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Psalmist sought to inspire his countrymen with the assurance that, amidst all trials, darkness, and perils, Jehovah was still their guide, and that he was not afar off,- a distant Deity, - above the clouds and beyond the valleys, but a leader there with them, under the clouds and in the valleys, with them. Therefore, with such a leader and protector, what evil could they fear, even though they walked among the dark shadows of death? The shepherd's "crook" was emblem also of authority and power. It carried to the Hebrew mind manifold meanings. It represented kingly sovereignty. Sceptre was one of its synonymes. It stood also for the united strength of a tribe. And the shepherd's "staff" meant not only a stick to lean on, a stay, a support, but it had another meaning signifying the means of physical sustenance, — kindred to the English phrase "staff of life." To the Hebrew, therefore, Jehovah was here depicted not merely as Shepherd and Guide, but as Sovereign Defender and King, as the Bond of tribal union, as Stay and Supporter of human uprightness, and as Sustainer of Life against the powers of darkness and death.
Not that the average Hebrew mind distinctly held together all these attributes in his conception of Jehovah as a Shepherd. Perhaps the poet himself did not have them all clearly in his thought as he wrote. Yet his words imply them; and all these qualities, and more, were continually affirmed of Jehovah in the best Hebrew literature.
The writers resorted to every kind of noble appellation, yet could not find epithets of excellence enough to match their ideas of his greatness in power and in righteousness, so that, after all their rhetorical endeavors at description, they humbly acknowledged that, "Lo, these are but a part of his ways." And the poets and prophets were ever aiming to stir into effectual motive these higher and deeper elements of Hebrew faith. Hence our Psalmist, while he would still declare that Jehovah was a leader of Israel, by the way of righteousness, into paths of safety, yet saw and also declared that the ways of righteousness and salvation often led downward, through trials and dangers, to seeming desolation and death. Nevertheless, let Jehovah's leadership be followed, and even that way, he proclaimed, might be trod with serene fearlessness. With the Eternal Power as leader close at hand, there would surely be victory for the right at the end of the way,- victory for light and for life over desolation and darkness and destruction.
Now the essential elements of belief couched in this verse (which has itself been a comfort to millions of souls), when translated from metaphor to plain prose, are simply these: Human experience is not all bright and joyous, but has its trials and sorrows, and always present before it is the dark problem of death; but there is an Eternal Power with man, working with and in and for him, amply adequate for meeting all problems and all
trials and for allaying the fear of them,-a Power working for Righteousness through all tribulations, and for Life in the midst of death. Nor has any one of these points been gainsaid by the rational thought or science of the nineteenth century. The first of them, that man is subject to trials and sorrows, and stands ever in the presence of death, is merely a fact of common observation and knowledge. The second, that there is an Eternal Power working with him, is one of the affirmations of science in the doctrine of evolution. The third, that this Power is an ameliorating force, working, amidst human conditions, towards personal and social Righteousness, and ever higher forms of Righteousness and of Life, is amply based on the testimony of human history. And even though it be said that the ameliorating power for mankind is displayed wholly in and through man's own faculties, nevertheless, according to scientific doctrine, the power must be derived from and be a manifestation of "the Eternal Energy from which all things proceed."
But these several propositions have been sufficiently considered in previous lectures, and need not detain us to-day. Beyond anything I have been able to say, they may be regarded as having received, both from philosophy and science, abundant justification. The more important question which remains for us now is, Are these truths receiving, or can they receive, practical justification in present human experience? To put the ques
tion still more definitely, Is this verse, which gives us our theme to-day, true to the experience of human beings whose lives have come within the compass of our own knowledge? Is it true to our own experience? Now possibly we may not have realized the truth of it in our own experience because of not having observed the right conditions; and yet it may still be true. And possibly we may have observed a similar seeming failure in the experience of other persons for the same reason. But, in a larger survey, taking in all our varied experiences and those of other persons within our knowledge, do we find that the comforting assurance of this verse is practically justified? And, it should be added, a negative experience, for the reason above named,— that is, failure to meet the hard experiences of life in the right way,- might be positive evidence of the practical truth of the
In seeking an answer to this question, two points definitely present themselves which can be best considered separately: first, the common perplexities, trials, and hardships which beset human life and which make a large part of our "valley of shadows"; second, the dark fact of death, which has caused human life on earth to be called "a vale of tears."
First, as to the trials, hardships, difficulties with which human life has to contend. We must here revert, primarily, to what I have called, in these lectures, the universal plan for the education and
civilization of mankind by a gradual process of adjustment of human life to the great world-energies. We saw that, by the very conditions of this process of educational adjustment, man's wants could not be provided for by a cosseting Providence outside of himself, with no effort or thought of his own; but rather the conditions necessitated the putting forth of human faculty in a strenuous struggle with difficulties. We saw, indeed, that the Eternal is leader, a provider, whose sources of supply are to be depended upon, an Energy from which all finite energies are derived, but that for man the leading is through the inward constraining force of reason and conscience and the moral sentiments, and the provision largely through his own disciplined ability to care for his own life and destiny by adjusting himself to nature's forces and laws. It is not for us, using the methods of science, to ask why things pertaining to the education. and progress of mankind are thus and so. We have simply to note the facts and follow the law of their trend. And among the most conspicuous facts of human history we cannot fail to note that, in order to gratify his desires and even to maintain his existence, man has had to grapple with difficulties, to contend against obstacles, to fight often, with hand and brain, against nature's forces threatening to quench his life before he can subject them to his service. He has been compelled to labor, to self-exertion, to the agile use of physical and mental faculties by the very conditions of life. And,