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ration and sanctifying energy, when employed in the Spirit's hand as an instrument to fulfil the purposes of God.
trinsic excellencies, and the experience of its saving power. So far is it from being a matter of surprise to us, that carnal men are drawn to the study of the word, and are ofttimes found delightedly perusing and eloquently praising its varied contents; that it is a matter of surprise, and only to be accounted for by its holiness, which repels, and its truths which alarm, why they are not more attracted to a book, which for poetical beauties of every description, for historical facts, touching all nations and all ages, for helps to philosophy in all its branches, stands unrivalled,—excelling all other books in the graces of composition, the quantity, variety, and usefulness of the subordinate information it conveys, almost as it does in the high matters of its origin, its character, its efficacy, and its end. The very mould into which sacred truth is cast, the form it assumes, encreases the peril, lest the message of God should come in word only and not in power also; lest the excellency of speech, through our corruptions, should so engross the attention and captivate the mind, as that the subject be forgotten or subordinated; and, while the fancy is delighted and the mind informed, the heart remains, as to any radical and saving change, unaltered and unconverted. The more beautiful, then, and interesting and attractive, by reason of its suitableness to our peculiar taste and habits of thought and research, any portion of the sacred page is found, the greater care should be observed, that we rest not in word only, that we recall to mind the great end for which all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, which is not to gratify the taste, nor to amuse the imagination, nor improve and elevate the mind, nor to store the memory with images and truths, however gratifying and even useful, but to convert the heart and save the soul by its powerful ope
No man, with any pretension to taste for that which is exquisite in composition, can read the twenty-third Psalm without delight and gratification: but if that is all, David wrote and you read in vain. It is to convince us of the blessedness of being among the number of Christ's sheep, and that by faith, which cometh through hearing his word, we may become part of the little flock, and value our privileges in living under the guidance, protection, and pastoral care of the Good Shepherd, that David recorded his own experience: and, oh, may God impart to us alike precious faith, and a like good hope through grace, enabling us with him to contemplate things present and things to come, life and death, time and eternity, as ours; to rejoice in the fruition of a substantial good already realized, and in the sure persuasion of obtaining at the last, what eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath entered the heart of man. Let us read the Psalm, and then confine ourselves within the limits which the text prescribes. "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. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
The tenth chapter of St. John's Gos
universal dormitory, the house appointed for all living, and repeatedly distinguished by the Holy Ghost in words similar to those employed in the text. We believe that David principally intended this last object, although we do not deny that it may include those terrors of the Lord which his people ofttimes suffer with a troubled mind, and which, in other parts of his inspired strain, the sweet Psalmist of
pel furnishes a sweet and expressive or an entrance into the grave, that commentary upon these words of David-identifies the Psalmist's shepherd-establishes the justice of his reasonings and expectations, as to the certainty of present grace and perseverance unto the end, and describes with accuracy the character of those who can take up the Psalmist's language, and confidently look for the realization of the Psalmist's hope. You observe, that while the general tenor of the Psalm respects the present | Israel describes under this most signicondition of those who, "though once | ficant and awful figure. as sheep going astray, have now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls," the particular verse upon which it is our intention to discourse principally, contemplates a something beyond its boundaries, and that is calculated in the prospect to awaken the most alarming and fearful apprehension, but for considerations which divest the object contemplated of all its terrors, and depicts a state of quiet and peaceful rest under the shadow of his protecting care, who is described as guiding them unto green pastures and beside the still waters, providing for every want and securing against all dangers incident to us in our passage through a world of sin and sorrow.
Let us FIRST examine what the object is and consider SECONDLY the disposition of mind-the feelings and spirit with which he contemplates it: and THIRDLY, the grounds of that confidence here displayed.
FIRST. THE OBJECT WHICH THE PSALMIST HERE CONTEMPLATES is, "the valley of the shadow of death." This highly figurative but most significant expression is found not unfrequently in Scripture, and when found, intends either the most severe and terrible affliction which God in his inscrutable wisdom might ordain for his people, the most dark and painful dispensation under which they should ever come,
FIRST, Afflictive dispensations are described by this figure. Thus the Jewish church describing her desolateness, says, "Thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death;" and again describing their condition of misery and God's mercy to them, speaks of their being "such as sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder." So again the Lord, by Jeremiah, thus threatens affliction for their sin, "give glory to the LORD your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains; and while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness." The object, then, which the Psalmist contemplates would include, upon the supposition that the term is thus comprehensive, the heaviest affliction he could be called to endure the darkest and most inexplicably mysterious dispensation under which he could be brought-the deepest waters through which he was to pass-the most fiery trial which could await any of God's dear children, sent in order to purge out the dross, and make them meet for glory. It would doubtless include and comprehend all the possible variety of sufferings belonging unto this pre
sent time, the tribulations which, for horror, and bitterness, and acuteness, for the fears they are calculated to awaken, and the distress and anguish they are liable to cause, are aptly represented by the valley of the shadow of death;" tribulations ordained of God as a means of purification, and such as his people must not think it a strange thing if they are called to suffer, since in enduring them they are conformed to his example who was made perfect through suffering.
But SECONDLY, the figure evidently intends us to contemplate that final and determinate change which is to pass on all but the quick at Christ's appearing which the letter predicates; that termination of this brief existence which is brought about by the dissolution of soul and body, when that spirit which is of God returns unto its Original to be disposed of in another age of eternal endurance either in hell or heaven, and the body to the dust whence it Job asks, "Are not my days few cease, then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little. Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness, and the shadow of death; a land of darkness as darkness itself, and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness." Again he asks, "Have the gates of death been opened unto thee, or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?" And when he would describe the guilty fears of those whose works are darkness and who dread the light, he "For the morning is to them says, even as the shadow of death: if one know them, they are in the terrors of the shadow of death."
Death is an awful and a terrible thing in itself; and David may well prefix that significant word yea, to imply, the extraordinariness that he could contemplate thus an entrance into the dark valley without fear and trembling.
It is the public manifestation of the tempter's original victory over man, of his right over flesh and blood, which by sin became his property, so that he has the power of death, and claims as his own the earthly house of this tabernacle in which he causes the worms to riot; and, oh, if the former tenant has not, through faith in Him who has abolished death, obtained life and immortality, he only waits until the resurrection to grasp him in his fell embrace, and together with his prey sink into an unfathomable abyss of eternal woe. Death is in itself a dreadful object of contemplation. It is called an enemy, and a variety of considerations invest it with awful features.
First, It is the dissolution of soul and body, and involves the breach of those ties which natural affection holds the dearest. In contemplating that period when we enter the valley, we necessarily contemplate a termination of the present, and the commencement of a new species of existence. Satan claims the body-God requires the soul. The one becomes the prey of reptiles, the other enters upon a condition of being, of which little is revealed; enough, however, to inspire terror into the impenitent, and to impart everlasting consolation through grace to the hearts of God's dear children. Death is the dissolution of soul and body; and when we enter this dark valley, we leave behind us everything that has accompanied us through life's journey, and the soul, naked and alone, traverses it, either saved or lost, bent towards heaven or hell.
Secondly, It is a valley from which there is no return, and in which there is no repentance. "I shall go to him," said David, speaking of his child which God had in righteous severity removed, "but he shall not return to me." It is a journey into a far country, and when taken no
step can be retraced: and there is no place for repentance, even were it possible for conviction to be wrought in the deluded victim, who has entered the valley of the shadow of death, without a saving interest in the blood of Jesus. When man giveth up the ghost, the die is cast, the door is shut. Does he die in Jesus? then shall he sleep secure and full of peace in the arms of a present Saviour, until waked by the archangel's trump upon the resurrection morn. Does he depart without having been washed in His blood and sanctified by His spirit? He passes the interval under a full consciousness of his agonizing condition, endures as much suffering as an immaterial spirit can endure, and receives at the same hand which crowns the righteous with endless glory, and blesses them with inconceivable happiness, his fearful portion, which only resembles that of God's elect, in that it is uninterrupted and eternal. There is no return from that valley, no repentance in it. Hence the importance of attending to the wise man's word, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest." The entrance of this valley is the commencement of a state unchangeable, excepting so far as the expectations and foretastes of felicity or woe are realized at the resurrection. Once more,
Thirdly, It is a valley through which all men must pass: so much as this is certain; but it is utterly out of our power to ascertain when we shall be called to take the journey. But woe, woe to the man upon whom this last enemy comes unawares. The admonition of Jesus, in respect of his second coming, may be well applied to us in all ages, and, doubtless, the ground of the admonition bears in a subordinate degree upon the point before us. "Be
ye, therefore, also ready for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not."
Now these and such-like considerations invest death with features justifying the figure under which David represents it as a valley overhung with clouds. Oh, ye unregenerate children, pause ere ye die and enter upon this last journey, which shall conduct to, and terminate in, either heaven or hell! Oh, ye inconsistent Christians, ye double-minded, ye livers for both worlds, bethink you what your lot would be, if summoned to enter the valley of the shadow of death unprepared for the dismal journey! Ye children of God who trust in Jesus and walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, ye too must tread the valley of the shadow of death; but you are chosen in Him, and safe wrapped up and enfolded in His arms, who has abolished death, and was a partaker of the children's flesh and blood, that he might destroy him that had the power of death, even the devil, and deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage. Invested as death is with terrors, arising out of its character and consequences, you need not fear. Yours is eternal life: and the disruption of all earthly ties, and the cessation of all sublunary hopes open to you a door of entrance into the house not made with hands, and bring you into the presence of your Saviour and your God.
And thus we are brought to the consideration of our SECOND topic, namely, THE DISPOSITION OF MIND WITH WHICH THE PSALMIST CONTEMPLATED THIS OBJECT. "I will fear no evil." Christ's language to his little flock is, “Fear not :" the reply of faith, in consequence of his encouraging address is, "I will not fear." "I will fear no evil." However dark and gloomy the clouds which overhang my path, or deep as the waters may prove through
which I have to pass, in the contem- | evil can ever reach those around whom
Jesus throws his everlasting arms, and for whom he sanctifies every dispensation and causes all things to work together for good.
And is not his, then, a happy lot who can, who ought to say, I will fear no evil, into whose mouth, he who cannot lie, puts, as it were, these very words and ordereth him to utter them? Yes, blessed are the people who are in such a case, defended, guided, fed by the Good Shepherd, who, having bought them by his blood, thus gives himself up to the perfect accomplishment of their preservation and felicity. And oh, it is our joy, our privilege, as under shepherds, to gather out of this naughty world the perishing victims of sin and Satan, and to invite all the sons of men to hear our Master's voice, and to follow him; and in his name to promise that all "who believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
plation of the severest possible trials to flesh and blood, and of that last hour when all human sources of enjoyment and of comfort are dried up, and every human prop snaps asunder, I will fear no evil:-no, not the evil one, who then shall put forth all his malice and his more dangerous artifices, nor evil men who, though they kill the body, cannot harm the soul, nor any evil thing; since all things work together for my good, and nothing can separate me from the love of Christ. This fearlessness of evil as to the future, this power of contemplating without alarm the passage through the deep waters of trouble, and through the valley of the shadow of death, is the privilege of faith and the blessedness which belongeth unto the adoption and were we duly sensible of the magnitude and the fulness and the freedom of the unspeakable gift which God has given to his Church in giving Christ Jesus, and all things in Him; and in giving the Holy Spirit to make all these things ours, and did we seek unto the Lord with holy confidence and bold requests for the very largest, chiefest, yea, for all the blessings which his precious blood has purchased, we, too, should say with David, "I will fear no evil." Where our fears do not arise from our worldly dispositions and worldly compliances, from our inconsistent lives and unsanctified tempers, from our grieving the Holy Spirit by an unholy walk, they spring, and therefore, in the broken-hearted and sorrowful contrite ones do arise, from legal fears and a want of realizing the exceeding great and precious promises which are their rightful portion, and not from any will or purpose in Jehovah that they should be thus fearful. Oh, God would have us stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made his adopted free. He would have us fear no evil, since no
And now let us examine for our instruction, THIRdly, the grounds of THAT CONFIDENCE MANIFESTED BY THE BELIEVING PSALMIST. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." The grounds of David's fearlessness are precise and definite, utterly differing from the loose and vague and general grounds upon which men, who have not faith, rest their fallacious hopes of impunity hereafter, and of a safe passage into a better world. The grounds of his confidence are the assured presence of the Good Shepherd; and the certainty of being supported by his rod and staff. Let us briefly notice the structure of David's foundation-what is it composed of?
First," thou art with me." It was God's promise of old to a faithful one, and it is a promise fulfilled to every child of God. "My presence shall go with thee." Chosen in Christ, buried