thinking and caring, and to resign ourselves implicitly to Him. And yet it is so easy for Him to open up ways, that when He has done so we stand in grateful astonishment. Let me look upon my own brief and chequered history. Has it not been so even in my experience, and would it not be the height of folly and ingratitude to doubt for the future? And here I learn this lesson: to be mainly concerned for one thing, that I have part and lot in spiritual blessings, all that is needful being assured to me in Christ. Yet let me not pursue the odious policy of trying to make the best of both worlds. It needs both hands to grasp the cross. Here is true wisdom: 'one thing have I desired of Jehovah ; that will I seek after.' A child of God may have the Martha-spirit; but that spirit is ever rebuked. And so let me go on my way, rejoicing in the Lord, this day, and evermore.
3. In view of death and eternity, let me not cherish an unbelieving spirit. Many of God's dear children dread the entrance into that dark valley. Why think of it; or, if we think of it, why not straightway associate it with the comfort of His rod and staff ?' Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of His saints.' He will assuredly provide here also. 'He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.' Can you not believe, and so dismiss this anxious care? If you have trusted Him with the salvation of your soul, can you not leave in His hands the time and manner in which He shall call you unto Himself? To every anxious care reply: 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want;' and far more than you expect will He give who saith of each of His people: 'He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.'
G1ve me my scallop-shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of ioye (immortal diet!)
My bottle of saluation,
My gown of glory, hope's true gage;
And thus I take my pilgrimage.
Blood must be my body's balmer,
While my soul, like peaceful palmer,
Travelleth towards the land of heauen;
Other balm will not be giuen
Over the silver mountanis,
Where spring the nectar-fountains,
There will I kiss
The bowl of bliss.
And drink mine everlasting fill
Upon euery milken hill;
My soul will be adry before,
But after that will thirst no more.
S1r Walter Rale1gh.