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In this Psalm, the “ sheep of God's pasture” address
themselves to their great and good SHEPHERD, declaring their acquiescence and confidence in him ; his diligence in feeding them with the food of eternal life ; his watchful care in bringing them back from the ways of error, and conducting them in the path of truth; his power in saving them from death; his loving kindness in vouchsafing his spiritual comforts, during their pilgrimage in an enemy's country; and they express their hope and trust, that a continuation of that loving kindness, will enable them to pass through the vanities and vexations of time, to the blissful glories of eternity.
1. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
In these words, which one cannot utter without feeling the happiness they were intended to describe, the believer is taught to express his absolute acquiescence and complacency, in the guardian care of the great Pastor of the universe, the Redeemer and Preserver of men.
With joy he reflects, that he has a Shepherd ;, and that that Shepherd is JEHOVAH ; one possessed of all the qualities requisite to constitute the pastoral character in the highest perfection. For where shall we ever find such unexampled diligence, such inexpressible tenderness, such exquisite skill, such all-subduing might, and such unwearied patience? Why should they fear, who have such a friend ? How can they want, who have such a Shepherd ? Behold us, O Lord Jesus, in ourselves hungry, and thirsty, and feeble, and diseased, and defenceless, and lost. O feed us, and cherish us, and heal us, and defend us, and bear with us, and restore us!
2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures : he leadeth me beside the still waters.
The loveliest image' afforded by the natural world, is here represented to the imagination; that of a flock, feeding in verdant meadows, and reposing, in quietness, by the rivers of water, running gently through them. It is selected, to convey an idea of the provision made for the souls, as well as bodies of men, by His goodness, who “openeth his hand, and filleth all things living with plenteousness.” “By me," saith the Redeemer, “if any man enter in, he shall be saved ; and shall go in and out, and find pasture." And what says the Spirit of peace and comfort?. “Let him that is athirst coine; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Every flock that we see, should reinind us of our necessities; and every pasture should excite us to praise that love by which they are so bountifully supplied.
3. He restoreth my soul : he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness, for his name's sake.
To restore, or bring back, those that had gone astray, that is, in other words, to “ call sinners to repentance," was the employment of Him who, in the
parable of the “ lost sheep,” represents himself as executing that part of the pastoral office. By the same kind hand, when restored, they are thenceforth led in the path of righteousness, in the way of holy obedience. Obstructions are removed; they are strengthened, to walk and run in the path of God's commandments; while, to invite and allure them, a crown of glory appears, held forth at the end of it. All this is now done, for, in, by, and through, that name, beside which there is none other under heaven given unto man, whereby he may be saved.
4. 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 sheep here express their confidence in the power of their Shepherd, as sufficient to defend them against the last and most formidable enemy, death himself. To apprehend the scenery in this verse, we must conceive the church militant, and the church triumphant, as two mountains, between which lies the valley of the shadow of death, necessary to be passed by those who would go from one to the other. Over all that region of dreariness and desolation, extends the empire of the king of terrors : and the believer alone fears no evil, in his passage through it; because he is conducted by “that great Shepherd of the sheep, whom God brought again from the dead :" and who can therefore show us the path of life, through the vale of death. In all our dangers and distresses, but chiefly in our last and greatest need, let thy rod, the sceptre of thy kingdom, O Lord, protect us, and thy
pastoral staff guide and support our steps; till, through the dreaded valley, we pass to the heavenly mountain, on which St. John saw “the Lamb standing, with a great multitude, redemed from the earth.”
5. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies : thou anointest my head with oil ; my cup runneth over.
Another set of images, borrowed from a feast, is introduced, to give us ideas of those cordials and comforts prepared to cheer and invigorate the fainting soul, while, surrounded by enemies, it is accomplishing its pilgrimage through life; during which time, its sorrows and afflictions are alleviated and sweetened by the joys and consolations of the Holy One ; by the feast of a good conscience; by the bread of life, the oil of gladness, and the cup of salvation, still full, and running over.
6. 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.
Experience of goodness and mercy, already so often vouchsafed, begets an assurance of their being continued to the end; for nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, if we do not separate ourselves from it. Thus will the Lord, our Saviour, provide for us on earth, and conduct us to heaven; where we shall dwell to “ length of days,” even the days of eternity, "one, fold under one Shepherd :” a fold into which no enemy enters, and from which no friend departs : where we shall rest from all our labours, and see a period to all our sorrows; where the voice of praise and thanksgiving is heard continually; where all the faithful, from Adam to his last-born son, shall meet together, to behold the face of Jesus, and to be blessed with the vision of the Almighty; where “we shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on us, nor any heat. But the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed us, and lead us to living fountains of waters."
The editor subjoins, with pleasure, the following observations by Doctor Blair, on this most interesting Psalm.
“For illustration of what I have said, on the influence of religion upon prosperity, remark that cheerful enjoyment of a prosperous state which king David had, when he wrote the twenty-third psalm ; and compare the highest pleasures of the riotous sinner, with the happy and satisfied spirit which breathes throughout that psalm.-In the midst of the splendour of royalty, with what amiable simplicity of gratitude does he look
up to the Lord, as “his Shepherd;" happier in ascribing all his success to Divine favour, than to the policy of his councils, or to the force of his arms! How many instances of Divine goodness arose before him in pleasing remembrance, when with such relish he speaks of the “s green pastures and still waters, beside which God had led him; of his cup which he had made to overflow; and of the table which he had prepared for him, in presence of his enemies !" With what perfect tranquillity does he look forward to the time of his pass. ing through “the valley of the shadow of death ;” unappalled by that spectre, whose most distant appearance blasts the prosperity of sinners! He fears no evil, as long as “the rod.