"He makes me lie down in green pastures." Psalm 23:2.
"He lets me rest in green meadows." Psalm 23:2.
David had affirmed his belief- predicated upon the all-sufficiency of his Shepherd- that he should not be in need. It was, as we have remarked, the natural and logical conclusion of faith from the promise. He now proceeds to justify and confirm it: "He makes me to lie down in green pastures." It is one of the most natural and essential duties of a shepherd that he should provide suitable and ample nourishment for his flock; and then skillfully and timely to conduct them to it. Such is the office to which our Psalmist now refers.
There is no evidence of the truth of the Bible so convincing as the evidence of personal experience. "You are my witnesses," says God. He who can lay his hand upon his heart, and say- "I have the testimony here that God's word is true," is fortified against the most sophistical and powerful assaults of the foes of the faith. "He that believes on the Son of God, has the witness in Himself." If this weapon, my reader, is yours, let it not slumber in the scabbard; but draw it thence, and wield it manfully, "valiant for the truth upon the earth," and "contending earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints." You need not then tremble before the atheism and rationalism of the day; your sword is invincible- your soul invulnerable. Bend your ear to this sweet refrain of our song- "He makes me lie down in green pastures."
It will be observed that David employs the plural number- "pastures." The Lord's flock is composed of many sheep, of various orders of mind, degrees of knowledge, and attainments in grace. As in His Family there are 'babes,' 'little children,' 'young men,' and 'fathers;' so in His Fold there are the 'lambs' and the 'sheep'- representing different degrees of grace and stages of maturity in the Christian life. But, for the nourishment of all these- the 'lamb,' the 'sheep,' and 'those that are with young', Christ, the Shepherd, has suitably and richly provided. What a precious truth meets us here! No member of Christ's flock scanning these pages need retire from their perusal with the sigh- "Alas! my case is not recognized- my need is not met- my way is hid from the Lord- my judgment is passed over from my God." Come and walk amid these pastures, and see if there is not 'milk for babes' in grace- 'tender grass for lambs'- and 'strong food for those who are of full age,' -admiring and adoring the love and wisdom of the Divine Shepherd who so graciously and amply provided them.
We place in the foreground, the green pastures of God's truth. All other nourishment flows from, and is subsidiary to, this. All sacred literature- embracing those works of sanctified minds through whose channels biblical illustration, spiritual teaching, and practical and comforting truth are conveyed- is based upon the divine authority and teaching of God's revealed Word. The divine life in the regenerate can only be sustained and nourished by nourishment congenial to its nature; divinity must be met with what is divine; the indwelling Spirit, with what is spiritual; the renewed intellect, with the thoughts and revelation of the mind of God. To attempt to satisfy its hungering with the light and worldly literature of the day- the fiction, the story, the play- were to starve its cravings and dwarf its growth. The Bible is the granary of the spiritual life of the regenerate, from where it draws the "daily bread" that feeds and nourishes it that it may grow thereby.
Listen to the testimony of all the saints, "How sweet are your words unto my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." Let this be the first and chief meadow to which your soul travels for its nourishment. Permit no uninspired volume, however sacred- still more, allow no worldly literature, however intellectual and entrancing- to supplant in your study and meditation the pure word of God. What David said of the "sword of Goliath" may with yet more significance be said of the "sword of the Spirit," "There is none like that; give it to me." By the devout and close study of this sacred volume, accompanied with the teachings of the Holy Spirit, by whose inspiration it was given, your acquaintance with God's character will be close, your views of divine truth will be sound, your knowledge of Christ will increase; and the graces of the Spirit thus strengthened and nourished, you will put forth the might and prowess of "a perfect man in Christ Jesus." In this divine fold all may roam; the 'lambs may feed in their way,' and the sheep in yet richer pasture.
Here are gracious invitations for the sin-laden; precious promises for the sorely tried; real consolation for the bereaved mourner; a glorious hope for the most deeply depressed and most profoundly despairing sinner; a balm that heals every wound, a hand that dries every tear.
"Lord, I have made Your Word my choice,
My lasting heritage;
There shall my noblest powers rejoice,
My warmest thoughts engage.
"I'll read the histories of Your love,
And keep Your laws in sight,
While through Your promises I rove
With ever fresh delight.
"Tis a broad field of wealth unknown,
Where springs of life arise,
Seeds of immortal bliss are sown,
And hidden treasure lies.
"The best relief that mourners have,
It makes our sorrows blest
Our fairest hope beyond the grave,
And our eternal rest."
The doctrines of grace supply rich and appropriate pasture for Christ's flock. It must be acknowledged, with a sigh, that these divine and precious truths are not received by many modern Christians with the reverence and love of other days. And yet, how instructive and establishing, how comforting and sanctifying, are the doctrines of electing love-finished redemption-sovereign mercy- free grace-effectual calling-and final salvation. How the spiritual mind loves to roam amid those green meadows, to feed among those rich pastures; and is nourished and established by those truths which lay the boast of human merit, and the pride of man's power in the dust; and ascribe to the Triune Jehovah, the glory of that 'salvation which is of the Lord.' Hold fast these distinguishing doctrines of grace theologically, live upon them spiritually, and exhibit them practically in all their holy and sanctifying influence.
Not less nourishing is the preceptive teaching of God's word. How significantly and indissolubly interwoven are the doctrines and the precepts of the bible! Who can study devoutly the Pauline epistles addressed to the Ephesian and Colossian churches, and not be profoundly impressed with this truth? Doctrine is the basis of precept, and precept is the handmaid of promise. Built up in the divine doctrines, the believer will study to walk in the holy precepts; and walking in the precept, he may fully expect a fulfilment of the promise; and thus the preceptive part of God's word, which "teaches us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world"- will realize to him the precious promise- "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." Lord, make me as intensely to love the precepts, as I firmly believe the doctrines, and earnestly plead the promises of Your word!
But how can we adequately picture the real and ample pasture provided in the fulness and all-sufficieney of Christ Himself, the Shepherd of the flock? It is a marvellous, and not less precious, truth that the sheep live upon the person, resources, and supplies of their Shepherd. Could any argument in support of His Essential Deity be more conclusive? A Being who, from Himself, could meet all the needs of His church-collectively and personally- in all ages- in all climates- and at all times- must be absolutely and essentially Divine. "In Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." And, touching the mediatorial relation to the flock as their Redeeming Shepherd, it is written: "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell." From this, His own infinite and boundless sufficiency, the Shepherd supplies all the needs of His flock. You have not a sin His grace cannot pardon- not a corruption it cannot subdue- not an infirmity it cannot help- not a burden it cannot sustain- not a sorrow it cannot sooth-not a difficulty it cannot surmount. "ALL FULNESS"- "FULL OF GRACE." Oh live in your emptiness and poverty by faith upon the all-sufficiency of Christ! He is honored and glorified when the 'hungry sheep, looking up' to the under shepherd 'and are not fed'- repair to Him for the food for which they crave, but cannot find, and from whom they receive it with no reluctant and measured hand. Oh what music in the Shepherd's ear is the feeble bleat of the lamb- the plaintive cry of the sheep- appealing in times of sorrow, danger, and need, to His sympathy, power, and protection! "I know my sheep, and am known of mine."
He leads us too in the green pastures of the ministry of His word. It is no light blessing to be led into the fertile fold of a purely and fully preached gospel. The Christian ministry is as divinely an appointed institution as any ordinance of the Church of God- not one whit less so than Baptism or the Lord's Supper. Any religious sect or system that ignores the gospel Ministry, and sets up in its place another, and an unscriptural one, as diametrically opposed to the appointment of Christ, and the teaching of God's word. In recognition of this institution, the glorified Shepherd, "when He ascended up on high, gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." And what language can fully set forth the immense blessing to the flock of a Christ-exalting ministry, fragrant with the anointing, rich with the fulness, and glowing with the beauties of the Shepherd? Oh, if He has so favored you, estimate highly the worth, weigh accurately the responsibility, and study prayerfully the duties involved in a boon so divine, precious, and priceless. "Know those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and esteem them very highly in love for their works' sake;" remember them in your intercessions, and consider that the frequency and fervor of your prayers on their behalf will be the measure and richness of your profit by them. Nor this alone. The responsibilities of the Christian ministry, and of the Christian Church, are mutual and reciprocal. You have a duty to perform even as they; and this is your duty- that you see that their temporal necessities are justly and amply cared for. In pressing this duty upon you we have the mind of the Spirit, and the injunction of the apostle. "Who feeds a flock, and eats not of the milk of the flock? . . . . If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your earthly things? . . . The Lord has ordained that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel." Look well to this sacred duty- no, this sweet privilege- and see that he who leads you into the green pastures of the gospel- feeds and nourishes your souls in the faith- is lightened of all needless temporal anxiety through your bountifulness. If it is his solemn and bounden duty to preach to you the whole counsel of God, not less is it your individual and bounden duty- yes, your holy and sweet privilege- to see that his temporal necessities are so equitably and suitably met as that, freed from anxiety and care, he may give himself wholly to prayer and meditation; and thus your soul profit withal. We verily and solemnly believe that to a neglect of this divine precept and apostolic injunction may, to a great extent, be traced the fact that in the Church of God so "many are weak and sickly, and many sleep." There is a 'withholding' from Christ's ministers temporally, and it tends to the poverty and leanness of those who thus withhold spiritually. There is a just and righteous law regulating spiritual as well as temporal things. "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over. . . . . For with the same measure that you mete withal it shall be measured to you again." Thus, the measure of your temporal liberality shown towards Christ's ministering servants- especially him who ministers to you- will be the measure-pressed down and running over- of what you will be the recipient through the channel of his ministrations. Oh to remember that we are not proprietors, but stewards- not the owners, but the trustees of our intellectual endowments, and worldly possessions; and that before long we shall hear the summons- "Give an account of your stewardship; for you may be no longer steward." May that account be with joy, and not with grief- with honor, and not with shame- when standing before the Master, we bend our ear to His approving voice, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your Lord."
The Ordinance of the Lord's Supper is not the least nourishing and refreshing of the pasturage provided by Christ for His flock. The ordinance, in its original institution by Christ, was to compass two purposes- the one, the perpetual memorial until His Second Coming, of His one, great, sacrificial oblation of Himself once offered for sin; the other, to keep the Christ-believing, loving heart in life and bloom, as it roamed through this luxuriant and fragrant meadow, and reposed upon its green and sunlit slope. An institution of His own appointment, and designed to be a memento of Himself, and the channel of blessing to His saints, what less could we expect than that the King should preside at His own Royal Banquet; and that, influenced by His spiritual presence, our graces of penitence, faith, and love, should breathe their fragrance, to His ineffable complacence and delight.
"While at the table sits the King,
He loves to see us smile and sing;
Our graces are our best perfume,
And breathe like spikenard round the room."
There is, probably, no occasion- if we may speak of degrees in the Savior's love- on which the heart and ear of Christ are so widely expanded as when in faith and love we meet thus in obedience to His command, and in remembrance of Himself. With a heart thus dilated, and an ear thus inclined, He waits to catch the softest sigh of grief- the deepest groan of desire- the most urgent appeal of neediness- saying to each guest, "What is your request, and what is your petition? "Hasten- for the audience is brief and precious, the moments are few and fleeting- to pour out your whole heart before Him, telling Him all your cares- all you feel- and all you need. But examine yourself, and ascertain whether your views of the Lord's Supper are in strict accord with the teaching of the Lord Himself. Beware of being seduced from the nature, design, and simplicity of this ordinance by the Romish perversions of the day! The moment you substitute the material for the spiritual- sense for faith- the corporeal for the spiritual presence of Christ in the Sacrament- that moment a withering mildew will fall upon your observance of the rite; and, thus ceasing to be "afield which the Lord has blest," no nourishment or refreshment will flow through it to your soul. But, oh, how expressive and precious the ordinance, when in faith and love we cluster around that solemn Banquet! Then it is we realize, in some degree, the significance and fulness of the Savior's words- "He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in Him." And then, too, our swelling, joyous hearts respond- "I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to any taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love." Thus, Lord, ever feed and nourish my soul, until at Your call I exchange the Feast of Earth, for the Banquet of Heaven, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and all the saints in glory, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb."
The health and nourishment of a flock often demand a variety and change of pasture. The Lord, our Shepherd, acts upon this principle. He leads His sheep from one pasture to another, varying it as best suits the circumstances and condition of His saints. The ministers of Christ are not, happily, all alike endowed. The same law of variety which pervades all God's works exists in the Church of God. All ministers have not the same order of gifts, or the same degree of grace, as all have not the same office and work. Some are apostles- some evangelists- some pastors, and some teachers. Marvel not, then, if the Lord sees fit to change either your shepherd or your pasture. Rest assured that, in removing your minister from you, or you from your minister- as He often does with His people- He is but consulting your highest interests, and His own greatest glory. He is the fittest Judge of your soul's requirements, and how best to meet them. He may see the necessity of a change in your pasturage. You have, perhaps, been roaming in fields rich and luxuriant in intellectual and philosophical teaching, and, like Jeshurun, have "grown fat and kicked." Or, on the contrary, you have been browsing upon the stony and barren moor, with scarcely a turf or a spire- intellectually or spiritually- to keep your soul alive in famine- and your cry is- "O my leanness! my leanness!" -and no marvel! The ever-varying circumstances of life- its chequered history of joy and sorrow- personal advance in knowledge, intelligence, and grace- often necessitate another and a different order of ministry than that upon which we have been wont to wait. We have- in our spiritual education- grown 'wiser than our teacher'; perhaps, more deeply rooted and grounded in the faith- more advanced in doctrinal truth and experimental religion- and we need a ministration of the Word more harmonizing therewith- more in sympathy with our matured judgment and our sorrow-disciplined heart. If, then, the Lord sees fit to change your Shepherd, and thus your pasture, be assured that He is but consulting your soul's greatest need and His own highest glory.
One feature yet remains to be noticed. They are "GREEN PASTURES" into which our Shepherd leads us. The image is beautiful and suggestive. They are always green; like the oasis of the desert, bright and radiant amid dreariness and sterility. Time does not change them- age does not impair them- neither the drought of summer nor the frosts of winter affect them. Like the "Tree of Life" planted in the New Jerusalem, they yield their verdure and their fruit 'every month,' every day; yes, always, in every place, and under all circumstances, they are bright with verdure and rich in nourishment. Come to God's word, when you may- to the Mercy Seat, where you may- to the Savior's fulness, as you may- with your most depressed frames, your most pressing need, your bitterest grief, your most embarrassing difficulty- your profoundest unworthiness- you will find these pastures ever the same. Change is written upon everything out of God, and Christ, and His word. All other sources of happiness pass away like 'the morning cloud and the early dew.' The warm springs of human affection congeal- the fervor, the promises, and the faithfulness of earthly friendship change- your features, yes, your very name, fading from its memory- and over the entire scenery of life, adversity may breathe its wintry blast and scatter its thick snows, and the green and pleasant pasture of earthborn good wither and die; but the love of God and the sufficiency of the Savior undergo no change- "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever."
The 'grass' of these pastures never withers- the 'flowers' of these gardens never 'fade'- the springs of these meadows never dry- approach them, and you will find them always rich in nourishment, replete with comfort, inspiriting of joy; ever strengthening, soothing, and sanctifying. Oh, forget not that, beneath the cross of Jesus the richest pasture, the sweetest flowers grow. There are experienced the truest penitence, the strongest faith, the warmest love, and the brightest hope- and when barrenness, dreariness and sorrow mantle and becloud every other position and prospect of life, at the foot of the cross are found a precious Savior- perfect peace- fulness of joy- the love of God, and the hope of glory!