Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Psalms 23:2 - 23:3

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Psalms 23:2 - 23:3


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

Rest, Refreshment, Restoration

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul.—Psa_23:2-3.

1. We are apt to think about the Old Testament as if it were hard and rigid and rugged and severe and stern. Some people say, “I like the New Testament very much, but I do not care to read the Old Testament”; but right in the middle of the Old Testament shines the Twenty-third Psalm, as if it were put there in order that men might never dare to call that book harsh and hard and severe and stern. This Psalm is an outpouring of the soul to God, never matched in all the riches of the Christian day. It is the utterance of a soul absolutely unshaken and perfectly serene. There are times when everything in God’s dealings with us seems to be stern and hard and bitter; then, just as we are ready to cast ourselves away in despair, and feel toward God as toward a ruler whom we can simply fear but never love, there comes some manifestation of God that sets our soul to singing. The hardest and severest passages in the Old Testament find relief if we let the light shine on them from the Twenty-third Psalms 1 [Note: 1 Phillips Brooks, The Spiritual Man, 283.]

2. In the New Testament many of the expressions of deepest faith have their origin in this Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” See how one of the words which afterwards became the inheritance of the race first came to be used. Many words have passed into common use and are now used without any feeling of their sacred origin in the local circumstances out of which the Bible was first written. This is the case with the word “shepherd.” David, the shepherd boy, had been back and forth over the fields of Judæa, and, in the care of those dependent on him, had learned to feel the care of the heavenly Father. It is a beautiful thing when the soul, from its own relationship towards dependent ones, comes to recognize the care of God. Taking up the lamb in his arms, David thought: So my heavenly Father will carry me through all the days of my life. Our Saviour said, “I am the good shepherd.” He took the figure from the Old Testament, and when His disciples came to do the work He had done, the title “shepherd,” or “pastor,” became universal in Christian history. The pastors of the flock are they who try, in their weakness and inability, to do that which Christ did perfectly. David could find no word to describe more fully to his own mind the richness of the care that God had for his life, the absolute dependence of his life upon God’s love, than that taken from his own daily occupation.

I.

Rest

“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”

1. The green pastures, says Delitzsch, are pasture-grounds of fresh tender soft grass, where one lies at ease, and rest and enjoyment are combined. The word rendered “pastures” is the plural of a word which is used for a dwelling or homestead. In six of the twelve places where the word occurs, it is coupled with “wilderness”; and in three more it refers to pasturage. It evidently denotes, therefore, the richer, oasis-like spots, where a homestead would be fixed in a generally barren tract of land. We must banish from our minds the green fields of our country, enclosed with hedges or stone walls. In the East the barren uplands are all open and unfenced; and you never see a flock of sheep without the shepherd in charge of them. Everything depends upon the shepherd; he has to find out where the thin grass lurks beneath the rocks, where the precious fountain bubbles into the cistern, where shelter may be had from the scorching sun at noonday.

Some time since I was driving across the Cornish moors, when my friend who was with me pointed to a greener slope between the rocky hills. “My father owned some land here when I was a boy,” said he, “and many a time I have ridden over these moors looking for the sheep; I generally found them on that slope.” “Why there?” I asked. Then he showed me how two high hills rose up and sheltered it from the north and east, and how the slope faced the south, so that they found it warmer, and the early young green grass grew there. Some time afterwards that pleasant picture of the hills happened to come back to my mind, and I turned wondering as to where His flock finds its resting-place. Very beautiful for situation is this Twenty-third Psalm. The Psalm before it begins with that dreadful cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Here is the hill of Calvary, with its mocking crowd, “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” His sheep have come over Calvary; they have passed under the Cross. Behind them rises that hill which for ever breaks the fierce storms that beat upon us. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”: here is the calm, and overhead the blue sky where no storms gather. Then immediately after the Twenty-third Psalm comes that which tells of the hill of Zion with its splendours and shouts of triumph. “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.” So sheltered lies the flock of the Good Shepherd, betwixt Calvary and Heaven, shut in from the angrier blasts, and dwelling in a land that looks towards the sunny south.1 [Note: M. G. Pearse, in The Sunday Magazine, 1884, p. 605.]

2. Here is a promise, then, to the weary, of repose. Thank God this is not an age of idleness. Can we equally say, Thank God this is not an age of repose? It is almost the prevailing stamp which defines the character of the present day—its restlessness. Call it, if you will, impatience; call it hurry; certainly whatever is the opposite to repose.

We see all sights from pole to pole,

And glance and rush and bustle by,

And never once possess our soul

Before we die.

There is a deep craving within our spiritual nature for a true spiritual rest; not the rest of inactivity or sloth, but a calm, abiding peace, which shall be within us even in the midst of our labour. The full satisfaction of this craving is reserved for the future: “There remaineth a rest for the people of God.” But there are seasons and opportunities of repose vouchsafed to us even now. Resting-days are given us, on which we may gather in our thoughts from the excitement of the world, and receive into our hearts that “peace which passeth understanding.”

There is probably no necessity more imperatively felt by the artist, no test more unfailing of the greatness of artistical treatment, than that of the appearance of repose; yet there is no quality whose semblance in matter is more difficult to define or illustrate. As opposed to passion, change, fulness, or laborious exertion, Repose is the especial and separating characteristic of the eternal mind and power. It is the “I am” of the Creator opposed to the “I become” of all creatures; it is the sign alike of the supreme knowledge which is incapable of surprise, the supreme power which is incapable of labour, the supreme volition which is incapable of change; it is the stillness of the beams of the eternal chambers laid upon the variable waters of ministering creatures.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters (Works, iv. 113).]

I began Miss Martineau’s book (Feats on the Fiord) at sunrise, and finished it a little after breakfast-time. It gave me a healthy glow of feeling, a more cheerful view of life. I believe the writer of that book would rejoice that she had soothed and invigorated one day of a wayworn, tired being in his path to the Still Country, where the heaviest-laden lays down his burden at last, and has rest. Yes, thank God! there is rest—many an interval of saddest, sweetest rest—even here, when it seems as if evening breezes from that other land, laden with fragrance, played upon the cheeks and lulled the heart. There are times, even on the stormy sea, when a gentle whisper breathes softly as of heaven, and sends into the soul a dream of ecstasy which can never again wholly die, even amidst the jar and whirl of waking life. How such whispers make the blood stop and the very flesh creep with a sense of mysterious communion! How singularly such moments are the epochs of life—the few points that stand out prominently in the recollection after the flood of years has buried all the rest, as all the low shore disappears, leaving only a few rock-points visible at high tide!2 [Note: Life and Letters of F. W. Robertson, 204.]

The universal instinct of repose,

The longing for confirmed tranquillity,

Inward and outward; humble, yet sublime:

The life where hope and memory are as one;

Where earth is quiet and her face unchanged

Save by the simplest toil of human hands

Or season’s difference; the immortal Soul

Consistent in self-rule; and heaven revealed

To meditation in that quietness!1 [Note: Wordsworth, The Excursion.]

3. “He maketh me to lie down.” The first thing that the shepherd does with the sheep in the morning is to make them “lie down in green pastures.” How does he do it? Not by walking them and wearing them out, but by feeding them until they are satisfied. For sheep will go on walking long after they are weary, but the moment they are satisfied they will lie down. It may seem unlikely that early in the morning, as the very first thing in the day, the shepherd should be able to feed his flock so well that they will lie down satisfied. But that depends upon the pastures. If he gets them at once to green pastures, they will of their own accord—their appetites being sharpened by the morning air—eat and be satisfied, and lie down in a great content.

Now a day with the shepherd and his sheep in the uplands is; the life of the believer with God. Its first act is the satisfaction of the soul with the things which He has provided. For the believer of to-day the great provision is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And no one who has tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is will deny that the very first experience of the goodness and mercy of God is well described in the first act of the Eastern shepherd’s working-day,—“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”

Where dost Thou feed Thy favoured sheep?

O my Beloved, tell me where;

My soul within Thy pastures keep,

And guard me with Thy tender care.

Too prone, alas! to turn aside,

Too prone with alien flocks to stray;

Be Thou my shepherd, Thou my guide,

And lead me in Thy heavenly way.



If thou wouldst know, thou favoured one,

Where soul-refreshing pastures be;

Feed on My words of truth alone,

And walk with those who walk with Me.

I with the contrite spirit dwell;

The broken heart is Mine abode;

Such spikenard yields a fragrant smell,

And such are all the saints of God.1 [Note: R. T. P. Pope.]

“Lie down and look at it,” a friend once said to me when we were out together for a trip on the Grampians. The scenery around us, I need not say, was strikingly beautiful. There were mountain-tops tipped with snow, hillsides covered with purple heath, green valleys through which flowed the Earn with its tributaries, waving cornfields, and rich pasture lands on which the sheep and deer were feeding in the distance, making a picture which, when once seen, was not to be forgotten. Here and there, too, were ruins of ancient castles, dismantled and dilapidated, carrying one’s thoughts back to the realm of history, and reminding one of times when might was right and those quiet glens were the scenes of war and bloodshed.

But my companion kept on calling my attention to shades of green in the fields, shades of purple on the moors, shades of blue in the sky. He was evidently absorbed in the picturesqueness of the scenery. At last I said to him, “You have got the painter’s eye, and I have not; you can see a beauty in this landscape which altogether escapes me.” “Well, perhaps so,” he said, “but at all events I want to give you the painter’s eye; just lie down and look at it.” And never till that moment had I been conscious of the amazing difference which a slight change of attitude can effect in viewing the fields of Nature. Everything changed with the posture and the standpoint. I now understood, for the first time, the mystic charm which mountain scenery has for the poet’s and the painter’s eye; the ever-changing tints and shades of colour, in earth and sea and sky, transferred with such subtle power to the canvas, and fixed there, “a thing of beauty” and “a joy for ever.” All this I had learnt by following my comrade’s injunction—he made me to lie down in green pastures.2 [Note: R. Balgarnie.]

(1) The first essential of this rest is an assurance of safety.—The stranger startles the flock, the watch-dog frightens it, the howl of the wild beast scatters it in panting terror. The confidence of the first line is the key to all the gladness of the Psalm—“The Lord is my shepherd.” The whole song is born of assurance. Fear strikes all dumb, as when the hawk wheels overhead in the blue heavens and hushes instantly the music of the groves. Doubt spoils it all—“the little rift within the lute.” Confidence, steadfast, unwavering confidence, is the very heart of this rest. There must be a great, deep, abiding conviction wrought into me that He is mine, and I am His.

What if one who calls himself my friend should ask me to his house, and welcome me with many words, and entertain me with sumptuous show of hospitality, and give me a thousand tokens of his regard. He bids me make myself at home, and hopes I shall be comfortable; but as I am going to rest, he takes me aside. “This is a pleasant house, isn’t it?” “Very, indeed,” say I; “most pleasant. The design and arrangements are perfect, the views are charming, the gardens delightful; everything is complete.” “I am glad you like it; I hope you will rest well”; and then his voice sinks to a whisper—“but there is just one thing I ought to mention, we are not quite sure about the foundations.” “Then, sir,” I say indignantly, “you may depend upon it I am not going to stay here.” Sleep! I couldn’t. Why, the man’s welcome to the place is cruel; the entertainment is a hideous mockery; the decorations and furniture are a madman’s folly. No; give me some poor cottage with many discomforts, but where I do know that the foundations are right, and I should be much better off.1 [Note: M. G. Pearse, in The Sunday Magazine, 1884, p. 606.]

(2) The next thing is satisfaction.—God becomes the answer to all our longings, the fulfilment of all our hopes. He fathoms and fills the uttermost deeps of our being. Our souls lie back on Him and are satisfied—abundantly satisfied, finding in Him their being’s end and aim. God made the soul for Himself; He has begotten within it a thirst that all the waters of time can never quench. This thirst, rightly interpreted, is the grand distinctive mark of our high origin—the prophecy of our return to God.

The Psalm at this point reflects the comfort and peace of those happy souls who, in early life, have tasted and seen that God is good. Satisfied in the morning with His mercy, they rejoice and are glad all their days. To make an ideal beginning of our life we must go with the Good Shepherd early and spend the dewy morn with Him upon the meadows of His grace. For then the spiritual appetite is keen and the heart feeds hungrily on the fat pastures of God’s love until it is nourished into a deep content. There are no lives that dwell in such a profundity of peace or hold within them such reserve and resource of spiritual power as those who can say, “Thou hast been my God from my youth.”

In the dark hours of our life all other sounds die away, and leave silence in our souls—silence that we may hear His voice. And it is a great step forwards in the Christian life, if one learns to say, “The Lord is my portion.” Nothing teaches this as sorrow teaches. From it we learn the transitoriness of earthly things, the permanence of the eternal, the loving call of God; but also we learn the very hard lesson that God is really the only satisfaction for the soul.1 [Note: Mrs. George J. Romanes, The Hallowing of Sorrow.]

II.

Refreshment

“He leadeth me beside the still waters.”

1. G. A. Smith renders it thus: “By waters of rest He refresheth me.” This last verb, he says, is difficult to render in English; the original meaning was evidently to guide the flock to drink, from which it came to have the more general force of sustaining or nourishing.

It is the noontide hour. “Sunbeams like swords” are smiting the sheep. They pant with heat and burn with thirst. It is time for the shepherd to lead them to the drinking-place and cool them at the waters. He knows the way. All over these Judæan hills, at frequent intervals, there are deep, walled wells, whose waters never fail. A good shepherd carries in his mind a chart of every well in all his grazing area. These wells are his chief dependence. Were it not for them the country would be impossible for grazing purposes. For though there are many streams the sheep cannot safely drink from them.

At the well-mouth, with bared arms, the shepherd stands and plunges the bucket far down into the darkness, sinking it beneath the waters and shattering the stillness which till now has brooded there. He plunges and draws. Swiftly the rope coils at his feet as the laden bucket rises responsive to the rhythmic movements of his sinewy arms. Into the trough he pours the sparkling contents. Again the bucket shoots into the darkness of the well; again, and yet again, and when the trough is filled he calls the thirsty sheep to come in groups and drink. The lambs first, afterwards the older members of the flock, till all are served and satisfied.

2. God leads the sheep by the still waters, where it may drink the cool, clear draught in safety, and not be scared or confused by the roar of the cataract; the devil would lead the sheep beside the turbulent rapids, where it can scarcely drink without danger of being carried down to the cataract which bewilders with its noise and foam. Think of all the pleasure of simple, innocent recreation; think of the joy which comes to us from the wonder and beauty of Nature; remember the pleasures of music, of poetry, of art; think of the calm joys of true friendship, and the delights which cluster around the pure affections of the home. All these are the refreshment and exhilaration of the cool, still waters. But think of the exciting pleasures of the gambler; think of the muddled brain of the drunkard singing his foolish song; think of the riotous, lascivious mirth of the casino; reflect on the half-insane glee of the rake who boasts of his debauchery: here you have the intoxication of the rapids and the cataract. And let us never forget that the rapids and the cataract are sometimes only farther down in the very same stream beside the still waters of which the Lord is leading His people.

We know how often in Scripture the emblem of water, as a purifying and refreshing element, is employed to represent the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit. “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink … this spake he of the Spirit.” This is the “pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” When the Spirit receives of the things of Christ and shows them to the believer, longing to behold His power, His glory, and His beauty, or discovers to him his interest in the hopes and promises of His Word, witnessing with his spirit that he is a child of God, he is strengthened and revived as by a draught from that “well of water which springeth up unto everlasting life.” To be led “beside the still waters” is to be “walking in the comfort of the Holy Ghost,” to be enjoying holy and tranquil communion with Him, to have clear and enlarged and soul-satisfying discoveries of Christ and His work, to have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, so that even amid outward tribulation we have inward peace. It is He who opens up “the wells of salvation,” out of which the believer draws water with joy. Though often “in a dry and thirsty land where no water is,” let him follow the leadings of his Shepherd, and the promise will be fulfilled, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” This is the rest wherewith He has caused the weary to rest, and this is the refreshing which comes down on the fainting soul as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended on the mountains of Zion.

Not always, Lord, in pastures green

The sheep at noon Thou feedest,

Where in the shade they lie

Within Thy watchful eye:

Not always under skies serene

The white-fleeced flock Thou leadest.



On rugged ways, with bleeding feet,

They leave their painful traces;

Through deserts drear they go,

Where wounding briers grow,

And through dark valleys, where they meet

No quiet resting-places.



Not always by the water still,

Or lonely wells palm-hidden,

Do they find happy rest,

And, in Thy presence blest,

Delight themselves, and drink their fill

Of pleasures unforbidden.



Their track is worn on Sorrow’s shore,

Where windy storms beat ever—

Their troubled course they keep,

Where deep calls unto deep;

So going till they hear the roar

Of the dark-flowing river.



But wheresoe’er their steps may be,

So Thou their path be guiding,

O be their portion mine!

Show me the secret sign,

That I may trace their way to Thee,

In Thee find rest abiding.



Slowly they gather to the fold,

Upon Thy holy mountain,—

There, resting round Thy feet,

They dread no storm nor heat,

And slake their thirst where Thou hast rolled

The stone from Life’s full fountain.1 [Note: J. Drummond Burns.]

III.

Restoration

“He restoreth my soul.”

1. The words translated “he restoreth my soul” mean to bring the soul back again to itself, to bring the soul that has become unlike itself once more into a condition of equilibrium, and therefore to inspire with new life, to recreate. There are thus two possible interpretations.

(1) Restoration may mean bringing back that which has gone astray. We think at once of the parable of the Lost Sheep recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Yonder is a shepherd with a flock of an hundred sheep feeding around him. One of them wanders off unperceived, and is lost. Though ninety and nine remain, the good shepherd misses the lost one; he goes forth to seek it; having found it, perhaps far away in the wilderness or the mountain, and it may be near to nightfall, he brings it back with him to the rest of the flock. He does this most tenderly and lovingly. Though it has cost him toil and pain, he does not use it roughly; he does not scourge it before him, or drag it after him; he does not leave it to hireling care; he lays it on his own shoulders, rejoicing, and so brings it home.

With just such tender, compassionate loving-kindness does the Lord the Shepherd bring back the wandering soul; He bears us no grudge for the toil and pain we have cost Him, but rejoices over us; He forsakes us not, nor leaves us to our own strength, till He has carried us across the threshold of celestial bliss, and set us down among the saints in light, the home-doors folding us in.

In Deuteronomy (Psa_22:1-2) we read, “Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother. And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.” This humane and honest custom still prevails among the shepherds of Palestine. Whoever finds a sheep, goat, or any other domestic animal straying on his land, secures it and informs the neighbours and shepherds with whom he is acquainted, or whom he may meet, that he found an animal straying on his property and that any one who has lost such and can prove ownership should come and take it. If one finds an animal straying on the highway the finder will send it to the public square of the nearest village or city, where generally some one will recognize whose property it is. Everybody who hears of the find relates the fact to everybody else with whom he is acquainted, and to every shepherd he meets if the animal is a sheep or a goat. Animals that have been bought and brought to a flock where they are strangers will sometimes stray away in search of their former companions and shepherd.1 [Note: A. F. Mamreov, A Day with the Good Shepherd, 68.]

An evangelical hymn from this Psalm by Sir Henry W. Baker, the editor of “Hymns Ancient and Modern,” is among the most generally appreciated in that collection. The Rev. J. Julian (Dictionary of Hymnology, v. “Baker”) says: The last audible words which lingered on his dying lips were the third stanza of his exquisite rendering of the 23rd Psalm, “The King of Love my Shepherd is”:—

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed;

But yet in love He sought me,

And on His shoulder gently laid,

And home rejoicing brought me.2 [Note: J. Earle, The Psalter of 1539, 267.]

What a beautiful, comforting gospel that is in which the Lord Christ depicts Himself as the Good Shepherd, showing what a heart He has towards us poor sinners, and how we can do nothing towards our salvation! The sheep could not defend nor provide for itself, nor keep itself from going astray, if the shepherd did not continually guide it: and when it has gone astray and is lost, cannot find its way back again, nor come to its shepherd; but the shepherd himself must go after it and seek it until he find it; otherwise it would wander and be lost for ever. And when he has found it, he must lay it on his shoulder and carry it, lest it should again be frightened away from himself, and stray or be devoured by the wolf. So also is it with us. We could neither help nor counsel ourselves, nor come to rest and peace of conscience, nor escape the devil, death, and hell, if Christ Himself, by His Word, did not fetch us, and call us to Himself. And even when we have come to Him, and are in the faith, we cannot keep ourselves in it, except He lift and carry us by His Word and power, since the devil is everywhere, and at all times on the watch to do us harm. But Christ is a thousand times more willing and earnest to do all for His sheep than the best human shepherd.1 [Note: Martin Luther.]

(2) But it seems more in keeping with the language used to understand restoration to be revival of fainting life. It may then be regarded as an anticipation of that profound saying of Jesus concerning His sheep: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”—a life ever enlarging in strength and depth and fulness and joy. The hot sun has been beating down upon the flock, and they are sorely exhausted; their “soul” is faint and weary, and the shepherd uses suitable means to refresh and restore them; and then he leads them in the right ways, known to himself, whither he would have them go.

Christ shelters us from the heats of life in the shade of His own majestic Personality. The thought of restoration in the protecting shade of the Divine presence occurs repeatedly throughout the Scriptures. It strikes the keynote of the Ninety-first Psalm. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” It is the central idea in Psalm One Hundred and Twenty-One. “The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.” It is in view of this that the promise follows:—“The sun shall not smite thee by day.” Isaiah dwells upon the thought with evident delight. “For thou hast been a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat.” Again, with the thought of the Divine presence in his mind he sings, “And there shall be a pavilion for a shadow in the daytime from the heat.”1 [Note: J. D. Freeman, Life on the Uplands, 51.]

2. Our Psalm is deepening in spirituality and becoming more inward as it proceeds. Hitherto the shepherd-care of Jehovah has been viewed merely in its relation to bodily needs. But man is something more than a body with a set of physical desires and appetites. He is a soul. There is that within him to which the temporal and material order is not correlated. There are sides of his being that Nature cannot touch. There are mountain peaks upon which her sunlight never falls, and slopes which all her verdure cannot clothe. There are spaces that her fulness cannot fill, and depths which her deepest plummet cannot sound. The eye wearies for sights more beautiful, and the ear for harmonies more sweet, and the heart for friendships more abiding and for joys more deep and full, than those of time. Man has a set of faculties which are accommodated with a merely temporal residence in the body, in order that they may find a preparatory school for the earlier stages of their development before being launched on the timeless ranges of the life to come. No view of life can be complete which does not take this side of man into account, and no provision can be regarded as complete which does not meet its needs. Nature is too poor to meet our deepest necessities. We possess a life higher and nobler than that which can be sustained by meat and drink. We hunger for bread that Nature never breaks to us. We thirst for waters that never gush from her springs.

David had lived a full life. He had known the extremes of want and wealth. He had endured the tortures of physical hunger and thirst, and had moved amid all the splendours of an Oriental court. He had mingled freely with the affairs of State, and knew all its ambitions and temptations, its plots and counterplots. He had proved the despiritualizing effects of a voluptuous court life, and the necessity for restoration of soul; for, like the body, the soul runs down. And David had found that there was but one way of recovering spiritual tone, and that was in fulfilling personal relations with a personal God. He—Jehovah—and He alone could reinforce him on the moral side, and so brace him up that he could say “No” to the clamour of unholy desire.1 [Note: H. Howard, The Shepherd Psalms , 39.]

(1) First among the means of “restoring” is God’s Word, read, heard, meditated upon, hidden in the heart, conversed about, prayed over, loved, opened and applied by the Holy Spirit; with its revealings, instructions, records of experience, saintly examples, consolations, mighty spiritual energies, exceeding great and precious promises.

The Bible is not a book that has guided only the lives of fools and women and babes. It has moulded the lives of the noblest, and made wise men like Carlyle, Bright, Gladstone, Tennyson, Shakespeare, and Milton as vessels of power and grace. It was for many generations the chief if not the only text-book of our Scottish sires; and those whose praises are in all the churches were made brave enough to live and strong enough to die, drawing deep draughts of grace and power from the stream of Holy Scripture. In the enfolding universalness in which its unity is found; in its deep power of truth-revealing, its uplifting and guiding grace, its ocean-song of majestic phrase and captivating words, the irresistibleness of the Divine within and about it, it vindicates its claim to be Literature, and the greatest utterance of Literature in the language of men.2 [Note: L. MacLean Watt, Literature and Life, 70.]

(2) Then there is the blessed intercourse of prayer, whereby the creature-spirit comes into immediate communion and fellowship with the Infinite Spirit. There is restoring for our souls in the very contact with God, and in the answer that He sends. Let experience declare. We have gone into our closets, and bowed our knees or cast ourselves on the floor, under an overwhelming sense of feebleness and prostration, like Elijah under the juniper tree, or David when he cried out, “My soul cleaveth unto the dust”; and, through the Divine intercourse of prayer, we have come forth strong and gladdened: and, through prayer as a daily habit (growing into a necessity of our being), we have found our life deepening and expanding, and filling with joy from year to year.

Prayer is a spiritual exercise, and its results are spiritual. The men who know its fullest exercise are the men who are in a condition to talk about it. Cuique suâ arte credendum est. Says Bagehot, and with entire truth: “The criterion of true beauty is with those—they are not many—who have a sense of true beauty; the criterion of true morality is with those who have a sense of true morality; and the criterion of true religion is with those who have a sense of true religion.” It is so, emphatically, with prayer.1 [Note: J. Brierley, Life and the Ideal, 74.]

How constantly through my life have I heard testimony of the power that answers prayer. History everywhere confesses its force. The Huguenots took possession of the Carolinas in the name of God. William Penn settled Pennsylvania in the name of God. The Pilgrim Fathers settled in New England in the name of God. Preceding the first gun of Bunker Hill, at the voice of prayer, all heads uncovered. In the war of 1812 an officer came to General Andrew Jackson and said, “There is an unusual noise in the camp; it ought to be stopped.” The General asked what this noise was. He was told it was the voice of prayer. “God forbid that prayer and praise should be an unusual noise in the camp,” said General Jackson. “You had better go and join them.”2 [Note: Autobiography of Dr. Talmage, 156.]

(3) Then there is praise—the praise of the “great congregation”; the praise of the fireside, with the sweet child-voices chiming in; the praise of solitude, ringing through the wood or rising from the lonely fisherman’s boat; the unheard praise of the workshop or street, when we “carry music in our heart.” And its restoring efficacy is not less wonderful. When Israel chanted that lofty song on “the shore of deliverance,” when Paul and Silas sang aloud in the dungeon at midnight, the very singing uplifted their spirits, doubtless, into a higher region.

Song lies nearer the centre of life than we think; and the words were spoken from a true insight, “Give me the making of a nation’s songs, and I care not who makes its laws.” In the great revival of religion in New England last century, Jonathan Edwards mentions, as a sign of the Spirit’s work and an instrumentality He employed, “the great disposition to abound in the Divine exercise of singing praises, not only in appointed solemn meetings, but when Christians occasionally met together at each other’s houses.” He even gives his approval, under certain limitations, to the practice of singing psalms on the way to or from public worship, and says it “would have a great tendency to enliven, animate, and rejoice the souls of God’s saints, and greatly to propagate vital religion.” As a means of revival, the importance of praise is coming to be recognized more and more by all good men.1 [Note: J. Culross, God’s Shepherd Care, 65.]

Praise is devotion fit for mighty minds,

The diffring world’s agreeing sacrifice;

Where Heaven divided faiths united finds:

But Prayer in various discords upward flies.



For Prayer the ocean is, where diversely

Men steer their course, each to a sev’ral coast;

Where all our interests so discordant be

That half beg winds by which the rest are lost.



By Penitence when we ourselves forsake

’Tis but in wise design on piteous Heaven;

In Praise we nobly give what God may take,

And are, without a beggar’s blush, forgiven.2 [Note: Sir W. Davenant, Gondibert, Canto vi.]

(4) Then there is the communion of saints, in all its breadth, including not only our converse one with another, but our whole intercourse and fellowship in worship and service—communion marked by sympathy, love, joy, and full of spiritual impulse and strength.

“I believe in the Communion of Saints.” That cannot mean a very lukewarm interest in their welfare. If the body of Christ is one, and one of the members suffer, all suffer. Infantile and poorly educated as the Church in Uganda doubtless is, yet not a few children of God here have shown a strength of faith and resistance unto blood which their fellow-believers in Europe, to-day at least, know little or nothing of. I cannot but think that their heroism deserves the commendation of all true men of God throughout the world. It must be remembered, too, what their fellows are still suffering on account of the faith. All the evils of persecution, so vividly pictured in the end of Hebrews 11, are being bravely, yet meekly, endured to-day.3 [Note: Mackay of Uganda, 324.]

3. What are the methods which God employs in this moral restoration of our souls?

(1) He begins at the very beginning.—Deep down in the heart of every man, wearied and weakened by sin, lies the instinct that for him restoration can come only through beginning life again at the very beginning; and Christ is worshipped to-day by men as their Saviour, because He has a gospel and a power to satisfy this instinct. He said to men, come back and begin again at the beginning, and, trusting Him, they found they could. He did not do this in the merely negative way in which His Gospel has sometimes been misrepresented. He did not only say, Thy sins are forgiven thee; live out the rest of thy life, sparingly with the dregs thy prodigal past has spared thee. Nor only, Thou art free, go thy way. He did not leave men where their life had run to sand. He led them back to where life was a fountain. Sometimes He did this in the simplest way. When the woman who had sinned was left alone with Him, He did not only say, “Neither do I condemn thee,” and so get rid of her. He added, “Go and sin no more.” What an impossible order for poor mortals to receive! Yet to hear Christ say it is not only to hear the command but to feel its possibility. And why? Not because the soul is overborne by a magical influence, which works without respect to her own powers; but because Christ makes her feel that in forgiving her God infects her with His own yearning for her purity, constrains her faculties by His love, enlists her will among the highest forces of the Universe, and the purest personalities of her own kind, and above all trusts her—there is no more natural or moral power in all the Universe than that of trust—trusts her to do her best in the discipline and warfare that await her; trusts her to be loyal to Him, and trusts her capacity to overcome.

(2) He awakens in us the conscience of the infinite difference between obedience and disobedience.—If we carefully read the Gospels, we shall find that next to revealing the Father, our Lord insisted most upon the infinite difference between obedience and disobedience. On this His words are always stern and frequently awful. “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgement: but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgement.” Can we, however sleepy or dull of conscience we may be, however self-indulgent or flattered by the world—can we listen to words like these without a startling restoration of the soul? Yet it is not only the Lord’s words but Himself who restoreth our soul. How He lived, even more than what He said, is our conscience. You know the plausible habit we all slide into of giving ourselves this or that indulgence because it is within our right, or because the tempter said it was natural. Then there rises before us the figure of the Son of God tempted even thus in the wilderness. And immediately we have power to see that a thing is not right to do merely because we can do it, or because it lies along the line of our natural appetites. And our soul is restored as nothing else could have restored it.

I am to think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who speaks to me. He calleth His own sheep by name. If I will, I can hear His voice in words spoken from the pulpit, in the conversation of friends, in the reading of devout books. Sometimes He speaks in sweet thoughts which come to me, in the tender touches of the Spirit of God in the soul. If He speaks to me, I must listen. How am I to listen for the Divine voice? To listen for Him I must hold the powers of my soul in restraint. I must keep myself in calmness and peace. External things are in movement. Without, is the noise of the world. If this noise is filling my soul, I cannot hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. The danger of excessive pleasure, excessive business, excessive work, is this—the powers of the soul become dissipated. I must keep some time for retirement, for watching over myself, for listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd; then—by His Holy Spirit—He will guide me. If He find me quiet, attentive, listening, then Jesus will teach me. “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth.” I must follow His teachings, and obey His voice, if I am indeed to be “the lost sheep” found. I must be ready and generous, willing to make ventures, strong to make sacrifices. Sometimes He may call me to trial—I must endure it; to silence—I must refrain my lips; to speech—I must speak out. Dear Shepherd, whether the way Thou callest me to be smooth or rough, give me grace to follow. Alas! how often have I failed in this! How different would my spiritual state be, had I only obeyed. Obedience to the voice is better than sacrifice, but sacrifice must, indeed, often be the duty to which I am called if I practise obedience.1 [Note: Canon Knox Little, Treasury of Meditation.]

Obedience is not an easy thing to learn. We do not learn it by singing beautiful hymns about it; by repeating with devotion “Thy way, not mine, O Lord,” or “My God, my Father, while I stray”; nor by hearing exhortations about it; but by practising it. Christ learned obedience by the things that He suffered; and we can learn in no other way.1 [Note: Bishop G. H. S. Walpole, Personality and Power, 86.]

(3) He reveals self-sacrifice as the only secret of the fulness of life.—The restoration of the soul which Christ begins in us by forgiveness and the faith that we are the children of God, and which He makes so keen and quick by the example of His obedience and service—this restoration, He tells us, is perfected only through self-sacrifice. That is a discipline which has always been ready to suggest itself. Most moral systems inculcate it; and there never was a man in whose heart, however obscure or ignorant, the thought of it did not arise as a resource in danger or as compensation for sin. It has been preached by religion as penance; and many a man feeling the world to be intrinsically bad, or his own body very evil, has forsaken the one or mutilated the other. But to Jesus self-sacrifice was never a penalty or a narrower life. It was a glory and a greater life. He called men to it not of fear, nor for the purpose of appeasing the Deity, or of having their sins forgiven; but in freedom and for love’s sake. He urged it not that men might save a miserable remnant of life by resigning the rest, but that through self-denial they might enter a larger conception of life, and a deeper enjoyment of their possibilities as sons of God. “He that findeth his life shall lose it, but he that loseth his life shall find it.”

Francis of Assisi was no truer follower of Jesus Christ in poverty and simplicity of life than was David Hill. They are kindred spirits indeed in their sweetness, purity, and loving-kindness, and in different ages and in different climes they were both possessed by the same dominant idea, to follow Jesus literally, and to witness for Him to men; and in this fact is the explanation of their similarity. A self-denying life is often called an ascetic one; the two things are different, though related. Self-denial is a means to an end, asceticism is an end in itself. The monastic conception of holiness was of purity attained by rigid self-discipline, and there it stopped. The New Testament ideal of holiness is of a perfect love—a love that denies self in order to bless others. The Lord Jesus Christ left His Father’s throne, and came into this world, and lived the life of a poor working-man for our sakes, but He was no ascetic. Following Him, David Hill lived a life of poverty and self-denial, and his beautiful and holy renunciation was not practised in order to obtain saintliness for himself, but that he might win the Chinese to be saints.1 [Note: J. E. Hellier, Life of David Hill, 72.]

When, after his great breakdown in health, Bishop Lightfoot returned for too short a time to work, he made a statement on the subject, in a public speech, of almost sublime manliness. He then hoped that he had regained, or would regain, his old vigour; but he said, boldly and frankly, that if his overwork had meant a sacrifice of life, he would not have regretted it for a moment: “I should not have wished to recall the past, even if my illness had been fatal. For what, after all, is the individual life in the history of the Church? Men may come and men may go—individual lives float down like straws on the surface of the waters till they are lost in the ocean of eternity; but the broad, mighty, rolling stream of the Church itself—the cleansing, purifying, fertilizing tide of the River of God—flows on for ever and ever.” That is really the secret of happiness—to dare to subordinate life and personal happiness and individual performance to an institution or a cause, and to be able to lose sight of petty aims and selfish considerations in the joy of manly service.2 [Note: A. C. Benson, The Leaves of the Tree, 206.]

Literature

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