The Sweet and the Sweetener
“My meditation of him shall be sweet.” — Psalm civ. 34.
THOSE of you who were present this morning know that, with all my heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, I pleaded with men that they would come to Christ. If ever in my life I felt that I had spent every particle of my strength, I did feel it when I had finished that discourse. I could have wished to die, and end my ministry, with the testimony that I bore this morning; I know not in what way I could have more completely poured out my whole being in earnest desire for the conversion of my fellow-men. I thought that it would not be possible for me to handle another subject in anything like the same fashion to-night, I did not feel that I could do so; I said to myself, therefore, “Instead of preaching, instead of having anything to do that will cost much effort and cause much mental strain, I will just make one among the people, and enjoy myself as a member of the congregation. I will have a subject upon which we can all calmly think; I mean, all of us who know the Lord;” and it seemed to me as if nothing could be more fitting than to think of him who is the joy of our heart, to meditate upon him who is the strength of our spirit, even our blessed Lord, of whom the text says, “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” So, then, I am not going to preach at this time, I am just going to lead your meditations a little, myself meditating while you also meditate, being a sort of fugleman to pitch the tune in which, I trust, all who love the Lord will heartily join. May God the Holy Spirit help us all sweetly to meditate upon him of whom the psalmist here speaks!
This 104th Psalm is a very wonderful one. Humboldt wrote a book which he called Cosmos; that is, the world; and this Psalm is a Cosmos, it is a world set on fire with praise. It is all creation, from the mountain’s summit down to the brooks that sparkle through the valleys, praising God. I have frequently read this Psalm through in the woods and on the mountain-side; and when we have come home from an excursion in the Italian mountains, I have said to my companions, “Now we will read the 104th Psalm.” It is the naturalist’s Psalm, it is the Psalm of nature viewed by the eye of faith; and he that learns to look aright on seas and mountains, on beasts and birds, on sun and moon and stars, sees God in all things, and says with the psalmist, “My meditation of him shall be sweet.”
But, beloved, redemption is a choicer theme for meditation than creation is, for its wonders are far greater. I can understand that God should make the worlds; but that he should redeem men from eternal ruin, I cannot understand. The Creator fashioning all things by the word of his power is nothing like so remarkable an object of meditation as that same Creator, veiled in human flesh, yielding his hands to the cross-nails, and bowing his head beneath the stroke of death. If creation be marvellous, redemption is a sublimer miracle, a wonder in the very centre of all wonders.
Nor is the theme of redemption less vast than that of creation. Truly, nature is a very wide theme, from the almost infinite greatness which is discovered through the telescope to the wonderful minuteness which is perceived through the microscope. Nature seems to have no bounds; yet it is a mere fragment compared with redemption, where everything is infinite, where you have to deal with sin and love, life and death, eternity and heaven and hell, God and man, and the Son of God made flesh for man’s sake. Now you are among the sublimities indeed; meditating upon redemption, your theme is vast beyond conception.
And let me add that the theme of redemption is quite as fresh as that of nature. Nature, it is true, never grows stale; from the first day of the year till the last, it is always young. Did you ever see the ocean look twice the same? Did you ever gaze upon the face of nature without always perceiving some fresh beauty there? But it is just the same with redemption. The cross never grows old; the doctrine of Christ crucified is a spring that wells up for ever with a sparkling freshness. Not even the eternal ages shall exhaust it; but when untold myriads of years have passed away, this old, old story of the cross will still be ever new.
There is this much more to say about a meditation upon redemption, that it comes closely home to us. I like to think of the stars; but, after all, I can be happy if the stars are quenched. I delight to think of the rolling ocean; but still, I could rejoice if there were no more sea. But in redemption we have a vital and personal interest; we could not live as we now live, in the sight of God we could not truly live at all, if we had not been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. The seas and the starry worlds are not ours as blessedly as Christ is ours; and none of them can bring medicine to the heart and joy to the spirit as does Jesus, who loved us, and gave himself for us. So, I think I may say, however excellent the naturalist’s meditations are, and the more of right meditation upon nature the better, and I wish that we were all learned after the order of true science, which deals with nature itself, and not with theories,— yet, if you know little about these things in which some take so deep an interest, your meditations of God may be exceedingly sweet. If you keep within the bounds of redemption through Jesus Christ, which are by no means narrow, you may say, “My meditation of him shall be sweet.”
So, first, I shall talk about the sweet: “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” Then I shall speak of the sweet as a sweetener, for it is not only sweet in itself, but it imparts sweetness, such sweetness as we need amid the many bitters of this mortal life.
I. First, then, let us talk about THE SWEET: “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” “Of him” — that is, of the Well-beloved of the Father, of the Well-beloved of the Church, of the Well-beloved of my own soul; of him who loved me, in whose blood I have washed my robes, and made them white;— it is meditation “of him” that is sweet; not merely of doctrine about him, but of him, of himself; “my meditation of him ” — not merely of his offices, and his work, and all that concerns him, but of his own dear self. There lies the sweetness; and the closer we come to his blessed person, the more truly have we approached the very centre of bliss.
Then it is “meditation of him” that makes the sweetness. Brethren, it is very delightful to hear about our Lord; I am sure that I have often been charmed when I have heard what others have had to say about him. My hearing of him is very sweet; but it does not say that in our text, it is, “my meditation of him.” When I hear over again, in the echoes of my heart, what I have heard with my ears; when, like the cattle, having cropped the luscious food, I lie down, as they do, to ruminate and chew the cud, “my meditation of him shall be sweet.” To think over again what I have already thought of, to turn over and over in my soul truths with which I am happily familiar, which I have tasted and handled many times, and just to taste and handle them again, in doing so, “my meditation of him shall be sweet.” The more we know of Christ, the more we want to know of him; and the more sweet Christ is to us already, the more sweet he will be. We never can exhaust this gold mine; it gets richer, the deeper we dig into it. “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” I will not ask for the glowing periods of the orator, I will not wish for the profundities of the theologian; I will just sit down, humble as my mind may be, and think of what I have heard and known, and especially of all I have experienced of my Lord; and “my meditation of him shall be sweet.”
But let me dwell a minute on that first word: “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” Not another man’s meditation, which is afterwards related to me, but my own meditation of him shall be sweet. Let me say, concerning the wine of communion with Christ, that it is never so sweet to a man as when he treads the grapes out himself: “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” You get a text, and beat out its meaning, “working your passage,” as we say, into the very soul of it; then you will understand it, and you will also enjoy it. Make meditation of Christ to be your own personal act and deed; grasp him for yourself, and hold him by the feet. Put your own finger into the prints of the nails, and out of your own heart’s experience cry, “My Lord and my God.” Then you shall not need that I tell you how sweet such a meditation is, for you will be able to say for yourself, “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” It does not signify, my dear friend, who you are, if you do but belong to Christ, your meditation of him shall be sweet. You are a very poor and illiterate person, perhaps; but, if you know him, it shall be sweet to you to meditate upon him. Or, it may be, you are a man of large reading and of wide knowledge; but I am quite sure that there is not in all the range of your reading anything for sweetness comparable to him. The science of Christ crucified leads the van of all the sciences. This is the most excellent of all knowledge, compared with which every other knowledge is but ignorance dressed in its best. “My meditation of him shall be sweet,” even mine as I stand here in the midst of you, and yours as you sit in those pews; and as you come presently to this table of communion, I hope each one who meditates on Christ will be able to say, “my meditation of him shall be sweet.”
Now let us meditate on him for a few minutes; and, first, meditate upon his person. This Blessed One, who is verily among us to-night, is God and man. Meditate upon his manhood. He is of a nature like thine own; sin alone excepted, he is a man as thou art. Think of it, and rejoice that he has so intense a sympathy with thee, and that thou canst have so intense a sympathy with him. He is thy Brother, though he is also the Prince of the kings of the earth. He is thy Husband, bone of thy bone and flesh of thy flesh, though he is also “over all, God blessed for ever.” Do not our hearts begin at once to warm towards the Man Christ Jesus, — in all our afflictions afflicted, in all our griefs a partaker, — and shall not our meditation of him be sweet?
But then he is also God, and, as God, he has all dominion and authority in heaven and on earth. Think, then, how near hath he brought us to the Godhead; there is now no division between a believing man and God, the Christ has bridged the chasm between the Creator and the creature. One might have thought that this gulf never could have been bridged. Between an angry God and a sinner, reconciliation may be made; but between a Creator and his creature, what link of union can there be? There could have been none if Christ had not become incarnate. If God had not taken manhood into union with himself, we could never have been brought so near to God as we now are. Angels, ye may stand back, ye can never come so near the throne as man has come, for he was made a little lower than the angels, but now, in the person of Christ, he is set in the place of dominion and honour, and made to be master over all the works of God’s hands! My meditation upon the divine person of my blessed Master shall be sweet, shall it not? I do but indicate a long vista of delight, as it were; I open the gate, and say, “Go in there, friend you shall find good food for meditation that way.”
Now let us meditate upon our Lord’s life, for this meditation also shall be sweet. Suppose I take the four Gospels, and read the story of my blessed Master’s existence here among men. Well, it needs meditating on, for that life is much more than the evangelists could write. The life of Christ has a wonderful depth in it. The other day, I was reading aloud the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, and trying to expound it, and when I came to the close of my meditation, I said to myself, “If I were shut up to that one chapter for a whole lifetime, I could never expound all its depths.” That simple life of Christ, from Nazareth to Golgotha, is a life of fathomless deeps; and the more you shall meditate upon it, the more sweetness shall you find in it. Oh, to think of his fellowship with me if I am poor, for he hungered ; his fellowship with me if I am weary, for he, “being weary, sat thus on the well;” his fellowship with me if I have to stand foot to foot with the old enemy, to contend even for my life; his fellowship with me if I lie in darkness, and in the valley of the shadow of death, and have to cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Read by the eye of faith, the whole story of the life of Christ is full of sweetness to the meditative mind; for, remember that, as he contended, he became a conqueror, and in this, too, we shall be like him, for we shall overcome through his blood. Faith in him will give us the victory; we shall tread Satan under our feet ere the battle is finished, even as he has done. My meditation of his woes, coupled with my meditation of his ultimate joys, shall be exceedingly sweet as a prophecy that, if I stoop, I too shall conquer; and though I be cast down, yet shall my casting down be but the means of lifting me up.
Now, here is another road for your thoughts to travel. “My meditation of him shall be sweet,” especially when I meditate on his death. The death of our Lord and Master should be the habitual theme of the meditation of God’s people. I am afraid that, in these days, we do not think enough of the cross and passion of our Divine Redeemer. I read, in the “modern-thought” papers and reviews, sneers about our “sensuous” hymns when we sing about our Lord upon the tree; and they would have us forbear to talk about his blood. Those expressions are “out of date.” It is “mediaeval” (I think that is the word) to set forth a dying Christ. Now, mark you, the strength of the Church of Rome over many minds has for centuries lain in the fact that she does keep prominent the facts of our Lord’s passion and death. Perverted as that truth about his cross often is, yet it has salvation in it; and I doubt not that many find their way to eternal life, even in that apostate church, by the fact that Christ crucified is made to be a great reality. If it ever comes to pass among us who are called Protestants, and those who are called Protestant Dissenters, that the great fact of the death of Christ is to be regarded as a kind of myth, out of which certain recondite doctrines may be fetched, but which is not itself to be spoken of, we shall have cut the tendon Achilles of our strength, and our power to bless the sons of men will have departed. Oh, give me the story of the cross, the veritable story! Yes, let my eyes behold the wounds of Jesus, as I stand and bow before the Crucified! His death was a literal fact, no phantom dream; and so would we hold it, and we would meditate upon it as the centre of all our hopes. “My meditation of him shall be sweet,” is specially true of Christ on Calvary’s cross. Here I see atonement completed, satisfaction rendered, justice honoured, grace expounded, love struggling, bleeding, contending, conquering. In the actual death of Christ upon the cross, I see the safety of his elect whom he has purchased with his precious blood. I see here the ending of the reign of evil, the bruising of the old serpent’s head. I see the great rock on which the kingdom of God is established upon a sure foundation sealed with the blood of Christ. Oh, go and live on Calvary, ye saints! No better air is to be found beneath the cope of heaven; and, as you linger there, your meditation on your Lord shall be sweet.
But what am I saying? For wherever I contemplate the Lord Jesus Christ, “my meditation of him shall be sweet.” Follow him in his resurrection; behold him in his 'present glory. Meditate much upon his intercession at the right hand of God. How secure are we because he ever lives to intercede for us! What prophecies of good things to come are hidden away in the person of our great High Priest before the throne.
Think, too, of the glory yet to he revealed. “Behold, he cometh.” Every hour is bringing him nearer. We shall see him in that day; and though we may fall asleep before he comes, yet at his coming he shall raise our bodies from the dust, and in our flesh shall we see God. Let us meditate much upon the glories of Christ’s Second Advent, the transcendent splendours of our Divine Conqueror, the background of his sufferings only making his triumphs to shine the more brightly. Meditate upon these things, give your minds wholly to them, then shall you prove the sweetness which dwells in them all.
If you, who are children of God, do not feel that you could traverse any of these paths, I want you to seek to get sweetness out of this thought, “HE loves me.” Say to thyself, believer, “If there be never another one in heaven or on earth that loves me, yet Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me
II. Now let us turn to the second part of the subject, THE SWEET AS A SWEETENER: “My meditation of him shall be sweet.”
That is to say, first, it shall sweeten all my other sweetnesses. I commend to you who are happy, to you who are full of joy, this blessed method of securing to yourselves a continuance of that happiness, and in such a manner as to prevent its cloying. If thou hast honey, and thy hands are full of it, be cautious how thou eatest of it, for thou mayest eat honey till thou art sick of it; but if thou hast a great store of honey, put something sweeter than honey with it, and then it will not harm thee. I mean, if God has given thee joy in thy youth, if thou art prospered in business, if thy house is full of happiness, if thy children sing about thy knee, if thou hast health and wealth, and thy spirit danceth with joy, all this by itself may curdle and spoil. Add to it a sweet meditation of thy Lord, and all will be well; for it is safe to enjoy temporal things when we still more enjoy eternal things. If thou wilt put Christ upon the throne, to rule over these good things of thine, then all shall be well; but if thou dost dethrone him to set these things up, then they become idols, and “the idols he shall utterly abolish.” If thou art truly his, thou shalt have great sorrow in the falling of thy Dagons, but it shall surely come to pass. O cheerful, happy, joyous people, I wish there were more of you; I am not condemning your joy, I would partake in it; but let the uppermost joy you have always be “Jesus Christ himself.” If the occasion of joy is thy marriage, ask him to the wedding, for he will turn the water into wine. If it be thy prosperity, ask him to the harvest festival, and he will bless thy storehouse and thy barn, and make thy mercies to be real blessings to thee.
But, dear friends, I need not say much about this point, because, at least to some of us, our very sweet days are not very long or very many. The comfort is, that this sweetness can sweeten all our bitters. There was never yet a bitter in the cup of life but what a meditation upon Christ would overcome that bitterness, and turn it into sweetness. I will suppose that you are at this time undergoing personal trials of a temporal kind. There are a great many cures for the cares of this life which philosophy would suggest; but I suggest none of them to you, I prescribe meditation upon Christ. I have already given you many hints how the sorrows, the struggles, and the conquests of the life of Christ may help to sweeten all your conflicts and your struggles. Half an hour’s communion with the Lord Jesus will take away the keenness of all your anxieties. Enter into thy chamber, shut to the door, and begin to speak with the Man of sorrows, and thine own sorrows will soon be assuaged. If thou art poor, get thee to him who had not where to lay his head, and thou wilt even seem to be rich as thou comest back to thy place in the world. Hast thou been despised and rejected? Do but look on him on whom men spat, whom they cast out, saying that it was not fit that he should live, and you will feel as if you never had true honour except when you were, for Christ’s sake, despised and dishonoured. You will almost feel as if it was too great an honour for you to have been contemned for his dear sake, who bore the shame and the spitting and the cruel cross for your sake. Yes, the best sweetener of all temporal troubles is a meditation upon Christ Jesus our Lord.
So is it with all the troubles that come of your Christian work and service. I do not know how it is with any of my fellow-workers here, but I can say this. My work has about it a joy that angels might envy; but, at the same time, it has also a sorrow which I would not wish any to know if it stood by itself. To preach Christ, oh, what bliss it is! To tell of my Master’s sweet love, and of his power to save the guilty, I would be content to stop out of heaven for seven ages if I might always be permitted to do nothing else but preach Christ to perishing sinners. But there is the heartbreak which comes with it, often, in preparing to preach, lest haply one should not take the right subject, or should not have one’s heart in a right condition for the handling of it. Add to that the anxieties that creep over one occupying such a position as mine. Standing where I stand to-night, and remembering many sorrowful histories, many disappointed hopes, concerning the condition of many now before me, I go home sometimes wishing that I could creep into my bed, and never come out of it again because of my terrible anguish over some of you who will, I fear, be eternally lost. As surely as you are here, you will be lost, unless you turn to Christ. Nothing seems as if it could save you; entreaties, invitations, warnings, prayers, all are in vain. You are still without God, and without Christ; and if you remain so, you will be lost, and we cannot bear the thought of it. We cannot endure to think that we should preach, and warn, and entreat, and invite, and yet that it should all end in nothing except that we should look from the right hand of the Great Judge, and spy you out amongst those to whom he will say, “Depart from me, ye cursed!” Truly, there is an awful heartbreak that comes to us when we think of these things; and when we see some, who did run well, turning aside; some, who held the truth, decrying and denying that truth; some, who once preached it, beginning to preach up the fancies of the age instead of the gospel of all the ages, then our heart is indeed heavy. But what then? “My meditation of him shall be sweet! He is still the same God over all, blessed for evermore, he is still exalted a Prince and a Saviour. Jesus will surely save his own, and he will overthrow all his adversaries, for “He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth.” After all is said and done, there is no dishonour possible to him. It is true that “He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross;” but finish the quotation, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name” (or, in the name) “of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So, my meditation of him, even amid the anxieties of Christian service, shall be exceedingly sweet.
Yes, beloved, and it is just the same when you come to the anxieties concerning your own spiritual condition. I suppose that the very good, “perfect” people we sometimes meet with, or hear of, never get into the state I sometimes get into; but I believe that many of you feel at times cast down and troubled about your own spiritual state. Whether men laugh at it or not, I aver that many a child of God beside John Newton has had to say, —
“’Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought,
Do I love the Lord or no?
Am I his, or am I not?”
I venture to say that, as this was the question which the Lord himself put to Peter, therefore it is not a wrong question for us to ask ourselves. When darkness veils the skies, and the spirit sinks, and a sense of sin is more prevalent than the realization of divine grace, then it is bitterness indeed; and at such a time, the very best sweetener of the waters of Marah is to think of Christ: “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” A sinner’s Saviour, — oh, how sweet he is to such a sinner as I am! A Saviour for those that have no strength, — what a precious Saviour he is to a weak one like myself! A Saviour who, though we believe not as we ought, still abideth faithful, — what a dear Saviour he is to a half-believing one who has to cry, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!” Let me give you a little piece of advice; do not think of yourself, but think of your Lord; or, if you must think of yourself, for every time you give an eye to self, give twice that time to Christ. Then shall your meditation of him be sweet.
Thus, dear friends, as long as we live, and when we come to die, our meditation of him shall be sweet. I would not have you fear the bitterness of death, any of you, if you are trusting in Jesus. God has a wonderful power of strengthening our souls when our bodies grow very weak and feeble. I am quite sure that some of my dear friends never before were in such a condition in all their lives as I have seen them in when they have evidently been marked for death. The messenger has come, and, as John Bunyan puts it, has brought some timely “token” to warn the spirit that, in a very short time, it is to appear among the shining ones at the right hand of God, and I have seen the spirit of the timid grow strangely brave, and the spirit of the questioning grow singularly assured, just then. The Lord has manifested himself in an unusually gracious way to the poor fluttering heart. Just as the dove was about to take its last long flight, it seemed to have its eyes strengthened to see the place to which it must fly, and all timidity has gone for ever. “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” When I lie dying, when heart and flesh are failing me, when I shall have little else to think of but my Lord and the eternal state, then shall thoughts of him pull up the floodgates of the river of bliss, and let the very joy of heaven into my heart, and I shall be eager to be up and away. I shall not dread the pains, and groans, and dying strife, of which some talk so much; but the sweetness of “my meditation of him” shall make me forget even the bitterness of death itself.
I have done when I have just given you one thought more. Our text might be read thus, “My meditation shall be sweet to him.” We are going to uncover the table of communion directly; you will have nothing to think of but the body and the blood of him by whose death you live. That meditation will, I trust, be very sweet to you; but this fact ought to help to make it so, that it will be “sweet to him.” Jesus loves you to love him, and he loves you to think of him. I know what you have said, sometimes; I remember a Christian woman saying to me, “I have often wished that I could preach, sir. I have often wished that I had but been a man that I might constantly preach the gospel.” I do not wonder, I should marvel indeed if a good many Christian people did not say, “I wish that I could be a missionary,” or, “I wish that I could be a poetess, like Miss Havergal, and sweetly sing of Christ.” Perhaps you cannot do any of those things; but you can meditate on Christ, can you not? And your meditation on him shall be sweet to him. He will delight in your delighting in him.
“Oh, but I am a nobody,” says one; “I am nothing.” I tell even you that your meditation of Christ, though it seems not to go very deep, though you cannot, perhaps, keep your thoughts well together, yet that heart-meditation of yours, which longs to meditate on your Lord, and craves to know more of him, is very sweet to him. Why, you fathers and mothers, you know how it is with those little ones of yours; and especially that first little one that just begins to talk! It has said nothing but nonsense at present, yet you respect the little words, do you not? It is a wonderful speech that little boy of yours made; but why do you think so much of your child’s little thoughts and expressions? Is it not because he is your child that you value his words so much? Well now, you belong to Christ, and because you belong to him, he accepts your meditations because he accepts you, and he takes a delight even in those poor broken perplexed thoughts of yours. He knows that, if you could sing like the seraphim, you would do so; if you could serve him as the angels do, you would. Well, if you cannot do that, you can at least meditate on Christ, and your meditation of him shall be sweet to him. Oh, then, give him much of it, and God bless you, for his dear Son’s sake! Amen.