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THE BELIEVER’S DISPOSITIONS TOWARDS GOD
Psalms 63:1-7. O God, thou art my God: early will I seek thee; my soul thirsteth for thee; my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Became thy loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live; I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips, when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night-watches. Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
IT is justly said of God, that “he giveth songs in the night:” and never was there a more striking evidence of it than in the palm before us. David is supposed to have written it when he was in the wilderness of Ziph, fleeing from Saul who was seeking to destroy him [Note: 1 Samuel 23:15.]. But we can scarcely conceive that he would call himself “the king,” as he does in the 11th verse, in the life-time of Saul: for though he believed that God would ultimately raise him to the throne, it would have been treason against his legitimate prince to arrogate to himself the title of “king;” nor can we conceive that under his perilous circumstances he would have given Saul so just a ground of accusation against him. For these reasons we are inclined to think it was written at the time that he fled into the wilderness from Absalom, when he, and the people that were with him, were in the greatest distress for every necessary of life [Note: 2 Samuel 17:28-29.]. But what are the contents of this psalm? Nothing but joy and triumph: the things of time and sense were as nothing in his eyes; but God was “all in all.”
From that portion of the psalm which we have read, we shall take occasion to shew you the desires, the purposes, and the expectations of a renewed soul.
As soon as the soul has obtained an interest in Christ, and reconciliation with God through him, it is privileged to claim God as its own peculiar portion: it is entitled to say of Christ, “My Beloved is mine, and I am his:” “He has loved me, and given himself for me.” And to the Father himself also, as now reconciled to him, he can say, “O God, thou art my God.” It is no wonder then, that from henceforth God becomes the one object of his desire.
The soul now finds no satisfaction in earthly things—
[The whole world appears to it as “a land where no water is.” The whole creation seems to be but “a broken cistern,” which, whilst it promises refreshment to the weary and heavy-laden, is never able to impart it.
If it be objected, that, though David, under his peculiar trials, found the world so barren of all good, we may find it a source of comfort to us; we answer, That there is nothing in this world that is suited to satisfy the desires of an immortal soul; and that, the more we have of this world, the more fully shall we be convinced, that it is altogether an empty bubble, a cheat, a lie; and that “vanity and vexation of spirit” is written by the finger of God himself upon all that it contains. The carnal mind cannot credit this: but the renewed soul needs no argument to convince it of this truth.]
Its desire therefore is after God alone—
[“Early will I seek thee,” is the language of every one that is born of God. In the secret chamber his first waking thoughts will be, “Where is God my Maker?” where is Jesus my Redeemer? where is the blessed Spirit my Sanctifier and my Comforter? In the public ordinances also especially will his soul desire communion with its God. It has beheld somewhat of God’s power and glory in the manifestations of his love, and in the communications of his grace; and it bears those seasons in remembrance, and longs to have them renewed from time to time. The bare ordinances will not satisfy the believer, if God be not in them: it is not to perform a duty that he comes up to the sanctuary, but to meet his God, and enjoy sweet converse with him: and if he meet not God there, he is like a man who, with much ardent expectation, has gone to a distant city to meet his friend, and has been disappointed of his hope: or rather he is like those of whom the prophet Jeremiah speaks, who in a season of extreme drought “came to the pits and found no water: and returning with their vessels empty, were ashamed and confounded, and covered their heads [Note: Jeremiah 14:3.].” They know by sad experience that “there is no water” elsewhere: and if they find not access to “God, the living fountain,” their very “flesh” sympathizes with their “souls,” and fainteth by reason of the painful disappointment, This is beautifully described in another psalm [Note: Psalms 42:1-3.]: and it is realized in the experience of every believer, in proportion to the integrity of his soul before God, and to the measure of grace with which he is endued — — —]
In perfect correspondence with the desires of a renewed soul, are,
The Believer determines to praise and glorify his God—
[The language of his heart is, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise.” He knows what God hath said, “Whoso offereth me praise, glorifieth me:” and he determines to offer unto God the tribute that is so justly due. Nor will he do this in a cold and formal manner: no; as a man of warm feelings expresses with his body the emotions of his soul, so will he, together with his heart, lift up his hands also in the name of his God. Nor will he pour forth these effusions only on some particular occasions, or during any one particular season: he will do it continually; he will do it to the latest hour of his life. He considers “praise as comely for the upright;” and he wishes it to be the constant language of his lips.]
To this determination he is led by the consideration of the loving-kindness of his God—
[O how wonderful does that love appear to him, which gave no less a person than God’s co-equal co-eternal Son to die for him! which gave him too the knowledge of that Saviour, together with all spiritual and eternal blessings in him, whilst thousands and millions of the human race are dying in ignorance and perishing in their sins! This loving-kindness so free, so rich, so full, appears to him “better than even life itself;” and all that he can do to testify his gratitude seems nothing, yea “less than nothing,” in comparison of it. The language of his heart is, “If I should hold my peace, the very stones would cry out against me.” O that I had powers equal to the occasion! how would I praise him! how would I glorify him! verily I would praise him on earth, even as they do in heaven.]
In these purposes the believing soul is yet further confirmed by,
The service of God is not without its reward even in this life: and hence the Believer, whilst engaged in his favourite employment, expects,
The richest consolation—
[The carnal mind can see no pleasure in this holy exercise; but the spiritual mind is refreshed by it, more than the most luxurious epicure ever was by the richest dainties. His very meditations are unspeakably sweet: yea, while contemplating his God upon his bed, and during the silent watches of the night, “his soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness:” it has a foretaste even of heaven itself — — — From its own experience of this heavenly joy, the soul expects this glorious harvest, when it has sown in tears, and laboured to glorify its God in songs of praise.]
The most assured safety—
[Thus engaged, the soul looks down upon all its enemies with disdain: it feels itself in an impregnable fortress: it is conscious that it owes all its past preservation to the help of its Almighty Friend; and it rejoices in the thought that under the shadow of the Redeemer’s wings it must still be safe; and that “none shall ever pluck it out of the Father’s hands.” The state of Hezekiah, when surrounded by a vast army that was bent on his destruction, exactly shows what is the state of a believing soul in the midst of all its enemies: “The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn: the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee.” Such was the language of Zion to all the Assyrian hosts: and such is the blessed anticipation of victory which every Believer is privileged to enjoy [Note: e Romans 8:33-39.].]
How greatly do the generality of religious professors live below their privileges!
[It was not peculiar to David thus to delight in God: it en common, and is yet common, to all the saints. Can it be thought that we, who live under so much better a dispensation than he, and have so much brighter discoveries of God’s power and glory than ever he had, should yet not be privileged to delight in God as he did? Were this the case, we should be losers by that religion which the Son of God cam. down from heaven to establish. But it is not so: we may partake of all spiritual blessing? in as rich abundance as he, or any other of the saints of old, did. And we have reason to be ashamed that our desires after God are so faint, our purposes respecting him so weak, and our expectations from him so contracted. Let us, each for himself, look at our experience from day to day, and compare it with his; and let us not rest, till we have attained somewhat at least of that delight in God, which so eminently distinguished that blessed man.]
What encouragement have all to seek after God!
[It was not only after David had so grievously transgressed, but at the very moment that God was chastening him for his transgressions, that he was thus favoured of his God [Note: Absalom’s incestuous commerce with David’s wives was foretold by Nathan, as a part of David’s punishment for his sin in taking to him the wife of his friend Uriah.]. Can we then with propriety say, This mercy is not for me? it is not possible for such a sinner as I ever to be thus highly favoured? Know ye, that there is no limit, either to the sovereign exercise of God’s grace, or to its influence on the souls of men. His grace often most abounds, where sin has most abounded: and the vilest of us all may yet become the richest monument of God’s love and mercy, if only, like David, he will humble himself for his iniquities, and sprinkle on his conscience the blood of our great sacrifice. O beloved! know, if you come to God by Christ, you shall never be cast out; and if you commit yourself in faith entirely to Christ, you shall rejoice in him with joy unspeakable, and receive in due time the great end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.]
FOLLOWING AFTER GOD
Psalms 63:8. My soul followeth hard after Thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.
IT has been said, that Christian progress is more evinced by desires than by actual attainments. This sentiment is either true or false, according to the explanation given of it. If it be meant that there can be any growth in Christianity without attainments in holiness, or that growth in grace is to be measured by any thing but actual attainments in every part of the divine life, it is extremely erroneous: but if it be meant, that our views of a Christian’s duty, and our desires after a perfect conformity to the divine will, will increase beyond our actual attainments, it is true: for a divinely enlightened soul has no bounds to its desires: but, alas! the good that it would, it does not; and the evil that it would not, that it does: so that, after all its exertions, it is constrained to say, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?” With this the Psalmist’s experience was in strict accordance. He speaks in the beginning of this psalm, not as one who was in actual possession of all that he desired, but as one whose appetite for heavenly things was altogether insatiable: “O God, thou art my God: early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee; my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.” So again, in the words of my text, he speaks, not as one who had attained, but as one pressing forward in order to attain: “My soul followeth hard after thee.” But was he discouraged as one that had failed in his endeavours? No: he regarded the desires which he felt, and the endeavours which he put forth, as evidences that God was with him of a truth; and as grounds of hope that he should ultimately attain all that his heart could wish.
We see, then, here,
The experience of a heaven-born soul.
Two things are found in every child of God:
He has desires which nothing but God himself can satisfy—
[The language of every enlightened soul is, “Whom have I in heaven but thee, O God? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee [Note: Psalms 73:25.].” He pants after peace and holiness; but how shall he obtain either the one or the other but from God himself? The world around him can contribute nothing, either to remove guilt from his conscience, or pollution from his soul. Nor can he himself do any thing for the effecting of these most desirable ends. If he look at his past or present life, he can find nothing whereon to found his hopes of acceptance with God: his very best duties are so defective, that they fill him only with shame and sorrow. Not one action of his life can he present to God as perfect, or as deserving a recompence in the eternal world: much less can he present any thing that shall, by its superabundant merit, purchase the forgiveness of former sins. Then, as it respects future obedience, he finds how frail his firmest resolutions are, and how weak his strongest efforts. It is in his Redeemer alone that he can find either righteousness or strength: and hence to him he looks, in order that he may obtain from him those blessings which his soul so greatly needs — — —]
He seeks after God for a supply of them—
[“He follows hard after God.” He follows after God in every way that God himself has appointed. He waits upon God in secret prayer, and implores help from him in sighs and groans and tears. He “wrestles with God,” even as Jacob of old did; and will not let him go till he has conferred the desired blessing. In public ordinances, too, he waits, as at Bethesda’s pool, for the stirring of the waters, and for the communication of the benefits he so greatly needs. Nor does he yield to discouragement because he does not presently obtain all that he desires: he is content to “tarry the Lord’s leisure,” assured that he shall not be ultimately cast out, or suffered “to seek the Lord in vain.”
The whole of this experience may be seen in another psalm, where David places in one view the greatness of his necessities, and the urgency of his requests: “I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me; lest I be like them that go down to the pit. Cause me to hear thy loving-kindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee [Note: Psalms 143:6-8.].”]
That we may not think too unfavourably of this experience, let us notice,
The confidence which it is calculated to inspire—
The Psalmist, in the latter clause, did not merely intend to assert a fact, but to mark the connexion of that fact with the experience which he had just delineated; and which he regarded,
As an evidence of mercies received—
[He was conscious of ardent desires after God, and of laborious exertions in seeking after him. But whence was it that such desires had ever arisen in his mind? And how came they ever to be put forth into act? And whence had he derived that firmness of character, that he could persevere in his pursuit of God, under all the discouragements which he had to contend with? Were these the spontaneous product of his own heart? or were they infused into him by man? or did they arise out of any contingent circumstances capable of producing them? No: they sprang from God only, who had cast, as it were, the mantle of his love upon him, and drawn him to himself. It was “God who in the day of his power had made him willing” to renounce all his former pursuits, and to follow after Christ as the God of his salvation. God had “made him willing in the day of his power,” and had kept him hitherto in his everlasting arms. Of all this, his experience was a decisive proof and evidence: and he could not but say, “He that hath wrought me to the self-same thing is God.”]
As an earnest of yet further mercies in reserve—
[In this light God’s mercies may with great propriety be viewed; and I doubt not but that this idea was intended to be expressed in the words before us. It is precisely what David more fully expressed in another psalm; where, having said to God, “Thou hast delivered my soul from death,” he adds, “Wilt thou not keep mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling, that I may walk before the Lord in the light of the living [Note: Psalms 56:13.]?” This was a legitimate inference from the premises which he had stated: and St. Paul drew the same inference with a yet stronger measure of confidence and assurance; saying to his Philippian converts, “I am confident of this very thing, that He who hath begun a good work in you will perform it till the day of Jesus Christ [Note: Philippians 1:6.].” St. Paul, in particular saw that there was an inseparable connexion between grace and glory: for that “whom God did predestinate in eternity, them he also called in time; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified [Note: Romans 8:29-30.],” And a sweet truth it is, that “He will not forsake his people, because it hath pleased him to make them his people [Note: 1 Samuel 12:22.];” and that “whom he loveth, he loveth unto the end [Note: John 13:1.].”]
The lukewarm Christian—
[Having spoken favourably of good desires, I must guard with all possible care against a misapprehension of my meaning. It is said in Scripture, “The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour [Note: Proverbs 21:25.].” This is a very awful truth: for there are many who rest satisfied with languid desires, instead of labouring for the things desired, Against such a state our blessed Lord very strongly cautions us, when he says, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able [Note: Luke 13:24.].” “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence: and the violent must take it by force [Note: Matthew 11:12.].” And, whatever be your sentiments about the unchangeableness of God’s love, you may be perfectly sure that you are not walking acceptably with him, unless you can say with truth, “My soul followeth hard after God.”]
The earnest and zealous Christian—
[Whatever attainments you make in the divine life, never forget to whom they must all be ascribed. A ball would as soon return of itself to the cannon’s mouth, from whence it had been shot forth, as you of yourself would ever have returned unto God. And a new-born infant would as soon provide for all its own wants, as you would have preserved yourself, by any power of your own, in the ways of God. It is God who in the first instance quickened you from the dead, and “gave you both to will and to do” what was pleasing in his sight. Give him, then, the glory of all that your either are or have; and live dependent on him even to the end; for it is he, and he alone, who can uphold you: and as “he is able to keep you from falling, so he will present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy [Note: Jude, ver. 24.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Psalms 63". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany