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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Psalms 31

Verse 20


‘Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence.’

Psalms 31:20

In the thick of human intercourse, amidst the shock and conflicts of human change, under the hot glare of human observation, out of doors amidst the dissonance of the common day, it is there that this wonderful promise of the Holy Ghost by the Psalmist is to take effect. For so it runs: ‘Oh, how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee, before the sons of men. Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence.’

This promise is akin to a whole host of promises.

I. Observe the paradox of such words.—The paradox is, that the Christian life is on the one hand meant to know no rest nor holiday from obedience to the law of duty, from hourly serving our generation in the will of God; yet, on the other hand, at the very heart of this life there is always to be this mysterious stillness, this secret place of peace. Not from an inner tumult of wrestling energies is to come that life’s true power, but from this hidden calm. The unfatigued willingness to suffer, to sacrifice, to labour, to sympathise, to bestow, is to leap continually from a spring in itself as silent as it is profound. The world, the flesh, the tempter, all will be present, formidable parts of the Christian’s circumstances; but, ‘Thou shalt hide him in the secret of Thy presence.’

II. It is indeed an enigma, but none the less it is a promise.—There is a peace of God, able indeed to keep, to safeguard, the weakest and the most treacherous heart. There is a presence that makes at life’s centre a stillness, pregnant with positive and active blessing. There is a fulfilling that can counterwork the fullness of the thronging hours, and enable men in the stress of real life to live behind it all with Jesus Christ, while they are all the while alert and attentive for the next call of duty, and the next. The Christian is indeed to be ever seeking, ever aspiring upward, not as though he had already attained. He is to avoid as his most deadly poison that subtle spiritual Pharisaism which plumes itself upon a supposed advanced experience, and presumes to compare itself with others, and hesitates, if but for a moment, to prostrate itself in confession and penitence before the awful, the blessed holiness of God. But none the less the Christian is called to a great rest as well as to a great aspiration. He is called to a great thanksgiving as well as to a deep confession. He is called, he is commanded, to an entrance into the peace of God. It is not to be the habit of his soul to say, or to sing, that he should be happy if he could cast his care on his Redeemer, and sink in His Almighty arms. It is to be his, on the ground of all the promises, to do it; and to be at rest in God.

III. I revert to the precise wording of my text.—‘Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence,’ b’sether paneyka, ‘in the covert of Thy countenance.’ It is a glorious stroke of the Divine poetry; the covert, the secret, of His countenance. We find kindred phrases elsewhere in the precious Psalter; the shelter of the brooding wings of the Eternal, the abode in His mighty shadow. But this phrase stands out a peculiar treasure, ‘the secret of Thy countenance.’ There is no shadow here; it is ‘a privacy of glorious light.’ And what a light! It is light that lives. It is a photosphere within which opens upon the happy inmate the sweetest and the response of a personal while eternal smile. It is not It but He. It is not a sanctuary but a Saviour, and a Father seen full in Him, giving to the soul nothing less than Himself indeed in vivid intercourse. It is the Lord, according to that dear promise of the Paschal evening, coming to manifest Himself, and to make His abode with the man, and to dwell in him, and be in Him. It means the spirit’s sight of Him that is invisible. It means a life lived not in Christianity but in Christ, Who is our life.

And thus the word takes us, out in the open, out before the sons of men, and amidst the strife of tongues, to the deep central glory of the gospel, that it may be ours in humble, wondering possession.

—Bishop H. C. G. Moule.


(1) ‘Who are they, of whom the Psalmist speaketh? Is it a favoured few, a selected and exempted remnant, whom the care of the Eternal shall insulate from the open world, and remove into the silence of the forest or the hills, to contemplate and to adore? Is the secret, the covert, some curtained or cloistered circle, where the wicked cease from troubling, and where there is leisure to be good? Is it a home with God beyond the grave, in the land far off, where the righteous enters into the peace and light of immortality, resting upon His bed? Is the promise restricted to priests and seers here, or to the just made perfect yonder? No, it is not so. The last preceding words tell us otherwise. The “they” of this golden oracle are all those who fear Him, all those who trust in Him. The humblest spiritual loyalist to God, the weakest, and the weariest, and the busiest, who hides himself in Him, who commits the way to Him, who commends the spirit to Him; this hidden life, this secret of the Presence, it is for even him.’

(2) ‘It is a wonderful thing to be permitted to watch a life which you have reason to know is hid in the secret of the presence of the Lord. Some few years ago I met a good man, humble and gentle, a missionary to Eastern Africa. He abode in the presence, I could not but see it. I heard him tell, with the eloquence of entire simplicity, how in the tropical wilderness, in the deep night, he had waited for and shot the raging lion which had long been the unresisted terror of a village clan. It could not be the will of God, he reasoned, that this beast should lord it over men; and so, as it were in the way of Christian business, he went forth and put it to death. And then I watched that man, a guest in my own house, under the very different test of the inconvenience of disappointed plans; and the secret of the presence was as surely with him then as when he had lain quietly down to sleep in his tent on the lonely field, to be roused only by the sound of the lion’s paw, as it rent the earth at the open door. I have marked the secret of the presence as it ruled and triumphed in young lives around me. I recalled a conversation on the subject. It was with a friend and student of my own, a loving Christian, but also an ardent and most vigorous athlete. Could the peace of God keep him, he wondered and inquired, when the strong temper was ready to take fire in the rush and struggle of the game? And the answer came in a quite thankful word three days later: “Yes, I asked Him; I trnsted Him; and He kept me altogether.” I have watched lives in which the secret of the presence has been drawn around mental studies and competitions. It has made the man care for his subject not less but more. It has made him not less but more intent to do well, to do better, to do best. But it has taken the poison out of competition by bringing into it Jesus Christ.’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Psalms 31". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.