I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.…
Convictions are of two kinds. They are born of emergencies and experience. The former are instinctive, springing into life full grown. The latter mature slowly. A ship strikes a rock and begins to sink. The conviction of danger, and of possible destruction, takes shape at once in the minds of all on board. This is the conviction of emergency, But the conviction of a man's worth must come by experience, and must wait long for its maturity. Belief is not conviction, but only its germ. Conviction is faith in fruition, which takes time. The text is the utterance of such conviction, and it is the keynote of the whole Psalm.
I. IT IS OF THE GREATEST IMPORTANCE WHAT THAT IS WHICH IS CONTINUALLY BEFORE US. That which is constantly in a man's eye must help very largely to shape him. I have heard a very significant criticism on a certain picture, to the effect that, though it was a good piece of artistic work, it was not a good picture to live with. You would not wish to have hanging up in your sitting room, and constantly in sight of your children, a picture of Herodias with the head of John the Baptist, or of a crazed mother in the act of murdering her babe. You try to keep pictures of wholesome subjects as well as of beautiful forms before your children's eyes; because you know that they are insensibly educated by familiarity with such things. In an age of few books, men and women learned mostly by the eye. It was not wholly nor mostly idolatry which filled the old churches up with pictures. The visitor to St. Mark's, in Venice, may follow for himself the footsteps of the earlier catechumen; ]passing into the Christian temple through a vestibule of Old Testament history wrought in mosaic pictures, and then reading on the walls and domes within the truths of crucifixion, resurrection, the baptism of the Spirit, and the coming of the Lord to judgment, — all arranged in the order of Christian thought. The peasant who passed over the old wooden bridge over the torrent at Lucerne had daffy before him, in the painted compartments of the bridge, a reminder of that other stream which all must cross sooner or later. Nature sets her mark on character. If her surroundings are gloomy and savage. they impart a sombre tone to the men who live among them: — Men tend to be narrowed or broadened by their daily task. The man who has columns of figures forever before him may easily degenerate into a mere calculating machine. If the thing which is constantly before us is larger and better than ourselves, its hourly presence rebukes our littleness and our badness, and works to assimilate us to itself. If it is worse than ourselves it draws downward. There was philosophy as well as enthusiasm in the apostle's exhortation to run, looking unto Jesus, and in Paul keeping his eye on the prize of his high calling, and reaching forth to that which is before.
II. BUT IT MAY BE ASKED, IS NOT GOD ALWAYS BEFORE US? Can we help its being so? Assuredly. we can. David. does not. say, "The Lord is always," etc.," but, "I have set Him always," etc. His own will and act have had something to do with the matter. He has been at pains to bring God into the foreground, and to keep Him there. Because God is ever manifesting Himself, because every common bush is afire with Him, it does not follow that men recognise the fact. They do not. There is abundance of sweet music, but there are multitudes of people to whom it means no more than the rumble of the carts in the streets.
III. THUS, THEN, GOD WILL NOT BE IN ANY TRUE SENSE BEFORE OUR FACE UNLESS WE SET HIM THERE. It needs special training, determination, and practice. There is a spiritual inertia to be overcome, and a perverse tendency. The bar of steel does not point naturally to the pole, but anywhere. It must be acted on from without, must have magnetic virtue imparted to it. And persistency is needed. I have set the Lord "always" before me. It was not enough that once or twice God was in the line of vision, He was to be kept there. A compass needle would be to a sailor of no more account than a knitting needle, if only by some shock it were made to point northwards. It is the fact of its always pointing there that gives it its value. And it is this fact of persistence which gives value to David's saying. When a man has shut himself up to one thing as the source and strength of his happiness he will find out a great deal about that one thing. Thus did Robinson Crusoe, when he found out that he should have to live on his island. And so is it with men and God.
IV. MANY ARE THE DISCOVERIES WHICH THE MAN WHO SETS THE LORD ALWAYS BEFORE HIM WILL MAKE.
1. He finds Him self-revealed. In the Shinto temples in Japan the shrines contain no altars, pulpits, or pictures, but only a circular steel mirror. What it means is not known. But it would be an appropriate symbol for a Christian shrine. James draws a picture of a man beholding his natural face in a glass. The man who studies God studies self at the same time.
2. It carries with it a power of growth. For God is ever going before us and beckoning us on. A mountain is a constant temptation to climb, and when we find yet higher summits beyond we want to climb them also. And so is it in learning of God.
3. It engenders hope. Amid the darkness and vagueness of the Old Testament future, this Psalm is like a sweet flute note amid the crash and discord of a vast orchestra. I know of nothing more soothing than these verses. "I shall not be moved"; all is well, "because He is at my right hand."
(Marvin Vincent, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.