The Faithful Heart and the Present God.
"I Have cet the Lord always before me : because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."—Psalm xvi. 8.
HIS psalm touches the very high-water mark of the religious life in two aspects; its ardent devotion and its clear certainty of eternal blessedness beyond the grave. These two are connected, as cause and effect, since on my text follows this great "therefore "—" Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh, also, shall rest in hope, for Thou wilt not leave my soul in the grave, neither wilt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption." So this ancient singer speaks to us across the centuries, and bids us ask ourselves whether we, with all the blaze of light of a far fuller, more blessed, and heart-touching and soul-satisfying revelation of God than he had, can place ourselves b}' his side, and take for ourselves his grand declaration, "I have set the Lord always before me," and, therefore, "because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."
There are three things then here—the effort of faith; the Ally whom the effort brings; and the courageous stability which His presence ensures.
I.—The effort of faith: "I have set the Lord always before me."
The very language expresses for us the thought that it took a dead lift of conscious effort for the Psalmist to keep himself continually in touch with that unseen God. This is the very essence of true religion, for what is our religion if it is not the turning of our hearts continually, amidst, and from amidst, all the trivialities of this poor, low -planet up to Him, and the realizing—by a conscious effort of an outgoing soul towards Him which is winged by desire, and impelled by a sense of need—of the thrilling and-calming presence of Him who is invisible?
We talk about being Christians; we profess, some of us, to be religious men. Let us bring our pretensions to this simple test: Is the conscious effort of our lives directed with a frequency, which may deserve to be called habit, to the realization, amidst our daily duties, of that Divine presence?
Mark how the Psalmist came to this effort. It was because his whole soul clave to God, with the intelligent and reasonable conviction and apprehension that in God alone was all that he needed. No man will ever seek to bring himself into the presence of that Father, unless he knows that he can sun himself in the presence. If it is only a great Taskmaster's eye which we think is resting upon us, we shall crouch to hide from it rather than court it. But the Psalmist tells us how he came to make the attempt, and to carry it through all the changes of his life—" to set the Lord always before him." For what goes before is this: "I have said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord; my good is none but Thee . . . the Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and"... (therefore) "I have a goodly heritage," having Him for the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup. And because thus he felt that all his blessedness was enwrapped in that one Divine Person, and that, whatsoever might call itself and be good, in some subordinate fashion, and as meeting some lower mental or material necessities, there was only one real good for him, satisfying all the depth and circumference of his being. It was only because this was his rooted conviction that he grudged every moment in which he was not living in the light of that countenance, and feeling the worth of the treasure which he possessed in God. -But we are often actually ignorant, so to speak, of what we habitually know, and often Avithout the conscious realization of the possession (which is the only real possession) of the riches that are most truly ours. If a man does not think about his wife and his children, it is for the time being all one as if they did not exist. If he does not think about God and His love, it is all one as if he had not Him and it. If we truly are knit to Him by inward sentiments of dependence, thankfulness, love, and obedience, our hearts will not be satisfied, unless we make the effort to reach our hands through all the shadows to grasp the reality, as a man might thrust his fist through some drum, with thin paper in it, in order to clutch some treasure lying beyond.
"I have set the Lord always before me," is the voice of true love, and true love is true religion. If we can count up the number of times to-day in which we have thought about God—and I am afraid some of us could do it very easily—we have thought about Him too little. "I have set the Lord always before me," like a long band of light running through the whole life. But in the lives of far too many so-called Christians the points of light are dim and far apart, and sending little illumination into the dark intervals, as in some ill-lighted back street.
The effort of faith is the essence of religion, and we have no right to call ourselves Christians unless we can say in some real measure, " I have set the Lord" —for it took a dead lift to do it—" always before me."
II.—Notice the ally of faith.
I suppose that the second portion of my text is to be interpreted as being the consequence of the effort. . "He is at my right hand." Would He have been, David, if you had not set Him there? No! Of course, apart from effort there would have been that real sustained presence of God without which no life is possible, nor any existence. For I believe, for my part, that when we talk abou'; Omnipresence we mean that where God is not nothing can be; and that this influence, which is His real presence, "preserves the stars from wrong," and keeps in life every living thing; so as that it is the simplest and deepest truth "in Him we," and all creatures, " live and move and have our being." But that is not what the Psalmist means. He is thinking of a presence a great deal more intimate, and of the communication of blessings a great deal more select and precious than creatural life, when he speaks about the presence of God at his right hand, as the direct result of his own definite,
conscious, and habit ual effort to keep Him there. He means that by the turning of his thoughts to God, and the effort he makes—the effort of faith, imagination, love, arid desire—to bring himself as close as he can to the great heart of the Father, he realizes that presence at his side in an altogether different manner from that in which it is given to stones and rocks and birds and beasts and godless men.
That Divine presence is the source of all strength and blessedness. "At my right hand "; then I stand at His left, and if I stand at His left I stand close under the arm that carries the shield, and the shield will be cast around me, and stretched above my head to protect me. "At my right hand "; then He is not only my Ally in the fight, but He stands close by my * instrument of activity, to direct my work, so that I can
"Labour on at Thy command,
And offer all my works to Thee."
"At my right hand"; then He is my Protector, my Ally, and Director of my work, and He lays His strong, gentle hand upon my little, feeble one, and puts deftness into its fingers and power into its muscles, as the prophet did when he laid his brown, strong hand on the thin fingers of the dying king, to help him to draw his bow. So God stands at our right hand, to defend us in peril, to direct us in effort, and to impart to us power for toil and service. Thus blessed, real, communicative of all needful good, and bringing it all with Himself, through His presence realized by the effort of a loving faith, God stands at our right hand, and we are blessed and safe if He be there.
Solitude is no experience for a true, God-loving heart. We are least alone when we are most alone, for then, if we are His, we may most fully realize His presence. So if any of you are disposed sometimes to say that the road is dark and long and rough, and you have to tread it unaccompanied, "set the Lord always before" you, and, with Him at your "right hand," He and you will be—I was going to say, enough for one another, and, at any rate, will be— too many for all opposers. "I was left alone, and I saw this great vision." I was left alone, and God came to keep me company. That may be the experience of every soul.
III.—Lastly, notice the courageous stability of faith.
Because He is "at my right hand, I shall not be » moved." Well, that is true all round, in regard of all the things which may move and shake a man. If we have the felt presence of God with us, making sunshine in our lives, think how it will keep us from being unduly moved by our own emotions, fluctuations, hopes, passions. Hope and fear will equally be toned down; calmness will be given to us instead of agitations; we shall not be tossed about by every wind of desire, nor beaten about by every surge of temptation; but, anchored on Him, we may ride out the storm, and, safe behind that breakwater which keeps the force and weight of the wild ocean off us, we may feel but a modified and calm pressure from storms that otherwise would shake us from our composure. The secret of a quiet heart—which is a very different thing from a stagnant one—is to keep ever near God. Leaning upon Him, we shall not be shaken as
we otherwise would, and shall be masters of ourselves; and if we are masters of ourselves, nothing outside of us will much move us. "His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord." In everything, by prayer and thanksgiving, make God present to yourselves, and yourselves present to God, and " the peace of God, which passeth understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds."
In like manner, if we have a present God, we shall not be moved by circumstances. There will be a wholesome and wise obstinacy, like that displayed by the Apostle when he said, "Bonds and afflictions abide me, but none of these move me; neither count I my life dear to myself," in order that I may carry out to the end, whatever that end may be, the mission 0 which I have received of the Lord. And depend upon it that, if we live, taking counsel from our Father in heaven, and realizing, as we may do, His presence with us, and the continual communication, by underground channels, of His grace to us, the world, with all its changes, will not much affect us. Like those disciples of whom we read in connection with Paul's wholesome obstinacy, " when he would not be persuaded," we cease, saying "The will of the Lord be done." The world will let you alone if it finds out that it cannot shake your purpose nor induce you to swerve from the path of duty, either by flashing before you pleasures or by frowning at you with threats and sorrows.
How quietly we may live above the storms if only we live in God! Some workmen in London in the last fogs happened to be engaged in repairing the weathercock upon a tall steeple, and when they got to the top they found that they were in the sunshine, with blue sky above them, and all the noise of the city below their feet, there in the blackness. If you climb high enough, you will be far above the reach of the agitations and distractions of this life. Because "He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."
But there is a yet more wonderful and higher application of the words, which results from the closing verses of this psalm. Eor the Psalmist passes beyond this confidence that he shall not be moved amid all the changes and possibilities of earthly life, and feels certain that even the great change from life to death will not move him, in so far as his union with God is concerned. It is beautiful to see that, whether the doctrines of a future life and of a Resurrection were part of the common religious possession of his age or no, we catch in this closing strain of the psalm the religious consciousness of the singer in the very act of grasping at the truth, which, whether revealed or no to his generation, was, at all events, very imperfectly revealed. Why was he so sure that Death and Sheol—the grave and corruption—were things that he had nothing to do with? Because he felt that God was at his right hand. If you translate that into more abstract terms, it is just this —a realization of true communion and intercourse with God is the real guarantee that the man who has it shall never die, and whosoever can feel "the Lord is at my right hand," may look forward into all the darkness of death and the grave, and say: "These have nothing to do with me. They may touch the husk; they may do what they like with the outside shell and wrappage, but I shall not be moved." Even when that which people call me is laid in the grave, and sees corruption, Thou wilt show me the path of life. If here on earth we are able, by the effort of faith, to set Him at our right hand, the movement from earth to a dim beyond shall only be this, that instead of His standing at our right hands, our Ally and Director, we shall stand at His, and there find how true the Psalmist's confidence was, "At Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore."