Behind and Before
Psalm 23:6
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.

The Psalmist is looking at his yesterdays. He is gazing at the panorama of his past life. You know how sometimes we come to a corner of the road in the journey of life which brings the whole of our past way vividly before us. Perhaps we are laid aside by sickness, and in the time of seclusion the memory wanders back and retreads the path of the years. Or maybe we are standing by the open grave of a comrade whose path has run close by our own; our memory tugs us backward, and our past life opens out before us in marvellous clearness and intensity. Or sometimes a little commonplace incident unlocks the doors of the past, and in vivid recollection we pass through all its rooms. Now, when we are compelled to look back at the past of our life, how does it look? Gazed at with unprejudiced vision, with nothing to make us morally colour blind, how does it all appear? To the Psalmist, as he recalled the way he had come, it appeared to be one long unbroken path of failure and sin. His path was marked as the path of a snail or a slug over some tender plant, which leaves behind it the slime of its own passage. The retrospect oppressed him — yesterday became the burden of today. And is not that so with all who seriously think, with all who solemnly estimate the tenour and quality of their days? The retrospect becomes oppressive; they cannot comfortably recount the detailed stories of their lives. There are some whose burden is tomorrow. Their fear and their anxiety centre on the morrow. They want an angel to go before them to prepare their way. But I think that where there is one soul burdened with the fear of tomorrow, there are many burdened with the fear of yesterday. The burden of conscience never comes from tomorrow; it is rolled up from our yesterdays. It is not prospect, but retrospect, that lays the heaviest weight on the heart. And now to a soul so oppressed there comes this beautiful thought of God contained in my text, "Goodness and mercy shall follow me." Goodness and mercy shall follow me, shall come on after me and wipe away that slimy track. I think that is a very gracious and inspiring thought. A God in our rear. A Father coming up behind. Goodness and mercy following us. You have seen the sands at a popular watering place cut and dug by a thousand hands and feet, littered with paper and all kinds of refuse, and befouled in a hundred ways. Then rolls up the tide, and the refuse is buried in its bosom, and all the unevennesses are smoothed away. It is even so with those sands of time, the sands of past years, in which we have left the track of our sins; the tidal waves of Divine goodness and mercy roll up, and the, unseemly track may be smoothed away. "Goodness and mercy shall follow me." Suppose it had been, "Justice shall follow me," avenging justice, cold unsympathetic law. If justice were to follow even the best of us, our hearts would shake with fear. It is not even "Righteousness shall follow me," but goodness. There is something rich in the very word. "Goodness shall follow me," and mercy. Grapes with the bloom on. Goodness in surpassing sweetness and beauty. "Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." Can you think of anything fitter in expression, anything that could more tenderly unfold the nature of the God who comes in the rear of our life? "I have blotted them out like a thick cloud." Do you see the force of the figure? You are going along the dry and glaring road, and you stir up the dust, and it flies like a thick cloud in your rear. And God says that as we go along the way of life we stir up clouds of sin, and He blots them out. As John Bunyan says, He sprinkles upon it the water of grace, and the dust is laid. Is not this just what we all need? But there is something more than this. "Goodness and mercy shall follow me" not only to blot out our sins, but to gather up the fragments of our goodness. We want a God in our rear who will pick up the fragments — bits of good resolution, stray thoughts, stray prayers, beginnings of heroism, little kindnesses, all the broken bits of goodness, all the mites, the forgotten jewels — to gather all the fragments so that nothing be lost. "Goodness and mercy shall follow me," and shall miss nothing; the God who follows us is "like unto a woman, who lost one piece of silver, and who lit a candle and swept the house and sought diligently till she found it." It was this great conception of a good and merciful God in the rear which converted a gloomy retrospect into a glorious hone Our Father is behind us, goodness and mercy follow us; let us leave our yesterdays trustfully to Him. But now in the second part of my text the Psalmist turns himself round from retrospect to prospect. He turns from a contemplation of the past to a contemplation of the future. What is his idea of futurity? "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Well, you say, there is nothing peculiarly glorious or definite about the conception. Stay a little. Before you can estimate the quality of anyone's heaven you must know their condition on earth. Our hopes about tomorrow are very largely shaped and coloured by our condition today. Look at the Psalmist's position. When this Psalm was composed he was a wanderer, exiled from the peace and blessedness of his own home. All our conceptions of the future are formed in a similar way. No two of us have precisely the same conception. The special bliss we anticipate is shaped out of our special burden now. Go down to our coast and speak to some old fisherman's wife,whose husband and sons have all been lost in the deep, and ask her what in her loneliness is her conception of heaven, and would you wonder if to her one of the preeminent glories of the place is this, "There shall be no more sea"? Go to some invalid who is held by some chronic disease, ask her what is her conception of heaven, and would you wonder if to her one of the great glories of the place is this, "There shall be no more pain"? And all the anticipations are true. Every man's present need discovers one of the glories of the future. It takes all our different needs to discover the glory and sufficiency of the things prepared for us. We all need this tug of the future, the tug of the days that are to be. We can only get out of the deep ruts of today by the powerful tug of tomorrow. Life grows heavy and stagnant when tomorrow ceases to pull, when the "forever" has lost its power. Present burdens grow light in the strength of the "forever." Present homelessness can be almost cheerfully endured when in its coldness the Psalmist can sing, "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

(J. Jowett, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: Surely goodness and loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Yahweh's house forever. A Psalm by David.

A Good Man's Thoughts in His Old Age
Top of Page
Top of Page