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The Cry of the Heart for God
When I saw his hands wandering over the counterpane, and he picked at the threads, and his features were drawn as sharp as a needle, I knew there was only one way for him; and then he cried out suddenly: 'God! God! God!' Now I, to comfort the gentleman, told him I hoped there was no need to think of God just then; and so he died.
Probably many of you recognize these words. They are put into the mouth of a bad woman by Shakespeare a bad woman who saw a bad man die. Mistress Quickly describes the death of Falstaff. I suppose what gives Shakespeare his place in the estimation of men is this that outside the pages of the Bible, which is truer to man than any other book, probably he comes next. His characters are undying. Why? Because they are true to nature. He has taken in this particular instance the most unlikely man of all the men that he has drawn, and he has shown us that there is something in that man. He refers we should not expect it to God; and we feel it is true. We get at this that to man, to every man, to every member of the human race who can think, God is the inevitable, God is the ultimate thought.
I. Wherever man is found he builds two things he builds a hearth, the centre of his social and individual life, and he builds an altar, the symbol of that tendency in him which directs his thoughts and his heart towards God. Wherever you touch the history of mankind in any age you find that man is social and he is religious. He has a home and he has a temple. He advanced much in the cultivation of his social life; in the cultivation of his spiritual and moral life, he advanced but little until Jesus Christ came. Until God gave a revelation to the world more than half the world was enslaved, and hopelessly enslaved, and the ultimate appeal was always either to pure force or to pure passion. But in his spiritual things, in religion, he could get no further than this the altar he builds must be dedicated 'to the Unknown God'. And with the Unknown God how many pretended known ones? He must worship, and he must find an object of worship, and yet he feels in his quest he is never satisfied, because he has never reached the truth.
II. Now there is one religion that stands alone in the world. There is one religion that differs from every system that has come from man, and it claims for the cause of that difference that it is not from man at all that its origin is with God.
And this religion, that differs from all other religions, pronounces as the first thing the foundation upon which all else must rest that God is the Creator of all that is not God, and that His creation is separate from Himself. There is only one other creed in the world, all the religions that ever have been you can sum up in one term they are all alike in essence, they are the same, of the same origin, they are what is called pantheism. They are idolatrous; the man who worships money, the man who worships himself (a vast portion of the whole race have no other worship than that), they are all pantheistic that is, they make a creature of some sort into God.
Now here, at the very first page of our religion and our religious book, in the very first utterance of that religious body which hass lated now 2000 years, and has, with all that can be said against it, blessed the world as it was never blessed before, the first utterance of our creed is this God is on one side, and all else is at the other; and the relation between the two is this He brought out of nothingness all else that is. Now apply that to yourself. I am God's creature. He found a prompting which bade Him call to the abyss of nothingness, and He produced me. I was called out of nothingness by God. That means that I belong to Him in a sense in which nothing can ever belong to me. I can manufacture. Given a certain amount of education, of skill, and given the material, I can fashion it for my purpose; but creation is not that. Creation is calling out of nothingness into being. Are we not justified in putting that at the very beginning? Is it not right that this should be written in the first sentence of our Bibles? Is not the Church's instinct true when summing up the things that belong to our peace, that we must accept if we will be saved, she puts creation first? 'I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth.'
III. But there is something more. If God has called me out of nothingness into being, He also sustains me from passing altogether into the nothingness from which He called me. This creative act of God, if I may so express it, is continuous. He sustains us. 'In Him,' says St. Paul, 'we live, and move, and have our being.' Now what He does He does for a purpose. He called me into being and gave me liberty; He gave me this head of mine and this heart of mine in order that I might do three things that I might know Him, love Him, and fulfil His Will; and I am sinning against the primary truth that is written in my nature when at any time in my life I give myself up to other things than those for which I was created to know Him, to love Him, and to do His Will.
References. LXIII. 1. J. M. Neale, Sermons on Passages from the Psalms, p. 154. R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 162. H. P. Liddon, University Sermons, p. 1.
The Spirit of Worship
This passage expresses the pleasure which one who is piously disposed has in the ordinances of public Christian worship.
I. ( a ) Though the Lord is nigh unto all such as call upon him, yet is He nigh to those especially who call upon Him faithfully that is, in the spirit which He approves, and after the manner which He has prescribed, and in the place which He has chosen to set His name.
( b ) Your aim should be to feel that you are daily approaching nearer to Him and He to you.
II. The source of that sacred delight which we should have in public worship would be: ( a ) The joy of spiritual repose.
( b ) Its bringing more distinctly before us the realities of the happiness of the life to come.
E. J. Brewster, The Sword of the Spirit, p. 43.
References. LXIII. 1, 2. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1427. D. Moore, Penny Pulpit, No. 3166.
The Soul's Thirst and Satisfaction
Psalms 63:1 ; Psalms 63:5 ; Psalms 63:8
The experiences of a soul in communion with God.
I. The soul thirsting for God. The Psalmist is a poet, and has a poet's sensitiveness to the external aspects of nature. He feels the pangs of bodily weariness and thirst, and these seem to him to be but feeble symbols of the deeper-seated pains of desire which touch his soul. The unrest, the deep yearnings, the longing and desires of our natures what are they all except cries for the living God, tendrils which are put forth, seeking after the great prop which alone is fit to lift us from the mud of this lower world? But the misery is that we do not know what we want, that we misinterpret the meaning of our own desires, that we go to the wrong sources for our need. Shipwrecked sailors drink salt water in their wild thirst, and it makes them mad. Let us see to it, too, that since we believe, or say we believe, that God is our chiefest good, the intensity of the longing bear some proportion to the worth of the thing desired. Can there be anything more preposterous, anything in the strictest sense of the word more utterly irrational than tepid wishes for the greatest good? What would you think of a man that had some feeble wish after health or life? Cold wishes for God are as flagrant an absurdity as cold sunshine. Religion is nothing if it is not fervour.
II. The seeking soul satisfied. The lips that were parted to say, 'My soul thirsteth' had scarcely uttered it when again they opened to say 'My soul is satisfied'. It is no wonder. God's gifts are never delayed in the highest of all regions. Not only does this second text of ours give us that thought of the simultaneousness, in regard to the highest of all gifts, of wish and enjoyment, but it also tells us that the soul thus answered will be satisfied. If it be true, as we have been trying to say, that God is the real object of all human desire, then the contact of the seeking soul with that perfect aim of all its seeking will bring rest to every appetite, its desired food to every wish, strength for every weakness, fullness for all emptiness.
III. The satisfied soul presses closer to God. The soul that is satisfied will and ought to adhere with tenacity to the source that satisfies it. We, if we have made experience, as we may, of God and His sweet sufficiency, and sufficient sweetness, should be delivered from temptation to go further and fare worse. And then this clinging, resulting from satisfaction, is accompanied with earnest seeking after still more of the infinite God. When we turn ourselves to God and seek for all that we need there, there can be no satiety in us. So the two opposing blessed-nesses, the blessedness of search that is sure of finding, and the blessedness of finding which is calm repose, are united in the Christian experience.
A. Maclaren, Christ's Musts, p. 98.
References. LXIII. 3. J. M. Neale, Sermons on Passages of the Psalms, pp. 162, 170. H. J. Bevis, Sermons, p. 144. LXIII. 6. J. Martineau, Endeavour after the Christian Life, p. 84. LXIII. 7. J. Armstrong, Parochial Sermons, p. 76.
The Pursuing Soul
In this Psalm we are brought into contact with the highest reach of Old Testament religion and the deepest spirit of the Psalter itself.
I. The heart of all spiritual religion is communion, and the aim of all high faith is communion; and nowhere does communion find such classic expression. When the author rises to the ecstatic state where his soul seems joined to God, few of us can follow him. Yet, as we look forward to communion, it is good for us to see what communion may mean to a man, good for us to hold out the ideal before our eyes of a soul following hard after God and cleaving fast to Him, upheld by His right hand. The subject of the Psalm is the heart's longing for God and the heart's joy in His fellowship the need for communion and the joy of communion.
II. The human need for God to which this Psalmist gave voice demands a similar expression from us. Men may say that man cannot know God, can have no personal relations with the great First Cause. But they cannot say that man has no need of God, that man has no desire towards God, no instincts and cravings and spiritual wants. All history throbs with the passion of human longing. Without God life is a dry and weary land where no water is. But exceeding all that dim and dumb desire, that sense of incompleteness which men feel is the desire of the man who has known God that he might enter into full communion and that interrupted fellowship might be renewed. The Psalmist's situation corresponds somewhat; for he is absent from the sanctuary where alone he could realize to the full his loving worship. He comforts himself by happy memory when in times past he had seen God's power and glory revealed in the sanctuary. Spiritually he dwells in the House of the Lord, and feels that the Divine love follows him.
III. The Hebrew division of human nature was a twofold division into soul and flesh or body. When the Psalmist speaks of his soul thirsting and his flesh longing, he means that his whole being desires God. However dark and dreary, he is never lonely he puts out his hand and feels that he is near, he rests in the presence of his gracious Companion. He has proved and tested his faith, and found it fit to live by. Nay, God's lovingkindness is better than life. Without it there would be nothing to live for. We have pledges of that love more precious than this pious heart could ever dream of. The symbols of communion speak to us with a power and a pathos that would have put new music into the Psalmist's song and a new wonder into his heart. If we hunger and thirst and long for God, will not we too be satisfied with His mercy? If God is our desire, God will be our portion. The pursuing soul reaches at last his goal and is satisfied. God is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.
Hugh Black, Christ's Service of Love, p. 92.
References. LXIII. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 72. A. Maclaren, Life of David, p. 250. LX1V. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 76. LXV. 1. S. Home, The Soul's Awakening, p. 275.
This Psalm was chanted by Savonarola and his brother Dominicans, a.d. 1497, as they marched to the grand Piazza of Florence to meet the trial of fire to which they had been summoned by their enemies. Richard Baxter says of this Psalm: 'I can sing it, because though I have not a soul like David, I desire to have it. I have a heart to the heart'
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 63". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany