Passionate Devotion
Psalm 63:1-11
O God, you are my God; early will I seek you: my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land…

It is not every one who can sympathize with the intensity of devout feeling here expressed. One must have seen the power and the glory in bygone days, to thirst and long for God like this. All, however, can understand something about it; all, at least, can stand apart and admire the man with thoughts so elevated, affections so pure, a soul so predominant over sense, that his very sensuous nature longs, not for the objects of sense, but for God! In all ages we find instances of this passionate devotion, which appropriates to itself the language Of human affection, and applies it to the Infinite One. Now, what estimate are we to form of the devotion which assumes this character? Shall we condemn it as enthusiasm, or commend it as the pure and natural development of the affections towards God? Shall we cherish it in ourselves? or restrain such assimilations to human loves? I think we shall better be able to answer when we have examined a little into the conditions under which it arises. First, then, it is quite evident, those rising to this intensely passionate longing after God must have a great power of giving a reality to their ideas — I mean, of realizing their ideas as substantive, present existences. For God being known to us only in thought, must be represented by this realizing faculty of the mind as personally present with us, or no deep emotion can be awakened towards Him. You may contemplate His works, you may take the Bible and draw out a history of all He has done for man's salvation, you may reason most correctly upon the relations He sustains to your soul, you may ascribe to Him all goodness, truth, and holy beauty, all imaginable perfections; but unless you have the power of believing in the substantial reality of your ideas, no passionate love or desire (which can cling only to persons as known) can be excited within you. There may be trust, there may be reverence, there may be the deliberate surrender of the will to the great and glorious Being conceived in thought; but there can be for a merely logical, intellectual abstraction no passionate love. This, then, being undoubtedly the case, a second condition arises, namely, God, in order to be thus loved and desired, must be brought within the compass of human imagination, idealization — that is, being thought of and realized as personally present, the mind must form of Him some representation to itself, some conceivable and embraceable idea. Passionate love and desire cannot embrace the infinitely vague. Hence the fact that, within the Christian Church our Saviour and the Virgin have been made more frequently the objects of this passionate devotion than the Infinite Father. Well, then, if these be the conditions of this passionate love and desire for God, it already is evident there must be some element in it which needs toning down or modifying in some way or the other. For, whatever brings the glory and infinitude of the Creator down to the limitation and level of the creature must have an element of evil in it. We may take it as an axiom that, Whatever tends to exalt our notions of His perfections and glory, whatever tends to fill us with deep and humble reverence and awe, with adoration and lowly worship, that is leading us on the right road to a knowledge of God; and whatever limits, circumscribes, defines our image of Him, reduces Him within the narrow outlines of our delineations, that falsifies and corrupts our knowledge. False devotion pretends to know. It has come face to face with God, it says, and loves. Vain dream! It has rather created an image, out of its sanctified fancy, and for that burns with passionate desire. And yet, we must be just. There is a truth in this imaging of God in the mind. It is not altogether a false representation of Him which the mind creates for itself. The elements Out of which the representation is made are true, so far as they go. Have you ever seen the canvas intended for a great picture, after the artist has worked two or three days only upon it? That is like our sanctified imagings of God. All the right colours laid on, all the lines in the right direction, but what resemblance, nevertheless, is there to the perfected work? The sun is imaged in a clew-drop; but who could learn by looking in the dew-drop what are the majesty and glory of the sun? They are, then, divine properties which the soul loves in its image of God, but divine properties limited and reduced to created patterns. Those who know God and think of Him as the omnipresent Spirit, the all-efficient power whose operations extend through, and whose nature is manifested in, all creation, cannot but adore and love as they contemplate His nature in these created manifestations. To them He necessarily is the one, all-sufficing, all-efficient God, the one joy and blessedness of all creatures. And, knowing Him thus, they cannot but desire to know Him more fully, to share more largely in the communications of His nature, to come into closer union with Him. For, to put it in another form, this is nothing more than desiring to share in, and partake more and more of, whatever is true, beautiful, and good in the world, to enter more and more into the blessedness of all true, beautiful, and good thoughts and feelings, For, not in His inmost being is God known or can He be enjoyed; but in these manifestations of Him, — in all His glorious and beautiful works, in all the glorious and beautiful thoughts He creates within us. And it is in keeping with this that the psalmist tells us in the text that his soul and flesh long for God, to see His power and glory so as he had seen them in the sanctuary. He did not dream that he, the finite, could appropriate to himself all the glory and power of the Infinite One. There is, therefore, no extravagance of language, transferring the passionate feelings awakened by human love to the Creator; but, what he prays for, longs, thirsts for, is to see more of God in His manifestations — more of that power and glory which he had already discerned as he heard the Levites chant His holy praise, and had joined in the sacrifices, the prayers, the worship of the temple. Whatever brought to him truer and more beautiful thoughts, purer and more ennobling feelings, that would fulfil the desire and satisfy the longing of his soul.

(J. Cranbrook.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: {A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.} 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;

WEB: God, you are my God. I will earnestly seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh longs for you, in a dry and weary land, where there is no water.

God and the Soul
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