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Ps. xxiii. 44" 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 they comfort me."

It is a saying of the wise king of Israel - "The light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is to behold the sun : but if a man live many years and rejoice in them all, yet, let him remember the days of darkness.” The advice is in harmony with what we know of nature and of providence; so that, however contradictory to some may seem the connexion thus made, between all things attractive of desire, and the darkness which will over. whelm them; the recollection of the one is necessary to the highest enjoyment of the other.

Brethren ; We have this day entered on a new year: an occasion which has commonly the effect of determining the mind to new objects, and of elevating it with new hopes. The civilities with which we are accustomed to meet one another at such a time, are evidence that the prospect of another year is a reasonable subject of congratulation. It is not the design to suggest what shall be in contrariety to the innocent satisfactions of the season. Far from it, in the spirit as well of the season as of the

passage quoted, there is cherished the wish in favor of all present, that “they may live many years, and rejoice in them all.” But for the accomplishing of this, and, much more with a view to higher interests, there will be use in having an eye to

Vol. III.-1

the other part of the passage, — the remembering of that darkness, by which the brightest prospects may be soon clouded, and in which all human affairs will at last end.

Under the impression of this sentiment, the text shall be considered,

I. As referring to the sure end of human life:
II. As providing the proper remedy against the fear of it: and,

III. As directing the application of the remedy, for the cure or for the moderating of the evil.

I. First, the text is to be considered as referring to the sure end of human life.

This is suggested by the first clause of the sentence “ though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” The words seem to have been intended in the strictest sense, as descriptive of the dissolution of our bodies. In the beginning of the psalm, the author of it had described the divine mercies in his possession, under the picturesque representation of being “fed” by his Almighty Shepherd "in green pastures,” and of being "led by him beside the waters of comfort.” Then he seems to have recollected, that, as in the rural scene presented, the sheep, while they crop the springing grass, may wander from their shepherd, in like manner the dependents on the divine bounty may forget the Providence that sustains them, and wander in the paths of sin. On this account, he goes on in a grateful acknowledgment of the admonitions and the persuasions by which, if submitted to on their part, the heavenly Shepherd reclaims his children from the errors into which, through frailty, they had fallen. Having thus given the liveliest exhibitions of providence and of grace, he remembered that the picture has its shade; and that beside the rivulets and the lawns, there is a dark vale which terminates the whole view.

This is the vale of death : and there is the ground of the metaphor in the description of Jerusalem and of the country around it. In all nations, the phrases of their respective languages are, in some measure, dictated by local circumstances. The city of Jerusalem was on an eminence; and one of the approaches to it was by a valley, which bore the name of Baca,

that is, of weeping. The heavenly Zion, the blessed abode of the deceased righteous, occurred to the mind of the sacred poet, under the metaphor of a hill, lifting its head above the sorrows of this transitory life: and then, the vale of weeping naturally suggested the other metaphor, of “the valley of the shadow of death ;" which earthly pilgrims must pass over, in their way to the new Jerusalem.

Although this seems to be the strict meaning of the expression, as used by the Psalmist, there will be no impropriety, and it will fall in with the present design, if we contemplate the metaphor in a greater latitude, as extending to those ills of life, which partake of the properties of the awful idea stated: to pain and sickness; to poverty; to the weaknesses of old age; and to the dangers into which we may fall, at any period of life. The associating of these with that last end to which they point, is natural to the human mind : so that if the latter may be called “the valley of the shadow of death,” the others are so many entrances into that dark vale. If some return from them for a little while, to "the green pastures and the waters of comfort;" yet of the whole race of mankind, who at last descend into the recess, there are few who have not, in some of the ways referred to, anticipated its gloom.

Not only the sorrows of life, but life itself, may be called the valley of the shadow of death; because of the many dangers which we carry within us, and of those by which we are continually surrounded. How nice, and how liable to injury is the human frame! Solomon calls the essential principle which keeps its powers in action, “a silver cord;" which, it is intimated, may soon “be broken." There are innumerable dangers to which this slender cord is liable, from the least passing of the bounds of temperance; from various other species of indiscretion; and at all events, from old age ; by which, if attained to, it will be at last weakened and destroyed. If, from dangers inherent to our constitution, we pass to those which are without us, we perceive the earth, the waters, and the very air, to abound with engines of our destruction. Beside all this, the injurious passions of mankind are continually at work, to add to their common difficulties and dangers. It is a remarkable expression in one of the offices of the Church - “In the midst of life, we are in death.” The truth of the sentiment appears in daily occurrences, which we hear of, which we see, and which are sometimes brought home to our feelings. If so, the whole of human life may be considered as the valley of the shadow of death; and every part of life, as saddened by some portion of the darkness hanging over its end.

Still, the expression must have been designed by the Psalmist in its strictest sense : and it having been so stated, we may proceed,

II. Secondly; To consider the text as providing a remedy against the fear of the event contemplated. This is the sentiment of the other clause of the passage

“I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

“I will fear no evil.” There was a certain philosophy of ancient times, which, while it set itself in just opposition to the placing of happiness in sensual delights, ran into a visionary extreme; pretending, that death, with its kindred ills of pain, poverty, and whatever else is formidable to human nature, are no evils. The holy Scriptures are in a medium between the affected severity of the one system, and the licentiousness of the other: so that while the soul is fortified against the slavish fear of ills incident to our condition, we are not required to be void of sensibility in the endurance of them. The text is an instance of this. The inspired penman does not say, that there is no evil in the contemplated appointments of Providence; but opposes certain consolations, which he had found a remedy for their terrors. “For," says he, “thou art with me;" meaning not merely in the sense, in which we read in another of the Psalms - “Thou art about my path and about my bed, and spiest out all my ways;" but in that which may be collected from the words following ; being a repetition of the sentiment, with greater clearness as to its meaning — “Thy rod,” that is, the sceptre of thy authority, held out for my protection, "and thy staff,” or the emblem of the guiding of my steps, "they comfort me."

The lowest sense in which the words can be taken, is as applicable to the providential care of God. This is significatively expressed by the shepherd's rod and staff, extended over his flock for their protection. The sentiment may be applied, so far as Providence is concerned, to the universe of being; of whom it is said — “These wait all upon thee, and thou givest them their meat in due season.' But to render this rod and this staff a matter of consolation to the mind, they must be seen, they must be felt, they must be confided in. The prophet Isaiah pathetically complains — “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” Agrecably to the lesson intimated in this complaint, we must know our almighty Owner, and feel ourselves the feeders at his crib, before the truth of his superintending providence can either present a pleasing idea to the understanding, or awaken a delightful feeling in the heart.

But the words reach to a stronger sense; and set before us the admonitions, the strivings, and the consolations of the divine spirit. This is evident from the connexion of the verse with that preceding it; where it is said — “Thou shalt convert my soul, and bring me forth into the paths of righteousness.” For, when it is immediately added -“Even in the valley of the shadow of death, thy rod and staff comfort me;" it must include all that had gone before ; that is, not only the mercies of God in his providence, but also the inward suasions of his grace.

Further, the words suppose the sense of divine love and approbation. The psalm is full of a well-grounded confidence in the favor of God; and certainly, nothing short of this can cheer the soul in its descent into the dark vale of death.

If it be asked - On what ground can so animating a confidence be founded? The answer is, that in circumstances not favored with the light of revelation, it may arise, although in a less clear degree, from the source which St. Peter points to where he says – "In every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Under the law given to the Jews, it was the living according to the conditions of the covenant; in which, although the fearing of God and

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