"I have set the Lord always before me."-Ps. xvi. 8.
IF this so devotionally disposed disciple had lived in the days of David, and if he had asked of David what he here asks of his Master,-that is to say, if he had said to David, "David, thou man after God's own heart, teach me to pray,"-David would have answered him in the words of the text. "Set the Lord before you," David would have said. "Begin every prayer of yours by setting the Lord before you." "I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, and of them that keep Thy precepts," said David. And that made David the most accessible and the most affable of men, especially in divine things. And, accordingly, if you had asked David how he was able to compose such wonderful psalms and prayers,-psalms and prayers that have lasted to this day, and will last as long as the world lasts, and down to the day of judgment,-David would have told you that it was by no power or holiness of his that he did it. "All I do," he would have said to you, "is just to set the Lord before me as often as I begin again to sing and to pray. I begin; and, ere ever I am aware, already my prayer is answered, and my psalm is accepted." "But surely," you would have insisted, "it must surely have been by very great power and holiness that such psalms and prayers as the 40th Psalm, and the 63rd, and the 103rd, and the 119th were composed. Such psalms and prayers as these could never have been the composition of a man subject to like passions as we are." "I remember well," David would reply, "I shall never forget just how it was with me the day I began one of the psalms you have just named. My heart within me was as a dry and thirsty land that day. But as I set the Lord before me, and as I went on, I began to see His power and His glory as I had seen Him heretofore in His sanctuary, till my soul was satisfied as with marrow and fatness." If this was Peter who said to his Master, "Lord, teach us to pray!"-and most likely it was-when Peter's denial of his Master continually came back upon him in after days he would often go out to David's sepulchre, which was with them to that day, and would say in his agony: "David! David! David of the matter of Uriah, and Psalmist of the 51st Psalm, teach me to pray! Teach me thy penitential heart. Teach me, the chief of sinners, how thou didst so praise and so pray," And if David had still been in the earthly Jerusalem he would have taught Peter to pray by such confidences and confessions as this. "Come, O thou that fearest God," David would have said to Peter, "and I will tell thee what He did for my soul! After the matter of Uriah, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. Till one day I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord! And I took up my carriages and went a far journey into the wilderness till I came to the Mount of God. And as I ascended the Mount of God, amid lightning and thunder and tempest, with my sin ever before me, the Lord appeared to me and said, 'Behold, there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock . . . and I will cover thee with my hand as I pass by.' And the Lord passed by, and proclaimed, saying, the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth. And I made haste and bowed down and said, Forgive mine iniquity, O Lord, and take me for Thy servant. And it was so. And I sang the 103rd Psalm for the first time, all the way home from Horeb to my own house in Jerusalem.'
And not the 40th and the 63rd and the 103rd and.the 119th Psalms only: but, if you examine with a practised eye any one of the great psalms, you will see that what David says in the text is true of the composition of them all. Whosoever or whatsoever is present or absent from any prayer or psalm of David, the Lord is always present and is never absent. Or if He is ever absent at the beginning of any psalm of David, long before the psalm is ended-and before it has gone far-the Lord is back again at David's right hand. We are allowed to see deep down into David's mind and heart in the composition of some of his psalms. And notably so in the 103rd Psalm. We see David in the opening of that superb psalm calling upon his soul and "all that is within him" to take part in the composition of that superb psalm. And eminent among all that is within David is that so wonderful power he has of setting the Lord before the eyes of his heart. And not David, with his great gifts and great privileges only. But we ourselves,-when we enter our own souls in the same service, we also discover in ourselves the same noble and wonder-working power. By the bodily eye we can set things seen and temporal before ourselves; but by the spiritual eye we can set before ourselves things unseen and eternal. By our inward eye we are able to see God as we kneel down before Him. We seek His face: and He lifts upon us the light of His countenance sometimes, like the Psalmist, when we "consider the heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars which He has ordained." We set their Maker and our Maker before us, and we fall down in wonder and in worship saying, How great Thou art, O God! At another time we cast our inward eye back on the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, and the God of Moses and Isaiah; but best of all on the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And when we do so, when we set Him before us as He was revealed to all these sons and servants of His, then; as we go on doing so, He becomes more to us than all His creatures; and Heaven begins with us to take the place of earth. Such, even in this life, do they become who truly "set the Lord before them" in prayer. Such do they become who are taught of David and of Jesus Christ thus to pray, and thus to praise, and thus to walk with God, and thus to have their conversation in Heaven.
Our Lord did not say to His disciples in so any words that they were to set Him, their Master, always before them when they prayed. But, all the same, He meant it. And after He went away from them, and went home to His glory, the Holy Ghost soon made all the apostles see that He had meant it. And thus it is that we see, in the Epistles of Paul and the rest of the Apostles, such a new departure, so to speak, in prayer. David's psalms and prayers are the very best of their kind, and for their day. But Paul's prayers are of quite another kind: they belong to quite another dispensation, as we say. There has not been a greater at prayer and praise born of women, than David: but the least New Testament saint is, or he might be, far greater at prayer than even David. And that, because the least New Testament saint has the Lord Jesus to set before him in prayer, which David, with all his genius, and with all his grace, had not. Everybody must surely see that: even he who never thought about that till this morning-even he must see that "No man hath seen God at any time": no, not Moses: no, not David. "But the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you may have your fellowship with us."
We envy the twelve disciples who saw their Divine Master every day, and had His face and figure printed on their hearts and minds every day. What would we not give just to have seen our Lord's face and figure for once! To have seen Him when He was blessing the little children, with one of them in His arms ! To have seen His face, and heard His voice, when He spread His skirt over the woman who was washing His feet with her tears! To have seen and heard His intercessory prayer with His eyes lifted up to Heaven after the supper! Or, again, when He said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!" It was easy for Peter and James and John to set their Lord always before them! It was very easy for John to write that le had "an Advocate with the Father, when he remembered so well his Advocate's face, and the very tones of His voice. I could very easily be made a believer in Veronica's handkerchief, so much in this matter is the wish with me father to the thought! But no! Our times are in His hand, and our lot in this life. And we must not forget that these are His own words to us on this very matter-these words.-"It is the Spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life." "Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." And thus it is that the four evangelists, who had so seen and so handled the Word of Life, put their book into our hands, saying as they do so,-these things about our Lord and yours write we unto you that you may have your fellowship with us.
Now, if David could set Jehovah always before him in his prayers and in his psalms,-Jehovah, Whom no man could see and live,-how much more should we set Jesus Christ before us? Jesus Christ, Who, being the Son of God, became the Son of Man for this very purpose. And, so we shall! For, what state of life is there?-what need? what distress? what perplexity? what sorrow? what sin? what dominion and what disease of sin? what possible condition can we ever be in on earth?-in which we cannot set Jesus Christ before us in prayer and in faith, and for help, and for assurance, and for victory? Who are you? and what are you? and what is your request and your petition? Open your New Testament, take it with you to your knees, and set Jesus Christ out of it before you. Are you like David in the 63rd Psalm? Is your soul thirsting for God, and is your flesh longing for God in a dry and thirsty land where no water is? Then set Jesus at the well of Samaria before the eyes of your thirsty heart. And, again, set Him before your heart when He stood on the last day, that great day of the feast, and cried, saying, "If any man thirst let him come to Me and drink." Or, are you like David after the matter of Uriah? "For, day and night, Thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer." Then set Him before you who says: "I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." Or, are you the unhappy father of a prodigal son? Then, set your Father in Heaven always before you: and set the Son of God always before you as He composes and preaches the parable of all parables for you and for your son. Or, are you that son yourself? Then, never lie down at night till you have again read that peculiar parable for you, and set your father and your mother before you. Or, are you a mother with a daughter possessed of a devil ? In that case set Jesus Christ, when He was in the borders of Tyre and Sidon, before you; and listen to what He says to the woman who begged for the crumbs under the table: The devil, He said to her, is gone out of thy daughter. Or, are you a happy mother with your children still, so many little angels in their innocence and their beauty round about you? Then I am sure of you! You never kiss your sleeping child, I feel sure, without thinking of Mary, and how she must have kissed her sleeping child, and hid all these things in her heart. Or, to come to a very different kind of person-Are you loaded with the curses of people who were once in your cruel power: widows and orphans, and poor and friendless people? Then, as often as you remember their misery and your own-set your Redeemer before you, who, when He came to the place, looked up and saw Zacchaeus, and said unto him, "Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down: for to-day I must abide at thy house . . . . This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham." Or, again, after twelve years of many physicians, are you nothing better, but rather worse? Then set Him before you till you are healed of your plague-Him who turned and said: Who touched Me? Or are you a minister with such a message that all your people are walking no more with you? Then rest your heart on Him who said to the Twelve, "Will ye also go away?" And on Him who said on another occasion, "But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold." And, O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, see Him coming to the ship, walking on the sea: and see Him, at another time, in another ship asleep on a pillow: and hear His rebuke, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? "Or, to come to the uttermost of all: are you tortured with your own heart, till you cannot believe that they are worse tortured in hell itself? Then look at His face of infinite pity as He says to His disciples, "For, from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts covetousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within." And, if there is any other manner of man here, for whose soul no man cares, let that man set the Good Shepherd before him as He says: "I am the door; by Me if any man enter in he shall go in and out, and find pasture." And, again, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Sinners! set your Saviour always before you! Child of God! set your Father in Heaven, and His Son from Heaven, always before you! And, because They are at your right hand, you shall not be greatly moved.
And, then, He has appointed special times, and special places, and special circumstances, and special accompaniments of prayer: at which times, in which places, and amid which accompaniments and circumstances He will be specially present, and will in an especial manner set Himself before you. Seize those golden, but irrecoverable opportunities; seize them so that He shall never be able to say to you that He never knew you. His own word, for one. Never open the New Testament till you have said to yourself: "Now, O my soul, let us proceed no further till we have set Him of Whom we are now to read before us!" Never hear a chapter of the Gospel read without seeing, as if you had been there, all that is read about. Be for the time, in Bethlehem, and in Nazareth, and in Galilee, and in Jerusalem, and in the Garden, and on Golgotha, and on Olivet. Never see His Name even in pen or pencil, and never hear His Name in a sermon, or in a psalm or prayer, without seeing His face at the same time and falling down before Him. And when you are in your own place of prayer, do not be in a hurry to get on with your prayer and to get done with it. If need be, He can make the sun stand still to give you time to pray. Never kneel without at the same time shutting your eyes on all earthly things, and setting God on His Throne in Heaven, and Jesus Christ in His intercession, before you. Take time. It is lost time to speak to the wall. Take time till you are quite sure that you have His ear. Be silent till you have something to say. And then, say it not into the air, but into the ear and the heart of Jesus Christ. For He has an ear and a heart too, and they are both, if you like, open to you. You are at family worship, say, and you open your hymn-book, and you come on John Newton's sweet hymn:
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds In a believer's ear!
Yes, but does it at that moment sound sweet in your ear? Are you that believer? And is your ear full in a moment, of an unearthly sweetness? You are a believer, and your ear is full of that sweetness, when you set the Owner of that Name always before you.
Jesus, my Shepherd, Husband, Friend:
and on the spot you are a lost sheep, a woman forsaken and a friendless outcast-all met, all satisfied, and all aglow with the love of Christ shed abroad in your heart.
My Prophet, Priest and King:
and all that is within you is that moment at His feet!
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End, Accept the praise I bring:
and the praise you bring is all, at that moment, accepted; and all because you did set the Lord before you.
You remember what is told of that old saint who so set the cross and its bleeding Burden before him, that the five wounds actually came down from off the Cross, and printed themselves on his hands and on his feet and on his side. It is a parable of what takes place every day in every true saint of God and disciple of Christ. They set their dying Lord always before them till they are crucified with Him and till they bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. Join the great saints in this their crucifixion with Christ. My brethren, set the Lord Jesus on His Cross and on His Throne before you in all your psalms, in all your prayers, in all your Scriptures, and at all times, till He is ever with you: and till it would not surprise you to feel His hand laid on your head, and to look up and see His face some night-watch as you so abide before Him. Set your Lord, in all these ways, before you, till, suddenly, some midnight soon, the Bridegroom is with you and you are for ever with Him! Even so come quickly, Lord Jesus!