My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh cries out for the living God.
What is the secret of the enduring charm, the comforting and ennobling influence of the psalms? Is it not to be found, in part at least, in the frank revelation made by the psalmist of his own personal experience and aspiration? His prayers are not addressed to the congregation I In rapturous praise and in fervent prayer he pours out his soul unto God. So wide and varied is the range of his experience that alike in joy and sadness, in exultation or contrition, in victory or defeat, we find in his confession of sin, his jubilant gratitude, his martial ardour, his triumphant faith, the best statement of our own sin and failure, expectation and yearning. Thus to the very depths of our nature does he go down when, as in the text, he exclaims, "My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God."
I. MAN HAS A RELIGIOUS SENSE. It is customary to speak of the "five senses"; but modern physiologists affirm the popular enumeration to be defective. It does not take into account, we are told, the sensations of heat and cold, hunger and thirst, or the sensations of organic life. Neither does it recognize the "muscular sense," whereby we measure and regulate our bodily activities. We hear also of an "internal sense," or the mind's knowledge of its own operations. Then, again, we occasionally hear of the "aesthetic sense," whereby we have the perception or feeling of beauty. Philosophers, as Shaftesbury, have affirmed the existence also in man of a "moral sense," meaning that moral distinctions are not due to reasoning processes, but are recognized by a kind of feeling, or "an immediate and undefinable intuition." In like manner may it be affirmed that man has a religious sense. Just as we are constituted to taste and touch, to have a sense of the beautiful, and to have a sense of right and wrong, so are we constituted to feel after God. "Wherever man is there religion is," said Max Muller, who also affirms, "I maintain that religion, so far from being impossible, is inevitable if only we are left in possession of our senses." Just because you are a man, made by and for God, the religious element within you constrains you, in spite of yourself, to exclaim of all earthly pursuits and pleasures promising satisfaction and peace, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
II. THE RELIGIOUS SENSE NEEDS TRAINING. Whatever be the stage of moral and spiritual experience, the limits of development have not been reached. The religious sense can always be "touched to finer issues." By neglect it pines and withers. Through disuse the facility of speech in a foreign tongue lessens and disappears, and how completely the mastery has been lost may not be known till on some sudden emergency, to our utter humiliation, we find the words will not come when we "do call for them"; and we who once could swiftly weave our thought into speech, now stand in dumb imbecility. It is too often forgotten that a similar retribution, but infinitely graver in its issues, awaits the man who neglects to maintain his religious nature in healthful efficiency. When we call to mind the sure operation of this law, need we wonder that, spiritually, men differ so greatly, and that while some are keenly sensitive to the softer whispers of Divine love, others need the loud thunders of Heaven's artillery to rouse them to a consciousness of God? If the man of business give only the fragments of his time to the culture of his soul, what marvel that, whilst sagacious and successful in commerce, he should be weak, ignorant, and wayward in spiritual insight and service. If the student of Nature devote all his thought and energy to the investigation of her laws, what wonder that the penalty of excessive and exclusive study of physical science should be, as Darwin had to acknowledge with sorrow, the loss of relish for music, poetry, and the higher pursuits that refine and elevate life. If the intellect be trained and the affections neglected, what wonder that a Francis Bacon should show himself "wisest, meanest of mankind," ready and eager to sell his glorious birthright for a mess of pottage. O the pity of it, that men should so zealously train the understanding and so persistently neglect the heart, should suffer the cobwebs to darken the window of the soul, and allow the holy fire to go out! Yet is there no part of our nature we can so ill afford to leave undisciplined. If religion meant pardon only, even then delay would be dangerous, but if it mean the training of the soul, the development of character after the pattern of Christ Jesus, the discipline of the religious sense to swift, accurate, and joyous activity, is it not of all follies the greatest to neglect or postpone the culture of the soul?
III. WHAT IS THE METHOD OF TRAINING? The answer is not difficult. It is one advantage of the line of thought pursued that the reply can be so easy and natural. How do men proceed to train their other senses? How is it that the dyer discerns varieties of hue unapparent to the untrained eye? How does the artist appreciate distinctions of shade invisible to the ordinary vision? Though there may sometimes be original and native superiority, it still holds true that "practice makes perfect." How shall the ear be trained to appreciate the subtle harmonies of music? Will it suffice to read treatises that describe the auditory and vocal organs? Will it be enough to study theories of musical composition? Will it not be needful to listen to music, to note the separate and combined effects, and ourselves to play and to sing if we are to possess executive skill and correct musical judgment? No one ever yet became a musical expert who did not use his ears! In like manner, it may be said, no man ever became an efficient public speaker by reading manuals of elocution, or treatises of rhetoric alone. There is needed intelligent and persevering practice for the attainment of the art to conceal art, and to speak with ease, clearness, and force. A man learns to swim not by perusing written instructions on natation, but by swimming. He learns to paint by painting. However useful theories of the various arts may be, in every sphere it is recognized that it is only by practice, wise and sedulous, the highest efficiency can be gained. It is that the simplicity of this has caused it to be overlooked when religious training is considered? How many appear to think that the mere reading of the Bible will discipline the nature! To study a chart is one thing, to navigate the vessel by its information quite another thing. To read the Bible is good, to act according to its directions is better. "Exercise thyself unto godliness," was Paul's counsel to Timothy.
IV. CAN WE BY INNATE STRENGTH OF WILL ACCOMPLISH THIS HIGH WORK? For physical and mental training are not schools, colleges, teachers, and professors required? Can the irreligious man, by his own resolve alone, develop high religious sensibility? The uniform declarations of the Book of God concur with the humiliating testimony of personal consciousness, that it is not in man to direct his steps, to subdue his turbulent passions, to bring his motives and plans into harmony with the Divine will, to educate to unerring precision and robust energy his religious sense. Nor is there any need that he should attempt the impossible task. The heart cries out for the living God, and He delights to answer its cry.
(A. Cowe, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.