<< Psalm 1: The Tree Planted by the Waters >>
1Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
The book of the Psalms is the Christian’s daily guide. There is no state into which he may fall or rise but will be found to have been described and realized there. The changes of the soul are not treated as abstraction, but as real things. The spirit is shown labouring under guilt, and crying with agony for pardon and help, or as relieved and pouring itself forth in praise. A laying open of the varying conditions of the regenerate life, its cloud and sunshine, its pain and peace, its deep self-knowledge and self-condemnation, and its slowly returning consolation, all are displayed and unfolded in this Divine Book with a living graphic force and truthfulness that really spiritually minded men, in all ages, have thankfully made it their daily manna of devotion, their heavenly daily bread. And, in this, they have done wisely. Suffer me to advise you, my beloved hearers, to do the same. He who resolves to let no day pass without reading and pondering upon some portion of these Divine Songs, will find them a comfort, a strength, and a blessing ; a lamp unto his feet, and a light unto his eyes.
The Psalms open with the beautiful word, Blessed. A word which is not only the first, but contains in itself the result to be realized at last. It is so placed as if to show us that the good; man’s regeneration begins from God and heaven within, and is brought out by his successive states until it spreads over his whole mind. He starts from blessed principles within, and he comes to blessedness in fulness. The first manifestation of the inner life, in the outer, consists in putting down evil there : it is negative. Blessed is the man that walketh not in tho counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth the seat of the scornful,” As he thus resists evil his delight in the truth increases. His delight is in the law of the Lord ; and in His law doth he meditate day and night. This meditation upon the Divine Word leads to growth in knowledge, perception, and wisdom. “He becomes like a tree planted by the waters.”
Before proceeding, we would here call your attention to the correspondence of a tree, which we have given in previous discourses. It corresponds to the perception of truth in the mind. This perception grows from the slightest idea at first, until it acquires a lofty and all-protecting influence in the soul. From a seed it grows up to become a tree. A man perceives truth very slightly at first. He sees little of its nature and less of its application ; but as he continues to be faithful to the commandments of his God, the truth becomes larger and nobler with him, until it covers his whole life. This was the correspondence of the tree when we treated of Eden ; again, when we dwelt upon the parable of the trees choosing a king : and now it is the same in the spiritual sense of the Psalms. Such is the uniformity of the divine rule according to which the Word of God has been written, and by which its divine lessons can really be opened.
This same signification of tree continues through the Psalms, the prophets, and the New Testament. For, of course, David could have no other than this same spiritual use of tree when he said, ” I am like a green olive tree in the house of God : I trust in the mercy of God for ever.” — Ps. lii. 8. Where it is most evident, that the tree corresponds to something in man. In the ninety-second Psalm a very beautiful instance occurs of the correspondence of a tree. ” The righteous shall flourish like t the palm-tree : he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age : they shall be fat and flourishing : To show that the Lord is upright: He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” Here we have not only the spiritual likeness of man to a tree, but different kinds of trees. “He shall grow like a palm-tree; shall grow like a cedar.” The palm-tree representing man’s growth in the perceptions of goodness ; the cedar-tree the increase of his perceptions of truth. A most important truth, also is couched in the remark as to the place where the trees are to be planted. ” Those that be planted in the house of the Lord, Jehovah, shall flourish in the courts of our God.” The house of Jehovah means a state in which divine love bears rule. They who are planted in such a state flourish in the courts of divine truth, our God. The great secret why we often make little progress in the truth, is that we do not cultivate the good. Let us seek daily to to become more planted and rooted in love, and we shall find, as the result, that we shall flourish abundantly in more enlarged perceptions of the right and the beautiful. We shall know of the doctrine that it is of God. And we shall realize, too, the declaration, they shall still bring forth fruit in old age : for the fruits of virtue and usefulness will be daily increasing, and their perfection advance as our progress in the regenerate life enables us to act from purer motives and greater faithfulness. And all our advancement will be an evidence of the constant goodness and wisdom of our Heavenly Father, from whom alone all good proceeds.
When we observe the correspondence of trees we shall perceive that the call for them to praise the Lord is something more definite than we might previously have thought. ” Praise ye the Lord,” says the Psalmist, ” Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars ” (Ps. cxlviii. 9) ; where fruitful trees express truths for practice more especially, and all cedars, are truths of expansive thought and enlarged ideas. There is a striking passage in Isaiah, which seems extremely obscure without the spiritual sense of tree, but very striking with it. ” I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree : I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box together : That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it”— Chap. xli. 19, 20. When we discern the correspondence of trees we can perceive how the implantation of them in the wilderness and the desert, can enable man to see, and know, and understand. Unless his perceptions of truth are opened and advanced, he must remain in spiritual darkness ; but, in proportion as by study and reflection, from a sincere and earnest love of truth, he learns, and meditates upon, the divine lessons of the Word, his previous barren mind becomes furnished and beautiful as a garden of the Lord. The prophet Ezekiel has many striking instances of the spiritual correspondence of trees. There is one whole chapter, the thirty-first, which is full of it. In the seventeenth, too, there is a remarkable passage, which, without that, is difficult to be understood. ” Thus saith the Lord God ; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it : I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon a high mountain and eminent: In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it : and it shall bring forth boughs, bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar : and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish : I the Lord have spoken and have done it”— Ver. 22—24.
The highest branch of the high cedar is the perception of the Lord as a Divine Man. This, when seen in the intellect, and loved by a Supreme affection, is planted on the mountain of the height of Israel, and it makes all other perceptions of the mind harmonious, expanded, and complete.
The most exalted view which reason can grasp is, that God is an infinitely glorious Divine Man. That He is infinitely all that a good and true man is finitely. That just as finite man impresses on all his works something which bespeaks the finite human character of their author, so upon all His works the Creator has manifested a likeness to humanity, and, most of all upon His immortal creatures, who are images of Him. All things in the universe have a likeness to man. Men are universes in miniature. Men and the universe are types of each other, and the reason is, they both are outbirths from Him who is the infinite Divine Man. They resemble each other because they resemble Him. This truth, that God is a Divine Man, is the highest branch of the high cedar, and when it is transplanted into the Church, and loved there, when God is loved in the person of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus, it brings forth boughs, and bears fruit, and is a goodly cedar. Under it dwells every noble heavenly thought, — the fowls of every wing. A revolution takes place in all man’s previous perceptions. Instead of regarding the Divine Being as a distant, awful, unfeeling power, He is adored as a loving Heavenly Father and Redeemer. Then the previous high tree is brought down, and the low tree is exalted; the previous green tree is dried up, and the dry tree is made to flourish.
The same correspondence of tree forms the basis of much of the teaching of the Divine Saviour in the gospel. ” The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field : which indeed is the least of all seeds : but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, an becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” — Matt. xiii. 31, 32. The perception in man, that he was born for heaven, is the smallest of all the truths then perceived by the mind. But if united to love, if warm, like the mustard seed, it grows. It becomes daily of more importance. It becomes more and more the all-pervading idea. We are more and more convinced that our business should be so carried on as not to peril our everlasting peace : our friends should be such as will assist us in our journey of life, so that we arrive at the goal of heavenly rest : our tempers should be moulded to the Christian pattern: our homes should be so ordered as to be a miniature heaven, and thus over every department of life religion should put her branches, and cover, hallow, and protect the whole. Then the mustard seed grown to become a large tree, and all the heaven can make their nests in the shadow of it. This tree becomes so great, because in the seed there is contained the germs and elements of all true greatness. If we believe that man was born for heaven, there is involved in that, the conviction existence of heaven, and all its laws of order and happiness. There is implied the Lord who reigns there, and all His divine excellencies and attributes ; there is implied the regenerate life to fit man for heaven, and thus our redemption and liberty, our faith, and virtue ; all that is meant by religion is implied in this little seed. The kingdom of heaven is like unto it, and the kingdom of heaven is contained in it. O may we take it and plant it in the fields of our souls!
The use of the tree in the language of correspondence is very frequent indeed in the New Testament. ” Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit ; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” — Matt. vii. 17 — 20. The trees, undoubtedly, have relation to men.
The circumstance of the religious state in the mind being likened unto a tree, in its growth and gradual production, shows to the reflective mind how extremely fallacious are those views of religion which make it a spasm, a convulsion, a thing done all at once. With them a man is black as death at one moment, and then, by faith like an electric shock, as they fancy, a man is instantaneously made as white as heaven. All that religion can do for him is done. But no, says the Scripture, religion is like a tree. It grows gradually. Trees do not start up by convulsions ; they
they grow slowly : seasons pass over them, and at various times there are leaves, blossoms, and beautiful displays; these are followed by wintry seasons, when all seems bare and barren. But still the tree grows on. In spring and summer the parts above ground grow, and in winter the roots. So is it with man. From his first sincere convictions he advances with continual change. At one time all is blooming and delightful with him; at another all is wintry, cold and bare. Yet, in his states of sadness, the roots of religion grow. Humility, self-examination, a true estimation of the things of time ; a sincere trust in the Lord, and a refuge under the shadow of His Divine protection ; all these principles increase in time of sorrow, and thus prepare the way for great spiritual prosperity in the future.
” From all our afflictions salvation shall spring;,
The deeper our sorrows, the sweeter we’ll sing.”
In our text the lover of the law of the Lord is said to be like a tree planted by the rivers of water. These rivers are the streams of divine truth. He is said to be near them who brings his mind into harmony with them. He who keeps close to what truth teaches, who brings his thoughts, sentiments, views, and feelings, and above all, his life, into conformity with the lessons of Heavenly Wisdom; the man who considers each day to bring himself as near as possible to what his daily study of the Word unfolds, is like a tree planted by the waters.
The waters — what an expressive and beautiful symbol of truths themselves. In the book of Revelation, John is stated to have seen a river of the water of life proceeding out of the throne of God and the Lamb (chap. xxi. 1). The water of life, the truths of love. How striking is the correspondence of water. How pearly it looks when the sun’s light is upon it, it is like liquid silver. It is bright and clear, like truth. It satisfies the thirst, and diffuses over the body a refreshing moisture, aiding every organ, and diffusing health and satisfaction throughout So to the mind does truth. It gratifies the appetite for intelligence. It throws health and comfort through our spirits, and assists every genuine operation within us. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. But water purifies too. It makes the body clean, and truth cleanses the soul. ” Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, saith the Lord, and ye shall be clean from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.” ” Sanctify them by thy truth : thy word is truth.” — John xvii. 17.
” Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoke unto you.” — John xv. 3.
But we must not fail to remark that the good man is said to be planted by the rivers of water. And while we remember that water is the symbol of truth, in its proper character as dear, satisfying, and purifying to the mind, rivers of water especially correspond to truth, received into the best affections of the heart, and flowing down to fertilize the life with heavenly virtues. Truth is sometimes received only into the memory, or, if further, only into the intellect, and is then only a thing for occasional amusement, or for intellectual display, or for pride of victory. Many persons, it has been well remarked, will talk for truth, wrangle for truth, write for it, fight for it, die for it, but few will truly live for it. Now truth in the minds of those who do not daily practice, is like a stagnant pool, not like a river. Water at rest engenders foulness, malaria, noxious ugly creatures, disgusting and filthy. So is it with truth unused. The mind which possesses it often becomes filled with self-conceits, with vain dreams of pre-eminence over others, and does less, is not a wiser man, in proportion to his knowledge, but a more foolish man than others. Nothing is more lamentable to see than a man with pride in his intellect, and contempt for others, because of his having more unused knowledge than they. He is brilliant sometimes in talk, but he is like a man spending his fortune and time in letting off fireworks : he is like one who is pining to death while he has vast stores of provisions which he is not wise enough to eat : he is like a person who has a large reservoir of water of which he never drinks, while he is dying for thirst; with which he never washes, while he is covered with dirt; and which he never turns over his land, although it is so parched it produces nothing.
In time, men lose the truth they have neglected. ” My people have committed two evils, “says the Lord, ” they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” — Jer. ii. 13. But truth, as rivers of water, is that heavenly intelligence which the heart hails and appreciates in its inmost affections. Rivers rise in mountains; the rains and vapours of the upper regions filtrate through the mountain-tops, and give rise to fountains and rills which form form rivers, and pour over the plains and valleys the rich means of beauty and abundance. Thus, too, it is with truth, when it is received and lifted into the heart. It comes forth again in gushing streams, flowing to do good. Flashes of silvery sentiments, dancing in the sunbeams, like crystal rills on the mountain side, will flow down from the inner heights of the soul, and the whole mind will be satisfied, and the life will be like a fair land, teeming with plenty. All truth, as it flows from the Lord, was seen by the prophet-apostle John, as a magnificent river in the spirit-world. ” And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” — Rev. xxii. 1. The water of life means truth filled with love, for love is real life. It flows from the Lord through heaven, which is His throne ; where, as to His Inmost Divinity and His Divine Humanity, He reigns for ever. What a sublime idea it is! A magnificent stream of truth, flowing from love, to fertilize and bless heaven and earth. O may we drink of its sacred waters! Blessed be His holy name who caused it to be written, — ” And the Spirit and the bride say. Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whomsoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”— Rev. xxii. 17.
The same glorious water of truth is meant when the Psalmist exclaims, ” There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved : God shall help her, and that right early.” The Church, the true city of God, is indeed made glad by the sacred waters of the Holy Word. Its streams go forth in every direction to purify, to hallow, and to bless : —
” See, from Zion’s sacred mountain
Streams of living water flow !
God has opened there a fountain :
This supplies the plains below.
They are blessed
Who its sovereign virtues know.”
The tree of the genuine Christian’s religion is said to be planted by or near the rivers of water, to intimate that it grows in harmony with its divine doctrines. He has no far-fetched conceits, no whims of vain fancies, unfounded in the teachings of heavenly wisdom. His tree grows near the waters. He reads the Sacred Word day by day, and forms his views and sentiments by its lessons. Daily his tree grows in strength and height, because it is daily fed by the refreshing streams of living water. He learns, and loves, and lives, the precepts of heavenly virtue. Nor must we forget that man plants his own tree there. The earlier lessons of religion, such as become our childhood and youth, may be planted by others, but religion, when it becomes a tree, when it forms a rational perception of spiritual things, a noble system on which to think, to rest, and to live, must be planted by our own hands. The Lord provides the seed and the soil, he will give the rain, the light, the heat, and the other potent secret influences which are required, but we must dig the soil, plant the tree, and keep it clear from weeds, to give it room to grow. ” The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field : which indeed is the least of all seeds : but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air and lodge in the branches thereof.”
The seed of true faith, the conviction that we are really born for heaven, is, at first, the smallest, the least influential, thought of the mind. It is nothing like the size of grammar, of arithmetic, of the varied sciences, of the whole army of knowledge, which has come in by the senses. It is like the faintest streak of light which distinguishes the earliest dawn, but it will grow. It has immensity within it. If I am really born for heaven, there must be a heaven for which I am destined. That must be an abode of heavenly order, heavenly love, and heavenly wisdom. I have but the germs of heaven within me. I must work them out. I have tempers, principles, and practices, which are not heavenly, these must be cast out. I cannot do this of myself, He who made me to be happy will give me the means. It is a great work, I must not delay. The only way to be prepared for heaven hereafter, is to be heavenly here.
All this is contained in this sacred seed. Faith is in it, love is in it, works are there in embryo, heaven is in it, the Spirit of the Lord is in it, and as we ponder upon it these things unfold, and it grows, it enlarges in the soul. It puts forth a branch nearest the earth, to direct and influence our daily habits : it puts forth another to extend over our friendships, for he is no true friend of the Christian who is not a lover of the good and the true: another branch comes to overshadow and direct our business, so that this is brought under the principles of justice and judgment : another branch is over our home, and directs that it should be a little heaven : another over the education of our children, others the other branches of our life ; while the whole keeps towering upwards, rejoicing in the air and light of heaven, until it becomes a grand tree. Such is the growth and development of of the tree of spiritual perception. It is small at first, but having within it the elements of all that is great and good, it becomes at last a glorious tree, under which we can rest, and on and around which, every noble, lofty, brilliant, blessed thought, like birds of heaven, can nestle and can play, and sing.
Let us, however, go on to the next particular in the divine description: “that bringeth forth his fruit in due season.” Fruit is the essential sign of the value of the tree. No matter what beauty of foliage, of splendour or flower there may be, if there be no fruit on the fruit-tree, its value is slight indeed. The religion of man is the same. Without the works in which love and faith embody themselves where they exist, it is nothing. You remember what the Divine Owner of the vineyard is represented to have said. ” Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none : cut it down ; why cumbereth it the ground?” — Luke xiii. 7. When the Saviour, on his road to Jerusalem, came to the fig tree covered with leaves, but having no fruit thereon, He said, ” Let no fruit grow on thee, henceforward for ever; and presently the fig tree withered away.” An expressive and significant token of the sad termination of a career in which there has been much profession, but practice has been wanting. ” By their fruits,” said our Lord, on another occasion, ” ye shall know them.” — Matt vii. 20. The fruit embodies all the excellencies of the tree. Such as the tree is, such is the fruit. Oh, that we looked fully and constantly to this doctrine of works, not of course as involving any idea of merit, but as manifesting what we are, and have become. There is no more merit in a good work than in a good thought or a good faith. What have we which we have not received ? It is of mercy, the richest mercy, that we are brought out of our evil condition, and gifted with the ability given to us, every moment to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But we must work. By works is hath made perfect By works is love made perfect. Works are the manifestation of the inward character. We are to a great extent what we do. Hence, the Scriptures ever declare our final lot to be determined by our works. ” God will render to every man according to his deeds : To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life : But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation, and wrath , tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile ; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile : For there is no respect of persons with God.” — Rom. ii. 6 — 11. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and to enter in through the gates into the city. Be assured, no righteousness is real righteousness which is not a doing righteousness. ” And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us.” — Deut. vi. 25. ” He that DOETH righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.” — 1 John iii. 7. “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?”— Micah vi. 8.
Oh, that this real practical religion were felt deeply by us all. Let us rest assured no righteousness will be accounted ours, in the eternal world, which we have not made ours by practice. That vain dream of some, that the Divine Righteousness of the Lord Jesus will be put down to their account, and God will account them righteous, simply because they believe that the Saviour’s righteousness is theirs, is a fearful delusion. Just as well might they suppose that Creation would be set down to their account, as that Redemption will. The robe of the Saviour’s righteousness is one which none but He wears, it is Divine. ” On His vesture and on His thigh was a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords.” — Rev. xix. 16. We must have robes more humble, but which will fit us, and be the expression of what the Lord’s goodness, in our regeneration, has made us. Our robes must be made white in the blood of the Lamb, the divine wisdom of the Saviour ; but we must not presume to remain unrighteous and dream we shall enter into heaven wrapped up in a stolen robe. The good tree bringeth forth fruit in his season. The fruits are varied in different seasons. In the book of Revelation it is said, ” The tree of life yielded her fruit every month.” The spirit has its changes both as to love and faith, both as to the sun and the moon, but the good man produces works of virtue in every state, and accommodated to every condition. In temptation he exhibits firmness and patience ; in difficulty perseverance and self-possession ; in cases of danger resolution, boldness, and decision;in business, activity, uprightness, and kindness ; in worship, devotion, humility, and love; in learning the Word, diligence, thoughtfulness, and truthfulness; in all things, sincerity and earnestness. He brings forth his fruit in its season, The real worth of the good man will appear more fully the longer he is known, and with greater opportunity of testing him. He will be sure in trial and in triumph ; in poverty and in riches ; in sickness and in health ; in life and in death, he will bring forth his fruit in his season.
We are next informed, and this is a beautiful and instructive intimation, ” his leaf shall not wither.”
There are two kinds of leaves, green leaves and flower leaves. They correspond to our conceptions, or the ideas we form, first, from the literal sense of the Word, meant by the green leaf, and then the spiritual sense of the Word, meant by the flower. The superior loveliness and delicacy of the flower over the leaf, the higher grace and more refined charm of interior views over the comparatively lower ones which we obtain from the letter of the Word. But the views derived from the letter of the Word when truly understood, as a basis for the spirit, will never perish. The leaf will not wither. The history of the Jews will still remain in the mind, but it will be as the history of our regeneration. The knowledge of Canaan will not perish, but it will be regarded as the description of heaven. The Lord’s life in the world will never cease to be regarded with reverence and with wonder, but it will be regarded as the great lesson of the movements of Divine Love and Wisdom in the soul ; and thus seen, these leaves will become greener, fresher, more lovely, throughout eternity. As the soul altogether will become more redolent of health, of beauty, and as it were of youth, as everlasting ages pass, so all its ideas will become deepened, heightened, and invigorated, ” its leaf will not wither.”
And, lastly, is added those expressive and important words, “Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” This is a most important ; assurance. But it rests upon the doctrine that the Lord is the Universal Father. His Providence extends over all, and not in a general manner only, but enters into every particular of our lives. “Not a hair of your heads falls to the ground without your Heavenly Father’s knowledge,” says the Lord. And, again, “All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth.” And what a blessed assurance is that! Our God is not a remote, formless, incomprehensible intelligence. He is our Saviour, and under His kind guardianship ” we live, and move, and have our being.” With this conviction, the Christian may walk firmly and freely and lovingly, for ” whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” It is true, that possibly, his prosperity may lie in a different direction from that which he supposed. He may not succeed in something he intends ; but it may result in something he did not intend. It will be all overruled for the best. The view of the ever-watchful, ever-present,, ever-kind. Providence of the Lord, is full of comfort, and tends to entire freedom from anxiety and care. How large a number of mankind are oppressed with heart-corroding, health-destroying mistrusts and fears, who, if they could have a loving deep confidence that the Lord cares for them, both in their earthly and eternal concerns, would rise to spiritual freedom. Their burden would be cast off, and they would walk confidingly, as if they held the Divine Friend and Father’s hand. Of this we may be fully satisfied, that we are never forgotten. “The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want.” For He is too good to act from anything but Love and Mercy, too wise not to employ the best means for our help and elevation, and too powerful to be overcome by any who would do us harm. Whatsoever then the good man does, in the way which is best for him, it is sure to prosper.
This does not always appear to be so, but is ever really the case. When Joseph was sent by his father to visit his brethren, and was seized by them, cast into a pit to perish, and afterwards was sold as a slave, it did not seem that his affairs were prospering, but they really were so. When, afterwards, he was accused of evil, and sent to prison as ungrateful and vile, to appearance he was on the road to ruin, but it was really otherwise. This was the mode in which he was prepared to be an instrument of the Divine Providence, to save Egypt ; to be promoted to honour and use ; and to be a type of Him who ever saves us in our spiritual famines and distresses. So is it in the histories of all of us. Who cannot see, when he looks over his life, that many a thing which he once earnestly longed for, but was prevented from obtaining, would have been most detrimental had it been got. Many a disappointment, which we felt severely at the time, has manifestly been a blessing in disguise. In what the Lord permits, as well as in what He ordains, He has ever “eternal ends in view.” And, hence, for the promotion of these ends, sometimes projects which we fondly desired to see prosper, fail, and something we suppose to be most disadvantageous occurs, but in the end our real prosperity is accomplished. Of all the blessed ones in heaven, it is said, ” These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” — Rev. vii. 14. Tribulation is quite as essential to our real progress as is prosperity. By affliction we learn sympathy with others ; we also learn humility. And these virtues are worth any price we can pay for them. The jewel which is being polished, most likely, if it could speak, might object to the rough hard treatment which is needed to bring out its brilliancy, but when its true lustre has been obtained, it is seen that the triumph far overpays the labour; and the gem that shines with so much beauty now, will blaze in splendour for ever. The trouble is temporary, the gain is everlasting. The winter seems harsh and bitter ; it looks like the adversity of the year. But winter is as salutary, in the real progress of the year, as summer. In winter noxious and hurtful insects are destroyed, the clods are broken to powder, and the juices of trees are retained about the roots, so that these latter grow. So is it with man. In his wintry states, in sorrow and in suffering, blessings are conveyed to the soul which are of inestimable value. The roots of heavenly virtues grow, and preparations are made for all our subsequent advancement. It has been said, that just so much as the fibres of the root extend in winter will be the progress of the upper part of the tree in summer. And man’s mental tree will spread more fully, and bear a richer harvest of virtues, in proportion as we strike the roots of religion more deeply in meditation, humility, and prayer.
The Israelites must have been often perplexed when going forward and backward in the wilderness. They most have often felt afraid that they would never succeed in reaching their promised destination, in the face of fierce foes, hostile nations, and fearful journeys. It is said of them in the Psalms, — “They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way: they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses. And He led them forth by the right way, that they might find a city of habitation.” Thus we notice, that however great their trials and deprivations, they were led by the right way. The pillar of cloud, and the pillar of fire, directed them in the course indispensable to their perfect success. It was the right way. And, my beloved hearers, when we enter into the eternal world, many sorrows which now we would fain shun, many struggles which we would fain have been spared, many privations which have seemed to us detrimental, will be found to have been all working their destined amount of discipline and of good. We have, by a merciful hand, been led in the right way, that we might come, at last, to a city of everlasting and all-blissful habitation. Gratefully then, may we add with the Psalmist, ” that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men.”
Thus may we see how true it is of the good man, ” Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” It shall prosper either in what he intends, or in some greater blessing which he does not see now, but he will see hereafter. On the whole subject we may perceive that the correspondence of the tree is as fruitful in lessons of use here, as elsewhere, in the Divine Word. The rule for its spiritual interpretation is precisely the same. Let us, my beloved hearers, ever ask ourselves, are we growing and fruit-bearing trees, or are we mere weeds ? Do we bring forth our fruit in due season ? Is the fruit mellowed by the inward flavour of grateful acknowledgment to the Lord, that He is the source of this and every good work ? Are we diligent cultivators of our spiritual tree, watchful that no destructive influences destroy its beauty or its fruit? Do we yearn for it to grow upwards, heavenwards? And thus seek to realize the blessed promise to the good in our text. His leaf shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. If this be our happy determination, we shall find that the virtues we are directed to possess in this first psalm, will secure those in all the other psalms.
The first will be seen to contain the germ of all the rest. Nay, not only the first psalm, but the first word of the first psalm, will contain that which will qualify our state, and be the spring, of all real felicity for us in earth and in heaven. ” Blessed” is the word which begins the psalm and the book, and this term will truly describe our state. Blessed shall we be in sowing the heavenly faith within us ; blessed shall we be in receiving it in his season ; blessed shall we be in beholding fresh truths come forth, and old truths with fresh lustre, from the ever green leaves of ideas growing from the Sacred Word; blessed shall we be, in a child-like confidence, that all we do and all we suffer will be for our perpetual good ; blessed shall we be in life; blessed shall we be in death, and blessed shall we be in heaven. We shall experience the divine saying, “The Lord shall guide thee continually. He shall satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones : and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” — Isa. lviii. 11.
So may we grow: so may we act: and so may we be blessed.
Finally, let us learn not to be too anxious from an immediate apparent growth of our spiritual tree. One of the most fruitful sources of anxiety and mistake in our spiritual career is, the desire to feel at once, and fully, a state of interior blessedness. Some persons are curiously and painfully prying as to their exact states. But this is incompatible with real faith in the Lord and a pure love of goodness. The growth of a tree in a day is scarcely to be marked: yet it grows. And if the cultivator the laws of vegetable progress the success of the tree is certain. He need not trouble himself to mark each measure of advance. All will, in due time, be well. So is it with us. If we obey the commandments of God from a spirit of love, all within us will grow up and flourish and bear in good time. Let us not be anxious, but obedient ; doing our natural duties from spiritual motives, and our spiritual duties faithfully ; and we may leave the rest, with child-like confidence, in the hands of the Lord. We know not what the Spirit of the Lord is doing within us. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth; so is every one who is born of the Spirit.” But this we may know, that Divine Mercy will do the best for us that can be done. If we do our part the All-Good will certainly do His.
Let our sole care be to cultivate faithfulness in duty, from an earnest love to the Lord and our neighbour, and a firm faith in the promises of the Divine Word. Then shall we certainly find the truth of the description, in which the Lord said, ” So is the kingdom of God as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” We shall have our nights and days, our sleepings and wakings, our periods and of gloom and gladness, of shade and of brightness, of chill and of warmth, but let us faithfully obey, whether pleasant or unpleasant, the voice of love, of truth, and of duty, from our Saviour, and we shall find that the tree will grow up, though we know not how. ” In Jesus Christ, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.”
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Word Opened (1887)