Great Texts of the Bible
A Personal Providence
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.—Psalm 23:1.
Perhaps no single lay in the Psalter has taken such a hold of the imagination and the heart of believers as the 23rd Psalm. None can estimate its influence on the Church of God throughout the past, whether on her spiritual life generally or in the case of particular individuals. The sorrowful have been cheered by it; the troubled have been led into peace; the prisoner has sung it in his dungeon and felt himself a captive no more; the pilgrim has been gladdened by it as he wandered in the wilderness, in a solitary way, and found no city to dwell in; the fainting soul has been refreshed by it, and enabled to mount up as on eagles’ wings; doubts and fears and questionings of Providence, and forebodings of ill, and all the black brood of unbelief, have been chased away by it, like the shades of night by the day-star; it has been God’s balm to the wounded spirit; it has strengthened God’s people to bear the cross, and to suffer their lives to be guided by His will; it has been whispered by dying lips, as the last earthly utterance of faith and gratitude and hope, the prelude of the New Song in which there is no note of sorrow.
Probably few Psalms are oftener read, or with stronger feeling, by careless readers than the twenty-third, singing of God’s grace to the humble, and the twenty-fourth, singing of God’s grace to the noble; and there are probably no other two whose real force is so little thought of. Which of us, even the most attentive, is prepared at once to tell, or has often enough considered, what the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” means, in the one, or the “Hill of the Lord,” in the other?1 [Note: Ruskin, Rock Honeycomb (Works, xxxi. 203).]
Spurgeon says of this matchless Psalm: “It is David’s Heavenly Pastoral; a surpassing ode, which none of the daughters of music can excel. The clarion of war here gives place to the pipe of peace, and he who so lately bewailed the woes of the Shepherd, tunefully rehearses the joys of the flock. We picture David singing this unrivalled pastoral with a heart as full of gladness as it can hold. This is the pearl of Psalms, whose soft, pure radiance delights every eye; a pearl of which Helicon need not be ashamed, though Jordan claims it.” Some one else has said: “What the nightingale is among the birds, that is this Divine ode among the Psalms, for it has rung sweetly in the ear of many a mourner in his night of weeping, and has bidden him hope for a morning of joy.” I will venture to compare it also to the lark, which sings as it mounts, and mounts as it sings, until it is out of sight, and then not out of hearing. The whole Psalm is more fitted for the eternal mansions than for these dwelling-places below the clouds. The truths which are found in every sentence are almost too wondrous for mere mortal to grasp, and the heights of experience we are invited to ascend are almost too high for human climbing.1 [Note: G. Clarke, From the Cross to the Crown, 2.]
In January 1681, two “honest, worthy lasses,” as Peden calls them, Isabel Alison and Marion Harvie, were hanged at Edinburgh. On the scaffold they sang together, to the tune of “Martyrs,” Psalms 84. “Marion,” said Bishop Paterson, “you would never hear a curate; now you shall hear one,” and he called upon one of his clergy to pray. “Come, Isabel,” was the girl’s answer—she was but twenty years of age—“let us sing the 23rd Psalm,” and thus they drowned the voice of the curate. No execution of the time was more universally condemned than that of these two women. A roughly-drawn picture of the scene, with the title “Women hanged,” is prefixed to the first edition of The Hind Let Loose (1687). By its side is another engraving, which represents “The Wigtown Martyrs, drowned at stakes at sea.”2 [Note: R. E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life, 286.]
1. “The Lord.” It is the name Jehovah. Now this name does not of itself express God’s moral character, but rather His absolute, necessary, and eternal being, as the sole fount of existence, “who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen, nor can see.” While the generations of creaturely life pass on in ceaseless flow, while “our ages waste,” while the heavens themselves grow old, He stands up amidst His works the one, eternal, immutable “I am.”
2. This great Jehovah—what is He in His relation to us? The Psalm says He is a shepherd. The figure occurs very frequently in the Old Testament to indicate His relation to the covenant people and to every faithful member thereof. It is the word of Jacob, “God who shepherded me all my life long”; it is the word of the seed of Jacob, “We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” It tells of care, guidance, knowledge, defence, tenderness, love, on the part of God. Even to us, who seldom see a flock of sheep, except it may be passing through our dusty streets or scattered on the hillsides, the figure tells very much; but still more would it tell to the people of Israel.
Our English version misses something of the beauty of Jacob’s words (in blessing the sons of Joseph). The translation, God “who hath fed me,” is too meagre. We need to say, “who hath shepherded me.” The same word is the keynote of the finest of all the Psalms: “The Lord is my shepherd.” It is a beautiful metaphor, which comes with an exquisite pathos and a profound significance from the lips of a dying shepherd. The poets of a later age could only echo his words: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock.” All the tender grace of the Old Testament religion is found in this lovely conception. It was not one man or two, but a whole nation, that learned to believe in God as a Shepherd: “We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” No other ancient nation ever expected from God such loving care and unerring guidance, no other nation ever promised such meek submission and faithful following. And while the Hebrew temple and sacrifice and priesthood have passed away as the shadows of better things, the Hebrew thought of a Shepherd-God will live for ever.1 [Note: J. Strachan, Hebrew Ideals, ii. 147.]
3. “The Lord is my shepherd.” Mark the fulness, the expansiveness of this idea. On the one side “the Lord,” the infinite, unchangeable, and everlasting God, all that is glorious, and holy, and wise, and self-sufficient, and much to be admired; on the other “the Shepherd,” all that is tender, compassionate, and self-sacrificing, and much to be loved. These two characters—the one, all that is lofty in its magnificence; the other, all that is lowly in its condescension; the one, all glorious; the other, all gracious—are united. They are included and concentrated in the same large and loving heart, whose every pulsation sends the tide of life through the veins of His vast universe, but at the same time does not disdain to throb with strong and unwearied regardfulness for me.
You have seen a map or a plan on which these words are written: “Scale, 1 inch to a mile.” Now, that is the meaning of the text; it is one inch to a mile, one inch to a universe, one inch to infinity. Do you ask me what is the meaning of that peculiar writing upon the plan? I will tell you; give me the compasses. How far is it from A to B? Stretch out compasses—“Ten inches.” What does that mean? It means ten miles. Ten inches on the paper, but the ten inches stand for ten miles. That is just the text. “Shepherd” stands for Ineffable, Eternal, Infinite, Unthinkable; God on a small scale; God minimized that we may touch the shadow of His garment.1 [Note: Joseph Parker.]
1. “The Lord is my shepherd.” Here is the link that connects our hearts with the living God. It is a grand thing to consider how far out His shepherd-care extends. Man never yet lighted upon an unblest spot where no token of it could be seen. It meets us everywhere, and every hour. “The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works.” The lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the young lions in the tawny wild, all tribes of living and sentient creatures that people this earth, all the isles of light that shine in the blue immensity of heaven—the Lord careth for them all. We are astonished, overwhelmed, lost, when we think of the boundless extent of the fields into which His care reaches forth. But here our minds are called back from wandering out into His wide dominions, and we are directed to repose our own personal confidence in this great and unsearchable God, and to say, He is my Shepherd; mine, because He has given Himself to me; mine, for my heart trusts Him and clings to Him; my Shepherd, caring for me, loving me, keeping me.
We enter the Christian life by an act of simple appropriating faith. In a sense, all faith is “appropriating.” Mere intellectual faith is the act of the mind by which it lays hold on a truth and makes it its own. But the highest reach of this faculty of faith is when we face God’s largest lessons, and lay them to heart as true for us. Then, not only intellect, but will and desire make these truths ours. Perhaps the practical meaning of this appropriating faith has never been more clearly explained than in the early history of the eminent American preacher, W. M. Taylor. When he was a boy he heard a sermon in which the preacher dwelt much on the appropriating act of faith. He asked his father what it meant. Strange to say, that father had asked much the same question when he was a child, and now he repeated his mother’s answer for his own boy’s guidance: “Take your Bible, and underscore all the ‘my’s,’ and ‘mine’s,’ and the ‘me’s’ you come upon, and you will discover what ‘appropriation’ means.” We wish we could induce every reader of these words to spend ten minutes in this simple exercise now. Take the Psalms. “The Lord is my shepherd.” Is that true? True now? “He restoreth my soul.” Do you believe it? Now? Assuredly, if Christians would exercise this direct personal trust in the loving promises of God, it would mean a marvellous access of spiritual confidence, and power, and conquest.1 [Note: J. A. Clapperton, Culture of the Christian Heart, 37.]
Happy me! O happy sheep!
Whom my God vouchsafes to keep,
Ev’n my God, ev’n He it is
That points me to these paths of bliss;
On whose pastures cheerful Spring,
All the year doth sit and sing,
And rejoicing, smiles to see
Their green backs wear His livery:
Pleasure sings my soul to rest,
Plenty wears me at her breast,
Whose sweet temper teaches me
Not wanton, nor in want to be.
At my feet the blubbering mountain
Weeping, melts into a fountain,
Whose soft silver-sweating streams
Make high-noon forget his beams:
When my wayward breath is flying,
He calls home my soul from dying,
Strokes and tames my rabid grief,
And does woo me into life:
When my simple weakness strays
(Tangled in forbidden ways),
He (my Shepherd) is my guide;
He’s before me, on my side;
And behind me, He beguiles
Craft in all her knotty wiles;
He expounds the weary wonder
Of my giddy steps, and under
Spreads a path as clear as the day
Where no churlish rub says nay
To my joy-conducted feet,
Whilst they gladly go to meet
Grace and Peace, to learn new lays
Tuned to my great Shepherd’s praise.1 [Note: Richard Craskaw.]
“My Shepherd”—as if this individual Psalmist had appropriated the Deity. Yet it is quite in accord with the deepest experience and the most ideal observation. Of the sun in the heavens every little child might say, as he bathes his little fingers in the great flame, “The sun is my sun”; and yet it is everybody’s sun, and the little child’s sun all the more truly because it is everybody’s light. He does not take God away from others; he makes others feel how tender and how near God may be, though we have been searching for Him with lamps and candles and lanterns, whilst He was blazing upon us from every star that gleamed in the under heavens which we call the sky.2 [Note: J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vii. 271.]
When preaching to children from home, Dr. Wilson often related Lady Boyd’s story of “Jamie, the Shepherd Boy,” because he found that it “told” better than any of his other stories. It runs thus: A minister was visiting an ignorant shepherd boy on his death-bed. He gave the boy the text, “The Lord is my shepherd.” He bade him notice that the text had five words as his left hand had five knuckles. He repeated the text slowly, appropriating a word for each knuckle, and getting the boy to fold in a knuckle as he repeated each word. The minister told him that the fourth knuckle represented the most important word for him, the word “my,” and explained personal faith in a personal Saviour. The boy grew interested, and the light dawned upon him. One day Jamie’s mother met the minister at her door, and said, “Oh, come in, my Jamie is dead, and you will find his fourth knuckle folded in, and his forefinger resting upon it.”1 [Note: Dr. James Wells, Life of James Hood Wilson, 291.]
2. “The Lord is my Shepherd” is the language, not of nature but of grace; and it is not until by faith we have recognized Him, not in creation, not in providence, but in redemption, and that a redemption which was wrought out for and which has taken decisive effect on us, that we can look up with a glance of childlike confidence to God, and say, “My Maker is my Father, my God is my Shepherd; He who sitteth in the circle of the heavens has made for Himself a habitation in my heart, and the upholder of all the worlds is my best and nearest Friend.”
Ask yourself, if since it was first put upon your lips you have ever used it with anything more than the lips; if you have any right to use it; if you have ever taken any steps towards winning the right to use it. To claim God for our own, to have and enjoy Him as ours, means, as Christ our Master said over and over again, that we give ourselves to Him, and take Him to our hearts. Sheep do not choose their shepherd, but man has to choose—else the peace and the fulness of life which are here figured remain a dream and become no experience for him.
Some years ago I tried to get one of my children to commit the Twenty-third Psalm to memory; and, as she was too young to read for herself, I had to repeat it to her until she got hold of the words. I said, “Now, repeat after me, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ ” She said, “The Lord is your shepherd.” “No, I did not say that, and I want you to say to me the words I say to you. Now then, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ ” Again she said, “The Lord is your shepherd.” It was only after much effort I could get her to repeat the exact words. The child’s mistake was in some sense natural, but many of riper years have made the same blunder, saying by acts, if not by words, “The Lord is yours, but I have no experience of His shepherdly care and protection.”2 [Note: The Expository Times, xxii. 304.]
Jehovah my Shepherd
1. “The Lord is my shepherd.” The image, natural amongst a nation of shepherds, is first employed by Jacob (Genesis 48:15; Genesis 49:24). There, as here, God is the Shepherd of the individual (cf. Psalm 119:176), still more frequently of His people (Psalm 78:52, Psalm 80:1.; Micah 7:14; Isaiah 63:13, and especially Ezekiel 34): most beautifully and touchingly in Isaiah 40:11. So in the New Testament of Christ (John 10:1-16; John 21:15-17; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 5:4). To understand all the force of this image, we must remember what the Syrian shepherd was, how very unlike our modern shepherd.
2. Shepherd-life, as David knew it, was a life essentially emotional and devotional. Shepherdhood, as David exercised it, was a relation at once so affectionately solicitous and so ingeniously resourceful as to be akin to motherhood. For the sheep of Eastern lands live in their shepherd. He is the centre of their unity, the guarantee of their security, the pledge of their prosperity. For them, pastures and wells and paths and folds are all in him. Apart from him their condition is one of abject and pathetic helplessness. Should any sudden calamity tear him from them they are forthwith undone. Distressed and scattered, they stumble among the rocks, or bleed in the thorn-tangle, or flee, wild with fear, before the terror of the wolf. Hence a good shepherd never forsakes his sheep. He accompanies them by day and abides with them by night. In the morning he goes before them to lead them out, and in the evening, when he has gathered them into the fold, he lies down in their midst. Then as he views their still, white forms clustered about him in the darkness, his heart brims with a brooding tenderness.
Upon the hills the winds are sharp and cold,
The sweet young grasses wither on the wold,
And we, O Lord, have wandered from Thy fold,
But evening brings us home.
Among the mists we stumbled and the rocks,
Where the brown lichen whitens and the fox
Watches the straggler from the scattered flocks,
But evening brings us home.
The sharp thorns prick us, and our tender feet
Are cut and bleeding, and the lambs repeat
Their pitiful complaints—oh, rest is sweet,
When evening brings us home.
We have been wounded by the hunter’s darts,
Our eyes are very heavy, and our hearts
Search for Thy coming, when the light departs.
At evening bring us home.
The darkness gathers, thro’ the gloom no star
Rises to guide. We have wandered far,
Without Thy lamp we know not where we are.
At evening bring us home.
The clouds are round us and the snowdrifts thicken,
O Thou, dear Shepherd, leave us not to sicken,
In the waste night, our tardy footsteps quicken.
At evening bring us home.1 [Note: John Skelton.]
3. It was in anticipation of the time when His Son was to take our likeness upon Him, and die for us men, and for our salvation, that God revealed Himself to the Old Testament saints as “the Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock.” They rejoiced in the light that stretched toward them from the far-off day of Christ’s appearing. Of him they read the sure words of prophecy, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” We know how He, in one of the most touching of all His parables, applied this emblem to Himself, and thus gave it its true significance and beauty. “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”
On this, the “Good Shepherd” Sunday, one’s thoughts circulate round the significant symbol. The thought before me at this moment is the completeness of His knowledge of the sheep, their ills, necessities, possibilities, all involving on the part of the Shepherd completeness of sacrifice, “perfect sympathy calling out the perfect remedy,” as Westcott puts it. And one perceives the truth of this the more one’s own sympathies are educated, and one’s own life flows out.1 [Note: R. W. Corbet, Letters from a Mystic of the Present Day, 158.]
It is cheering to remember that, for the sake of His own Name, and of His own glory, as well as for the sake of His great love, the full supply of all our needs is guaranteed by our relationship to Him as our Shepherd. A lean, scraggy sheep, with torn limbs and tattered fleece, would be small credit to the shepherd’s care; but unless we will wander from Him, and will not remain restfully under His protection, there is no fear of such ever being our lot. We may lie down in peace, and sleep in safety, because the Shepherd of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. No lion or bear can ever surprise our ever-watchful Guardian, or overcome our Almighty Deliverer. He has once laid down His life for the sheep; but now He ever liveth to care for them, and to ensure to them all that is needful for this life, and for that which is to come.
“The Lord is my Shepherd.” He saith not was; He saith not may be, or will be. “The Lord is my Shepherd”—is on Sunday, is on Monday, and is through every day of the week; is in January, and is in December, and in every month of the year; is at home, and is in China; is in peace, and is in war; in abundance, and in penury. Let us live in the joy of the truth here pointed out: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want”; and let us learn to trust for others as well as for ourselves. Not only are the sheep of the flock safe, but the little lambs—about which the ewes may be more solicitous than about their own safety—are all under the same guardian Eye, and the same Shepherd’s care.2 [Note: Hudson Taylor, Choice Sayings, 22.]
4. The Lord is my Shepherd—what does that mean for me?
(1) God has the shepherd-heart, pulsing with pure and generous love—love that means grace and sacrifice.
(2) He has the shepherd-eye, that takes in the whole flock, and misses even the one poor sheep that wanders astray.
(3) He has the shepherd-nearness; not living far away, and hearing about us now and then through the report of His angels; He is about us and among us day and night.
(4) He has shepherd-knowledge, being acquainted with everything that concerns us, understanding our desires better than we do ourselves.
(5) He has shepherd-strength; He is “able to keep” us; and we need not fear the teeth of the lion or the paw of the bear, so long as we are under His defence.
(6) He has shepherd-faithfulness; and we may fully trust Him. He hath said, “I will never leave you, I will never forsake you”; so that we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man can do unto me.”
(7) He has shepherd-tenderness, carrying the lambs in His arms and gathering them in His bosom. There is nothing that comes out into more wonderful relief in Scripture than this tenderness. A comforted saint is “like one whom his mother comforteth.” In upholding His people God spreads underneath them “the everlasting arms.” His pity is like unto a father’s pity. In nurturing our life from feebleness to strength, “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” His control is not that of the cold, sharp bit thrust between our teeth, and the compelling lash, but, “I will guide thee with mine eye.” When He defends from the arrow and flying death, it is not by clothing in a shirt of mail, that pains and burdens, while it defends, the wearer; but, “He shall cover thee with his feathers”—could anything be softer and gentler?—“He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust.” That is the God to whom David bids us look up.1 [Note: J. Culross, God’s Shepherd Care, 19.]
1. “I shall not want.” Coverdale’s translation, used in the Prayer Book, is better, “Therefore can I lack nothing”; still better, as more literal, is Kay’s, “I shall have no lack.” The word is used in Deuteronomy 2:7 of Israel’s “lacking nothing” during its passage through the wilderness; and in Psalm 8:9, of the provision to be made for them in Canaan.
“Want” was preferred by the translators of the A.V. because the word “lack” had in the meantime suffered depreciation from the use of it as a common interpellation by stall-keepers to passers by: What d’ye lack, what d’ye lack?
We may observe by a comparison of other passages that lack is much rarer in the Bible of 1611 than in that of 1539. Thus in Jdg 18:10; Luke 15:14—
A place, which doth lacke no thyng that is in the worlde.
A place where there is no want of any thing, that is in the earth
And when he had spent all, ther arose a greate derth in all that lande, and he began to lacke.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land, and he beganne to be in want.1 [Note: J. Earle, The Psalter of 1539, 267.]
2. The shepherdly care of Jehovah makes every life a Divine plan. It redeems it from caprice. The tendency of our day is to reduce everything to law. Scientific men tell us that in the world of matter there is no such thing as chance. The unexpected does not happen. The universality of law is an accepted fact. The air we breathe, the water we drink, are composed of gases which, if mixed in slightly different proportions, would work our destruction. If the laboratory of nature were turned into a playground for lawless forces, what a chaos we should see! But there is no such thing as chance; and everything, from a molecule to a sun, is marshalled under law. But shall suns and systems have their appointed orbits, and human life be left to accident and caprice? Shall the soulless worlds of matter that drift through the infinite spaces have the personal leading of Jehovah, and all the hosts of men be allowed to wander uncared for and untended in the barren wilderness of time? No. Even of the stars it is said, “He calleth them all by name”; and we are of more value than many stars. They are but the furniture of His choice and many-chambered palace, but we are the children of His heart and His home. They are but waxing and waning splendours which come and go in the pauses of His breath, but we shall endure through all the years of the Most High.
3. But how shall we reconcile this care of God with what is called “natural law”? It is a conclusion of science that the order of nature is fixed and invariable; how can we reconcile this fixedness with the doctrine of present care? We neither can do this, nor need to do it. On the one side, science rests on its own proper basis, which is that of sense. Science receives nothing that does not rest ultimately on the evidence of sense, and knows only of the “natural.” Take even astronomy, which is in some respects the grandest of the sciences, and you will find that it has no other foundation than this. On the other hand, the assurance of Divine loving-kindness and care rests on a spiritual foundation, of which the senses know nothing. We are brought in among things which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard.” The assurance of Divine loving-kindness and care rests on Divine revelation; and when men endeavour to destroy our confidence in the reality of the care by an argument drawn from science, that is to say, resting ultimately on sense, we can only reply, in the words of Jesus to the Sadducees, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.”
Never did I realize the power of Providence over human destiny as when I perceived how little man himself is able to control the act which most affects his own fate. For I cannot conceal from myself the fact that all my meditation can serve but little to guide me, seeing the future, which alone could give me a fixed point for my inquiry, is mercilessly hidden from my view. True indeed it is that we are led. Happily the Christian may add, “We are well led!” This indeed is our only true and logical consolation.1 [Note: Brother and Sister (Memoir of Ernest and Henriette Renan), 131.]
“And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” Your modern philosophers have explained to you the absurdity of all that: you think?… Do these modern scientific gentlemen fancy that nobody, before they were born, knew the laws of cloud and storm, or that the mighty human souls of former ages, who every one of them lived and died by prayer, and in it, did not know that in every petition framed on their lips they were asking for what was not only fore-ordained, but just as probably fore-done or that the mother, pausing to pray before she opens a letter from Alma or Balaclava, does not know that already he is saved for whom she prays, or already lies festering in his shroud? The whole confidence and glory of prayer is in its appeal to a Father who knows our necessities before we ask, who knows our thoughts before they rise in our hearts, and whose decrees, as unalterable in the eternal future as in the eternal past, yet in the close verity of visible fact, bend, like reeds, before the fore-ordained and faithful prayers of His children.1 [Note: Ruskin, On the Old Road.]
O strong, upwelling prayers of faith,
From inmost founts of life ye start,—
The spirit’s pulse, the vital breath
Of soul and heart!
From pastoral toil, from traffic’s din,
Alone, in crowds, at home, abroad,
Unheard of man, ye enter in
The ear of God.
Ye brook no forced and measured tasks,
Nor weary rote, nor formal chains;
The simple heart, that freely asks
In love, obtains.
For man the living temple is:
The mercy-seat and cherubim,
And all the holy mysteries,
He bears with him.
And most avails the prayer of love,
Which, wordless, shapes itself in deeds,
And wearies Heaven for naught above
Our common needs.2 [Note: J. G. Whittier, The Hermit of the Thebaid.]
4. There are two ways of not lacking a thing in this world. He lacks nothing who has everything. If one could take the stars from the sky, and the rivers from their beds, he might say, “I lack nothing.” To get everything possible for the soul to want is one way of saying, “I want nothing.” The better way is for a man to look up and bring his desires down to that which God sees fit to give him. This applies emphatically to things of faith. If I knew all the mysteries of God, I might say, “I lack no knowledge of God.” But if, knowing only what God has told me, I let all the gaps in my knowledge go because He has not chosen to fill them, in a richer sense I may say, “I lack no knowledge of God.”
God does not say He will supply every one of our wants, but He does say He will supply every one of our needs. The two words are not coincident in any one of our lives. Half of the difficulty in our lives is caused by letting our wants predominate and not keeping them within our grip.1 [Note: G. Beesley Austin.]
I once said to a servant girl who had got into a good family, “Are you happy where you are?” She had got what for a servant was a good situation, and I shall not forget the quietly confident way in which with beaming face she said, “Oh yes, sir, I have £22 a year, and all found.” “The Lord is my shepherd,” and all is found. “I shall not want.” “All found.” That was evidently more to her than the small sum total of the actual pounds. She dwelt upon that, and said with emphasis, “and all found.”2 [Note: John McNeill.]
The Oriental shepherd was always ahead of his sheep. He was down in front. He was eyes and ears, heart and brain for his flock. Any attack upon them had to take him into account. He was the defence force—the advance guard, that had to be measured and reckoned with. Now, what the Eastern shepherd was to his sheep, God is to His people. He is down in front, both as to time and place. He is in the to-morrows of our history. It is to-morrow that tyrannizes over men and fills them with dread. It is the unknown that paralyses the heart and puts such tension on the nerves. But once let the thought of God as Shepherd take its place among the certainties of our life, and straightway we are delivered from this thrall. The future is guaranteed. He is there already. All the to-morrows of our life have to pass Him before they can get to us. We literally take them from His hand. We step down into to-morrows that are filled and flooded with God. The deduction for the Psalmist was inevitable: “I shall not want.” “Want” and “Jehovah” are mutually exclusive ideas. They cannot co-exist in the mind excepting in antithesis. They cancel each other. Jehovah stands for all a man needs for time and for eternity. Give a worried man, or a careworn woman, this assurance, and at once life takes on a different complexion, and moves upward to a higher plane. He who is not delivered from the fear of want can never touch the highest levels of life or achievement. Christ saw this when He said, “Be not anxious for the morrow,” and assured His hearers that it was along the lines of fulfilled relations to God that life would find all its satisfaction and supply.3 [Note: H. Howard, The Shepherd Psalms , 16.]
When God shall ope the gates of gold,
The portals of the heavenly fold,
And bid His flock find pasture wide
Upon a new earth’s green hillside—
What poor strayed sheep shall thither fare,
Black-smirched beneath the sunny air,
To wash away in living springs
The mud and mire of earthly things!
What lonely ewes with eyes forlorn,
With weary feet and fleeces torn,
To whose shorn back no wind was stayed,
Nor any rough ways smooth were made!
What happy little lambs shall leap
To those sad ewes and spattered sheep,
With gamesome feet and joyful eyes,
From years of play in Paradise!
The wind is chill, the hour is late;
Haste thee, dear Lord, undo the gate;
For grim wolf-sorrows prowling range
These bitter hills of chance and change:
And from the barren wilderness
With homeward face Thy flocks do press:
Their worn bells ring a jangled chime—
Shepherd, come forth, ’tis eventime!1 [Note: May Byron, The Wind on the Heath, 28.]
Brooks (P.), The Spiritual Man, 281.
Burns (J. D.), Memoir and Remains, 293.
Clarke (G.), From the Cross to the Crown, 1.
Cooke (G. A.), The Progress of Revelation, 105.
Culross (J.), God’s Shepherd Care, 1.
Fairbairn (A. M.), Christ in the Centuries, 69, 83.
Freeman (J. D.), Life on the Uplands, 1.
Gray (W. H.), Our Divine Shepherd, 1.
Howard (H.), The Shepherd Psalms , 1.
Jones (J. M.), The Cup of Cold Water, 17.
McFadyen (J. E.), The City with Foundations, 201.
Maclaren (A.), Sermons Preached in Manchester, i. 307.
Parker (J.), The City Temple Pulpit, vii. 270.
Smith (G. A.), Four Psalms , 1.
Spurgeon (C. H.), The Treasury of David, 398.
Stalker (J.), The Good Shepherd, 17.
Stoughton (J.), The Song of Christ’s Flock, 1.
Christian World Pulpit, lxv. 232 (Parker).
Expository Times, xxii. 302.