The old perplexity as to how it comes, if God is good and wise and strong, that bad men should prosper and good men should suffer, has been making the Psalmist's faith reel. He does not answer the question exactly as the New Testament would have done, but he does find a solution sufficient for himself in two thoughts, the transiency of that outward prosperity, and the eternal sufficiency of God. 'It was too painful for me until I went into the Sanctuary, then understood I their end'; and on the other hand: 'Thou art the Strength of my life, and my Portion for ever.' So he climbs at last to the calm height where he learns that, whatever be a man's outward prosperity, if he is separated from God he ceases to be. As the context says: 'They that are far from Thee shall perish.' 'Thou hast destroyed' -- already, before they die -- 'all them that go a-whoring from Thee.' And on the other hand, whatever be the outward condition, God is enough. 'It is good for me,' rich or poor harassed or at rest, afflicted or prosperous, in health or sickness, solitary or compassed about with loving friends, 'it is good for me to draw near to God'; and nothing else is good. Thus the river that has had to fight its way through rocks, and has been chafed in the conflict, and has twisted its path through many a deep, dark, sunless gorge, comes out at last into the open, and flows with a broad sunlit breast, peaceable and full, into the great ocean -- 'It is good for me to draw near to God.'
But that is not all. The Psalmist goes on to tell how we are to draw near to God: 'I have put my trust in Him.' And that is not all, for he further goes on to tell how, drawing near to God through faith, all these puzzles and mysteries about men's condition cease to perplex, and a beam of light falls upon the whole of them. 'I have put my trust in God, that I may declare all Thy works.' There are no knots in the thread now.
I. So here we have, first the truth of experience that nearness to God is the one good.
Of course, it is so in the Psalmist's view, since he believes, as we profess to believe, that, to quote the words of another Psalmist, 'With Thee is the fountain of life'; and therefore that to 'draw near to Thee' is to carry our little empty pitchers to that great spring that is always flowing with waters ever sweet and clear. Union with God is life, in all senses of the word, according as the creature is capable of union with Him. Why! there is no life in a plant except God's power is vitalising it. 'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow' because God makes them grow. There is no bodily life in a man, unless He continually breathes into the nostrils the breath of life. If you stop the flow of the fountain, then all the pools are dry. There is no life intellectual in a man, except by the 'inspiration of the Almighty,' from whom 'all just thoughts do proceed.' Above all these forms of life the real life of a spirit is the life derived from the union with God Himself, whereby He pours Himself into it, and in the deepest sense of the words it is true: 'Because I live ye shall live also.' 'It is good for me to draw near to God,' because, unless I do, and if I am separated from Him, my true self is dead, even whilst I seem to live. All that are parted from Him perish; all that are joined to Him, and only they, do live what is worth calling life. Cut off the sunbeam from the sun, and what becomes of it? It vanishes. Separate a soul from God, and it is dead. What is all the good of the world to you if your true self is dead? And what an absurdity it is to deck a corpse with riches and pomp of various kinds! That is what the men of the world are doing, who have chained themselves to earth, and cut themselves off from God. 'For me it is good to draw near to God.' Do you draw near? Because if you do not, no matter what prosperity you have, you do not know anything about the true life and real good for heart and spirit.
I suppose I need scarcely go on pointing out other aspects of this supreme -- or more truly, this solitary -- good. For instance, nothing is really good to me unless I have it within me, so as that it can never be wrenched away from me. The blessings that we cannot incorporate with the very substance of our being are only partial blessings after all; and all these things round us that do minister to our necessities, tastes, affections, and sometimes to our weaknesses, these good things fail just in this, that they stand outside us, and there is no real union between us and them. So, changes come, and we have to unclasp hands, and the footsteps that used to be planted by the side of ours cease, and our track across the sands is lonely; and losses come, and death comes, and all the glory and the good that were only externally possessed by us we leave behind us. As this psalm says: 'I considered their end ... how they are brought into desolation, as in a moment!' What is the good of a good that is not incorporated into any being? What is the good of a good about which I cannot say, with a smile of confidence, 'I know that where-ever I may go, and whatever may befall me, that can never pass from me'? There is but one good of that sort. 'I am persuaded that ... neither life nor death ... nor any other creature, shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' 'It is good for me,' amidst the morasses and quicksands and bogs of life's uncertain and shifting ill and good, to set my feet upon the rock, and to say: 'Here I stand, and my footing will never give way.' Do you, brother! possess a changeless, imperishable, inwrought good like that? You may if you like.
But remember, too, that in regard to this Christian good, it is not only the possession of it, but the aspiration after it, that is blessed. The Psalmist does not only say, 'It is good for me to be near to God,' but he says, 'It is good for me to draw near.' There is one kind of life in which the seeking is all but as blessed as the finding. There is one kind of life in which to desire is all but as full of peace, and power, and joy as to possess. Therefore, another psalm, which begins by celebrating the blessedness of the men that dwell in God's house, and are 'still praising Thee,' goes on to speak of the blessedness, not less blessed, of the men 'in whose heart are the ways.' They who have reached the Temple are at rest, and blessed in their repose. They who are journeying towards it are in action, and blessed in their activity. 'It is good to draw near'; and the seeking after God is as far above the possession of all other good as heaven is above earth.
But then, notice further, how our Psalmist comes down to very plain, practical teaching. He seems to feel that he must explain what he means by drawing near to God. And here is his explanation. 'I have put my trust in the Lord.'
II. The way to nearness to God is twofold.
On the one hand the true path is Jesus Christ, on the other hand the means by which we walk upon that path is our faith. The Apostle puts it all in a nutshell when he says that his prayer for the Ephesian Church is that 'Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith,' and then, by a linked chain which we have not now to consider, leads up to the final issues of that faith in that indwelling Christ -- 'that ye may be filled with all the fulness of God.' So to draw near and to possess that good, that only good which is God, all that is needed is -- and it is needed -- that we should turn with the surrender of our hearts, with the submission of our wills, with the outgoing of our affections, and with the conformity of our practical life, to Jesus. Seeing Him, we see the Father, and having Him near us, we feel the touch of the divine hand, and being joined to the Lord, we are separated from the vanities of life, and united to the Supreme Good.
Dear brethren! this Psalmist shows us how hard it is for us to keep up that continual attitude of faith, how many difficulties there are in daily life, in the way of our continually being true to our deepest convictions, and seeking after Him amidst all the distracting whirl and perplexities of our daily lives. But he shows us, too, how possible it is, even for men constituted as we are, moment by moment, day by day, task by task, to keep vivid the consciousness of our dependence upon Him, and the blessed consciousness of our being beside Him, and how, if we do, strength will come to us for everything. The secret of a joyous walk lies in this, 'I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.' We draw near to God when we clutch Christ in faith. Our faith manifests itself, not merely by a lazy reliance upon what He once did, long ago, on the Cross for us; but by daily, effortful revivifying of our consciousness of His presence, of our consciousness of our dependence upon Him, and by the continual reference of thoughts, desires, plans, and actions to Himself.
Keep God beside you so, and then there will follow what this Psalmist reached at last, a peaceful insight into what else are full of perplexity and difficulty, the ways of God in the world.
To myself, to my dear ones, to the nation, to the Church, to the world, there come many perplexing riddles as to God's dealings, that cannot be solved except by getting close to Him. Just as a little child nestling on its mother's bosom, with its mother's arm around it, looks out with peaceful eye and a bright smile, upon everything beyond the safe nest, so they who are near to God can bear to look at difficulties and perplexities, and the mysteries of their own sorrows and of the world's miseries, and say, 'All things work together for good'; 'I have put my trust in the Lord, that I may declare all Thy works.' Stand in the sun, and all the planets move around it manifestly in order. Take your place anywhere else, and there is confusion. Get beside God, and look out on the world, and you will see it as He saw it when, 'Behold! it was very good.'
Now, dear friends! my text in its first part may become the description of our death. One man holds on to the world as it is slipping away from him. I remember a story about a coast-guardsman that was flung over the cliffs once, and when they picked up his dead body, all under the nails was full of chalk that he had scraped off the cliffs in his desperate attempts to clutch at something to hold by. That is like one kind of death. But another kind may be: 'It is good for me to draw near to God.' And when we reach His side, and see all the past from the centre, and in the light of the Eternal Present, to which it has led, we shall be able to declare all His works, and to give thanks 'for all the way by which the Lord our God hath led us' and the world 'these many years in the wilderness.'