The Paramount Need
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…

What thirst means in a tropical wilderness none but those who have passed through it can tell. It is an overpowering and a paralyzing need. All this the psalmist had felt. As in the long marches through the desert sands, in the awful blaze of an Eastern noon, he had sighed for the pasture lands and the springs, so life seemed but a dry and weary waste until his soul was satisfied with the sight of God. It is a parable of the life, not of the psalmist only, but of the world; it is a picture of God's education of our race. Just as He did not teach our forefathers the arts of life — the use of iron and of fire — by an immediate inspiration, but let them find them out by slow and gradual processes, as the need of them was felt; just as He has not put intellectual truths into our minds at our birth, but lets us work them out as the satisfaction of a felt desire, so it is with religion. He does not all at once satisfy our mouths with good things. He teaches us through the discipline of thirst and want. He lets each age tread its own path, work out its own problems, cope with its own difficulties, and be brought to Him at last by the constraining force of an unsatisfied desire. I might show that the parable is true of many ages, but I will take only two — the first ages of Christianity and our own. If we look at the first ages of our faith we see that it did not all at once convince men of its truth, as the sun that rose this morning told all who had eyes to see that a light was shining. Men came to it by many paths, and the greatest of all those paths led them through the splendid scenery of philosophy; for it was an age of culture; education was general in almost all the cities of the Roman Empire, and the basis of education was philosophy. Men were as familiar with some of the technical terms of metaphysics as they are now with some of the technical terms of chemistry or of physiology. To the better sort of men at the time, philosophy was a passion; it absorbed all the other interests of life. They not only lived for their beliefs, but were sometimes ready to die for them. And they were beliefs for which a man might be content to die. I should be the last to attempt to disparage the work which philosophy then actually accomplished; but it was no substitute for religion. It failed, and that on so large a scale, and among so many types of character, that the experiment need never be tried again; there was the demonstration for all time that the soul had a thirst which philosophy could not satisfy; it was the need of God, of a God whom men could love, of a God err whom they could lean, of a God to whom they could cry out in their despair, and their failure, and their sin: "My soul longeth for Thee." Side by side with philosophy was superstition. There were fantastic forms of worship, new divinities, and new modes of approaching them; but all these were various expressions of one overpowering thirst; and in the discipline of God the thirst was for a long time unsatisfied. It was not until all other waters had been found to be bitter that the masses of educated men came to drink of that living water which the Christian faith supplied — the water of the knowledge of God in Christ, which is, in the believer's soul, "a well of water springing up unto ever-lashing life." That was one fulfilment of the parable. It is being fulfilled again before our eyes in our own time; we, too, are passing through another kind of scenery, a scenery so new and vast that we must be ready, as I doubt not that God is ready, to forgive those who, in their wonder at the newness and vastness of it all, have come to think that this at last is a satisfaction for the soul, and that in this crown of all the ages we have found in nature a substitute for God. Alike from the mountain-tops and the ravines and the far-off stare and from the depths of the deep seas, there shine out splendours upon splendours of new knowledge, and new possibilities of knowledge, which seem to lift us into a higher sphere of living than that which to our forefathers was possible. It is splendid scenery — the world, has never seen its like — but, splendid as it is, there are needs, the deepest needs, of the soul which it does not, which it cannot, satisfy. In time there comes to all men the sense of thirst. There are few who rise at all times, there are none who rise uniformly at all times, to the heroic height of doing good for goodness' sake, and of furthering justice for justice's sake. The baffled efforts of the struggle for righteousness, the defects of truth, the relapse from self-control, make men weary before the day is spent; and across the evening of life, if not across its morning, there rises the sharp and sudden cry, a thirst which God alone can satisfy. And, on the other hand, in the rebound from the superabundant talk about religion which characterizes our age, from the battles of the Churches and. the unsubstantial theories which claim the place of Divine verities, there are those who substitute for the whole of religion that part of it which consists, in active philanthropy. For this, again, I have no word but that of praise. Without this religion can hardly be said to exist, but it is not religion; for though religion must move about the world with the busy feet of an angel of benevolence, benevolence does net of itself satisfy the soul's thirst for God. The soul comes back hungry from its errands of mercy — it needs a Diviner motive and a Diviner satisfaction. The beginning of it is neither the love of righteousness nor the practice of benevolence, but the thirst for God. Where that thirst exists there is religion; where that thirst is absent, there, in spite of all that a man may profess, religion is absent also. And that thirst is satisfied. I will speak for a moment of its satisfaction not in society at large, but in the individual soul. The satisfaction is as real as the need, and He has placed it within our own power. To the simpleminded psalmist, living as he did before the age of philosophy — I had almost said before the age of theology — the satisfaction was to appear before the visible symbol of God's presence at Jerusalem. That, too, brethren, is part of the parable. It is true for all time. The soul's satisfaction is to realize the presence of God. The other name for it is faith. It is the seeing of Him who is invisible.

(Edwin Hatch, D. D.)

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.

The Greatest Things of the Soul
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