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An illustration of the position contained in this introductory verse, and of its effect upon a gracious mind, occupies the rest of the psalm, and divides it into two corresponding parts—the first, (verses 2, 3, 4, and 5,) unfolds the nature of Christ's pastoral office; and the second, (verse 6,) is the psalmist's tribute of faith and gratitude.
I. The pastoral office of Christ is represented to consist in making provision for his flock, in its direction, and its defense.
1. The good Shepherd provides for his flock. Verse 2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures : he leadeth me beside the still waters.
A flock of sheep feeding securely in rich pastures and by the cooling stream, is a pleasing spectacle in any country. But under the sultry skies, and amidst the burning sands, of the East, it awakened exquisite emotion, and was a lively emblem of temporal and spiritual felicity. Most significantly does it depict the condition of believers. The world around them is a land of deserts and of drought, which yields nothing to satisfy the longing soul. Sooner shall the body be nourished by whirlwinds and the dust, than the spirit with things of mere time and sense. But from this land of deserts and of drought, does the gracious Shepherd lead his flock to green pastures, and gentle waters; that is, he provides enjoyments for them as suitable to their
nature and circumstances, as the best of pasture and of water are to the literal sheep. Let us, therefore, inquire what these enjoyments are, and where they are to be found.
In general, they are the mercies of the new Covenant, established in his hands as in the hands of a mediator. He delivers his people, by faith in his blood, from the inquietudes of an evil conscience; puts them beyond the reach of the curse, for there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus; and rescues them from the bondage of sin and Satan. He reveals to them his excellence, admits them into his friendship, sheds his love abroad in their hearts, introduces them to his father as their reconciled God, intercedes for them within the vail, supports them by his grace, gives them an inheritance among them that are sanctified, and is Himself their all.
Now these are enjoyments adapted to the nature of an immortal soul, and commensurate with its faculties. Here the meek eat and are satisfied. The void in the bosom is filled up. They have found the pearl of great price, and are enriched forever. Secured in the possession of everlasting good, they may say, Return to thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. Till the pastures of God wither, and the river of life fail, they cannot want: and it is their own fault, if the peace of God, which VOL. II.
passeth all understanding, do not keep their hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
These spiritual blessings are dispensed in the church; for she is the church of the living God, without whose pale there is no revealed way of salvation. He has committed to her, as a sacred deposit, his word and ordinances, by which sinners are convinced, converted, and made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The original of all saving truth is in the person of Jesus Christ; and the exact transcript of it, in his word. His word is truth, and truth is the food of the soul. All its principles,
All its principles, and precepts, and promises, are designed to convey supplies of grace out of the fullness of our Lord Jesus. Even the scandal of the cross, and the sublimer doctrines of religion, are adapted to the taste of the new man, and promote his growth. And as they all have a practical use; not one of them, however odious to carnal wisdom, can be taken from the Bible without depriving believers of a means by which they receive from God out of heaven both the bread of life and the water of life. Hence the testimonies of the psalmist and the prophet: Howo sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth. Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart. And hence, too. the reverence of believers for the holy scripture. It is the language and the voice of their God and Father, speaking peace to his saints, which is better to them than thousands of gold and silver. His sentence is creation; and when it has gone forth to bless them through the medium of his word, neither earth nor hell shall hinder them from rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
With the word of God we are to connect his ordinances, comprehending the whole system of instituted worship. They bear the image and superscription of the Lord our lawgiver, and are instruments by which he both maintains his authority, and imparts his grace. To these ends, beside the devotion of the closet and family, the public homage of the church on his own day, the holy sacraments, the ministry of reconciliation, all contribute. In preaching the word, and in the other functions of their calling, the undershepherds obey the commandment of the Chief Shepherd, Feed my sheep-feed my lambs. Precious as are the divine truths in themselves and at all times, they are clothed with less majesty, and, ordinarily, accompanied with less power, in the exercises of private religion, than in the service of the sanctuary. For the Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Next to the Holy Spirit, the ministry of the word is our Redeemer's principal ascensiongift; a standing pledge to the church, and proof to the world, that he is now in the presence of God for us. Accordingly he puts a distinguished honor
upon this ordinance; for the preaching of the cross,
which is to them that perish, foolishness, is to them who are saved, the power of God. This explains the attachment of true Christians to the house of God. Many resort thither from the impulse of habit, of fashion, of curiosity, or, it may be, of less reputable motives; but they see his
power and his glory. There are the goings of their God, their King: and there he abundantly blesses Zion's provision, satisfies her poor with bread, and clothes her priests with salvation, so that her saints shout aloud for joy. “Happy is the people that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people whose God is Jehovah.”
2. The good Shepherd exercises a vigilant superintendence over the steps of his flock. Verse 3. He restoreth my soul : he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
This branch of his office includes the double grace of recovering his people from their errors, and shaping the course of their renewed obedience.
1st. Recovery from their errors. He restoreth