The Faithful Heart and the Present God

"I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved."

Psalm xvi. 8.

This Psalm touches the high-water mark of the religious life, in its ardour of devotion and its certainty of future blessedness. These characteristics are cause and effect, for the ardour of devotion in the words at the head of this page is followed by a great "Therefore," in which the grave is minimised as impotent to separate the singer from God: "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 by his side, and take for ourselves his great declaration, "1 have set the Lord always before me," and, therefore, "because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved."

"I have set the Lord always before me"—the language expresses the Psalmist's vigorous and habitual effort to keep himself in touch with God. And that is the effort of every truly religious man, for what is our religion if it is not the turning of our hearts continually amidst, and from amidst, earth's trivialities to Him, by the conscious effort of a spirit winged by longing, and wafted upwards by a sense of need, and realising the thrilling and calming presence of Him who is invisible?

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. 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, 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 without the conscious realisation 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 on it, in order to clutch some treasure lying beyond.

True love speaks in this strain of the Psalmist's, and true love is true religion. If we can count the number of times in any day in which we have thought of God (and the list would be short for some of us), we have thought of Him too seldom. The singer says "always"; his consciousness of God's presence was like an unbroken light beam. Ours is too often divided up into dim and farseparated points of light, like the sparse lamps in an ill-lighted back street. The second clause of this verse is to be interpreted as being the consequence of the effort: "He is at my right hand." Apart from effort there would have been that real, sustained presence of God without which no life is possible, nor any existence. 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 habitual 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, and desire—to bring himself as close as he can to the great heart of the Father, he realises 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. If He is "at my right hand," I am at His left, and the left arm carries the shield, and it will be held over my defenceless head. My right hand is the instrument of my activity, and if God is there, He will put deftness into my fingers and power into my muscles, as when the prophet laid his brown, strong hand on the dying king's wasted fingers, and helped him to bend the bow. If He stands there, we shall never be alone. There is no solitude to him whose companion is God. One man with God beside him is always in the majority, and will be too strong for his opponents. If we have to travel along life's road, as some of us must, with " none to praise, and very few to love," or even in utter loneliness, we can always have God coming to keep us company.

The effort of faith which brings God to our sides, therefore, gives courageous stability. "Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved." If we have Him with us, we shall not be unduly moved by our own fluctuating emotions. Hope and fear will equally be toned down; we shall not be tossed about by tempests of wild longing, nor beaten on by surges of temptation; but, safe behind the breakwater, shall feel but little of the storm. The secret of a quiet heart—which is by no means equivalent to a torpid one—is to keep ever near God. Stayed on Him, we shall not be shaken, and our "hearts shall be fixed, trusting in the Lord." We get above the fogs when we soar to God, and circumstances in their wildest whirl will not suck us into the vortex, if we are holding by Him, and know that He is at our right hand.

But this Psalmist had a yet greater hope dawning on him, for he passes in the closing strains of his Psalm beyond the changes of this life, and calmly looks on to the great change from it to death, assured that not even that earthquake-shock will move him. Why was he so sure that death and corruption were insignificant and powerless to break his union with God? Just because he had felt the blessedness of communion with God, and in it discerned the guarantee that it could never cease. He who can look up to God, and feel that God is with him, has the witness in himself of immortal life. 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 the 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."