Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
1. We all love to look at pictures of happiness and content. We linger over the pages which describe the peaceful Garden of Eden. We love to read about the courtship of Isaac and Jacob. We take up the Book of Ruth with the same emotion. We gaze with pleasure upon the picture of little Samuel, waking up and answering the call of God. We underscore such verses in the Bible as “Ho! every one that thirsteth” and “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden.” We print the Beatitudes in large type. With much reading we soil those pages where words of comfort lie. The sacred page opens of itself at the fourteenth chapter of John, where these words meet us, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Often do we turn to the joy-producing miracles. Well acquainted are we with the road to Bethany, with the resurrection morning, and with the picture painted in the 23rd Psalm.
Those poems in which the cup runs over are read the most and will live the longest. “The Deserted Village” cannot die, nor the “Cottar’s Saturday Night,” nor the “Village Blacksmith.” The bright lines of happiness in the Greek and Latin poets draw us back to them again and again. We listen to men who lift us up with hopeful words. When a David sings “My cup runneth over,” travellers stop to listen. The song of happiness will make some chord tremble in every human breast.
2. This Psalm seems to belong to the later years of David’s life. There is a ripeness and maturity of experience in it, also a fulness in its tone of trust, and thankfulness, and hope. Youth could hardly write in so rich and full and immortal a strain of the goodness and all-encompassing care of God. This sweet, serene, poetic strain of the man who had been taken from the sheepfolds, from following the ewes great with young, to be king over Israel, seems to have been sung when the sun in his life’s day was beginning to descend, and the shadows were beginning to lengthen. There are some things which youth has that age has not. Youth has its energy, its buoyancy of spirit, its fervid impulses, its hopeful outlook, arising partly from inexperience of life, its fresh susceptibility to impressions from the scenes of nature and events of human life. It has these things which age has not, or has only in a feeble degree. But, on the other hand, age has something which youth has not. Where the life has been devout, thoughtful, righteous, godly, there is with the passing years growth of the soul in moral qualities and in the knowledge of the unfailing care and providence of God. A man then has a wider outlook upon the events and experiences of human life, and a richer store of inward peace and faith and hopeful assurance, and can sing a sweeter, loftier song of loyal, filial praise. As we pass from youth to old age, we lose something out of our life, but with the loss there may also be gain in those things which make life real and blessed. It was so with the shepherd king of Israel, when he sang of the Lord as his Shepherd and Helper.
3. It would seem at first sight as though this Psalm had been sung amid happy surroundings, so peaceful and calm and even joyous is its strain; but it is probable that it belongs to a dark and troublous period in his life—the period, indeed, when Absalom was in revolt. We are to picture the king as an exile, having fled from Jerusalem for refuge. Absalom, in his unfilial ambition, has won the hearts of the people, and now seeks to overthrow his father, and to ascend the throne and place the crown on his own brow. It is a shameful revolt. Upon the son who now plots against him the king has lavished all the affection of his noble and intense heart. The weight of this new trouble lies heavy upon him. The pain that is smiting his heart is sharp and cruel. His life is suddenly darkened, and black tempests—charged clouds of sorrow—fill his sky. And yet, while so much trouble was in his life, he could still calmly see and realize God and the goodness of God. You do not find any weak repining, fretful crying out against God, morbid dwelling upon the gloomy events that darken his life. Anything but that. His trouble did not blind him to the Almighty guidance and love around him. His hands could still sweep the strings of his harp and draw forth tones of gratitude and hope. Faith, trust, and love, with their beautiful offspring, peace, joy, and serenity, were still strong in his soul. He could look out over the whole range of his life—back upon the past, around him upon the present, onward into the future—and behold, throughout it all, the hand of one who was as a shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”
David was far more a victor than when he had slain Goliath and received the triumphant shouts of a rejoicing people. It is in times of trouble that a man is tested. That we see the goodness of God when there is no trouble to darken our way is very well, but the difficult thing is to see God in His fatherly love when sorrow, like a mountain mist, envelops us and intercepts our view. How many fail in this! They cannot recall how they have been led in green pastures and beside still streams. They cannot feel that they are guarded as sheep by a tender Shepherd. They cannot hope that when they walk through the narrow, sunless ravine, where dangers lurk, they will feel a Divine rod and staff comforting them. Trial conquers them, and drives them before it as a dismasted, rudderless ship is driven before the gale. It is a great victory for the soul to rise above trial and pray, but it is a greater victory still for the soul to rise above trial and sing.1 [Note: T. Hammond.]
4. There are three acts in one drama: (1) Entertainment—“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies”; (2) Enjoyment—“Thou anointest my head with oil”; (3) Enrichment—“My cup runneth over.”
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”
i. The Table
1. What a picture of peace it makes, this supper on the darkening wold, when the sheep feed richly on the guarded green! For now the dew is again upon the earth. The grass is moist. The air is incense-laden from the flowers which all day long have been breathing forth their fragrance. And the fold is near.
The analogy holds true in the experience of Christ’s followers. The Shepherd and Bishop of our souls reserves His choicest swards for the delectation of our later days. Beulah Land lies near the bounds of life. It comes after the long march on the roads and the adventures in the glen. Let those who face the “sunset of life” lay this comfort on their hearts! The gospel is “a great supper,” as well as a satisfying breakfast, for the soul. It opens into the richest enclosures toward the day’s end. Our Shepherd surpasses Himself in the banquet which He spreads for His followers on the evening tablelands of life.1 [Note: J. D. Freeman, Life on the Uplands, 92.]
2. Beyond question, the prepared table is an emblem of the provision divinely made and secured for the wants of our spiritual and immortal nature. The idea is expanded in those numerous passages, both in the Old Testament and in the New, which speak of the blessings of grace as a feast which the Lord of Hosts has prepared, and to which are invited even the poor and maimed and halt and blind from the streets and lanes of the city, and the homeless wanderers from the highways and hedges. “The meek shall eat and be satisfied; they shall praise the Lord that seek him.” Just as the body is nourished by appropriate food, so the spiritual being is up-built by those blessings which God’s free grace provides and bestows, and which we include under the name of salvation. There is enlarging knowledge of truth and enlarging capacity of apprehending it, the blossoming of all beautiful and holy affections, growing force and greatness of nature, deepening and expanding power.
3. There is fellowship at this table. You talk with a stranger on the highway, walking side by side in the same direction; you shake hands with an acquaintance in the street; you invite a friend to your table. The very eating of an ordinary meal together at the same table, even in our own country, is so far a seal of friendliness, and makes us feel nearer to one another; and so it was to a much greater extent in old days in the East, and, indeed, is still. There was something almost sacred in the common meal; and the guest felt that he could trust his entertainer’s faithfulness to the utmost, as Sisera, after partaking of the hospitality of Jael, resigned himself to sleep in her tent with a feeling of perfect security. It was counted perfidy of the worst kind when one who had eaten another’s bread proved unfaithful to him; and so David says in another Psalm, “Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.”1 [Note: J. Culross, God’s Shepherd Care, 128.]
4. This idea of fellowship is prominent in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. We sit down together at the table of our heavenly Father; we take the bread as from the hand of the unseen Christ; we acknowledge our brotherhood, with all its high and sacred obligations, in the Divine family; we feel ourselves united, by closer ties than those of blood relationship, to all the children of God, some of whom are before the throne, and some struggling, and praying, and rejoicing here on earth.
By fellowship is meant one-mindedness, sympathy, agreement. It is not the submission of a servant to a command because it is a command. It is more, much more, than this. It is the sympathy of the friend with the friend, seeing and appreciating his character and plans, and entering into them with real heart satisfaction. It is the “amen,” the “so let it be,” of the spirit. “I have not called you servants, but friends.” To have this fellowship two things are needed: first, knowing our Master’s will, and secondly, having that mind and spirit in us which necessarily sympathizes with it. It is delightful to stand in spirit beside Christ, and look outwards from that central point, and see things as He sees them. This is having His “light” and “life,” and therefore so living and seeing as He does; and while we do so, He has fellowship with us! There is something very grand I think in this high calling, to be made partakers of Christ’s mind and joy! It is such godlike treatment of creatures! It shows the immense benevolence of Christ, to create us so as to lift us up to this sublime position, to make us joint heirs with Himself in all this intellectual and moral greatness and blessedness.1 [Note: Norman Macleod, in Memoir, by his brother, i. 328.]
5. There is even more than this to be taken into account, in order to enter into the full significance of David’s words here. If you sit down to eat at the table of an Eastern chief, if you should even taste his salt accidentally, you come thereby under his defence; and obligations of kindness and faithfulness are created which he would count it foulest dishonour not to own.
I sit down at Jehovah’s table, which He has prepared before me in the presence of mine enemies. It is not merely that I find supply for all the wants of my spiritual and immortal nature, but I am Jehovah’s guest; He has received me into His pavilion His tabernacle, His palace; He has set me at His table; thus He binds Himself to protect me; He covers me with His defence, and takes me into relations of friendship with Him; my enemies look on, and know that my cause is His cause, and that in reaching me for harm they must first pierce through His defence. Thus we perceive how the words are much more than a repetition, with change of figure, of the opening idea of the Psalm; and how they lay a foundation for the great confidence, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”2 [Note: J. Culross, God’s Shepherd Care, 130.]
Chalmers came to know afterwards, from one of the chiefs, that again and again the murder of the whole missionary party had been determined, and that those appointed to do the deed had come once and again to the low fence which surrounded the rough mission home. They had only to step over it and rush in upon and murder the unarmed man and his wife. Had they done this they would have been hailed as heroes by local Suau opinion. But the same chief told Chalmers that at the low fence they were restrained by some mysterious thing which held them back. What was it? To the devout mind there can be no doubt. It was the restraining Hand of that God and Father in whom both His servants so firmly trusted, at whose call they had come to Suau, and for whose sake they were willing to lay down their lives.1 [Note: R. Lovett, James Chalmers, 168.]
ii. The Enemies
1. “In the presence of mine enemies”—it is the one note which has a suspicion of jar in this Psalm’s music of content. Were it not for the sudden intrusion of this phrase, one might suppose that for the Psalmist the whole world had been so absolutely transformed that no element of ugliness or hostility remained: here alone does his eye, as it roams over the field, alight upon something which reminds him that opposition is not quite done with yet. With all this deep peace within him—with all these marvellous mercies of God around him—the enemies still keep their hostile watch and await their chance to attack and slay. Notwithstanding the sweetness and sufficiency of the feast, it is in the presence of foes that the feast is spread. The Psalmist’s joy is not a joy that blinds him to the harder realities of life, not a joy that prevents him from feeling their presence or recognizing the danger they hold; and he beholds still the unlit spots upon his world where possibilities of tragedy and harm are gathered.
2. David sees himself in his tent on the plains of Bethlehem. There it rises covered with black skins, a rough-made dwelling-place, a shelter from the scorching heat of noon or the drenching dews of night; a place where he turns aside to eat his meals, and where he keeps his supply of food. Some day he sits in the door of the tent, the sheep moving quietly about him or lying down in the green pasture, when afar off in the distance he sees one flying for very life. David starts, and, shading his eyes, stands fixed, watching eagerly. For a moment the fugitive appears on the height of the limestone cliff, then leaps down the steep path and rushes on his way. Now on the height appears the enemy that pursues him—the avenger of blood. Instantly is hurled the spear that rattles on the rocks beside the hunted man. On comes the fugitive madly; a moment’s hesitation, a falter, a slip will mean certain death. He has caught sight of the shepherd’s tent, and makes for it. Now he has reached the plains, and the sheep scatter as the runner comes near. The avenger sees his last chance, and puts forth all his strength in pursuit. David stands lifting the folds of the tent. Another minute, and the man rushes within its folds, and falls fainting on the ground. Now he is safe. Here he is “the guest of God,” as it is called to this day. The avenger has reached the tent door, and stands with eyes flashing in furious hatred, the hand grasping the hilt of the dagger. But no foot of an enemy dare come within the tent. Its folds are as buttressed walls. Within its kindly shade David kneels, and lifts the fainting man, and holds to his lips the cup of milk—the cup that runneth over. Now the languid eyes open. The man feels the arm that supports him; he hears the voice that comforts him. He sips the proffered cup. He starts as he catches sight of the avenger, then turns and blesses the kindly shelter and the friendly succour: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”1 [Note: M. G. Pearse, In the Banqueting House, 160.]
There was another sacrament no less reverend in Oriental eyes and no less potent for the ratification of a covenant than the blood of sacrifice. It was the sacrament of food. Let men once eat in company, sharing table and salt, and they were forthwith bound one to the other by an inviolable bond, yea, though they had aforetime been enemies and had eaten together only by accident or inadvertence. It is told of a Bedouin sheikh whose son had been slain by an unknown hand, that, while his sorrow was yet green, a stranger came to his tent craving food and rest, and was welcomed with the generous hospitality which obtains among the sons of the desert. As they communed, the sheikh discovered that the stranger was none other than the slayer of his son. His impulse was to rise and smite him; but the stranger had eaten from his dish and drunk from his cup, and the bond of hospitality restrained him. He sat in silence, his soul burning within him; and, when the meal was ended, he led him to his son’s grave and told him who lay under the mound of sand; and he bade him haste away lest the lust for vengeance should prevail and drive him to sin against the sacred covenant of hospitality.2 [Note: D. Smith, The Pilgrim’s Hospice, 73.]
Dear Jesus! Thou camest, Thy glory forsaking,
In quest of Thy sheep that had wandered away.
Sweet Jesus! true Shepherd! on me pity taking,
O draw me unto Thee no longer to stray.
I am the lost sheep in misery lying;
From Hell’s mouth devouring, Jesus, me free.
If Thou cleanse me from sin in the blood of Thy dying,
O Jesus, my soul’s love Thy guerdon shall be.
Thou comfort of sadness, Thou heart of all gladness,
Love, Fountain of grace, Delight of all lands,
Good Saviour, true Shepherd! from th’ Enemy’s madness
Protect me, and pluck me at death from his hands.
Jesus, how fair Thou art, Spouse of my ravished heart,
Than honey more sweet, more serene than the sun!
May Thy free grace relieve me, Thy mercy forgive me,
Thy glory receive me when life’s course is run.
3. The Psalmist did not close with the fourth verse, otherwise so natural a climax. For he knew that weariness and death are not the last enemies of man. He knew that the future is never the true man’s only fear. He remembered the inexorableness of the past; he remembered that blood-guiltiness, which sheep never feel, is worse to men than death. As perchance one day he lifted his eyes from his sheep and saw a fugitive from the avenger of blood crossing the plain, while his sheep scattered right and left before this wild intruder into their quiet world,—so he felt his fair and gentle thoughts within him scattered by the visitation of his past; so he felt how rudely law breaks through our pious fancies, and must be dealt with before their peace can be secure; so he felt, as every true man has felt with him, that the religion, however bright and brave, which takes no account of sin, is the religion which has not a last nor a highest word for life.
(1) Here then is an enemy—the sin of yesterday. We cannot get away from it. When we have half forgotten it, and leave it slumbering in the rear, it is suddenly awake again, and, like a hound, it is baying at our heels. Some days are days of peculiar intensity, and the far-off experience draws near and assumes the vividness of an immediate act. Yesterday pursues to-day, and threatens it!
O! I have passed a miserable night,
So full of ugly sights, of ghastly dreams,
That, as I am a Christian faithful man,
I would not spend another such a night,
Though ’twere to buy a world of happy days,
So full of dismal terror was the time.
And what were the “ugly sights” which filled the time with “dismal terror”? They were the threatening presences of old sins, pursuing in full cry across the years! The affrighted experience is all foreshadowed by the Word of God. Whether we turn to the Old Testament or to the New Testament the awful succession is proclaimed as a primary law of the spiritual life. “Evil pursueth sinners.” That sounds significant of desert-flight and hot pursuit!
So it is that David thinks of himself, but it is no more as the sheep that lie in the morning, calm by the green pasture. He sees himself not as one led, but as one pursued. The broken law has its avenger. Every sin tracks a man until it runs him down—nothing can turn it aside, nothing can stay it. That is the deepest need of the human heart—deliverance from sin. No help can avail us anything unless it can save us from our sins. The foe that destroys us is not in our circumstances, or misfortunes, or pains, or poverty—out of the heart comes the murderer that seeks to slay us. This is the strength and glory of our holy religion, that it never hides or lessens the black fact that we have sinned; and yet it provides for every man a Saviour. The figure fails us here, for lo, there comes forth One to greet us who gave Himself for us, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. With a new and fuller meaning we may say indeed: “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”
There is a resemblance in structure, if perhaps only superficial, between this Psalm and the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. That chapter opens with the picture of a good shepherd, and closes with a view of the festal joy when the lost son is received back into his father’s house. “Let us eat, and be merry,” the father says; “for this my son was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” In like manner, this Psalm begins by speaking of the Lord as our Shepherd, and ends by telling of the joy with which we are received at His table and made to dwell in His house. The verses already considered set forth the relation of God to His people as that of a shepherd to his flock, and bring into view His careful, thoughtful, patient, mighty, sheltering love on the one side, and their trusting helplessness on the other.1 [Note: J. Culross, God’s Shepherd Care, 121.]
Wherever He may guide me,
No want shall turn me back;
My Shepherd is beside me,
And nothing can I lack.
His wisdom ever waketh,
His sight is never dim,—
He knows the way He taketh,
And I will walk with Him.
Green pastures are before me,
Which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be o’er me,
Where the dark clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure,
My path to life is free,
My Saviour has my treasure,
And He will walk with me.2 [Note: A. L. Waring.]
(2) Here is another enemy—the temptation of to-day. Yesterday is not the only menacing presence; there is the insidious seducer who stands by the wayside to-day. Sometimes he approaches in deceptive deliberateness; sometimes his advance is so stealthy that in a moment we are caught in his snare! At one time he comes near us like a fox; at other times he leaps upon us like a lion out of the thicket. At one time the menace is in our passions, and again it crouches very near our prayers! Now the enemy draws near in the heavy guise of carnality, “the lust of the flesh”; and now in the lighter robe of covetousness, “the lust of the eyes”; and now in the delicate garb of vanity, “the pride of life”! But in all the many guises it is the one foe. In the manifold suggestions there is one threat. “The enemy that sowed them is the devil.” If I am awake I fear! If I move he follows! “When I would do good evil is present with me.” “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The soul is in the desert chased by the enemy of ever-present temptation.
When you say, “Lead us not into temptation,” you must in good earnest mean to avoid in your daily conduct those temptations which you have already suffered from. When you say, “Deliver us from evil,” you must mean to struggle against that evil in your hearts, which you are conscious of, and which you pray to be forgiven.1 [Note: Cardinal Newman.]
There are temptations, commonly so called, which can be a trouble, even when they have ceased to be a dread, just at the moment when we are enjoying the beauty of the scene.
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free;
The holy time is quiet as a nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven is on the sea.
Just when all is peace and glory, there comes the ribald murmur of an evil thought, the haunting disquiet of some evil imagination. In a moment the vast unprotected surface of the mind is ruffled and clouded as with a storm-gust, and pitted with stinging suggestions of falling evil. Most certainly “those that trouble us” take the shape of evil thoughts.
Now it is not God’s care to remove temptation, but to strengthen the tempted. He never promised to remove trouble; but He has promised to make anxiety out of the question. He never promised to remove pain; but He has promised to elevate it into a bearing, supporting cross. “He prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies,” as they stand, like a lion greedy of his prey, casting their eyes down to the ground.2 [Note: W. C. E. Newbolt, Penitence and Peace, 133.]
You must recollect all places have their temptations—nay, even the cloisters. Our very work here is to overcome ourselves and to be sensible of our hourly infirmities; to feel them keenly is but the necessary step towards overcoming them. Never expect to be without such while life lasts; if these were overcome, you would discover others, and that both because your eyes would see your real state of imperfection more clearly than now, and also because they are in a great measure a temptation of the Enemy, and he has temptations for all states, all occasions. He can turn whatever we do, whatever we do not do, into a temptation, as a skilful rhetorician turns anything into an argument.3 [Note: Letters of J. H. Newman, ii. 428.]
(3) Here is a third enemy—the death that awaits us to-morrow. “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” Man seeks to banish that presence from his conscience, but he pathetically fails. The pale horse with his rider walks into our feasts! He forces himself into the wedding-day! “To love and to cherish until death us do part!” We have almost agreed to exile his name from our vocabulary. If we are obliged to refer to him we hide the slaughter-house under rose-trees, we conceal the reality under more pleasing euphemisms. I have become insured. What for? Because to-morrow I may—— No, I do not speak in that wise. I banish the word at the threshold. I do not mention death or dying. How then? I have become insured, because “if anything should happen to me——?” In such circumlocution do I seek to evade the rider upon the pale horse. Yet the rider is coming nearer! To-morrow he will dismount at the door, and his hand will be upon the latch! Shall we fear his pursuit? “The terrors of death compassed me,” cries the Psalmist. “Through fear of death” they “were all their lifetime subject to bondage,” cries the Apostle of the New Covenant. It is an enemy we must all meet. “The last enemy … is death.”
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” In the Lord our God is the fugitive’s refuge. “In the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me.” In the Lord our God we are secure against the destructiveness of our yesterdays, the menaces of to-day, and the darkening fears of the morrow. Our enemies are stayed at the door! We are the Lord’s guests, and our sanctuary is inviolable!1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, The Silver Lining, 88.]
Goodness and mercy
Guidance and keeping
On to the end;
Solace in sorrow,
Brightness in gloom,
Over the tomb.
Counsel and comfort
Thou wilt afford us,
Saviour, in all.
Let Thy glad presence
Still with us dwell:
Nothing shall harm us,
All shall be well.
Faint yet pursuing,
Upwards we rise;
See the bright city,
Yonder the prize!
On to the haven,
To the calm shore,
In the fair city
Safe evermore.1 [Note: Horatius Bonar.]
“Thou hast anointed my head with oil.’
1. If the figure of the shepherd and his sheep is still retained, as some hold, then the anointing refers to a singularly beautiful custom which the Eastern shepherd has. It is the last scene of the day. At the door of the sheepfold the shepherd stands, and the “rodding of the sheep” takes place. The shepherd stands turning his body to let the sheep pass: he is the door, as Christ said of Himself. With his rod he holds back the sheep while he inspects them one by one as they pass into the fold. He has the horn filled with olive oil, and he has cedar-tar, and he anoints a knee bruised on the rocks, or a side scratched by thorns. And here comes one that is not bruised, but is simply worn and exhausted; he bathes its face and head with the refreshing olive oil, and he takes the large two-handled cup and dips it brimming full from the vessel of water provided for that purpose, and he lets the weary sheep drink. There is nothing finer in the Psalm than this. God’s care is not for the wounded only, but for the worn and weary also. “He anointeth my head with oil, my cup runneth over.”2 [Note: W. A. Knight, The Song of Our Syrian Guest, 19.]
It is an exquisite picture of Christ’s tender grace as He stands to anoint and refresh the souls of believers when, weary and worn, they look up to Him in the gloaming of life’s little day. No office which our Saviour performs is more precious and beautiful than this in which He touches His weary ones with balm, that they may retire with cool, clean souls to rest.
On August 18, 1887, Dr. Ullathorne writes to a friend as follows: I have been visiting Cardinal Newman to-day. He is much wasted, but very cheerful. We had a long talk, but as I was rising to leave an action of his caused a scene I shall never forget. He said in low and humble accents, “My dear lord, will you do me a great favour?” “What is it?” I asked. He glided down on his knees, bent down his venerable head, and said, “Give me your blessing.” What could I do with him before me in such a posture? I could not refuse without giving him great embarrassment. So I laid my hand on his head and said: “My dear Lord Cardinal, notwithstanding all laws to the contrary, I pray God to bless you, and that His Holy Spirit may be full in your heart.” As I walked to the door, refusing to put on his biretta as he went with me, he said: “I have been indoors all my life, whilst you have battled for the Church in the world.”1 [Note: W. Ward, Life of Cardinal Newman, ii. 531.]
There comes to mind a great educationist. In the realms both of secondary and of higher education, he was a master. He wrought out for and established in two Canadian provinces their splendid system of free schools. In a third province he gave great impetus to the thought that resulted in the creation of a vigorous Christian university. For a brief period he stood at its head. Then, realizing that his strength was broken, he suddenly stepped aside. With a single step he passed from noon to twilight. Those of us who knew him intimately knew that the pain of the twilight was acute in his heart. But the compensations were sweet and satisfying. The Master held out to him the brimming cup of joy.
Then purged with euphrasy and rue
The visual nerve, for he had much to see.
And he told us what he saw in kindling speech. The fountain of song was unsealed within his heart. For the few years that were left to him he moved among us like a winged spirit. He was our nightingale singing in the twilight. He was our inspirationist, our prophet, our guide, philosopher, and friend. The beauty, the richness, the literary fruitfulness of those years were the marvel and delight of all who saw. In the twilight of his day God crowned him with loving-kindness and tender mercies; He satisfied his mouth with good things, so that his youth was renewed like the eagle’s.2 [Note: J. D. Freeman, Life on the Uplands, 106.]
2. But the thought is not less beautiful if we adopt the usual view of the structure of the 23rd Psalm, that at the fifth verse the figure of a shepherd tending his sheep is replaced by that of a host welcoming and entertaining a guest. Now, at their feasts, when they wished to express joyous welcome of a guest, they would anoint his head with a fragrant oil. When Jesus sat at meat in the house of Simon the Pharisee, He took note of the omission of this observance: “My head with oil thou didst not anoint,” as men do to bidden and welcome guests. In ordinary cases, it was done by a servant, as the guest took his place at table; in special cases, it was done by the master of the house himself. So it is here. Jehovah, as it were, pours oil on the head of him whom He has invited to His table, in token of His joyous welcome. I am received, not as with reluctant and half-compelled consent, but with all the joy of His gracious heart.
Compared with us in the more sunless West and North, the old Hebrews had a much keener appreciation of everything fragrant, as we see in their plentiful use of incense and perfumed oils in their religious rites and services, and in all that we know of their social life. Even we can know the delightful charm of a clover field, or of a hillside covered with furze and heather, or of a garden in which a thousand flowers mingle and blend their perfume; but still greater is the charm to the children of the sun, who live in regions where
Eternal summer dwells,
And west winds, with musky wing,
About the cedarn alleys fling
Nard and cassia’s balmy smells.
We have only to turn over the leaves of the Bible, and we find a thousand illustrations of this love of fragrant substances among the Hebrews;—in the “sweet savour” that rose from Noah’s sacrifice; in the “smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed”; in “the scent of waters”; in the “perpetual incense” offered every morning and evening in the tabernacle or temple; in the “oil of gladness” with which God has anointed the king; in the “holy oil” poured upon “one that is mighty”; in the “precious ointment” to which brotherly love is likened; in the prayer “set forth before God as incense”; in the “oil of joy” given for mourning; in the “name as ointment poured forth”; in the “incense and a pure offering” that shall be offered to God’s name in every place; in the “golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.”1 [Note: J. Culross, God’s Shepherd Care, 131.]
3. In Scripture anointing with oil is employed as an emblem of the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One.” “The anointing which ye have received from him abideth in you.” It is not only that there is the hope of a future salvation possessed by the believer, but the joy of a present salvation begun even now—not only the “earnest of the Spirit,” as the evidence that the inheritance is purchased, but the purifying presence of the Spirit consciously preparing him for its sacred delights and occupations. Christ is said to have been “anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows,” but all His fellows, every man in His own order, are partakers of it.
“My cup runneth over.”
When seated at His table, He puts a cup into my hand—the cup of blessing, the cup of salvation; and it is not merely full but overflowing. He can afford to fill it; for the “Fountain of Jacob,” the source of blessing, is inexhaustible. This overflowing cup represents His abundant goodness. The year is crowned with the goodness of God; the earth is full of it; but this is “the goodness of his house,” the goodness which He has laid up for them that fear Him; and wrought for them that trust in Him before the sons of men. It comprehends blessings of all sorts, all gifts of His holy and loving heart, fitted to contribute to our well-being and joy.
If God were recognized at all times as the Giver and the Gift, every natural meal would be truly sacramental in all degrees, being recognized as the expression of Divine love in visible form, the natural clothing and continent of spirit and life. All truth would be realized as Divine truth, all labour as God’s working through His children, all needful rest and recreation as God’s Sabbath; every day the Lord’s Day; every dwelling a Bethel, and every man the Temple of the Lord in whom Christ dwells.2 [Note: J. W. Farquhar.]
1. Our cup of natural blessings is overflowing. We see this—
(1) In the beauty of creation as opposed to mere utility. The sad philosopher of antiquity confessed: “He hath made everything beautiful in his time”; and the poet of to-day rejoices: “All things have more than barren use.” Some modern cynics have roundly abused nature and tried hard to show the seamy side of the rainbow, but the loveliness and grandeur of things are too much for them, and the poet’s vocation is not yet gone. Our natural belief also in the spirituality and transcendence of the beautiful and sublime is too profound to be uprooted by the utilitarian, however ingeniously he may argue on the material and physiological. Everywhere we see nature passing beyond utility into that delightful something we call beauty, glory, grandeur. Sounds harmonize into music; colours glow until the round world seems a broad, unwasting iris; cries blend into songs; the earth breaks into blossoms; the sky kindles into stars.
Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e’er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.1 [Note: Wordsworth.]
(2) In the abundance of creation as opposed to mere sufficiency. “Thou preparest a table before me.” And how richly is that table furnished! We have a school of political economists which is tormented by the dread of population outstripping the means of subsistence, and is ever warning society against the awful peril. What confusions of heart and understanding do all these ominous vaticinations betray, seeing we dwell in a world so rich and elastic!
However the utilitarian may urge his sordid story, we cannot look at the superb dome of many-coloured glass above us, or ponder the vast panorama of earth and sea, full of pictures, poems, and symphonies which human art at best only darkly mirrors, without feeling that life inherits riches far beyond all material uses. The gorgeous garniture of the universe, at which the mere physicist stumbles, and which generations of metaphysicians fail to explain, is simply the overflow of our royal cup.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, Mistaken Signs, 156.]
At one period of his life John Stuart mill was distressed by the apprehension of the exhaustibility of musical combinations, but he came to see that the possibilities of original harmony are practically infinite. It would be a blessing if that school of economists with which mill is identified could be brought to perceive that the possibilities of the world on every side are practically infinite.2 [Note: Ibid.]
2. Our cup of social blessings is overflowing. God setteth the solitary in families. He has constituted society that the joy of life might be full. See the precious clusters which through this gracious arrangement are pressed into our cup!
First, perhaps, to strike the eye amongst the clusters of our Canaan is Home—the father’s reason made silken by affection; the mother’s voice sweeter than any music; the kindly strength of the brother; the fondness of the sister; the comeliness and sparkle of little children. Friendship is a kindred cluster englobing rich wine. Another fruition is Philanthropy, delicious as a fruit of Paradise plucked from some branch running over the wall. Then the eye longs to drink as well as the lip, and the ear to drink as well as the eye, so Art displays creations refreshing as the vineyard’s purple wealth; the artist with marble and canvas unsealing fountains of beauty, the musician with pipe and string pouring streams of melody. Science shows the earth a great emerald cup whose fulness flashes over the jewelled lip. Literature is a polished staff bearing grapes beyond those of Eshcol. Commerce is a whole vine in itself, and we gaze at its embarrassing lavishment with amazed delight. “Fir trees, cedars and oaks; silver, iron, tin, lead, and vessels of brass; horns of ivory and ebony; wheat, honey, oil, and balm; horses and horsemen, lambs, rams, and goats; wine and white wool; chests of rich apparel, bound with cords; emeralds, purple and broidered work, and fine linen, coral and agate; cassia and calamus, with chief of all spices, and with all precious stones and gold.” By our ships we are replenished and made very glorious in the midst of the seas. Patriotism is a first-rate grape whose generous blood gives to the spirit that unselfish glow which surpasses all sensual pleasure; and the best wine runs last in that sentiment of Humanity which gives the crowning joy to the festival of life.
3. The munificence of God is revealed to the uttermost in the cup of spiritual blessing. The cup of salvation runs over. It was not the study of God just to save us, but to save us fully, overflowingly.
May 28, 1892. If spared till to-morrow I shall have finished the eighty-second year of my pilgrimage. When I read the other day that verse in Deu_2:7, “The Lord thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand; these forty years he hath been with thee, thou hast lacked nothing,” I said to myself, “These eighty-and-two years He has been with me,” twice the time mentioned there, and I can truly say “I have lacked nothing.” More than that, He has given me “that blessed hope,” the prospect of being for ever in the kingdom with Him who has redeemed me by His blood. It was in the year 1830 that I found the Saviour, or rather that He found me, and laid me on His shoulders rejoicing, and I have never parted company with Him all these sixty-two years.1 [Note: A. A. Bonar, Heavenly Springs, 206.]
I praise Thee, while Thy providence
In childhood frail I trace,
For blessings given, ere dawning sense
Could seek or scan Thy grace;
Blessings in boyhood’s marvelling hour,
Bright dreams and fancyings strange;
Blessings, when reason’s awful power
Gave thought a bolder range;
Blessings of friends, which to my door
Unask’d, unhoped, have come;
And, choicer still, a countless store
Of eager smiles at home.
Yet, Lord, in memory’s fondest place
I shrine those seasons sad,
When, looking up, I saw Thy face
In kind austereness clad.
I would not miss one sigh or tear,
Heart-pang, or throbbing brow;
Sweet was the chastisement severe,
And sweet its memory now.
Yes! let the fragrant scars abide,
Love-tokens in Thy stead,
Faint shadows of the spear-pierced side,
And thorn-encompass’d head.
And such Thy tender force be still,
When self would swerve or stray,
Shaping to truth the froward will
Along Thy narrow way.
Deny me wealth; far, far remove
The lure of power or name;
Hope thrives in straits, in weakness love,
And faith in this world’s shame.1 [Note: Cardinal Newman.]
(1) We see it in the pardon of sin.—God does not forgive sin with measure and constraint, but graciously multiplies pardons. The overflowing cup is the sign of a grand welcome, of a cordial friendship, of a most hearty love. The forgiveness of God is not official, arithmetical, hesitating, but free and full beyond all compare. “He will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
If God had not told a man that his sins are forgiven, it would be presumption in him to believe that they are forgiven; but if God has told him that they are forgiven, then the presumption consists in disbelieving it or doubting it.2 [Note: Thomas Erskine of Linlathen.]
During the visit to Cañon City, Colo., in 1899, the Governor of the State, hearing that Mr. Moody was to speak at the penitentiary on Thanksgiving Day, wrote him, enclosing a pardon for a woman who had already served about three years. Seven years more were before her. Mr. Moody was greatly pleased to be the bearer of the message. The woman was quite unaware of the prospective good fortune. At the close of the address, Mr. Moody produced a document, saying, “I have a pardon in my hands for one of the prisoners before me.” He had intended to make some further remarks, but immediately he saw the strain caused by the announcement was so severe that he dared not go on. Calling the name, he said, “Will the party come forward and accept the Governor’s Thanksgiving gift?”
The woman hesitated a moment, then arose, uttered a shriek, and, crossing her arms over her breast, fell sobbing and laughing across the lap of the woman next her. Again she arose, staggered a short distance, and again fell at the feet of the matron of the prison, burying her head in the matron’s lap. The excitement was so intense that Mr. Moody would not do more than make a very brief application of the scene to illustrate God’s offer of pardon and peace.
Afterward he said that should such interest or excitement be manifest in connection with any of his meetings—when men and women accepted the pardon offered for all sin—he would be accused of extreme fanaticism and undue working on the emotions. Strange that men prize more highly the pardon of a fellow-man than the forgiveness of their God!1 [Note: W. R. Moody, The Life of Dwight L. Moody, 281.]
(2) We see it also in the sanctification of the soul.—We are saved by Christ not merely from ruin, but into a surpassing perfection of life. The Psalmist prayed: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” What is whiter than snow? We have white clouds, flowers, foam, shells; but in the whole realm of nature we know nothing whiter than snow. Are we then to dismiss the Psalmist’s aspiration as so much Oriental rhetoric? The highest poetry contains the deepest truth, and we must seek lovingly for great meanings in expressions which are really a Divine rhetoric. Is not the truth here, that grace gives our spirit a perfection beyond all perfection found in nature? Science declares that in things most perfect there is some imperfection, that there is an ideal perfection which nature rarely or never reaches, that the most exquisite organs lack theoretical harmony and finish. Rude matter does not attain all the delicacy of the Divine thought, and the naturalist with the Psalmist complains: “I have seen an end of all perfection.” But the human spirit aspires to a truthfulness, purity, and beauty beyond that of the physical universe, it pants to be whiter than snow; and this sublimest aspiration of our being is destined to attainment in Jesus Christ.
(3) There is, last of all, boundless provision in Christ Jesus.—History tells that an ancient king granted pardon to some criminals under sentence of death, but when these discharged malefactors applied for relief at the palace gates the king refused them, protesting: “I granted you life, but did not promise you bread.” This is not the theory of the Gospel; Christ not only saves from destruction, but opens to the soul sources of rich strengthening and endless satisfaction. “In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.” This prediction is grandly accomplished in Him in whom “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” The Gospel of Christ is not a scheme meeting a certain dreadful exigency and then of no further significance; it is the fullest revelation of the Divine truth and love and holiness, on which the spirits of the just shall feed and feast for ever.
Heart of Christ, O cup most golden,
Taking of thy cordial blest,
Soon the sorrowful are folden
In a gentle healthful rest:
Thou anxieties art easing,
Pains implacable appeasing:
Grief is comforted by love;
O, what wine is there like love?
Heart of Christ, O cup most golden,
Liberty from thee we win;
We who drink, no more are holden
By the shameful cords of sin;
Pledge of mercy’s sure forgiving,
Powers for a holy living,—
These, thou cup of love, are thine;
Love, thou art the mightiest wine.1 [Note: T. T. Lynch, The Rivulet, 87.]
“It passeth knowledge.” It overflows the heart. The saint sometimes cries with Fletcher: “Lord, stay Thine hand, or the vessel will break.” As in certain parts of Australia the abundance of flowers fills the air with sweetness until it becomes painful to the senses, so does the saint sometimes so vividly realize the grand all-encompassing love of God that the soul is overwhelmed with the mingled pain and bliss, and only finds vent in adoring tears.
Joy through our swimming eyes doth break,
And mean the thanks we cannot speak.1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, Mistaken Signs, 165.]
Annually when the ice breaks up in Russia the Czar goes in state to drink of the River Neva; and, having drunk, it was long the custom for the Czar to return the cup to his attendants full of gold, but year by year the cup became so much larger that at length a stipulated sum was paid instead of the old largesse. But however large the vessel we bring to God, and however much it increases in capacity with the discipline of years, God shall still make it to overflow with that peace and love and joy which is better than rubies and much fine gold. Let us pray
Open the fountain from above,
And let it our full souls o’erflow.2 [Note: Ibid. 168.]
4. How is our cup to be kept overflowing?
(1) By keeping it always under the spring.—The cup stands under the spring, and the spring keeps running into it, and so the cup runs over, but it will not run over long if you take it from where the springs pours into it. It is our unwisdom that we forsake the fountain of living waters and apply to the world’s broken cisterns. We say in the old proverb, “Let well alone,” but we forget this practical maxim with regard to the highest good. If your cup runs over, hear Christ say, “Abide in me.” David had a mind to keep his cup where it was, and he said, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
(2) By drinking fully.—“My cup runs over, then let me, at any rate, drink all I can. If I cannot drink it all as it flows away, let me get all I can.” “Drink,” said the spouse, “yea, drink abundantly, O my beloved.” The Master’s message at the communion table always is, “Take, eat!” and again, “Drink ye, drink ye all of it.” Oftentimes, when the Lord saith to us, “Seek ye my face,” we answer, “But, Lord, I am unworthy to do so.” The proper answer is, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek.”
(3) By communicating to others.—If your cup runs over, call in your friends to get the overflow. Let others participate in that which you do not wish to monopolize or intercept. Christian people ought to be like the cascades seen in brooks and rivers, always running over and so causing other falls, which again by their joyful excess cause fresh cascades, and beauty is joyfully multiplied. Are not those fountains fair to look upon where the overflow of an upper basin causes the next to fall in a silver shower, and that again produces another glassy sheet of water? If God fills one of us, it is that we may bless others; if He gives His ministering servants sweet fellowship with Him, it is that their words may encourage others to seek the same fellowship; and if their hearers get a portion of meat, it is that they may carry a portion home.
O look, my soul, and see
How thy cup doth overflow!
Think of the love so free
Which fills it for thee so!
Let fall no tears therein
Of self-will or of doubt;
There may be tears for sin,
But sinful tears keep out.
What lies within? Life, health,
Friends—here, or gone before;
Promise of heavenly wealth,
Of earthly, some small store;
Power to act thy part
In earth’s great labour-field;
Grace which should make thy heart
An hundred-fold to yield.
The drops that overflow
Shine in the morning sun,
And catch the evening glow,
When each day’s work is done.
And if there mingle there
Some drops of darker hue,
What colour would all bear
If all were but thy due?
What God’s own wisdom planned,
Is it not right and meet?
Shall aught come from His hand,
And not to thee seem sweet?
Burns (J. D.), Memoir and Remains, 305.
Clark (H. W.), Laws of the Inner Kingdom, 72.
Culross (J.), God’s Shepherd Care, 121.
Duff (R. S.), The Song of the Shepherd, 111, 129, 143.