Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Four aspects of the Shepherd-care of God.
I. GOD'S SHEPHERD-CARE DISCLOSED IN REVELATION. For the Scripture doctrine of God's relation to his people as their Shepherd, the student may with advantage study and compare the following: Psalm 74:1; Psalm 77:20; Psalm 79:13; Psalm 80:1; Psalm 95:7; Psalm 100:3; Psalm 119:176; Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 53:6; Jeremiah 31:10; Jeremiah 23:1-3; Ezekiel 34; Micah 7:14; Zechariah 11:16; Zechariah 13:7; Matthew 10:6; Matthew 15:24; Matthew 18:12; Luke 15:4-6; John 10:1-16, 26-29; John 21:16; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 5:4. These passages summarize Bible teaching on this theme for us. We may set it forth under the following heads:
1. God is related to men as their Shepherd. A purely absolute Being out of relation does not exist. To whatever God has made he stands in the relation of Maker. And when he has made man in his own image, after his likeness, he stands to such a one in a relation corresponding thereto; and of the many names he bears to express that relation, few more tenderly illustrate his watchful care than this word "shepherd."
2. This relation is manifested in Jesus Christ. (John 10:1-16.) He claims to be emphatically "the good Shepherd." The apostle speaks of him as "the Shepherd and Bishop of... souls."
3. As the Shepherd, Jesus came to seek and save the lost. His mission on earth was emphatically for this. He regards men as his wealth, in which he rejoices; and if they ace not under his loving care he misses them - he is conscious of something lacking (Luke 15:4-6).
4. He has risen and ascendent up on high as the great Shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20).
5. He now appoints under-shepherds to care for the flock. (Acts 20:28.)
6. As the chief Shepherd, he will again appear. Then he will gather in and gather home all the flock (1 Peter 5:4).
7. Only as he gathers men to himself as their Shepherd, do they find safety and rest. (1 Peter 2:25.) Till then they are homeless wanderers, perpetually in danger of stumbling "over the dark mountains."
8. When men return to him they find all they need in his Shepherd-care. (Psalm 23.)
9. This Shepherd-care is for each as well as for all. Each one may say, "He loved me, and gave himself up for me;" "The Lord is my Shepherd." Let us not forget to note the Shepherd's individualizing care.
II. GOD'S SHEPHERD-CARE EXERCISED IN ACT. The points of detail are set forth in this psalm with exquisite tenderness and beauty,
1. Repose. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures." In such a restless age as this, there is no thought which a believer has greater need to appropriate than this (see Mark 6:31). As physically we must find time for sleep, however severe the pressure of work, so spiritually we must find time for repose. And God's gracious arrangements are planned with a view to this. "He maketh me," etc. The good Shepherd says, "I will give you rest." When he gets back the wandering sheep he lays it on his own shoulders (Greek, see Luke 15:5). The Master never expects his servants to be always on the stretch. He tells them to "rest awhile;" and if they are heedless of this kind monition, he will himself call them out of the rush into the hush of life. It would be well if some Christians thought more of rest in Christ; their work would be richer in quality even if less in quantity.
2. Refreshment. "Still waters;" literally, "waters of rest," or refreshment. The believer has no craving thirst: he can ever drink of the living stream, and therewith be refreshed (see John 4:10; Revelation 7:17). Dropping the figure, the truth here conveyed is that there shall be a constant supply of the grace of Christ, and of the Spirit of Christ (cf. John 7:37-39).
3. Restoration. (Ver. 3.) This may either mean renewing the strength when worn down, or bringing back after wandering. We need not omit either thought, though the latter seems principally intended.
4. Leadership. (Ver. 3.) "Paths of righteousness," i.e. straight paths. This follows on the restoration. Having recalled him from "by-paths," the good Shepherd will lead him in the right way. The sheep can wander wide easily enough, but if they are to be kept in the right way that can be only through the Shepherd's care. God guides by
(1) his Word;
(2) his providence;
(3) his Spirit.
5. A living presence. "Thou art with me' (ver. 4). This means, "Thou art continually with me," not merely with me in the darkness, but with me always. The sunshine of the living presence of a Guide, Help, Friend, Saviour, is always on the believer's path; and if the mingling of unbelief with faith did not dim the eyesight, he would always rejoice in it.
6. Discipline. (Ver. 4.) The rod and staff are special emblems of the Shepherd's care in tending and ruling the flock. The Shepherd chides us when we rove, and uses sometimes sharp measures ere he recalls us. And this comforts us! Even so. The disciplinary dealings of our God are among our greatest mercies.
7. Ample provision. (Ver. 5.) The riches of God's love and life are the provisions on which we feed, and on which souls can grow and thrive; and these supplies are ministered to the soul through the invisible channels of God's grace, even while enemies prowl around. Yea, we are entertained as guests st the Father's board. The anointing oil is the token of the right royal welcome which the Host delights to give! So rich, so abundant, are the mercies and joys which are vouchsafed, that our "cup runneth over"!
III. THIS SHEPHERD-CARE OF GOD IS ACCEPTED, AND IN IT THE NEEDY ONE GLORIES. We can but hint.
1. Here is appropriation. "My Shepherd" (see John 10:11, 27, 28).
2. Here is satisfaction. "I shall not want."
3. Here is loyalty. The psalmist not only consents to but delights in this Divine care, and has no wish but to follow where the Shepherd leads.
4. Here is joy. This thought is (perhaps Intently, but really) in the expression, "Thou art with me." The presence of God is life's exceeding joy.
5. Here is fearlessness. "I will fear no evil." Not even the darkest shade can make him fear, for God is with him there.
6. Here is recognition of the infinite grace of the Shepherd. (Ver. 3.) "For his Name's sake." Not for our sakes, but for his own; having undertaken to be the Shepherd, he will for his own glory's sake do all that a shepherd's care demands.
IV. THE SHEPHERD-CARE OF GOD IS CELEBRATED IN SONG. The song has a threefold significance.
1. It is a song of gratitude. "Goodness and mercy" mark every feature of the Divine treatment, and they will, to life's end.
2. It is a song of hope. The psalmist looks forward, without a moment's fear of the Shepherd ever leaving him (ver. 6).
3. It is a song and vow of consecration. "I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." To what extent David thought of a future state when he wrote these words, we cannot say. Yet his meaning is to some extent clear. The house of God was the place where God made his home and manifested himself to his people (see Psalm 132:13-16). And the writer says, "Where God makes his home, there shall be mine. He and I will never part company" (see Psalm 61:4; Psalm 48:14; Psalm 73:24-26). It was not the house of God, but the God of the house, that was to be David's home - and the home of all the saints - for ever and for ever! There is a picture by Sir Noel Paten, which is a marvellous illustration of this psalm. It is entitled, 'The Valley of the Shadow of Death.' It is worthy of prolonged study. In the foreground is a dismal and dark valley, through which a blasting wind has swept, laying low alike the warrior and the king; the helmet of the one and the crown of the other lie useless on the ground. In the centre of the picture is the Lord Jesus, with a halo of glory over his head, a crown of thorns around his brow, and in one hand a shepherd's staff. On the left is a young maiden, whose face bears traces of the terror she has felt in coming through the valley, and yet of radiant hope as she now sees the good Shepherd there. She grasps his hand; he holds hers; his feet stand on a gravestone, beneath which lie the remains of the fallen; but where the Shepherd sets his feet, the tombstone is luminous with the words, "Death is swallowed up in victory!" The very sight of that glorious picture weaned one from the vanities of the world, and drew her to Jesus; and in the case of "an old disciple" it completely abolished the fear of death! May we all, by faith, catch a glimpse of our Shepherd, and every fear will vanish quite away! - C.
I. A PICTURE OF THE WAY OF LIFE DARKENED. When this will be we know not. Bunyan puts it midway, but sometimes it is nearer the beginning than the end. Childhood knows it not; gladsomeness and enjoyment are his of right. But later on life darkens. But come how and when it may, it will come at the right time and in the right way. If it ever work evil, the fault will be ours. Sometimes the shadows are those of sorrow. At others, of doubt. At yet other times it is the result of some sin. The sorrow of wasted power, of lost confidence, of violated vows, is a pang which wrings the human heart with an agony it knows not how to bear. Such experiences are stern and solemn realities.
I. THAT GREAT CALAMITIES, AND TERRIBLE DANGERS, EVEN THE SHADOWS OF DEATH MAY BEFALL THE PEOPLE OF GOD. For the understanding of this assertion premise these particulars, namely, that there are several shadows of death, or terrible dangers; some are —
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
(C. Beard, B. A.)
1. Natural: as grievous diseases and sicknesses, which do even close up the day of life.
2. Malicious: which arise from Satan and from evil men, his instruments.
3. Spiritual: these dangers of all others are the most sore. These shadows of death, or great and near dangers, do cause them to shake off their great security. When a storm ariseth it is time for the mariner to awake and look to his tackling, and when the city is beleaguered it will make every man to stand to his arms. Standing waters gather mud, and disused weapons rust. They do demonstrate the solidity and validity of true grace. They increase the spirit of prayer more. They do dissolve and loosen the affections more from the world. Shadows of death make us better to discern the shadows of life, the poor empty vanities of the world, and set the heart more on heavenly purchases.
II. THAT RIGHTEOUS PERSONS ARE FEARLESS EVEN UNDER THE SHADOWS OF DEATH. And the reasons or causes of this fearlessness of man, or dangers by man, are these —(1) God hath wrought in them a true fear of Himself; He hath put His fear into their hearts (Jeremiah 32:40). Now, the true fear of God purgeth or casteth out all vain fear of men.(2) They know that the originals of fear are not in the creatures. Men are afraid of men because they take them to be more than men.(3) They are in covenant with God, and God with them, therefore they fear no evil.(4) They have much clearness in conscience; and integrity in conscience breeds audacity in conscience.(5) They have faith in them, and can live by faith. The just shall live by his faith (Hebrews 2:3).(6) Lastly, they may be fearless notwithstanding all dangers, forasmuch as those dangers shall never do them hurt, but good. And who is he that will harm you if ye be followers of that which is good? (1 Peter 3:13.)
III. THAT GOD IS PRESENT WITH HIS PEOPLE IN ALL THEIR DANGERS AND TROUBLES, AND THAT PRESENCE OF HIS IS THE GROUND OF THEIR CONFIDENCE.(1) That God is present with His in all their dangers.(2) Divine presence is the ground of Christian confidence. Some distinguish thus; there is a fourfold presence of God —(1) One is natural. And thus is He present with all creatures. Whither shall I flee from Thy presence (Psalm 139:7).(2) A second is majestical. And thus is He said to be present in heaven; and we pray to Him as our Father which is in heaven.(3) A third is His judicial presence. And thus is He present with ungodly men.(4) A fourth is His gracious or favourable presence.Consider the qualities of His presence with you, and it may yield you singular comfort and support.
(1) (2) (3) (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
(2) (3) (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
(3) (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
(O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
II. NO MAN NEED GO DOWN THE VALLEY ALONE. There is light in the darkened way. "Thou art with me." And He is with us to help and protect. would leave Carthage to go to Rome. His pious mother, fearing the snares of Rome for her wayward boy, begged him not to go. He promised to remain, but in the night stole away. But there, where his mother feared he would be lost, he was saved. Years after he wrote thus, "Thou, O God, knowing my mother's desire, refusedst what she then asked, that Thou mightest give her what she was forever asking."
II. THE PILGRIM AND HIS PROGRESS.
1. He is calm in the prospect of his dreary passage.
2. And is steady in his progress. He walks through, does not run in haste.
3. And he is secure in his expectancy. There is a bright side to that word "through." He expects to come out into a brighter country.
4. And he is free from fear. I have read of a little lad on board a vessel in great peril. Everybody was alarmed. But he kept playing about, amused rather at the tossing of the ship. When asked what made him so fearless he replied, "My father is the captain. He knows how to manage." Let us so believe in God. Yet —
5. He is not at all fanatical. He gives a good reason for his fearlessness. "Thou art with me!"
III. THE SOUL AND ITS SHEPHERD. "Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." The rod and the staff, the tokens of shepherdry, are the comforts of the saints.
1. The rod is for the numbering of the sheep.
2. For rule.
4. Urging onward. I have had to lay on the rod at times on certain fat sheep not so nimble as they ought to be. But their wool is so thick that I can scarcely make them feel. But the Great Shepherd can, and will.
5. For chastisement.
6. For protection. How David defended his sheep. May God give us all the faith expressed in our text.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Homilist.I. THE PATH OF LIFE AS SHADOWED BY DEATH. "The valley of the shadow of death." David does not speak of the article of death here as some suppose. He does not say, though I may walk, or though I should walk, or though I must walk, but though I walk. He is speaking of his walking it now. There is a bright sun, it is true, in the sky of life, otherwise there could be no "shadow": but the figure of death is so colossal that its shadow covers the whole sphere of our existence.
II. THE PATH OF LIFE AS TROD WITH A FEARLESS SOUL. "I will fear no evil."
1. Some tread the valley of life with a stolid indifference. They seem utterly regardless of the dark shadows on the path, and whither the path conducts them. "Like brutes they live."
2. Some tread the path of life with a giddy frivolity. The everlasting jest and ceaseless round of hilarious excitement indicate that they have never been penetrated with a true idea of life.
3. Some tread the path of life with a slavish dread. They are afraid of their end.
4. Some tread the path of life with moral bravery. Thus did David.
III. THE PATH OF LIFE AS WALKED IN COMPANIONSHIP WITH GOD.
1. Thou art with me as the infallible Guide in the ever-thickening gloom.
2. Thou art with me as a safe Protector from every conceivable evil.
I. TO SOME THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH IS A PLACE OF DANGER AND ALARM. That one could say he feared no evil is no proof that there is no evil for others. For the ungodly there is. For —
1. He must feel "the sting of death," which "is sin." That removed, death is no more dangerous than a serpent whose sting is withdrawn.
2. Then, too, conscience will be roused, and there will be no means to pacify it. Conscience cannot sleep then, though they have dozed and slumbered undisturbed by the thunders of Sinai, and the noise of death cutting down some old barren fig tree in their neighbourhood.
3. Then, too, Mercy will depart forever. She outstays all others, but now even Mercy says, Good-bye forever. Thou didst never see a morning when I did not meet thee with my arms full of kindnesses toward thee. Thou art now going where I have not been and whither I shall never come — Good-bye! And the hope of man is lost!
3. There also must he meet the wrath of God without a hiding place. It had been declared many times that it was approaching; but there was no way of escape. But now it is too late to turn back. God's wrath must now be faced. The terrors of God array themselves against the ungodly men.
II. THE GODLY MAN'S CONFIDENCE IN THE FACE OF DEATH. "I will fear," etc. Yet how terrible the description of death.
1. A valley — a deep and dismal place. Some live their lives in the hilltops of prosperity, others in the vales of adversity and sorrow, but this valley lies lower than these. Yet the godly man fears not.
2. A dark valley — a valley of shadow, "the shadow of death where the light is as darkness."
3. A dreadful valley — for it belongs to death. This is its home, here its court and throne. Some have fainted at the sight of some of its subjects; what of the King Himself? But here is one going down into its domains. It is probable that he will run silently through, and as swiftly as he possibly can, until he is nearly breathless. No. He intends walking slowly through, as if resolved to view it well, the only time he shall go that way. Probably he intends crossing it in the narrowest place. No. He speaks of walking the whole length of the valley. Is he afraid he may fail and faint half way? No. He confidently trusts that he will reach the farther end.
III. THE GROUNDS OF HIS CONFIDENCE. God's presence. "Thou art with me." No one is so timid as a godly man without God. He will go nowhere without Him. But with Him he will go anywhere. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.
(David Roberts, D. D.)I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THE BELIEVER IS PLACED. "The valley of the shadow of death" has been supposed to describe a gloomy defile in which the traveller sees, as it were, the image of death depicted wherever he turns his eyes. Others, again, and perhaps with greater simplicity of interpretation, have found the idea of dark shadow, impenetrable gloom cast by some overhanging object which shuts out all light. The natural effect of peril is to create alarm; and it is nothing less than a signal triumph over the strongest instincts of the human constitution for a man, when he walks "through the valley of the shadow of death," to fear no evil. It is, however, a triumph over nature, to which the religion of the Bible frequently calls, and for which she abundantly prepares her followers.
II. THE FEELINGS WHICH IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES HE IS ABLE TO ENTERTAIN. The Psalmist does not say, "I will not fear," though even had he said so we should have known how to interpret his words with due restrictions; but he says, "I will fear no evil," that is, I will apprehend no real or ultimate injury. The Psalmist had made too enlarged an observation, he had passed through too varied an experience of life, to suppose that the clouds which lowered upon the scene before him would always pass away innocuous. Exactly so the Christian now has no reason to expect that he will be spared the suffering — and that to the extremity of mortal endurance — of what is painful, and desolating, and agonising; but every Christian may be assured that all these things shall fail to do him real evil. And while this is the feeling which every child of God may be expected to entertain, in every condition in which he can be placed of deadly gloom and peril, so it is peculiarly the sentiment which he is called upon to cherish when treading in particular that dreary path which, to most minds, Is suggested by the appellation, "the valley of the shadow of death." A sharp thrill of undefined yet overwhelming terror is apt to shoot across his soul that, in the words of the Psalmist, he exclaims, "My heart is sore vexed within me, and the fear of death is fallen upon me." But it will be but for a moment that the Christian, trusting in his Redeemer, will suffer such gloomy thoughts as these to involve his spirit; presently, as he proceeds deeper and deeper down the perilous descent, you will hear a voice of solemn yet not desponding melody ascending from the shades, "I will trust and not be afraid"; "Yea, though I walk through," etc.
III. THE REASONS ON WHICH THE PSALMIST GROUNDS AND JUSTIFIES HIS PERSUASION. That, with whatever circumstances of direct and most deadly peril he might be environed, no real evil should befall him.
1. The fact of Jehovah's friendly presence.
2. The fact of Jehovah's pastoral care: "Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me." The Scriptural expression, "to be with one," denotes the special presence of Jehovah with those whom He loves, to guide, to help, to protect, to favour, and to bless them; as when Abimelech, for example, congratulated Abraham on the manifest tokens which his history presented that he was the object of Almighty favour, by saying, "The Lord is with thee in all that thou dost," — when our Lord, in order to encourage His apostle amidst the arduous toils and trials that awaited him at Corinth, spake to him in vision, — "Fear not, for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee."
(T. B. Patterson, M. A.)
I. In the first place, THE PAINS OF DEATH MUST BE ENCOUNTERED BY US; and these fill many minds with dismay. God has been pleased, notwithstanding the redemption of our race from utter destruction, to leave in the world demonstrations of their fall, and amongst these are the anguish and manifold distresses which accompany our mortality.
II. The valley of death is rendered terrible to man, because IT INTERRUPTS AND TERMINATES ALL HIS EARTHLY PURSUITS AND EXPECTATIONS.
III. THE SEPARATION FROM THE OBJECTS WHO WERE ENDEARED TO US, and the scenes and pleasures which delighted us in the present world. But how happy those who in this solemn hour can entrust not only themselves, but all whom they love, to the tender and faithful protection of God.
IV. Another thing which renders death terrible to many is THE DARKNESS WITH WHICH IT IS ENCOMPASSED. Shadows, clouds, and gloom rest upon it. To the infidel it is dismally obscure. Bones and ashes are all he can discover. Conscience fills it with ghosts and spectres and images of terror. They shudder as they enter. They cry aloud for light.
V. But the greatest of all the causes of anxiety and fear which the children of men encounter at the approach of death is THE APPREHENSION OF THE JUDGMENT WHICH WILL ENSUE.
I. A GLOOMY SHADOW.
II. A FEARLESS TRAVELLER.
III. A PRESENT GOD.
(R. Halley, M. A.)Bunyan afterwards lighted upon a "place where was a den," and gave to all that in human experience which before death is worse than death itself, a local habitation and a name. Different forms of the religious sentiment have their different values in regard to the dismal experience thus happily named. None of them has actually the value assigned to it. Religion, natural temperament, courage, cheeriness, all mingle in the confidence of him who here says "I will fear no evil." For aught we know, there may have been as much of the one as of the other. Natural temper and disposition count for much, usually for more than anything else, in the most trying moments of human life. Then, the natural man is apt to part company with his costume of habits and customs, and to show himself as he was born, the bravest of the brave or the weakest of the weak. It is not the most pious man in the regiment, I suppose, who is always the coolest in the forlorn hope. Some men, like John Wesley, are brave on land who are great cowards at sea; others, like some of Elizabeth's buccaneers, are timid in regard to the least adversity occurring in a hospital, but undaunted in regard to it if it threatens in a gale. Not according to differences of religious belief, but according to idiosyncrasies of disposition or accidental habits of mind, the valley of the shadow of death varies its character. As regards the last fact of all, which makes all human life a tragedy, we who look forward to it with a shudder cannot help envying the coolies of St. Helena and elsewhere, who lie down to die as peaceably as if it were to sleep; or the Turkish soldiers at Plevna, who preserved such coolness in presence of the horrors there. You can scarcely call their fatalism religious sentiment, yet it did that for them. Some surgeons say that there are people without nerves. What is a terrible ordeal to some in the way of pain, to others is a mere trifle. Now, though religious people will hardly allow, it, it is a fact that natural temperament has far more to do with heroism in its most striking forms than religion has. But religion has to do with it, and different forms of the religious sentiment have, therefore, different values in this respect. That it is glorious to die for one's country was an idea with which the whole Greek and Roman life was saturated in a way unknown to the Hebrew race. That sentiment produced its natural effect in Plutarch's Lives, the reading of which is like reading the Charge of the Light Brigade. But it is when you come down to Christian times that you have the religious sentiment, the rise of which takes you back to this Psalm and earlier, and we find it so pervading the lives of multitudes of common men and women that they are found to be instinct with a courage and patience which can hardly be matched in Plutarch. It is a heroism, not of the general and his staff, but of plain people. And we have it here in this Psalm. The trust in the Divine Shepherd is an antidote to all alarm. What that sentiment has done to lighten, for countless multitudes of human beings, all adversity, and the last adversity of all, to make the unendurable tolerable or even welcome, may be partly imagined but cannot certainly be told. It is still what it has been — to multitudes it is still what nothing else is or could be in the way of solving the enigmas of life and making the heavy and the weary weight of it intelligible and supportable.
(J. Service, D. D.)
(A. S. Brooke. M. A.)Bunyans dream, lies about midway in the journey of life. This is one of those revelations of the soul's experience which makes Bunyan's book a mirror. If this valley lay right across our path at the outset it would wither our life at the spring. While if it came too near the end it would be too late to bless our souls. No, not near the beginning is that valley. I have often seen a little child sit beside the coffin that held its mother, with as fair a light on its face as I hope to see in heaven. And I have said, there is no valley and shadow of death for these little ones. Nor, either, for those who are still young. Sorrow comes, but they recover. They soon resume the natural habit of their life if you let them alone. They break out into the warm bright world again, like a Norway spring, and it is by the tender mercy of God that they do so. And in old age that valley and shadow lie behind us. When a great English painter in water colours was past work, and was waiting for his summons to depart, — for he was ninety-one, — he told his servant to bring in his masterpiece, that he might see it once more before he died. It was a picture of a shipwreck. He looked at it a good while and then said, "Bring me my pencils and lift me up; I must brighten that black cloud. It used to seem just right, but I see now it is too dark, and I must brighten it before I go." And when it was done he died. Now, I doubt not that when he painted that picture the cloud was not one shade blacker than be felt it ought to be; because true painters always dip their pencils first in the water of their own lives, and press the pigments out of their hearts and brains. But the way from middle age to ninety-one had lain upward into the light, the sweet, calm sunset of his life. And so it is with every healthful old age. Travelling into these high latitudes we touch at last a polar summer, where the morning twilight of the new day comes out of heaven to blend with the evening twilight of the old. The fear of what death may do, and the awful sense of what death can do, falls on us most heavily, through the prime of our life, when all our powers are sturdiest. It is in mid-ocean that the storms come. And this experience is universal. I notice it in all the saints whose lives are revealed to us in the Bible. And Christ Himself passed through it. Bunyan makes all his pilgrims who come to any good go down into it. But with a wonderfully sweet pathos, he makes it easier for the lame man who is getting on in years, and for the maiden, and for the mother with her children, than he will ever allow it to be for stout stalwart souls like his own. If a man should come to me and say, "I have never been down there, I know nothing about it," then his future is a sorry one. It is because we bare a soul and a future that we have to go through all this. But for this man would be mere vanity and hollowness. And there is a great growth of goodness down in that valley. Do not go alone, then. Have God with you as David did. Muster all the promises you can hold in your heart. I would try to trace the beatitudes even in the flames of hell. And look on to the dawn of the new day.
1. Mark with what exquisite simplicity the anticipation of the valley is introduced. The idea of death is inwrought into the habitual thought of the godly man. There is a sense in which life is a continual alternation of light and shade, of open pastures and shaded valleys. The whole of our probation may be said to be spent under the shadow of the great death that sin hath begotten, of the terrible cloud that has come between us and God. True religion is a constant and distinct realisation of the fact that we live to die, and must so live as not to be taken by surprise. This will give to life a certain solemnity and pathos which nothing else will give. It is, nevertheless, certain that the expectation of the valley cannot really distress the religious soul. It is very different from that horror which the ungodly and the unsanctified feel. There are, indeed, some who are all their lifetime in bondage, though true Christians, through want of trust in the resources of the Gospel. Many reasons conspire to this palsy of their faith. They love the world too much, they do not drink deeply enough of the river of life, they do not meditate as they ought on eternal things, and thus they cannot join the chorus of our hymn. But the anticipation that makes this Psalm so glad is better taught. The Christian singer is one who lives under the powers of the world to come; and those powers are to him the working forces of the present state. He lives in a supernatural world, and regards everything in its relation to that world. The thought of the valley becomes the familiar and cheerful habit of the soul. It does not diminish the energy of life nor blunt the appetite for such pleasures as God does not interdict.
2. The singer sings his way into the valley that he had predicted for himself. The language of his poetry blends the future and the present, "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." The pilgrim is guided into the valley by the Good Shepherd Himself. Here is the secret link between death and preparation for death. The blessedness of all our religion, whether in life or death, is union with Jesus. Our preparation to die well is the habitual communion of our soul with God. Jesus went that way of sorrows before us. We may be sure that the Saviour is most intimately with and in His dying servant. His rod is the symbol of His authority in the domain of death: it is His alone. The staff is the symbol of the strength He gives the dying saints. The pastor's crook, the shepherd's rod, is no other than the Redeemer's mediatorial sceptre swayed over one special region of His vast empire, that which is under the shadow of death. We may interpret the staff as that special support which the Redeemer affords to every dying saint when his heart and flesh would otherwise fail.
(Mr. B. Pope.)
I will fear no evil.
1. That we maintain a virtuous habit of mind and course of life, and exercise ourselves to have a conscience void of offence, both towards God and towards man.
2. Make the idea of death familiar to our minds, by frequently considering our latter end. Many of the usual terrors of death appear upon examination to be imaginary, or of very little moment.
3. Reflect that this is a natural and unavoidable event which is common to all the human race.
4. We should preserve in our minds a lively conviction and devout sense of the wise and righteous government of Almighty God, and cheerfully resign ourselves and all our concerns to His direction.
5. Look forward, with joyful expectation, to a state of perfect and endless felicity in the life to come.
1. Some of those evils that are ready to intimidate and discourage the hearts of the Lord's people in a time of danger. Their own weakness and insufficiency. The might and multitude of their enemies. A sense of guilt and fear of wrath. The prevalence of indwelling sin. The black clouds of desertion. The wrath of man, and fury of the persecutor. The dangerous situation of the Church and cause of God, and the approach of death.
2. Some account of that faith which fortifies the soul against the fear of these evils. Sometimes it is called a trusting in the Lord, or a looking to the Lord, or a staying ourselves on the Lord, or a casting of our burden on the Lord. Some of its ingredients are — a knowledge and uptaking of a God in Christ, revealing Himself as reconciled, and making over Himself to us in a well-ordered covenant. A firm and fixed persuasion of the truth and certainty of the whole revelation of God's mind and will in the Word. An application of the promises to the soul itself in particular. A persuasion of the power, love, and faithfulness of the Promiser. A renouncing of all other refuges. Some concomitants of this faith. A blessed quietness and tranquillity of soul. A waiting upon the Lord in the way of duty. Earnest prayer at a throne of grace. A holy obedience or regard unto all God's commandments. Often with a soul-ravishing joy in the Lord. The courage of faith appears from the serenity with which it possesses the soul; the hard work and service it will adventure; the bold and daring challenges it gives to all enemies and accusers; the weapons which it wields; the battles it has fought and the victories it has gained; the heavy burdens it will venture to bear; the hard and difficult passes that faith will open; the great exploits which it has performed, and the trophies of victory and triumph which it wears.
3. That Christian fortitude and boldness which makes a believer fear no evil. The seat and subject of this Christian fortitude is the heart of a believer, renewed by sovereign grace. This fortitude consists in a clear and distinct knowledge and uptaking of the truth as it is in Jesus. It makes God's Word the boundary of faith and practice. A tenacious adherence to truth and duty. A holy contempt of all a man can suffer in this present world. Cheerfulness and alacrity of spirit.
4. The influence faith has upon this boldness. It inspires the soul by presenting God to the soul; by enabling the soul to make right estimate of truth, and by curing it of the fear of man. It views the inside of troubles for Christ, as well as the outside of them. And it keeps the eye of the soul fixed on Jesus.
1. As the termination of our present existence; the final period of all its joys and hopes. The dejection into which we are apt to sink at such a juncture will bear proportion to the degree of our attachment to the objects which we leave, and to the importance of those resources which remain with us when they are gone.
2. As the gate which opens into eternity. Under this view it has often been the subject of terror to the serious and reflecting. We must not judge of the sentiments of men at the approach of death by their ordinary train of thought in the days of health and ease. Their views of moral conduct are then too often superficial. Here appears the great importance of those discoveries which Christianity has made concerning the government of the universe. It displays the ensigns of grace and clemency. What completes the triumph of good men over death is the prospect of eternal felicity. To those who have lived a virtuous life, and who die in the faith of Christ, the whole aspect of death is changed. Death is no longer the tyrant who approaches with an iron rod, but the messenger that brings the tidings of life and liberty.
(Hugh Blair, D. D.)
(W. C. E. Newbolt, M. A.)
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)I. IT IS WONDERFUL FOR ITS POWER TO PROTECT. David had found this as a shepherd when, by means of his staff, he vanquished the lion and the bear. So the Bible is our defence against our soul's enemies. See how Jesus used it (Matthew 4:1, etc.). It is wonderful for its power to protect.
II. IT IS WONDERFUL FOR ITS POWER TO COMFORT. Well, God's Word is like a staff for this reason. It gives strength to His people when they feel weak and ready to faint under their labours or their trials.
III. IT IS A WONDERFUL STAFF, BECAUSE OF ITS POWER TO SAVE. (James 1:21.) The Word of God is able to save the soul.
(R. Newton.)Psalm 23:4, we have mention made of "Thy rod and Thy staff." There is meaning in both, and distinct meaning. God's rod draws us back, kindly and lovingly, if we go aside from His path. God's staff protects us against the onset, open or secret, whether it be men or devils which are the enemies watching an opportunity for attack.
(Life of Dr. Duff.)
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