Great Texts of the Bible
Delighting in the Lord
Delight thyself also in the Lord;
And he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.—Psalm 37:4.
1. The anthem, “O rest in the Lord,” taken from Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah,” is composed of words which many persons imagine to be a text accurately quoted from the Bible. This is, however, nowhere to be found as Mendelssohn quotes it, but is a compilation of two separate verses. Scarcely any music could be sweeter to an anxious and weary heart than this pathetic song, “O rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him, and He will give thee thy heart’s desire.” It seems cruel to say a word to detract from the gracious comfort and hope conveyed by the words. Yet we shall be gainers and not losers by greater accuracy and truth, and shall find the promise “He will give thee thy heart’s desire” none the less fulfilled. Mendelssohn’s made-up text is amply true, was true for him in fact as it has been true to so many of us in our varied lives and in the fulfilment of our heart’s desires. Yet there is a higher truth still, and to that the Psalmist gives expression here. “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”
2. The text might be correctly paraphrased, “Delight in the Lord, and then thou mayest trust thy desires; they will be the forerunners of blessings, the beginning of their own realization.” “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Delight thyself in the Lord, and thou wilt desire strongly only what is in harmony with His will, and best for thyself. All thy wishes will be brought into subjection to His will, and thou wilt crave only those things which He is ready and anxious to bestow upon thee.
There are many beautiful psalms in the Psalter, but I am disposed to think that this psalm is the most beautiful of them all. There is a strain of old experience in it, of ripe and mellow wisdom, of thoughtful and tranquil affection, which at once stirs and calms our hearts. I can never read it but it calls up before me the figure of a venerable and kindly old man, who has seen much and endured much, but has at last won for himself a sacred tranquillity and peace which no change and no alarm can disturb; who, now that he is old, does not forget either that he has been young or what his hot, eager youth was like; and who, in the calm evening of his days, draws upon the accumulated stores of his knowledge and experience for the benefit of those in whom the fires of youth still burn hotly, and tries to save them from many a conflict, and many a defeat, by teaching them the secret of peace.1 [Note: S. Cox, The Bird’s Nest, 238.]
There is a passage in Wordsworth’s Prelude which expresses both the craving and its satisfaction, with all the poet’s high seriousness and moving simplicity. He had risen, in his unrest of mind, before the dawn. In the grey light of the morning, he brooded over his life and its meaning. As the sun rose and flooded meadow and stream and the far-off shining sea with light, and as the birds awoke to song and the labourer came forth with quiet and honest content to his work in the field, all the stillness and charm of the scene fell upon him with refreshing and renewing power.
Ah! need I say, dear Friend! that to the brim
My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows
Were then made for me; bond unknown to me
Was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly
A dedicated Spirit. On I walked
In thankful blessedness, which yet survives.2 [Note: W. M. Clow, The Secret of the Lord, 219.]
Practising the Presence of God
1. Delighting in God means, to begin with, realizing the presence of God. If men will not sometimes think of God, He will become merely a name to them. If they glance toward Him only now and again, and with an unobservant and undesiring eye, He will become strange and shadowy, and will remain unknown. We do not become sure of God by mustering up the arguments for His being and His purpose in the world. No heart ever stood up in a passionate conviction of God’s presence because it had been told that His footprints were marked upon the rocks. No mind was ever driven by the logic of history to assent with a deep persuasion to the personal providence of the Almighty. These things have their place and their power. They are byways of evidence in which a believing heart will sometimes walk. But the only certainty which can satisfy the mind and stir the heart is an ethical and a religious, a moral and a spiritual consciousness of God. Faith is an opening of the eyes that we may see. It is in prayer that we rise most swiftly and most convincingly into this faith which sees. It is in prayer that we have the sure consciousness of God. Even although a man may kneel with a haze over his mind and a chill upon his spirit, he will not kneel in vain.
In the beginning of Brother Lawrence’s noviciate, he spent the hours appointed for private prayer in thinking of God, so as to convince his mind of, and to impress deeply upon his heart, the Divine existence, rather by devout sentiments than by studied reasonings and elaborate meditations. By this short and sure method, he exercised himself in the knowledge and love of God, resolving to use his utmost endeavour to live in a continual sense of His Presence, and, if possible, never to forget Him more. When he had thus in prayer filled his mind full with great sentiments of that Infinite Being, he went to his work appointed in the kitchen (for he was cook to the Society). When he began his business, he said to God, with a filial trust in Him: “O my God, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me grace to continue in Thy presence; and to this end, do Thou prosper me with Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections.” … When he had finished, he examined himself how he had discharged his duty: if he found well, he returned thanks to God; if otherwise, he asked pardon; and, without being discouraged, he set his mind right again and continued his exercise of the Presence of God, as if he had never deviated from it. “Thus,” said he, “by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith, and love, I am come to a state, wherein it would be as difficult for me not to think of God as it was at first to accustom myself to it.”
As Brother Lawrence had found such comfort and blessing in walking in the Presence of God, it was natural for him to recommend it earnestly to others; but his example was a stronger inducement than any arguments he could propose. His very countenance was edifying; such a sweet and calm devotion appearing in it as could not but affect all beholders. And it was observed that in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen, he still preserved his recollection and his heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquillity of spirit. “The time of business,” said he, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”1 [Note: Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God.]
2. Delighting in the Lord implies sympathy with His mind and character. It means that His pure and holy character is the absorbing object of thought, that in the contemplation of it the mind is free from all suspicions, all hard thoughts and rebellious feelings; that, while it dwells on this high theme with reverence and with awe, it also finds in it a source of deepest joy.
Five years before he left us, one who has since his death been much in men’s minds had an illness which was of a very critical character. For some days he said nothing, and he was supposed to be quite unconscious. After his recovery he referred, one day, to this, the presumably unconscious, part of his illness. “People thought,” he said, “that I was unconscious, but the fact was that although I could not speak I heard all that went on in the room, and I was well occupied.” To the question, “What were you doing?” he answered, “By God’s mercy, I could remember the Epistle for the fourth Sunday in Advent, out of the Philippians, which begins, ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway.’ This I made a framework for prayer; saying the Lord’s Prayer two or three times between each clause, and so dwelling on the several relations of each clause to each petition in the Lord’s Prayer.” How he did this he explained at some length, and then added, “It lasted me, I should think, four or five hours.” To the question, “What did you do after that?” he answered, “I began it over again. I was very happy: and, had it been God’s will, did not wish to get better.”2 [Note: H. P. Liddon, Passiontide Sermons, 271.]
3. Delighting in God means holding close communion with Him. Communion is that quiet, intimate, tender intercourse with God in which we may ask nothing, confess nothing, and cease even from thanksgiving. We simply speak face to face with God as a man speaks to his friend. Communion may pass beyond speech into a calm and absorbing and yet strangely wakeful silence. God is not content always with silence only. He loves, we may truly believe, to hear the human voice rising and falling in the accents of prayer. Samuel’s childish treble when he cried, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth,” was sweeter to Him than the perfect music of a boy’s clear young voice in a choir to its leader. God misses “His little human praise,” with its doubt and fear trembling in every tone, when we pray only with the inner whisper of our thought and meditation. But there are times when the spirit of prayer may be too swift and too tender for words. Every man is a possible mystic in the best sense of that word, for every man may enter into that intercourse with God in which the hours pass by in the silence of a perfect confidence.
Wesley, in his Journal tells us again and again that when worn and ill he cast himself without words on the bosom of God. Chalmers declares that, when greatly wearied and distressed in mind, he gave himself up to quietism, and was much refreshed. These were both men of strong practical wisdom, and not moody and dreamy recluses. We must not think that when Christ continued “all night in prayer to God” He stretched out the arms of His petitions and thanksgiving in words which fell upon His own ear. We can be sure that His time was passed in still meditation. He rose into a rapture in which there was no speech, a silence that was felt and loved of God. To Him the Father was
A presence felt the livelong day,
A welcome fear at night.1 [Note: W. M. Clow, The Secret of the Lord, 181.]
I see that every good and wise man who is held up to my admiration and imitation in the Bible desired nothing less, and could be satisfied by nothing less, than communion with God. Every word in the Book of Psalms, in the Gospels, in the Epistles, and in the Prophecies tells me this. They wished to know God, not in a vague, loose sense, but actually to know Him as a friend. Starting with no preparatory notions of God, but ready to receive everything He told them, they welcomed each new dispensation only because it told them something more of God; because it enabled them more intelligently, more practically, more literally to converse with Him. I observe that all their sorrow arose from the loss of God’s presence, all their joy from the possession of it, all their pleasure in expecting heaven from anticipation of it. I observe that they shrunk from the contemplation of no side or phase of God’s character, that His holiness and His mercy were equally dear to them, and that, so far from viewing them as separate, they could not admire one without the other. They could not delight in His love unless they believed that He would admit no sin into His presence, for sin and love are essentially hostile; they could not adore His holiness unless they believed that He had some way of removing their sinfulness and imparting His own character to them. The plain, obvious study of the Bible tells me this.1 [Note: Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, i. 132.]
4. Lastly, delighting in God means entire surrender to God’s will. The highest attitude in prayer is not desire, or aspiration, or praise. It is surrender. In surrender we open our whole being to God as a flower opens itself to the sun, and we are filled, up to our measure, with His Divine energy. It is because man can be filled with the fulness of God that he has been chosen of God as His instrument in the world. In one true sense God set bounds to His power when He created man. He placed a further limit on Himself when He committed dominion to him. God now works through man, and if man will not work the works of God, the works of God remain undone.
Esther.—But that must be the best life, father. That must be the best life.
Rufus.—What life, my dear child?
Esther.—Why, that where one bears and does everything because of some great and strong feeling—so that this and that in one’s circumstances don’t signify.
Rufus.—Yea, verily: but the feeling that should be thus supreme is devotedness to the Divine Will.2 [Note: George Eliot, Felix Holt.]
It is best to limit oneself to what is strictly necessary, to live austerely and by rule, to content oneself with a little, and to attach no value to anything but peace of conscience and a sense of duty done. It is true that this itself is no small ambition, and that it only lands us in another impossibility. No,—the simplest course is to submit oneself wholly and altogether to God. Everything else, as saith the Preacher, is but vanity and vexation of spirit. It is a long while now since this has been plain to me, and since this religious renunciation has been sweet and familiar to me. It is the outward distractions of life, the examples of the world, and the irresistible influence exerted upon us by the current of things which make us forget the wisdom we have acquired and the principles we have adopted. That is why life is such weariness! This eternal beginning over again is tedious, even to repulsion. It would be so good to go to sleep when we have gathered the fruit of experience, when we are no longer in opposition to the supreme will, when we have broken loose from self, when we are at peace with all men.1 [Note: Amiel’s Journal (trans, by Mrs. Humphry Ward), 115.]
Blindfolded and alone I stand,
With unknown thresholds on each hand;
The darkness deepens as I grope,
Afraid to fear, afraid to hope,
Yet this one thing I learn to know
Each day more surely as I go,
That doors are opened, ways are made,
Burdens are lifted or are laid,
By some great law unseen and still,
Unfathomed purpose to fulfil,
“Not as I will.”
Blindfolded and alone I wait;
Loss seems too bitter, gain too late;
Too heavy burdens in the load
And too few helpers on the road;
And joy is weak and grief is strong,
And years and days so long, so long:
Yet this one thing I learn to know
Each day more surely as I go,
That I am glad the good and ill
By changeless law are ordered still,
“Not as I will.”
“Not as I will”: the sound grows sweet
Each time my lips the words repeat.
“Not as I will”: the darkness feels
More safe than light when this thought steals
Like whispered voice to calm and bless
All unrest and all loneliness.
“Not as I will,” because the One
Who loved us first and best has gone
Before us on the road, and still
For us must all His love fulfil,
“Not as we will.”1 [Note: Helen H. Jackson, Verses.]
The Satisfaction of Desire
1. Nothing more disastrous could happen than that God should gratify the desires of all men. If God were to permit for one short hour that all human desires should be satisfied, it is impossible to calculate the dire confusion and pitiless despair that would prevail. Ignorance would unsettle every natural law; selfishness would break down every barrier; oppression, lust, and rapine would leap forth with fury. It is true that prisons, hospitals, and workhouses might disgorge their occupants, poverty might leap into affluence, and diseases and devils be cast out of suffering humanity. The slave might snap his fetters, and many an oppressed sufferer might rush forth to freedom and to life; but amid the widespread despair excited by the greatest curse that had ever fallen on humanity, the prayer would ascend, “O God, take back our liberty; bind us once more by Thy laws; Thou, and Thou alone, knowest what is best for us. Fence us round with Thine ordinances; restore to us Thy government; let us know once more that Thou alone canst speak, and it shall be done; Thou alone command so that it shall stand fast!”
The fables, the philosophy, and the experience of all nations, are crowded with lessons that men are blind, and ignorant, and selfish, and know not what is best for them; that they cannot enumerate their mercies; that the overruling of an infinite Mind and Will is the only refuge for their ignorance, the only hope of the race. He must be a bold man, or a fool, who would dare to take his lot into his own government, and be the master of his own destiny. The same principle will apply equally well, if we suppose our merely human desires to be made the measure of God’s benedictions to us—of the spiritual blessings which are of the greatest necessity for us. Some are longing for more power to work, when probably God sees that they want more patience to endure, more power to feel. Some are ever yearning after new truth, when God sees that their need is to understand more fully the truth already within their reach.1 [Note: H. R. Reynolds, Notes of the Christian Life, 115.]
2. When we delight in God, we are freed from the distraction of various desires by the one master attraction. Such a soul is still as the great river above the falls, when all the side currents and dimpling eddies and backwaters are effaced by the attraction that draws every drop in the one direction; or like the same stream as it nears its end, and, forgetting how it brawled among rocks and flowers in the mountain glens, flows “with a calm and equable motion” to its rest in the central sea. When we possess God, all other desires are put in their right place. The presence of the king awes the crowd into silence. When the full moon is in the nightly sky, it makes the heavens bare of flying cloud-rack, and all the twinkling stars are lost in the peaceful, solitary splendour. So let delight in God rise in our souls, and lesser lights pale before it—do not cease to be, but add their feebleness, unnoticed, to its radiance. The more we have our affections set on God, the more shall we enjoy, because we subordinate, His gifts. The less, too, shall we dread their loss, the less be at the mercy of their fluctuations. The capitalist does not think so much of the year’s gains as the needy adventurer, to whom they make the difference between bankruptcy and competence. If we have God for our “enduring substance,” we can face all varieties of condition, and be calm, saying:
Give what Thou wilt, without Thee I am poor,
And with Thee rich, take what Thou wilt away.
Some men make themselves God, without knowing what they are doing. The deity they appeal to is really their deeper, higher self. When they feel God’s approval, it is really their own self-praise. When God reproaches them, it is their own self-rebuke. When they go apart from the world to hold communion with Him, it really is an entrance into their own self-consciousness. To other men some good fellow-man, more or less consciously and completely enlarged into an ideal of humanity, answers the same purpose, and is in reality their God. To still others, a vague presence of a high purpose and tendency felt in everything—Tennyson’s “one increasing purpose,” and Arnold’s “something not ourselves which makes for righteousness.” This fulfils the end and makes the substitute for God. But none of these supply the place of a true Personality outside ourselves, yet infinitely near to us.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks: Memories of his Life, 457.]
3. To delight in God is to have a desire for spiritual good; and the desire for spiritual good never goes unsatisfied. No man ever prayed but in the moment he was a better and a wiser man. To go into the sanctuary of God is to understand. To let our requests be made known unto God is to gain the peace that passeth all understanding. As we pray, our sins are set in the light of God’s countenance. We see the beauty of holiness. We behold the beauty of the Lord. We open the sluice-gates of the soul, and the swelling tides of God’s love and grace flood within. New penitence, new resolves, new endeavours are born in the depth of the will. That truth is written large in the history of every saint. Prayer is a mode of power within to learn the mind of Christ. His words and deeds become memorable and significant to us. We sometimes receive a more vivid insight into what He was, and did, as we serve Him in the toilsome duties of life. But when we pray, then those spiritual changes which are vital, determining, eternal, take place within. F. W. H. Myers, in his poem on St. Paul, so full of the seer’s insight into the history of the soul, has set this truth in impassioned verse. He is speaking of Paul’s shame at his failure, and he conceives him in the pain of his penitence, seeking the presence and the peace of Christ.
Straight to Thy presence get me and reveal it,
Nothing ashamed of tears upon Thy feet,
Show the sore wound and beg Thine hand to heal it,
Pour Thee the bitter, pray Thee for the sweet.
Then with a ripple and a radiance thro’ me,
Rise and be manifest, O Morning Star!
Flow on my soul, Thou Spirit, and renew me,
Fill with Thyself, and let the rest be far.
4. When we delight in the Lord, our desire is not so much to have as to be and do. We cease to crave exclusively for temporal good, for personal and physical gratification, for the supply of what we call our wants, and we crave, instead, to be what our Creator and Father wishes us to be, and to do what He wishes us to do. Delighting in the Lord does not mean ceasing to be human, ceasing to have wants and natural lawful desires for success and happiness; it means that all these native and lawful wishes become subordinate to a higher desire still, so that, for its sake, we are willing to forgo all the rest. We may be hungry and thirsty, yet our meat and drink will be to do the will of Him who sent us here and to finish His work. We may be poor and needy, but we shall esteem the words of God and obedience to His law “better than thousands of gold and silver,” or, in other words of the Psalmist, “more than our necessary food.” We may be hungering for a love which is out of our reach, or sorrowing for the loss of a love that can never return, and yet find in God a love passing the love of woman. We may be toiling all day, and our very sleep may be broken by festering care, by even a holy anxiety to bring our work to completion, and yet we shall find something better and higher than success in the knowledge that we are working for God and doing our best and so earning His approval. If the greatest and supreme of all our delights is in being and in doing what God wills, nothing can frustrate His purpose to give us our heart’s desire.
Christianity seeks not to cramp man’s nature, saying to him constantly, “Thou shalt not”; but it leads on, up to freer air and wider space, wherein the soul may disport itself. It is God we follow. Obeying God is freedom. Our souls are like closed rooms, and God is the sunlight. Every new way we find in which to obey Him we throw open a shutter. Our souls are as enclosed bays, and God is the ocean. The only barrier that can hinder free communication is disobedience. Each duty performed is the breaking down of a reef of hindrance between our souls and God, permitting the fulness of His being to flow in upon our souls. It is when we remember the greatness of the nature which God has given us that we come into a full understanding of our relations to God. At some time every man comes to realize the meaning of the life he is living; the secret sins hidden in his heart rise against him. Then we would hide ourselves from God if we could. But the only way to run from God is to run to Him. The Infinite Knowledge is also the Infinite Pity.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks: Memories of his Life, 630.]
Conn (J.), The Fulness of Time, 117.
Cox (S.), The Bird’s Nest, 238.
Houchin (J. W.), The Vision of God, 31.
Mackey (H. O.), Miniature Sermons, 1.
Maclaren (A.), Sermons Preached in Manchester, ii. 245.
Reynolds (H. R.), Notes of the Christian Life, 111.
Voysey (C.), Sermons, viii. (1885), No. 32.
Christian World Pulpit, xxvii. 93 (H. W. Beecher).
Church of England Magazine, xxxi. 139 (J. Ayre).