I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Now, the two expressions, "before me" and "in Thy presence," are substantially synonymous and convertible. Notice the other clause. "He is at my right hand." "At Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore." God before my face, and I before God's face; God at my right hand, and I glad at His.
I. IF WE TURN OUR FACES TO GOD HERE HIS FACE WILL SHINE ON US YONDER. "I have set the Lord always before my eyes." "Before Thy face is fulness of joy." The one is the summing up of the devout man's life on earth. What can the other be but the prophecy of the devout man's life in heaven? Observe how for us, here and now, circumstanced and occupied and distracted as we are, that clear consciousness of God's presence will inevitably fade and shatter unless we are careful to preserve it. "I have set the Lord," — that implies a great deal of definite effort, of fixed will, of stem resistance to and rejection of hindrances and things that come between. God's presence cannot be proved. The consciousness of it depends upon our whole nature. It is what people call a moral thing; and it rises and falls like a sensitive thermometer, if a cloud comes between the bulb and the sun. You can crowd Him out of your minds by plunging yourselves fiercely into your daily duties, however sacred and elevated these may be. No more than the sunshine can be flashed back from a tarnished steel mirror, can the consciousness of God's presence live in an impure soul. And the heart must be kept still, flee from agitation, from the storms of passion and the tyranny of eager desires. A cats paw that ruffles the surface of the lake shatters the image; and unless our hearts are quieted from earth they will never mirror heaven. "Walk thou before Me, and be perfect," is at once a commandment and a promise. And they only are wise who answer, "I will walk before the Lord in the land, and the light of the living." As I have already said, this thrilling and continual consciousness of the Divine presence is the surest basis for the expectation of immortal life. It is too precious to die; it is too great and pure and noble to have anything to fear from the accident of corporal death. So we come to consider that higher form of the Divine presence which is suggested by the contrast in my second text. "In Thy presence is fulness of joy." But that presence is not secured by the individual's efforts, but is poured upon him in its effulgence from the throne itself. If I try to keep God in sight here, yonder He reveals Himself in all His greatness. We are not to understand that that future vision which is all expressed in these words of my second text — "before Thee" — consists in any measure which is analogous to the sight of the body. Nor are we, I suppose, to understand that then, any more than now, we are able to comprehend the incomprehensible and infinite. "The face of God" is the Scriptural expression for that side of the Divine nature which is capable of being manifested by Him, and apprehended by us; and Jesus Christ is the face of God. Yonder it is that we shall see Him as He is; and yonder it is the Christ whom, having not seen we "love," and whom seeing we shall see the Father. There will be, as I suppose, new and unimaginable modes of manifestation, about which the less that we say the wiser we are. For if our experience here on earth teaches us anything, it teaches us that the body shuts us off from as much as it brings us into contact with; and that our senses are but like little slits in some grim old fortress, only wide enough to let in the requisite light and air, and that beyond their limits in both directions there are notes of which the vibrations are too numerous, or too few, in a given time to be apprehended by our ears; and rays in the spectrum at either end, which the human eye cannot see. So that, with new modes of manifestation and new capacities of apprehension, we shall draw nearer and nearer to the sun that we beheld here shining through the mists and the clouds. If we, amidst the shows and gauds of time and the crowds of thronging men and the distractions of our daily occupations, steadfastly seek and see the Lord, and have beams coming from Him, as a light shining in a dark place, He will lift us yonder, and turn the whole benediction of the sunlight Of His face upon us, and, saturated with the brightness, we shall walk in the light of His countenance and be amongst the people of the blessed.
II. IF WE KEEP THE LORD AT OUR RIGHT HAND HE WILL SET US AT HIS RIGHT HAND. The emblem of the "right hand" has a double meaning in Scripture, one part of which applies more to our present and the other to our future. When we speak of having at our right hand anyone, we mean as counsellor, companion, strengthener, ally; as fellow fighter, guide, and defender. And it is in that capacity that we have to set the Lord at our right hand. If we have Him by our sides we are never alone. I suppose that the saddest fate for a man is to live solitary. I suppose that we mortal millions live alone after all companionship; like islands in a waste of ocean, with no communications. Ah! How many of us have known what it is for the one that stood at our right hand to vanish, to change. If we live so companioned, counselled, championed, by a God made present, not by His omnipresence but by our consciousness of it, then be sure of this, that the time will come when He who came to earth, as it were, and stood at our right hand, will lift us to the heavens, and plant us at His. I at His right hand. What does that mean? Let me quote you two or three plain words. "The sheep at His right hand; the goats at His left." It means that. It means favour, acceptance in that great day of account. "And he called his name Benjamin: — the son of his right hand." It means that; paternal love, a yearning heart, a longing to pour all a Father's blessing on the child. And it means that the man, thus acquired and taken to the Father's heart, is distinguished and honoured — "grant that these, my two sons, may sit, the one at Thy right hand, the other at Thy left." Nor must we forget that there is still a loftier conception attached to this emblem of "the right hand," which was not within the horizon of the Psalmist, but is within ours. Jesus Christ our Brother has been exalted to that session at God's right hand, which indicates in disturbance, completed work, royalty and power. And He, hath said, "I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am there ye may be also." So if He is at my right hand, as champion, I shall be at His right hand and share in His dominion.
III. IF WE STAY OURSELVES ON GOD, AMIDST STRUGGLE AND CHANGE HERE, HE WILL GLADDEN US YONDER WITH PERPETUAL JOYS. "Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved." A very humble result to be accomplished by so great a thing as the actual presence of God at a man's side. Only this, that I will be able to keep my place, and stand steadfast. And there is only one thing that will make us steadfast, and that is that we should be, if I might use such a figure, bolted and lashed on to, or rather incorporated into, the changeless steadfastness of the unmoved God. God comes to us here, and is sword and shield; yonder He will be palm and crown. "In Thy presence is fulness of joy." Every faculty and capacity will be satisfied, every yearning met, and nothing left to desire but the continuance which is guaranteed, and the increase as capacity increases, which is as certain. Here there is always something lacking; yonder there is fulness of joy and no satiety. "Pleasures for evermore" — both because there is an uninterrupted succession of such — like the ripples upon a sunlit sea, that all day long come rolling to the beach and break in music and sparkles of light; and because each pleasure is in itself perpetual, seeing that there is no possibility of these delights becoming stale and common. Thus begin with realising the Divine presence. We must begin all this on earth. The seed of heaven is sown in the furrows of this world. Philosophers talk to us about the law of continuity. That applies in regard to the life here and the life hereafter. If you ever are to come into the blessedness of the life yonder, you must begin with the life of faith in Jesus Christ here and now.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.