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I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments.—Ver. 131.
HERE is the use that the Psalmist maketh of the former commendation of the word; it is wonderful and mysterious, clear and perspicuous; now he declareth his great affection to it. These words were used by Nazianzen when his father committed to him the care of the church of Nazianzum; he beginneth his speech with it, Orat. viii., as being a word of more than ordinary comfort and grace and direction. David was in a fainting condition through the passionateness of his desire, ‘I longed;’ and that longing caused a languor, as all strong desires do. His affection wrought upon his body, or else affected his soul, as bodily refreshments desired and wanted do the body, ‘I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments.’ In the words there are—
1. The vehemency of his passion, I opened my mouth, and panted.
2. The reason or cause of it, for I longed for thy commandments.
First, ‘I opened my mouth, and panted;’ a metaphor taken from men scorched and sweltered with heat, or from those that have run themselves out of breath in following after the thing which they would overtake. The former metaphor expressed the vehemency of his love, the other the earnestness of his pursuit; he was like a man gasping for breath and sucking in the cool air. Judea was a hot country, and therefore such expressions are frequent. The like expressions, that come somewhat near it, are those: 2 Cor. vi. 11, ‘O ye Corinthians, our mouth is opened to you, our heart is enlarged;’ when he did vehemently desire their profit. And Job saith, ‘They waited for my speech as the rain; they opened their mouth wide, as for the latter rain,’ Job xxix. 22. A vehement, passionate desire affects the mind as an insatiate thirst the body. Thus will they be affected that are sensible of the wonders of the law, and enlightened by it. The reason of this passion: ‘I longed,’ noteth a high degree of desire. What did he long for? God’s commandments; that is, the saving knowledge of the doctrine of salvation, or to find the use, benefit, light, comfort, and power of the word of God.
Doct. That God’s children have strong and vehement affections and desires after the comfort and benefit of the word of God.
Here is—(1.) Opening the mouth; and (2.) Panting, as for fresh air; and (3.) Longing for the commandments. All three expressions imply an intensiveness of affection. Surely David prized holiness at a greater rate than we do, or else he would not use expressions so strange to us! See the like, Ps. cxix. 20, ‘My soul breaketh for the longing it hath unto thy judgments at all times.’ Desire is the stretching forth of the soul to the thing desired. Now his soul did so stretch towards these spiritual comforts, that it did even break and crack again in the stretching. So Ps. xlii. 1, ‘As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.’ Harts are thirsty creatures, especially when chased, or having eaten serpents.
1. The soul never worketh better than in the strength of some eminent affection. In all things that we take in hand we do but so-so, act but chilly and weakly, while we have a listless and remiss will; but when the force of affection is upon us, the soul is carried on strongly, either in abomination or prosecution; for affections are the forcible and vigorous motions of the will. Now the soul never doth well but under such an affection. Were it not for affections, our nature would be sluggish and idle; as Plutarch, ὥσπερ κυβερνή́της πνεύματος ἐκλίποντος, like a pilot at sea without a wind. The ship moveth slowly when there are no winds stirring to fill the sails; or like a chariot without wheels or horses, or a bird when her wings are clipped. They spur us on to what we affect. Men are heavy and lazy because they have no affection: Exod. xxxvi. 2, ‘And Moses called Bezaleel and Aholiab and every wise-hearted man, in whose heart the Lord had put wisdom, even every one whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it.’ Man findeth a force within himself, his heart maketh him willing; the stronger the affections, the better the man acteth, with greater strength and vivacity; for they are the vigorous motions of the will.
[2.] Of all affections, desires are most earnest and vehement, for they are the vigorous bent of the heart to that which is good, the motion and endeavour of the soul after it. As to good, the will chooseth it, and the heart affects a union with it, or desires to obtain it. This affection of union, simply considered, is love, which is an inclination of the soul to good, it presseth the heart to it; but as it is an absent good, it is desire, which exciteth to pursue it earnestly. Desire doth all that is done in the world, for it lifteth up the soul to action, that we may possess those things that we desire; I desire it, and therefore I labour for it. Therefore the main thing that God craveth is the desire: Prov. xxiii. 26, ‘My son, give me thy heart,’ which is the soul of desires; and therefore the people of God plead their sincerity: Isa. xxvi. 8, 9, ‘The desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee; with my soul have I desired thee in the night, yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early.’ Get but a desire to good things, to God, to his word, and it will be a great help to you in spiritual things: Prov. xi. 23, ‘The, desire of the righteous is only good.’ It is well when the soul is set right; this is a strong, active, commanding faculty.
3. Of all desires, those which carry us out to holy things should bear sway, and be the greatest; for affections are not rationally exercised unless they bear proportion to the objects they are conversant about. Now the word and things contained therein are the most noble objects, and so most suitable for our desires, if we would act ration ally. That appears upon these accounts:—
[1.] Spiritual things are more noble; partly because they concern the soul, whereas carnal things concern only the outward man. Our liveliest affections should be exercised about the weightiest things. Can we desire riches and honours and pleasures, which only concern the body, and shall we not desire comforts and graces, which are necessary for the soul? It is irrational, for by this means we grow brutish and sensual. If our appetite desire only food and good pastures, and propagation of our kind, these desires soon exceed, and grow tempestuous and hurtful to the soul: Rom. xiii. 14, ‘Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.’ There is a lawful care for the body, but this desire should not be chief, because the body is not the chief part of a man: Mat. vi. 33, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and the righteousness thereof, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ The ennobling of the soul with grace, the settling of our conscience, the assuring of our everlasting estate, these things deserve our chiefest care. Partly because these things are only useful to us in our passage, and so for a time; they are not useful to us in our home, and so for ever: Deut. xxiii. 24, ‘When thou comest into thy neighbour’s vineyard, thou mayest eat grapes thy fill at thine own pleasure; but thou shalt not put any in thy vessel.’ We have these things for our use when here, but we carry nothing with us when we go hence. They who did occasionally pass through their neighbour’s vineyard, might take for their necessity, but they must carry none home; and therefore as to these things all our acts must be non-acts: 1 Cor. vii. 30, 31, ‘Rejoice as if we rejoiced not,’ desire as if we desired not. Affections here need a great deal of guiding, and a great deal of curbing, lest we sin in these less noble things; but in spiritual, heavenly things we can never do enough.
[2.] Common and ordinary affection will not become God, or any thing that cometh from God, or concerneth our enjoyment of him, or our communion with him. Surely ‘we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our might, and with all our souls,’ Deut. vi. 5. And as we are to love God, so in proportion his word, which is the means to enjoy him; therefore here we should stretch our desire to the utmost.
[3.] An earnest bent will only do us good, and make us hold out in the pursuit of heavenly wisdom. It doth us good for the present., as it fits us to improve the word, as an appetite to our food. To eat with a stomach maketh way for digestion: 1 Peter ii. 2, ‘As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.’ And it is zeal will only bear us out. Besides the difficulties and oppositions from without, our hearts are full of contrary qualities and desires, ‘The flesh lusteth against the spirit;’ so that nothing but a strong affection is for our turn. The greatest vehemency is but enough to bear us up in the prosecution of what is good; a weak desire will be soon chilled. Herod had some good desire; so have many, but not strong desires. He that affects grace, should affect nothing so much as grace. A carnal man may be affected with what is good, but there is something that he affects more, vanities, profits, pleasures. Well, then, spiritual desires should be drawn out to the utmost, because the object is more noble. These desires cannot degenerate, nor this affection be corrupted, and a common and ordinary affection doth not become these things. Nothing else will serve the turn.
[4.] Wherever these desires bear sway it will be sensibly discovered by the effects, both to ourselves and others. A man may have a little joy, or a little grief, or a little anger, and nobody see it; but none of these affections can be in any strength and vigour but we shall feel it and others will observe it; for strong affections cannot be hid. Can a man carry fire in his bosom and hide it? So there will be some expression of what thy heart affects. Can a man be under terrors, and not show it in his face? A concealed affection is no affection. Men may hide their hatred, but cannot hide their love: Prov. xxvii. 5, ‘Open rebuke is better than secret love.’ These things tie body and soul together, move the spirits. So desire will show itself, yea, spiritual desire. What desire doth in other things, it will do in this. If there be longing, there will be fainting, gaping, breathing; for strong desires are hasty and impatient of satisfaction. Ahab’s eager desire of Naboth’s vineyard cast him upon his bed. The spouse was sick of love: Cant. v. 8, ‘I charge ye, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him that I am sick of love.’ What! desire, and nobody see it? What! desire, and you never feel such a strong urging affection? Surely there will be secret, deep, and frequent sighs, there will be a striving with God in prayer, and constant attendance upon God. Such an active affection cannot be hid. Most men desire so little, it cannot be known whether it be desire or no.
[5.] God’s children have these desires, because they see more in the word than others do or can do. Spiritual discerning is a help to spiritual affections. They whose eyes are anointed with spiritual eyesalve see wonders in the law, and so are wondrously affected with them. But why should God’s children see more?
(1.) They look through the spectacles of faith, they believe the commands to be the commands of the great God, the promises to be the promises of God, and therefore as good as performance; and so what to others seem fancies and fine dreams, to them are the chiefest realities: Heb. xi. 13, ‘These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them.’ Who would, having the promises, be so strangely transported, but they that are strongly persuaded? Faith, that looketh upon the things promised as sure and near, maketh them more active and lively. They that have not faith, or do not exercise faith, have but cold affections; but they who believe these wonderful felicities which the word of God speaketh of, long to enjoy what they are sure is true.
(2.) They look into it with an eye of love, and love sets a price on things: they see more of the loveliness of spiritual things than others do. Men’s affections are according to the constitution of their souls, or the end they propound to themselves. They that are carnally disposed know all things after the flesh, and value them by the interests of the flesh, as that is gratified; and they that are spiritually disposed are affected accordingly as men’s genius lieth. And that is the reason why eminent grace hath strong affections, which carnal men are not competent judges of. It seemeth improbable to them that a man should have such fervent desires of holiness, and be able to speak thus to God, ‘I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments.’ The constitution of their souls is quite otherwise, and their hearts hang world-ward; they have not such a sense of their duty, and do not make it their business to please God; and so, having no deep sense and conscience of their duty, they do not see such a need of the word as their guide and help. They have no love to these things, therefore no passionate desire; for this is the order—the will chooseth, love desireth the union, desire presseth to endeavours after it. But now a godly man, that maketh it his business to please God, the principal desire and choice of his will is to be what God would have him to be, and to do what God would have him to do.
(3.) Because they have experience. Two things quicken our affection to anything that is good, viz., the knowledge of the worth and use of things, and our want of them. And the children of God know both of these by experience, in the course of that life wherein they are engaged; and nothing is known so intimately and pressingly as what is known by experience. By experience they see the want of the word of God, and its comforts and helps; not only when God first touched their hearts with care of saving their souls, and they were humble, and parched with a sense of sin and wrath; all things were then unsavoury, as the white of an egg; then they longed, they panted for one comfortable word from God, one passage of scripture to give them ease; and the word becometh as necessary as meat to the hungry, and drink to the thirsty, and cool air to the weary: Mat. xi. 28, ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and ye shall find rest to your souls.’ But still they are sensible of their spiritual necessities, so as they cannot breathe without it, nor thrive without it, they find such a necessity of it. It is the food of their souls, the seed and principle of their being, the rule of their lives, the means of their growth, the charter of their hopes, their defence and strength in temptations and assaults. Christ himself guarded himself with the word when he was assaulted. Now, being practically convinced of this, they must needs have vehement longings after it; and after a more full understanding of it, they find by experience that the soul is apt to faint as well as the body: Heb. xii. 3, ‘Lest ye be weary, and faint in your minds;’ and that in all these things nothing relieveth them but the comfort and direction God giveth them in his word.
[6.] The more godly any are, the more they feel these strong affections. All that have life, their pulses do not beat alike strongly; some are weak, others more robust. So it is in grace; some have larger souls than others, and so, as they are more in action for God, they must have more supplies, and a greater measure of spirit and grace; these long and pant. In others there is a greater sluggishness and narrowness of mind, and they rest satisfied with what they have, their spiritual affections are not so raised; and therefore every one that is godly is not acquainted with this panting and breathing and longing; they have so much appetite as is necessary to maintain the new creature, but not these enlarged desires. I confess you are to judge by your willingness rather than the passionate stirrings of your affections. It is the heart which God requireth, and if he hath the will he hath the heart. But yet affectionate workings of the soul towards spiritual and heavenly things are very sweet, and such as all Christians should strive for, but not the best marks by which to judge of our estate. There may be a solid and sincere intention and choice, when there is little stirring perceived in the affections. If the will be fixedly set for God, the man is upright. Yet you are to endeavour to raise your affections to that height which is suitable to the excellency of the object; especially when it is movingly represented to us, our desires should be upon the wing. It is a duty; as far as we can reach it, we should. The more the soul is refined from the dregs of carnal longings and worldly lusts, the more are they enlarged towards God; and as their passionate desires of earthly things are abated, so their spiritual desires are enlarged. David saith, Ps. cxix. 36, ‘Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.’ And the apostle, Col. iii. 2, ‘Set your affections on things above, and not on things on earth.’ The more the heart is given to the one, the more it is taken off from the other. Riches, honours, and pleasures, as these are loved, they hinder this noble working of the soul, this breaking, longing, panting for better things. Worldly things have a great ad vantage over our affections, because they are sensible and near us, and our knowledge of them is clear, and by the senses obtrude and thrust themselves upon the soul. Therefore use them with a guard and restraint.
[7.] Though this desire should always continue in some degree, yet there are some seasons when it is more vehement, and more notably stirred and raised. In some degree it should always continue, for our necessities and work are ever the same; and if it be only a qualm or fit, it is not right: Ps. cxix. 20, ‘My soul breaketh for the longing it hath unto thy judgments at all times.’ Appetite followeth life; but at special times it is more notably raised, as when we are to meet with God in solemn duties; it is whetted when disappointed, and stirred upon some restraint or delay, when we meet not with what we expected, that light and comfort and strength that we looked for, but are kept off from satisfaction. When some deep distress makes spiritual comforts more seasonable, or in some great affair or temptation, we need more than ordinary strength, or in some doubt we need light and direction; in all these cases, spiritual desire is more stirring, and a strong affection is kindled in us. David panted as an hart: Ps. xlii. 1, ‘As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.’ It was when he was in some distress. So Ps. lxiii. 1, ‘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.’ Oh! the sighs and groans that are sent up at such a time! Troubles will sharpen our appetite and rouse us out of security. We cannot always subsist under strong affections; they are very mutable, yet something of them should continue.
Use 1. For reproof.
1. Many are acquainted with the passionateness of sin, but know little of the passionateness of spiritual desire: 1 Thes. iv. 5, μὴ ἐν πάθει ἐπιθυμίας, ‘not in the lust of concupiscence.’ Some think it should rather be rendered thus, Not in the passion of lust. Many times lust groweth to violence, men neigh like fed horses after their neighbours’ wives; they feel an ardency and a burning heat in their evil passions and lusts, but none of this gasping and panting for spiritual refreshings and the comforts of the soul. They are acquainted with passionate wrath and fury, passionate envy and spitefulness, passionate lust and filthy desires, passionate covetousness, as Ahab after Naboth’s vineyard; the boilings of sin they know, but were never acquainted with these gaspings after grace, as Amnon lusted for Tamar: Rom. i. 27, ‘They burned in lust one towards another.’ When any sin groweth so headstrong as to admit of no restraint, but men are wedded to their own inclination, that is the passionateness of sin.
2. Some that have affectionate desires for worldly things, and their souls are pained and grieved, and are sick within them if they have them not. These differ from the former, for there the object was sinful, but here the object is lawful, but the desire is irregular; they are sick of pleasures, their hearts run on them, and they cannot refrain: ‘As the fool’s heart is in the house of mirth,’ Eccles. vii. 4. All their longings are for balls and dancings and plays and merry meetings; these are suitable entertainments to the hearts of fools, vain and sottish epicures, that know no higher delights than the tickling of the senses; their love runneth that way, and their hearts are wholly estranged from God. So some sick of riches and wealth, they gape and gasp for them with an impatient longing: 1 Tim. vi. 9, ‘They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, that drown men in destruction and perdition.’ The more they have, the more they covet, as the laying on of more fuel increaseth the flame; they are impatient, making haste to be rich, run themselves, yea, their consciences, out of breath, to overtake the prey. The world is their element, out of which they cannot live, but spend their time, wit, strength of their souls upon it. They are sick for honour, credit, esteem; as Mordecai’s stiff knee cast Haman upon his bed: Esther iii. 5, ‘And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not the knee, nor gave him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath;’ chap. vi. 12, ‘Mordecai came again to the king’s gate, but Haman hasted to his house mourning, and having his head covered. How do men tire their spirits, waste their strength, to compass honour and esteem in the world! and if they find it not, how are they troubled! Ambition is a restless thing; how doth Absalom court the people, sick for rule and government!
3. It reproveth them that have only a cold approbation, but no earnest affection to the things of God. Oh, how this instance should shame us that we have no more affection! David speaketh of longing and panting; we thirst not, we pant not; their fervency reproveth our lukewarmness, we are indifferent whether we have this light, comfort, and grace, yea or no. God’s children thirst for it as dry ground for rain. We have some loose and straggling thoughts about holy things, or weak and ineffectual glances of device, some lukewarm motions; but for these strong affections, admire them we may, feel them we do not. Wicked men may have slight apprehensions of spiritual things, which may produce some slight desires and wishes, which yet are so feeble and weak that every carnal desire overcometh them.
Use 2. Information why the people of God press through so many difficulties to enjoy his word. They are urged and pricked on by a strong desire; they would fain enjoy more of God, and therefore press after the means, where it is most clearly and powerfully revealed: John xi. 12, ‘From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.’ Where the gates of heaven stand open they will break through hindrances to get in.
Use 3. It should quicken our dulness, and exhort us to get this affection. If the heart were as it should be, a little bidding would serve the turn.
1. These good desires discover a good frame, for a man is as his desires are. Such motions, when they are in their strength and liveliness, are signs of heroical grace, when your hearts are sick of love; yea, in a more temperate degree, where there are strong and prevailing desires, they show truth of grace, where there is such an affection as is industrious and unwearied, and keepeth us hard at work: Acts xxvi. 7, ‘Unto which promise the twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come.’ Such an affection as is troubled when we are interrupted in our main design of bringing the heart into complete subjection to God, or being capable of the fruition of him: Prov. xiii. 12, ‘Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, but when the desire cometh it is a tree of life.’ If you come for grace, and are troubled and grieved when you are interrupted, if you are refreshed when you have tasted anything of God’s graciousness, any increase of light and grace is as welcome to you as bodily refreshment to a weary, panting traveller, or water to one that is in a great thirst; this is that the heart mindeth most, studieth most, remembereth most, that you never have enough of it, and are longing for more; if there be such an affection, it is a good sign, for sensitive stirring is not so great an evidence as a settled constitution of spirit.
2. These holy desires, as they have something of burthen, so some thing of pleasure in them. Though the absence of the thing desired be a trouble, yet the exercise of holy desire is a pleasure to us, because it is an act of love; the more our hearts are enlarged in them, the greater it is, even before satisfaction. While we are hungering and thirsting we are blessed. It is a blessed thing to be a desirer: Mat. v. 6, ‘Blessed are those that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.’
3. This is a desire which God will satisfy: Ps. lxxxi. 10, ‘Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it;’ Isa. xliv. 3, ‘I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground.’ This insatiate thirst of grace and comfort shall be satisfied: John vii. 37, 38, ‘In the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture saith, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’ The soul is prepared by it for fruition: Isa. lv. 1, ‘Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.’
If we would get it—(1.) We must get a new heart, which is the soul of these desires, and is God’s promised gift in the covenant: Ezek. xxxvi. 26, ‘A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.’ (2.) Mortify and mode rate your affections to the world and worldly things, and meddle sparingly with the comforts thereof; otherwise your hearts will be apt immoderately to leak out after them, to the interruption of the spiritual life.
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