[Gerrit Vos (1894-1968) was pastor in the Protestant Reformed Churches and served many years in the Hudsonville, Michigan Protestant Reformed Church.]
A psalm of David
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." Psalm 23:1-3
The psalm from which my text is chosen might very well be called the psalm of quiet trust.
Amid the storms of life there are moments when our soul is taken by the loving hands of the Almighty and caused to rest in His bosom.
Oh yes, the enemies are before us still: this spiritual lullaby is sung "in the presence of my enemies," but it is nevertheless a strain to sooth the crying child to sleep, to rest, to wondrous relaxation.
Some psalms are like the thunder of war, the turmoil of strife, or the voice of many waters, but here all is quiet, harmonious, peaceful. When I read this psalm I cannot help but think of the Holland rendition of a psalm set to music, and particularly the following lines:
Hier wordt de rust geschonken!
Hier 't vetie van Uw Huis gesmaakt;
Een volle beek van wellust maakt
Hier elk in liefde dronken!
What a superb beginning! "The Lord is my Shepherd: I shall not want."
There have been millions of shepherds on this earth, in many lands and among many peoples. Imagine: all these shepherds are here because God is the Great Shepherd. That is the way you must talk. All things are here in order to portray the great God and His Christ and His salvation.
Jesus said: All these things happen unto them in parables. And He was talking about the things of the kingdom of God.
There is only one Theme, one glorious Theme in the whole Universe, and that Theme is the Love of God!
You say: Yes, but there is a lot of hatred, ugliness, and discord also!
True, but that is there so it may fit as the black background for this most beautiful theme of the Love of God.
So also here.
On the background of the wolves who are after the lambs and sheep of Christ, we see the Shepherd, slowly going His way to the green pastures: He is going to feed His flock.
Look on it! Look on it strongly: you see the things of the Kingdom happening before your eyes.
God is the Shepherd of His people. Therefore, they shall not want.
They shall not want because the Shepherd feeds them.
The prophecies told us of this Shepherd. Isaiah tells us that this Shepherd shall lead His flock, and shall feed them.
The Shepherd is Jehovah, the Lord. That is, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is the Shepherd of the sheep, and they are the elect out of all peoples, tongues, and nations.
That He is their Shepherd means that He will take care of them, protect them, feed them, and lead them gently along the very quiet waters.
And this idyll is fulfilled in Jesus when He came from heaven on earth. There are a little more than three years in the long history of the world when Psalm 23 was seen. Jesus leading His own and feeding them with the heavenly manna.
And how He cared for them, protected them, suffered for them, and died for them!
Surely, the world has seen the Shepherd feeding His flock!
The heart of this feeding and caring for the flock is described in poetical, figurative language: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters!
What does the Holy Spirit mean when He tells us that the Lord Jehovah, that Jesus causes us to lie down in green pastures?
Allow me to tell you in a childlike way. It means that He causes us to go to church from Sabbath to Sabbath. Again I think of that Holland psalm: Hier wordt de rust geschonken!
I heard that psalm sung in our church in Holland many, many times. Our old dominee loved that psalm. And as a little boy I distinctly remember thinking: What do they mean? "Hier wordt de rust geschonken?" (I had better give you the English translation: "Here the rest of God is granted!") Here in this ugly building? Old, decrepit, "bouwvallig," ugly, and musty building?
And I mused on and on, and understood nothing of it.
But now I know. In that ugly old church (later they built one of the most modern and beautiful buildings in Holland) God caused His people to eat and to drink of the dainties of His everlasting lovingkindness. In church we hear of all that and more. The whole counsel of God is unfolded. In great variety the sheep of Christ heard what wondrous work the Lord had wrought for them. In that musty old church they heard that all their warfare was accomplished in the dying Christ. The children of God saw nothing of the rain-splotched and dirty walls, but they saw with the eye of faith how God had pardoned all their iniquity.
The children of God had been caused to lie down! Let it not escape you how this attitude was God-wrought. God caused them to lie down, and God had prepared this grassy pasture for them.
Oh yes, there was activity! God be blessed, there was wondrous activity: they were led along the very quiet waters of peace!
Once in a while I hear a song over WFUR about the quiet waters of peace. I could listen to that song for days on end. It transports me to the heavenly scene.
Peace! Yes, the Bible speaks often of that peace, and sometimes with the same figure as we meet here. I think it is Isaiah who tells us that the Lord shall extend peace to Jerusalem like a river!
Yes, beloved reader, the quiet waters of my text are that peace.
You ask me what this peace is?
It is the state and condition when your warfare is accomplished, when your iniquity is pardoned, and that you know it.
It means that there is nothing between you and God but love and lovingkindness. He loves you, and you know it; and you love Him and He knows it. It means that all your hurt, trouble, misery, sadness, tears, in short, that all the former things are gone, be it but for a moment. And you are transported into heavenly peace.
Hush! David was very still when he composed this nightingale of the psalms.
Oh God! How did this miracle happen to me?!
The text will tell you.
He restoreth my soul.
Everyone knows the meaning of restoration.
Once you were sick and with feverish brow and painful body you saw the doctor at your bedside. Your loved ones tread softly and hushed their voices. They were very serious around your bedside.
But the sickness left and the sunlight dawned on a brighter day. You were restored to health.
A picture was found in one of the back rooms of a monastery. No one knew its author or worth. But experts came and labored over it. And the result? It was discovered that when all the dirt and dust was removed it was really a masterpiece. The picture was restored.
Well, God restores the souls of His people.
However, the foregoing illustrations cannot cover the truth of our restoration in Christ. It rises far above them.
It is true: once we were beautiful in Adam; and it is equally true that now we are filthy and dirty in sin. But the restoration is such that now we are much more beautiful than when we first came from the hands of our Creator. Even as the heavens are much more beautiful than the earth, so are the redeemed much more beautiful than Adam ever was.
I must improve on that comparison, and I must give you the true, the Biblical comparison. Even as Christ is more beautiful than Adam, so are the redeemed more beautiful than they were in Paradise.
The restoration is such that we are now spiritual, glorious, heavenly, and eternal. Oh yes, God restores our soul.
And the beauty of the child of God as he will be in Christ's day is explained: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.
Righteousness is a virtue of God.
And the meaning of righteousness is that God in all He is, does, and says is conformed to the highest Good, and that is His own Being.
And so for man righteousness means that he is a good man, that he speaks that which is good, and that he works that which is good.
When a righteous man comes before God in the judgment day, He shall look upon him and through him, and He will see that he is completely good and lovely. And therefore He will say to him: Welcome, My child: enter into the joy of your Lord. And he shall begin to be merry.
And if you ask me: but how did this miraculous thing happen? I am so crooked and perverse that I shudder of my thoughts, words, and being!
Then the answer is: God leads us along the paths of righteousness.
Oh, those paths of righteousness.
First, they are the determination of God from all eternity to clothe His people with those robes, clean, and white. It is a righteousness which God prepares for us. Daniel speaks of a righteousness which was everlasting.
Second, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus which lay the ground and foundation of that righteousness: We call that the legal righteousness which is ours through faith.
Third, a principle of that righteousness is granted in our regeneration, conversion, and sanctification.
And, fourth, that righteousness shall clothe us publicly in the day of Christ. At that time we shall be as lovely and beautiful as Christ is.
And if you ask me: but why? Why does God do all this to the church, to Jerusalem, to Zion, to His elect people?
Then the answer is: for His name's sake.
And that answer is most wonderful. We can see that now already.
For we know God for what He is.
I can very well see that there must be and there is only one central aim in the whole universe, in all of time and in all of eternity: and that only aim and purpose is that God sit on His throne, and that everyone and everything say Hallelujah!