He guideth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.—Psa_23:3.
1. “He guideth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” There is an insinuating and pervasive calmness in the very words, and the leisureliness of the long vowels induces something of the serenity which breathes through the entire Psalm. We cannot read them at a gallop. The words are gracious sedatives, and minister to the fretful and irritable spirit. And therefore it is well to have such restful passages ready at hand. Some people have little medicine chests which they carry about on their journeys, and to which they can turn in moments of sudden ailment or accident. And would it not be possible for us to have an analogous ministry for the spirit?—words for times of panic, moral sedatives when we are inclined to become feverish; spiritual refreshers and restoratives? Just to repeat them to ourselves very quietly is a helpful means of grace.
And yet, although the words are very restful, this particular passage is descriptive of life which is “on the move.” We are on the open road. We are in the midst of the ministry of change. We are leaving one thing for another. The tents have been struck, and we are on the march. We must not forget what immediately precedes the words of our meditation. That is ever the difficulty of any expositor who seeks to sever a portion of this Psalm from the whole. Every part belongs to every other part. It is dependent upon every other part for its true interpretation. If we cut out a bit it will bleed. So we must take it in its vital relationships. Look back to what precedes it. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” How rich is the significance! It speaks of treasure, and leisure, and pleasure; it is a combination of sustenance and rest. It is a stretch for the weary limbs amid fat and juicy nutriment. “He leadeth me beside the still waters.” Again, how rich is the significance! We are led by the waters of stillness where there are no dangerous floods, where the cattle can stand knee-deep on the feverish day, and slake their thirst. And so this is the environment of our text, a steeping, nutritive rest. And what is the purpose of the rest? It is just that we might be prepared for a more valiant walk in the “paths of righteousness.” We have been taken to the field of rest in order that we may be equipped for the roads of activity.
Oh, splendour in the east!
Oh, glory in the west!
Who is it knows the least
Of all your joy and rest?
Oh, yellow spring-time leaves,
Oh, golden autumn corn,
Sweet glow of summer eves,
Red light of wintry morn!
Mute snow upon the lands,
Glad sunshine of the Springs—
Who is it understands
As ye do, silent things—
How good it is to do,
How sweet it is to rest?
God gave us both, who knew,
Not we, which gift was best.1 [Note: Mrs. Stanford Harris.]
2. This is, according to the Authorized Version, the second time the word “lead” occurs in this Psalm; but it is with a totally different signification. The Authorized Version gives no hint of any change of meaning, but the Revisers have substituted the word “guide “for “lead “as an indication that the distinction should be noted. The fact is that the word translated “leadeth” in the first case implies something done for the Psalmist. He is catered for, provisioned. The Septuagint says “fostered” or “nurtured,” so that the reference is primarily to the meeting of physical needs; whereas the Hebrew word which lies behind the second word “leadeth” implies something done in the Psalmist.
Wherever St. Francis and his six friends went, their sermons excited the greatest attention in peasant circles. Some would speak to them, asking what order they belonged to and whence they came. They answered that they were of no order, but were only “men from Assisi, who lived a life of penance.” But if they were penitents, they were not for that reason shamefaced—with Francis at their head, who sang in French, praised and glorified God for His untiring goodness to them. “They were able to rejoice so much,” says one of the biographers, “because they had abandoned so much.” When they wandered in the spring sunshine, free as the birds in the sky, through the green vineyards of Mark Ancona, they could only thank the Almighty who had freed them from all the snares and deceits which those who love the world are subject to and suffer from so sadly.1 [Note: J. Jörgensen, St. Francis of Assisi, 68.]
On meeting with so many obstructing influences, I again laid the whole matter (of becoming a missionary) before my dear parents, and their reply was to this effect:—“Heretofore we feared to bias you, but now we must tell you why we praise God for the decision to which you have been led. Your father’s heart was set upon being a minister, but other claims forced him to give it up. When you were given to them, your father and mother laid you upon the altar, their first-born, to be consecrated, if God saw fit, as a missionary of the Cross; and it has been their constant prayer that you might be prepared, qualified, and led to this very decision; and we pray with all our heart that the Lord may accept your offering, long spare you, and give you many souls from the heathen world for your hire.” From that moment, every doubt as to my path of duty for ever vanished. I saw the hand of God very visibly, not only preparing me for, but now leading me to, the foreign mission field.2 [Note: John G. Paton, i. 92.]
That We are Guided
“He guideth me.”
1. There are few things more largely written in Scripture, or more evidently and certainly experienced in good men’s lives, than the leading of God—leading which is partly outward and providential, partly inward and spiritual. To the man of the world, for whom nature is a veil that hides the face of God, and who walks by the sight of his eyes and the hearing of his ears, or at the best by natural reason, it is wholly unreal, visionary, impossible, Utopian—a beautiful fancy, and nothing more. To the man of faith, on the other hand, who is “as seeing him who is invisible,” there is nothing more absolutely certain and worthy of confidence. To him, life is a course in which he may enjoy the guidance of the Infinite Wisdom and the Infinite Love: to him, Jehovah is “the Shepherd of Israel,” who “leadeth Joseph like a flock”; who “bringeth the blind by a way that they know not”; in whose paths “the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err.” And so it is written, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord”: “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths”: “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass”: “I am the Lord thy God, who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.”
The fulness of meaning contained in the words, “He leadeth me,” could not be known by Old Testament saints; could not be known till the Good Shepherd came and dwelt among us. Unlike what we are accustomed to, the Eastern shepherd literally “leads” his flock; he goes before them, and calls them by name, and they follow him: and this is what the Divine Shepherd has done. He has not merely marked out the way for us in His Word; He does not merely lead us by His providence and by the inward impulse of His Spirit; but He has also gone before us,—has given us an example that we should walk in His steps: and now our part is to follow Him; to reproduce His life among men; to be in the world even as He was in the world; so that we may be able to say, by no mere figure of speech, “I live; yet not I; but Christ liveth in me.”
Is God your leader?—or does He only rein you in? Are you personally conscious of the vast difference between these two experiences? It is well to be held back from sin, no doubt, but the joy of the God-directed, sanctified man, is certainly beyond that of the horse and mule which have no understanding, and whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle.
There is no holiness of a radical sort without Divine, positive, everyday guidance. This differs not only in degree but in kind from negative restraint. The latter may be no more than the rebuke or cry of our own alarmed conscience. Laws written involuntarily upon our heart operate upon our fears. Guidance appeals to our faith.
“I will guide thee with mine eye” is a promise to God’s people which goes far ahead of conscience, and so universally is it intended to be enjoyed that it was given even long before the coming of our Lord.
But there is no guidance of this highest kind without the eager and abiding desire for it—a desire strong enough in its faith and intensity to survive during the severest trial and suffering.
Direct, Divine, personal guidance is the privilege of the sanctified. There is a poise of the spirit which God, when truly sought, produces. It is without bias from “self” or other influence, and may be as sensitive to Divine impressions as the photographer’s film is sensitive to the light. Its possession is rare, yet how to possess it is an open secret. The conditions are of the simplest order—a real preference for the will of God, and an approach to Him by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Inbred or inherited sin is no other than a born preference for our own way. Actual sin is the carrying out of this preference into practice. Holiness, on the other hand, is a “born-from-above” preference for the will of God, resulting in love and everyday good works. When the will of God is thus preferred and practised, sin has no longer a place within us!
God’s perfect guidance is perfect holiness. He cannot guide us in, or into, sin. No wonder that Paul prayed, “That ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will”; or, that, living in the centre of it, John could exclaim, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ”; and again, “Whosoever abideth in him, sinneth not.”1 [Note: F. W. Crossley, in Life by Rendel Harris, 165.]
2. The means and methods of Divine leadership are many. The Great Leader is like a wise human leader, and He adapts His ministries to the nature of the child and the character of the immediate need. Let us mention two or three of these varied methods of leadership as we find them in the Word of God.
(1) Here is the first: “And the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand.” It is the speech of a young prophet, and it describes a leading of God. Let us apprehend the figure. The counsel of the Lord has come to Isaiah like a strong hand, as something he could not escape. The intuition was laid upon him like an arrest. What was the nature of the counsel? He was called upon by the Lord to separate himself from his nation by a solemn act of detachment. He was commanded to confront his people, to oppose them, to leave the majority and stand alone. He was bidden to prophesy the unpleasant and even to predict defeat. We know how such men are regarded—they are denounced as unpatriotic, as devoid of national feeling and fraternal ambition. The young prophet shrinks from the task; he is tempted to silence and retirement; he meditates retreat; but the Word of the Lord came to him “with a strong hand.” The imperative gave him no freedom; heaven laid hold on him with holy violence; the invisible gripped his conscience as a man’s arm might be gripped, until it ached in the grasp. This was the kind of leading that came to Saul as he journeyed to Damascus. It was the kind of violent arrest that laid hold of John Bunyan as he played on Elstow green.
Of dogma Cromwell rarely speaks. Religion to him is not dogma, but communion with a Being apart from dogma. “Seek the Lord and His face continually,” he writes to Richard, his son: “let this be the business of your life and strength, and let all things be subservient and in order to this.” To Richard Mayor, the father of his son’s wife, he says: “Truly our work is neither from our own brains nor from our courage and strength; but we follow the Lord who goeth before, and gather what He scattereth, that so all may appear to be from Him.” Such is ever the refrain, incessantly repeated, to his family, to the Parliament, on the homely occasions of domestic life, in the time of public peril, in the day of battle, in the day of crowning victory; this is the spirit by which his soul is possessed. All work is done by a Divine leading. He expresses lively indignation with the Scottish ministers, because they dared to speak of the battle of Dunbar, that marvellous dispensation, that mighty and strange appearance of God’s, as a mere “event.”1 [Note: John Morley, Oliver Cromwell, 55.]
(2) Here is a second method of leading: “I will guide thee with mine eye.” How startling the change: We pass from the grip of the hand to the glance of an eye, from a grip as severe as a vice to a touch as gentle as light. We pass from a nipping frost to a soft and cheering sunbeam. We find the word in the Thirty-second Psalm, and the Psalm itself provides us with the figure of violent contrast. “Be ye not as the horse or the mule.” The mule is headlong and headstrong, and he is to be guided by the “strong hand.” But the Lord would guide us by His eye. How exceedingly delicate is the guidance of a look! What tender intercourse can pass through the eyes! There is a whole language in their silent communion. But let it be marked that this eye-guidance implies very intimate fellowship. Eye-speech is the speech of lovers. We may be guided by a “strong hand” even when we are heedless of God; we can be guided by His eye only when we are gazing on God.
“They looked unto him and were lightened.” That is guidance by a look. Whilst they worshipped they received the light. Their minds were illuminated while they gazed. “They caught the ways of God,” and they had a certain radiance of spirit which assured them that they had found the King’s will. We cannot say much about the delicate experience through the clumsy medium of words. There are some communions for which ordinary language is altogether insufficient. Who can explain the message that passes between souls in love with one another; and who can describe the gentle communion of souls in love with God? But there is another instance of this delicate guidance of the eye: “Jesus turned and looked upon Peter.” That, too, was a look from Lover to lover. I know that one of the lovers had failed, but his love was not quenched. He had failed at the test, but the love was still burning. And Jesus turned, and with a look of poignant anguish He led His disloyal disciple into tears, and penitence, and reconciliation, and humble communion, and liberty. Peter was guided by the eye of his Lord.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
What meaning, what warning, what rebuke, what counsel, what love, the eye can flash forth—so subtly, so fully, so quickly, so certainly, so powerfully! At the fireside, for example, a mother can speak to her children by glances which the stranger cannot understand, and compared with which speech is slow and uncertain. The Lord looked on Peter, and he went out and wept bitterly.2 [Note: J. Culross, God’s Shepherd Care, 77.]
The clergy of London were at first inclined to regard their new bishop (Dr. Temple) as cold and unsympathetic, not to say brusque and overbearing; but, with personal knowledge of him, the feeling quite wore away and was exchanged, all over the diocese, for a universal conviction that under the masculine exterior there beat a heart of almost womanly tenderness. The clergy of Hackney will not forget how, on one occasion, when speaking of the supreme value of home influence as a preparation for Confirmation, he completely broke down in relating an early experience of his own about a fault, then corrected by his mother, which had never been repeated. “She said nothing: she only looked at me with a look of pained surprise; and I have never forgotten that look.”1 [Note: Frederick Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, ii. 16.]
O Jesu, gone so far apart
Only my heart can follow Thee,
That look which pierced St. Peter’s heart
Turn now on me.
Thou who dost search me thro’ and thro’
And mark the crooked ways I went,
Look on me, Lord, and make me too
Thy penitent.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]
(3) There is leading by hindering. “After they were come to Mysia they assayed to go into Bithynia; but the spirit suffered them not.” And what kind of leading was this? It was leading by impediment. It was guidance by prohibition. It was the ministry of the closed door. There came to the Apostle what the Friends would describe as a “stop in the mind.” His thought was resisted and had no liberty. He felt that his purpose was secretly opposed by an invincible barrier. In certain directions he had no sense of spiritual freedom, and therefore he regarded that way as blocked. “The angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary.”3 [Note: J. H. Jowett, in The Presbyterian, Sept. 1, 1910.]
A streamlet started, singing seaward-ho!
But found across the path its fancy planned
A stone which stopped it with the stern command,
“Thus far and never farther shalt thou go.”
Then, where the tiny stream was wont to flow,
A shining lake appeared with silver strand,
Refreshing flower-strewn fields on either hand—
Reflecting starry skies and sunset glow.
So oftentimes we find our progress stayed
By stones that bar the steps we fain had trod,
Whereat we murmur with a sense of wrong;
Unmindful that by means like this is made
That sea of glass where stand the saints of God
To sing the new and never-ending Song of Solomon 1 [Note: Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler, Verses Wise and Otherwise, 192.]
3. “He guideth me.” Mark that word me. There is not only general guidance for the whole flock, but leading for each individual member of it. Will God really concern Himself about me, so insignificant, so poor and needy? The experience uttered in this verse answers, Yes. There is nothing that comes out more clearly in Scripture than the individual care granted to all who trust in God, exactly adapted to the various conditions and circumstances of each. The very hairs of the head are numbered.
That is the supreme wonder—the infinitely gracious God takes charge of thee and me! We are neither of us overlooked in the vast crowd. “I know my sheep.” “He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.” So let me step out without fear, “Whither he doth lead—to the thirsty desert or the dewy mead.”
That We Are Guided Aright
“He guideth me in the paths of righteousness.”
1. Here and there in the grazing country of Judæa the traveller will come upon narrow, well-worn paths. Generations of shepherds and myriads of flocks have trodden these old ways. They are the recognized highways, traversing the land from well to well and from fold to fold. To come upon one of these paths is to pick up a clue that leads out from the mazes of the wilderness to some familiar rendezvous. A competent shepherd has expert knowledge of all these paths. Only with this knowledge can he plan the day’s pilgrimage with accuracy and preclude the danger of being overtaken with his flock by night in wild and undefended places.
The picture which we have before us now is that of the shepherd guiding his rested and freshened flock along one of these old paths. It was a fortunate thing for the sheep that they had experienced the rest and refreshment of the well before they attempted the long strip of road that stretched before them now. Restoration there has conditioned them for sturdy climbing here. For these paths are often steep and stony, severely testing the flock’s strength. Before the day is done and the night fold reached, they must make heavy draught upon their stored-up energy.
A man in Glasgow translated the Psalms into broad Scotch, because he thought that broad Scotch had wonderful affinities in its idiom to simple, old-world Hebrew; and I think he was right. He said here, “He leadeth me in richt roddins.” There are little bits of country-road that seem to lead nowhere, but the farmer needs them all and uses them all. Tourists, if they struck them, would find that they led nowhere; but the farmer uses them, and the shepherd uses them, and the dairymaid knows all about them for her charge. So with the Lord Jesus Christ. He leads us by little bits. He does not lay out a whole champaign of country, and cast us on the great highway. No; but He leads us along this sheep-track to-day, and another sheep-track to-morrow. And these tracks never lose themselves in the moor, for He will always be with us, and it will always be found that there was a track and a path, and that it was the right path. Literally translated, it is, “He leadeth me in the straight paths.” They have an expected end and termination because He is Leader and He is Guide.1 [Note: John McNeill.]
2. The paths of righteousness—that is an admirable phrase, and yet it blurs the edge of the Psalmist’s meaning. It is an interpretation of his words—an excellent interpretation, as far as it goes—rather than a translation. The Psalmist was writing as a poet, and he expressed his thought in a metaphor; the phrase strips off the imaginative clothing of the thought; explains the metaphor instead of reproducing it; and the explanation is incomplete. What the Psalmist says is that God will guide His flocks in the right paths, the direct paths, to their water and their pasture; so that the sheep will not follow tracks which will bring them no nearer to what they want to reach; they will not lose themselves and waste their strength. Or, dismissing the metaphor, he means that God will lead us by the surest and safest ways to the blessedness and honour to which He has destined us. Of course, these paths are righteous paths, or the righteous God would not lead us in them; and only righteous paths can bring us to where God desires us to come.
Righteousness has here no theological meaning. The Psalmist, as the above exposition has stated, is thinking of such desert paths as have an end and goal, to which they faultlessly lead the traveller: and in God’s care of man their analogy is not the experience of justification and forgiveness, but the wider assurance that he who follows the will of God walks not in vain, that in the end he arrives, for all God’s paths lead onward and lead home.1 [Note: G. A. Smith, Four Psalms , 19.]
A mother, when teaching her little daughter the 23rd Psalm, was asked, “What are the paths of righteousness?” “Well, dear, you know the little tracks up and down the hills where the sheep tread?—those are called paths.” One day, when out walking with her nurse, Muriel wandered away by herself up a hill. On being asked where she was going, she replied, “I’m walking in the paths of righteousness.”2 [Note: W. Canton, Children’s Sayings, 114.]
So many, many roads lie traced
Where wanderers may stray—
Roads twining, weaving, interlaced,
Roads sorrowful and gay.
Running through countryside and town
They climb the mountain steep,
Through storied realms of far renown
Unceasingly they creep.
When silver moonlight floods the nights—
O hark! across the sea
These roads, the wanderer’s delights,
Are calling you and me.
Singing their challenge sweet and clear
For wanderers to roam;
But, all at once, I only hear
The road that leads me home.3 [Note: Alice Cary.]
3. While they are paths of righteousness they are something more. For a man may say, “I acknowledge that the great thing is to keep a good conscience, to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. But I may do that, and yet miss my way. My life may be a succession, not of sins, but of blunders. I may be misled through my own fault or the fault of other people, or through accident and misadventure. I may make nothing of my life; or, at any rate, I may make much less of it than I might have made. The great thing is to be righteous; but, without any moral blame, through defective information or defective judgment, I may make a wrong decision in one or two critical moments, and my whole life comes to be a miserable failure.” But the Psalmist means that if a man is under God’s guidance he will be protected from making a wrong decision in critical moments; he will not take the wrong track; he will be kept in the right path—the righteous path, no doubt; but also the path which will lead him to the successful achievement of the great ends of life. God’s guidance keeps a man from sin; but it also keeps him from wasting his strength and failing to make the most of all his powers and opportunities.
St. Paul in his Epistles and spirit is more than ever clear and dear to me. As soldiers cried once, “Oh, for one day of Dundee!” so do I feel disposed to cry, “Oh, for one day of Paul!” How he would puzzle and astonish and possibly pain our Churches, ay, us all, for he is far in advance of us all yet! But as Max Piceolomini, when wishing for an angel to show him the true and good, said, why should he wish this when he had his noble Thekla with him to speak what he felt; so much more surely you and I and all who seek the truth may have peace, with the loving, patient, and wise Spirit and Guide, who will search us and lead us into all truth!1 [Note: Memoir of Norman MacLeod, ii. 193.]
I suppose that in all projects for doing service to mankind, a devout man may trust God to guide him in right paths. How much time and strength and thought and money and earnestness have been spent on schemes which were well meant, and which seemed full of promise, but which have come to nothing; schemes of religious and philanthropic work; schemes of moral, social, and economical reform; schemes which had very modest though very excellent aims; schemes which it was hoped might confer enduring good on great communities! With some men nothing seems to succeed. They have a genuine desire to serve God and man; and they work hard at the methods of service which they have chosen; but somehow they always miss their way; they achieve nothing; or, if now and then they have a success, their successes are only an occasional break in a monotonous procession of failures. Other men hit on the right path and have the joy of seeing all they hoped for. The end is not yet; and it may be that the apparent failures of some men were necessary to the success of others; in any case, self-sacrificing to do good will not be forgotten in heaven. But for myself, I am less and less inclined to soothe my own disappointments by taking optimistic views of human life. I cannot resist the conviction that in the plain sense of the words a great deal of good work is wasted. It was well intended; God accepts it and thinks kindly of the man who did it; what was meant to be a “cup of cold water” given to a brother of Christ will not lose its reward, even though, through the clumsiness of the hand that offered it, the water was spilt before it reached the parched lips; but it would have been better if it had not been spilt; in the plain sense of the words, the water was wasted.1 [Note: R. W. Dale, in The Sunday Magazine, 1892, p. 38.]
4. These paths of righteousness to the righteous, led of God in them, are also in the highest sense paths of “pleasantness.” In the highest sense—for to the selfish heart they are irksome, and oftentimes intensely disagreeable. But to one who has tasted the joy of walking with God and doing His will, the paths of righteousness have a delight which cannot be expressed. It is, indeed, a common thought, and has done much mischief, that the ways of the Lord are ways of gloom. In part it is the whisper of the devil in the heart; in part it is a deduction from the lives of some good men who, instead of “rejoicing in the Lord alway,” have thought it their duty to “hang down the head like a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under them”; and in part we have mistakenly embodied it in our religious teaching.
Mr. Edmund Gosse’s poem, “To Tusitala,” addressed to Robert Louis Stevenson, reached him at Vailima three days before his death. It was the last piece of verse read by Stevenson, and it is the subject of the last letter he wrote on the last day of his life. The poem was read by Mr. Lloyd Osborne at the funeral. It is now printed in Mr. Gosse’s In Russet and Silver. It concludes as follows:—
By strange pathways God has brought you,
In strange webs of fortune sought you,
Led you by strange moods and measures
To this paradise of pleasures!
And the body-guard that sought you
To conduct you home to glory,—
Dark the oriflammes they carried,
In the mist their cohort tarried,—
They were Languor, Pain, and Sorrow,
Scarcely we endured their story
Trailing on from morn to morrow,
Such the devious roads they led you,
Such the error, such the vastness,
Such the cloud that overspread you,
Under exile bow’d and banish’d,
Lost, like Moses in the fastness,
Till we almost deem’d you vanished.
Vanish’d? Ay, that’s still the trouble,
Though your tropic isle rejoices,
’Tis to us an Isle of Voices
Hollow like the elfin double
Cry of disembodied echoes,
Or an owlet’s wicked laughter,
Or the cold and horned gecko’s
Croaking from a ruined rafter,—
Voices these of things existing,
Yet incessantly resisting
Eyes and hands that follow after;
You are circled, as by magic,
In a surf-built palmy bubble,
Fate hath chosen, but the choice is
Half delectable, half tragic.
For we hear you speak, like Moses,
And we greet you back, enchanted,
But reply’s no sooner granted,
Than the rifted cloudland closes.1 [Note: J. A. Hammerton, Stevensoniana, 92.]
My mother’s unquestioning evangelical faith in the literal truth of the Bible placed me, as soon as I could conceive or think, in the presence of an unseen world; and set my active analytic power early to work on the questions of conscience, free will, and responsibility, which are easily determined in days of innocence; but are approached too often with prejudice, and always with disadvantage, after men become stupefied by the opinions, or tainted by the sins, of the outer world: while the gloom, and even terror, with which the restrictions of the Sunday, and the doctrines of the Pilgrim’s Progress, the Holy War, and Quarles’ Emblems, oppressed the seventh part of my time, was useful to me as the only form of vexation which I was called on to endure; and redeemed by the otherwise uninterrupted cheerfulness and tranquillity of a household wherein the common ways were all of pleasantness, and its single and strait path, of perfect peace.1 [Note: Ruskin, Praeterita, i. 224.]
“For his name’s sake.”
1. The ground of the Psalmist’s confidence that God will guide him aright is expressed in the words “for his name’s sake.” That phrase is the secret of God’s kindness to us. God hath loved us with an everlasting love. Divine love springs from nothing external to God Himself. It is His very essence and being. “I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake.” And here is our hope and inspiration. The love we do not cause we cannot change or destroy. Be our state what it may, we are still the objects of the love of God. Then with all our sins, if we throw ourselves on that absolute and boundless affection, we shall be both welcomed and blessed.
Very falsely was it said, “Names do not change Things.” Names do change Things; nay, for most part they are the only substance which mankind can discern in Things.2 [Note: Carlyle, Miscellanies, iv. 116.]
2. A true name of old not only pointed out and identified, but also described. It did not merely turn our thoughts to a particular individual, but was significant—carried a meaning in it, declared something characteristic of the individual. Thus the dying Rachel called her boy Benoni, “the son of my sorrow”; and Hannah called hers Samuel, “asked of God,” saying, “Because I have asked him of the Lord.”
The name of God not only distinguishes Him from other beings, but describes Him; tells who He is, and what He is; so that if we know His name, we know Himself. The name is much more glorious for us than it was for David. Marvellous disclosures have been made since his time, both in word and act; above all, the name has been revealed in Jesus, so that “whosoever hath seen him hath seen the Father also.” I do not think that David has in view the name as given to Abraham or to Moses; but the name which he has used in the beginning of this Psalm—the shepherd-name—which tells of care, love, guidance, defence, fellowship, salvation.1 [Note: J. Culross, God’s Shepherd Care, 90.]
3. When God leads us in the paths of righteousness “for his name’s sake,” it is implied that the reason for the leading is not in us, but in Himself; He is true to His shepherd-name. It is a name that He has taken to Himself; and He will not falsify, He will not dishonour it. In all His dealings with me He will show forth that He is my Shepherd. And this is why He leads me in the paths of righteousness: it is “for his name’s sake.”
We should have expected him to say, “God is leading me in green pastures on account of the good life I have led.” On the contrary, he says, “God is leading me in green pastures to further the good of other people—to minister to those who have not led a good life.” And I think the experience of the Psalmist will be found true to all experience. I do not believe that any man is led into prosperity or into adversity for the sake of that prosperity or adversity; it is always for the sake of God’s name or holiness. You pray for worldly wealth and it comes to you. Has God led you into that wealth? Yes, but not to reward your prayer. Rather would I say that the prayer and the riches are both parts of His guidance into a path of humanitarian righteousness where you can minister to the sorrows of man. Why was Abraham promised the land of Canaan? As a reward for leaving Ur of the Chaldees? No, but with the view of making blessed all the families of the earth. God did not give him the new country as a recompense for leaving the old; He inspired him to leave the old because He meant to give him the new.2 [Note: George Matheson, Thoughts for Life’s Journey, 21.]
There is a valley paved with tears,
Whose gates my soul must pass,
And to dim sight it yet appears
Darkly as through a glass.
But in its gloom faith sees a light
More glorious than the day;
And all its tears are rainbow bright
When Calvary crowns the way.
Jesus, my Lord, within that veil
Thy footsteps still abide;
And can my heart grow faint or fail
When I have these to guide?
Thy track is left upon the sand
To point my way to Thee;
Thine echoes wake the silent land
To strains of melody.
What though the path be all unknown?
What though the way be drear?
Its shades I traverse not alone
When steps of Thine are near.
Thy presence, ere it passed above,
Suffused its desert air;
Thy hand has lit the torch of love,
And left it burning there.1 [Note: George Matheson, Sacred Songs, 86.]
Brooks (P.), The Spiritual Man, 281.
Burns (J. D.), Memoir and Remains, 293.
Clarke (G.), From the Cross to the Crown, 16.
Cooke (G. A.), The Progress of Revelation, 105.
Culross (J.), God’s Shepherd Care, 74.
Duff (R. S.), The Song of the Shepherd, 81.
Finlayson (T. C), The Divine Gentleness, 223.
Freeman (J. D.), Life on the Uplands, 63.
Gray (W. H.), Our Divine Shepherd, 1.
Griffin (E. D.), Plain Practical Sermons, ii. 230.
Howard (H.), The Shepherd Psalms , 46, 55.
Hunt (A. N.), Sermons for the Christian Year, i. 199.
Jerdan (C), Pastures of Tender Grass, 37.
Jowett (J. H.), in The Presbyterian (Canada), Sept. 1, 1910.
Knight (W. A.), The Song of Our Syrian Guest, 1.
McFadyen (J. E.), The City with Foundations, 201.
McFadyen (J. E.), Ten Studies in the Psalms , 23.
McNeill (J.), Regent Square Pulpit, i. 241.
Mamreov (A. F.), A Day with the Good Shepherd, 44.
Matheson (G.), Thoughts for Life’s Journey, 21.
Newbolt (W. C. E.), Penitence and Peace, 77.
Parker (J.), City Temple Pulpit, vii. 270.
Smith (G. A.), Four Psalms , 1.
Stalker (J.), The Psalm of Psalms , 57.
British Congregationalist, Feb. 27, 1908 (Jowett).
Christian World Pulpit, xii. 5 (Bainton); xxi. 387 (Haines); lxv. 232 (Parker).