SERMO O PSALM TWE TY THREE BY W. J.

STRACEY The Lord is my shepherd ; therefore can I lack nothing, Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil: for thou art with me ; thy rod and thy staff comfort me. Thy loving- kindness and mercy shrill follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever,** Psalm xxiii. i, 4, 6. THESE are the three verses which appear to me most striking in this short psalm. It is one of those psalms which has more especially brought consolation to the dying Christian in thousands upon thousands of instances ; and if we think well over the words, I think we shall all more and more see how very much there is contained in them for our comfort and support, especially when death is in sight As regards the first verse, what is not contained in these words of it — "The Lord is my shepherd; therefore can I lack nothing" ? The title of shepherd is the very name which our Lord has especially taken to Himself, as we read in the gospel of S. John, " I am the Grood Shepherd : the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep. ... As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And

THE GOOD SHEPHERD. 255 Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold : them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." Thus, as our heavenly Ijord calls HimseK by this name, it cannot be otherwise than right that we should say with David, and think of it with thankfulness, "The Lord is my shepherd." He it is who goeth after each lost

sheep until He find it ; and when He findeth it, He layeth it on His shoulder, and bringeth it home, rejoicing that He has found His sheep which was lost. The whole Bible is full of such references to Christ and His people as is contained under the idea of a shepherd and His flock. Most of the great and good men who in one way or other have been types of Christ our Saviour have been shepherds ; e^. Abel, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David, were all men engaged in feeding their flocks when God called them severally to the great part which they have fulfilled in His dealings with man. And when Isaiah would describe the Saviour^s gentleness and goodness toward man he uses this simile: "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." And the last instance which I will name is that description of the great judgment-day which our Lord gives us in S. Matthew xxv., saying, " Before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from

256 PSALM XXII L the goats : and He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left" Thus the thought contained in the first verse of this 23rd Psalm begins, we may say, with Abel, and continues up to the very moment when eternal life will begin to them that are saved. Feeling this then, my brethren, to be our relationship to Christ our heavenly Lord, and His relationship to us ' — He our Shepherd, we the sheep of His flock — it is indeed ours to say, if it be so, " Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil : for thou art with me." When that hour of death draws nigh, then, if never before, we all find out to the full

what it is to have Christ with us, or to have lived our life on earth without Christ; then it is that a man must realize the solitariness and separateness of his true state in this world. While we are in health and strength, while we are busy in the world, fulfilling our works and duties in life, it is hard for us to separate ourselves in any measure &om others, to look upon ourselves otherwise than as one of a multitude. Every day we live we are each of us both giving to others and receiving influence of some kind from those around us. The leaven of good or the leaven of evil is at work in each of us ; we know not how. We seldom perceive or know what others have done for us, or we for others. But when the spirit of a man is about to separate itself from the frail temple of this earthly body in which we

THE LO ELI ESS OF DYI G. 2$^ live, and move, and have our being, then it is that our solitariness and separateness from all others comes home to us. And thus many when they are dying cannot bear to be left alone. They cling to those about them the more closely the sooner they are about to leave them; they like to feel that they are watched and cared for day and night by some friend or relation. What so sad, we sometimes think, as to die alone ! to have passed away at sea, or in a wilderness, or in the night, whilst others slept ! for them to come to our bedside in the morning, and to find that the spirit has returned to God who gave it, and that its earthly tenement must at once be prepared for its narrow grave! But such thoughts, my friends, need never disturb us, if we are in deed and in truth living our life in this world by faith in Jesus Christ our Lord — trying to love and serve Him more and more, trying to grow in grace, and faithfully using His gifts to its of prayer, of His word, and^ above all, of His holy sacrament. If this be so with us, let us not bestow too many thoughts

upon our end; let us not be in anywise careful or anxious where or when we shall die; how death will overtake us, or what we shall then see, and know, and feel. Let this be our consolation, whether we are, as it may be, at this moment very near our end, or have yet many long years, as this world counts them to be, between us and the grave. Here is our consolation, if we love the s

258 PSALM XXIII, Lord Jesus Christ with all our hearts- — ^" The Lord is my shepherd." " Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil : for thou art with me." All is safe and well if Christ be with us and in us. The disciples feared for the little vessel on the sea of Galilee, while the storm raged and they were in jeopardy, and the Lord lay asleep on a pillow in the hinder part of the vessel. They wake Him at last, saying, " Lord, save us : we perish." But He rebuked their needless fears from lack of faith, and commanded the winds and the sea : " Peace, be still," and in a moment there was a great calm; they were safe, though they knew it not. So with S. Peter when he left the boat and walked on the water to go to Jesus. So with S. Stephen when he kneeled down and fell beneath the shower of stones ; but ere he did so saw heaven opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, ready to receive and welcome His first martyr. So with S. Paul, and so with all God's saints in each hour of trial. We have nothing to fear, IF we bear Christ in us, the

hope of glory. othing can really come amiss, nothing can really harm us. As He said Himself, " Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world." Or as S. Paul says, "All things work together for good to them that love God." This it is which makes the Holy Sacrament so essentially necessary to every Christian. Without it we cannot have any real, sure, abiding pre^

THE BREAD OF HEAVE . 259 sence of Christ in us. It is so, and so only, that Jesus Christ comes down from heaven to live and dwell more and more in the souls of His faithful people. It is. He says, " the bread of heaven.'* " If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever." " Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Unless we thus fulfil again and again the Saviour's dying command, we may not venture to use with the full assurance of faith such words as these : " Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me." But let us for a moment dwell upon the blessings promised in the concluding verses of this psalm, to them that love the Lord Jesus our Shepherd, in them and with them. Here in this world, as the very next verse says. He will prepare for them again and again " a table" and a " cup," anointing them with the unction of His Holy Spirit, preventing them with His goodness, " following them with His loving-kindness and mercy all the days of their life." And this after all is the least part of all He does for them. For as the apostle says, "GodUness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, amd of that which is to come" This, my brethren, is the great end, and hope, and

object which we have in view. It is not merely that sin brings with it, as we daily see, great sickness and >

260 PSALM XXIII. sorrows, and shortens many a man's life ; nor, on the other hand, that God so often bestows even earthly blessings, none of which can any of us in the least degree deserve, upon them that try to love, and serve, and fear Him in this world. It is not only this, I say, but there is infinitely more for us to hope for, and wait for, and look forward to, and it is this, as this psalm says, " I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever*' God's house is that eternal and glorious kingdom which Christ our Lord has in store for all believers. He calls it so Himself, when He says, " In my Father's hoicse are many mansions : if it were not so, I would have told you.- I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." It is this home, this house, for which, brethren, if we are true and faithful servants of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we are waiting, and hoping, and preparing ourselves, and are being prepared for in ourselves. We do not see the change which day by day, week by week, is being done in any of us to fit us for the life to come. We do not even notice the perpetual change which is ever taking place in our outward form and aspect. Could we put ourselves back for a moment, or forward for a moment, ten years or more, then we should indeed see, externally at least, the changes which that lapse of time has made in us ; but we do not perceive it because it so silently goes on in us. How much

CHA GED IMPERCEPTIBLY. 26 1

less then can we see the change in that unsubstantial part of us which, like the air we breathe, is unseen and unperceived. Yet still that change works in us, and goes forward more and more. God's Spirit is never at rest in any soul in which He lives and dwells. It is His own secret operation in us to subdue our sins, to increase our holiness, to bring forth in us more and more all the fruits of righteousness and of faith, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the praise and glory of God. Only let us yield ourselves to Him, let us give ourselves to God by a direct ad of our own will and heart, and then we may say, and thankfully remember, these words as belonging to us : " Thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life ; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever/*

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