My soul longs, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Psalm 42:2. "In the New Testament the name 'living God' is found in St. Matthew's and St. John's Gospels, in the speech of Paul and Barnabas in the Acts (Acts 14:14), in several of St. Paul's Epistles, four times in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and once in the Revelation." It is difficult to treat this subject as a universal experience, because our hearts are so full of the risen and living Christ, God manifest in the flesh, God manifest in the spirit. He is God, the living God, ever with us, as Helper, Inspirer, Comforter, and Sanctifier; but we may helpfully try to take the position of a "son of Korah," and begin by considering what the "living God" was to him.
I. GOD THOUGHT OF IN MAN'S MEDITATIONS. Why did it not suffice this writer to read his Bible, study and think about God, in the land beyond the Jordan? A man can have feast times, times of spiritual refreshing, in the privacy of his home, and in the midst of God's handiwork in nature. And every man ought to have such thoughts of God; nourish and cherish them. But here is the fact of human experience - God thought has never wholly sufficed and satisfied any human being yet, because man is a composite being. He is not all thought. He has a body. And this very thinking is dependent on the help that symbols - relative to the body - can bring. Devotees may strive to become all thought. They do not thus transcend human nature, they degrade it. We must have more concerning our God than mere thinking about him; and therefore this Korahite longs for his revealed Presence in the temple.
II. GOD REALIZED THROUGH APPOINTED SYMBOLS. Pious souls have always recognized a sense in which God is specially present in his sanctuaries, and in his sacraments. God taught this to all the ages by the manifestation of his Presence in Jewish tabernacle and temple, by the brooding cloud and the Shechinah light. What the psalmist dwells on is, that he used to realize God's nearness when he looked on his dwelling place, shared in his worship, and heard his priests. Urge that only at spiritual peril can men neglect the symbols of the presence and working of the living God.
III. GOD FELT IN MAN'S HEART AND LIFE. This is the full realization of God as the Living One, living and working in us. Show this is an advance on sentiment, or mere thought of God, and on formalism, or mere outward worship of God. It is God in us, the inspiration of all good. It is "Christ our Life." - R.T.
I. THE DESIRE OF HEART AND FLESH — THE LIVING GOD. Sibbes well observes that the desires of the heart are the best proofs of saintship; and if a man wishes to know whether he is really a saint or no, he can very soon find out by putting his finger upon the pulse of his desires, for those are things that never can be counterfeit. You may counterfeit words; you may counterfeit actions; but you cannot counterfeit desires.
My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
Homilist.The words "soul, heart, flesh," are here used to represent the whole man, human nature in its entirety; and this human nature is here longing, craving, hungering, crying out for the "living God,' nothing less. This means —
I. That NOTHING LESS WILL SATISFY HUMANITY. Not a whole universe, not a million pantheons of dead gods; it is the "living God."
II. That humanity REQUIRES NO LOGIC TO PROVE THAT THERE IS A GOD. So inwrought into man is the belief of His existence, that the whole being cries out for Him.
III. That ANTI-THEISM IS ANTI-HUMANITY. Anti-theism is a lie to our common nature.
1. Every saint has within his breast that which is actually born of God, and therefore it cries out after its own Father.
2. Every believer has the Spirit of God dwelling within him, and if he has the Spirit of God dwelling within him, it is only natural that he should desire God.
3. The experience of earth often makes you long more for God. After you have discovered the hollowness, the disappointing nature of the world.
II. THE INTENSITY OF THIS DESIRE.
1. It is an intensity that drowns all other desires "Crieth out for God." I passed a little child the other day being led by the hand by a kind-faced policeman; and as the little thing walked by his side, I could hear it amidst its sobs, continually crying, "Father! father! father! father!" Yes, in this great city-full of people, the only face the child waned to see was the face of its father. He knew he had lost a father's hand, for he had wandered from a father's side, and he wanted father back again. "My heart and my flesh crieth out for God." Just as a lost child cares not for a million faces it may meet along the road — it wants to look at its father's face — so the true born child of God can rest satisfied with nothing short of a sight of his God. "My heart and my flesh crieth out for God."
2. It is an intensity of desire that creates pain. The language of our text is the language of a soul which can bear its anguish no longer in silence. It is a cry extorted by inward pangs.
(A. G. Brown.)
1. The first step in this answer to the deepest want of human nature is the conviction that God is — that God lives. Heart and flesh cry; where is the response? Joyful is the moment in the soul's experience when the reality of God's being comes over us with its full power. The first need of the soul is to feel that God is real — the great reality and essence of all things. And if sin had not shut up and darkened the windows of our being, this gracious light would flow in on every side.
2. Then we are to feel that He is Present and Living. The belief of not a few seems to be in a past God, a deceased, departed Deity, and the world as a huge skeleton out of which all the soul has gone, not an abode for the indwelling Power, but the ruins of His former stately palace. But He has not made the world and then retired from it. He is not an absentee proprietor. He is the present Creator, the living God, as on the world's first morning. He dyes the flower, and ripens the corn. Laws are but His uniform modes of working. Forces are but the heavings of the indwelling Almightiness. He is, and He is present. He overflows creation. He is all in all.
3. But the heart and flesh have another note in their cry, and it is for a Good Being, or, as our Saxon has it, God, that is, the Good, whom we may love. God, the Good, is in all systems, all beings, and in all working according to His own being, that is, for good." Father is His proper name. Nature, Providence, Jesus, all teach this comforting lesson. And When the heart in its hopes and affections, and the flesh in its griefs and pangs, cry, the response comes from every side, and is echoed and re-echoed in endless and harmonious sounds — God is good.
4. The want of the soul is not only for a good, but for a great God, whom we may adore. It admires greatness with an even earlier and intenser admiration than goodness. Our tastes change very much from youth onward. Things we once passionately admired cease to move us. The soul has got beyond them. It exhausts one thing after another. But there is one youthful sentiment that is never outgrown — that rises with our intellectual stature, and spreads with our moral expansion, and soars with our spiritual aspirations — and that is our faith in the Great God —
"And, as it hastens, every age
But makes its brightness more divine."
5. The nature of man has been so created as to seek after a Wise and Infinite Intelligence. We admire with huge respect the men even who have been able to pocket a little science, who can read a dozen languages, who are largely conversant with affairs, and know things as they are. A skilful invention is heralded from hemisphere to hemisphere. He who has read one of the characters in Nature's alphabet, or spelled out a few syllables or words in her mighty lore, is hailed with all the titles of glory. But no libraries, geniuses, scientific or literary associations, no fragments and crumbs that fall from the table of knowledge, can meet the unextinguishable thirst of man for the spiritual and the immortal. Let him not think to fill an infinite craving with anything less than the Infinite. But if I have at all rightly interpreted the significance of this cry, which is for ever ascending from the breast, and seeking after God, you may ask, How shall it be satisfied? I would not dogmatize, and say by any one way, but rather by all ways. It is more in the waiting, receiving, and teachable state of the soul, than it is by methods, cultures, churches, and dispensations. Seek, then, for the truth, and in the truth God will ever be coming, and entering in and taking possession of the soul, and driving out every darkness and weakness. Rest not short of God.
(A. A. Livermore.)
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.)
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