When the "wonderful" character of God's "testimonies" is apprehended; and when their entrance has given light to the soul; something far beyond ordinary affection and desire is excited. A thirsty man—burning with inward heat on a sultry day, opening his mouth, and panting for some alleviation of his thirst—is a fine image of the child of God intensely longing for the attainment of his object. Or, if we suppose before us the man nearly exhausted by the heat of his race, and opening his mouth, and panting to take in fresh breath to renew his course; so would the believer "rejoice," like the sun, to "run his" heavenward "race." He cannot satisfy himself in his desires. The motions of his soul to his God are his life and his joy. It is a spring of perpetual motion beating within—perpetual, because natural—not a rapture, but a habit—a principle, having indeed its faintings, and its sickness, but still returning to its original spring of life and vigor. It seems as if the soul could never draw in enough of the influences of the spiritual life. Its longings are insatiable—as if the heart would "break with" the overpowering strength of its own desires; until at length, wearied with the conflict, the believer opens his mouth, and pants to fetch in a fresh supply of invigorating grace. He enjoys "a little reviving" in his Lord's commandments; enjoying the Lord Himself as his well-spring of refreshment.
Hear the man of God elsewhere giving, or rather attempting to give, expression to his pantings, "As the deer pants after the water-brooks, so pants my soul after You, O God. My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where no water is. I stretch forth my hands unto You; my soul thirsts after You as a thirsty land." Thus did Job open his mouth, and pant. "O that I knew where I might find Him! that I might come even to His seat!" And the church—pouring out her heart before the Lord, "With my soul have I desired You in the night; yes, with my spirit within me will I seek You early." St. Paul also describes the same intenseness of his own desire, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." But amid all these examples, and infinitely beyond them all—behold the ardor of our blessed Master in his work. Such was the panting of His heavenly desire, that, when "wearied with his journey," and "sitting at Jacob's well," He forgot even His natural want for His thirsty frame, in the joy of the conversion of a lost sinner to Himself.
And thus must our affections be fully engaged. The soul must be kept open to heavenly influence; so that, when the Lord touches us with conviction, inclines our hearts to Himself, and constrains us to His service, we may be ready to "exercise ourselves unto godliness," in receiving, cherishing, and improving the heavenly longing after His commandments; and may open our mouths, and pant for more advanced progress in them. We look not so much to the quantity, as to the activity of faith; always at work, stirring up a holy fire within, for the utmost stretch of human attainment: like men of large projects and high determinations, still aspiring to know more of God, both in the enjoyment of His love, and in conformity to His will. And shall we be ashamed of these feelings? Shall we not rather be deeply humbled, that we know so little of them—encouraged, if we have any springing of them—alarmed, if we be utterly destitute of their influence? Shall we not be opening our mouth, and panting, when any new path of service is opened before us? For if we are content to be strangers to this longing after God—this readiness for duty; what else can be expected, but "sliding back from the Lord by a perpetual backsliding?" Growing in sin, declining in love, and gradually relinquishing the habit of prayer, we shall shortly find little attaching to us but the empty name—Christianity without Christ. The world will despise these exercises as enthusiasm, the distemper of a misguided imagination. But is it—can it be—otherwise than a "reasonable service" as well as a bounden obligation, to give up our whole desires to Him, who is alone worthy of them? There can be no evidence of their sincerity, unless they are supreme.
But let union with Christ, and the life flowing from Him, be the constant spring of this holy ardor. Thus shall I enjoy a more habitual influence of His love—that all-constraining principle, which overcomes all my complaints of coldness and deadness of heart, and fills me with pantings and longing in His service. But am I ready to shrink from this elevated standard? If my heart is drawing back, let me force it on. Let me lay my command, or rather God's command, upon it. Let conscience do its office, until my heart is brought into actual and close contact with this touchstone of my spiritual prosperity. What then—let me ask myself—is the pulse of my desires after spiritual things? What exercises of grace do I find in them? What improvement of grace do I derive from them? Do I pant, thirst, long, after the enjoyment of heavenly pleasure? Do I mourn over, and conflict with, that indolence and indifference, which so often hinders my race? Oh! let me be found a frequent suppliant at the throne of grace; bewailing my dullness, yet "stirring up" my faith "to lay hold on" my God; seeking for larger views of the Gospel, a warmer experience of its promises, a more intense appetite for its enjoyments, and a more devoted attachment to its service. Surely such desires will issue in the confidence of faith. "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness."
"I opened my mouth, and panted." An enlarged desire is one of the first fruits of an understanding given us of the Lord. So animated was the Psalmist's desire, that he looked into the animal world to find a picture of it. Men restrain their expressions; but in the animal world all is natural and therefore truthful and forceful; and therefore, being filled with an intense longing, holy David was not ashamed to describe it by a most expressive, natural, and yet singular symbol. Like a stag that has been hunted in the chase, and is hard pressed, and therefore pants for breath, so did the Psalmist pant for the entrance of God's word into his soul. Nothing else could content him. All that the world could yield him left him still panting with open mouth. His soul panted for God, for the living God, and for grace to walk with him in the way of holiness.
"For I longed for your commandments." Longed to know them, longed to obey them, longed to be conformed to their spirit, longed to teach them to others. He was a servant of God, and his industrious mind longed to receive orders; he was a learner in the school of grace, and his eager spirit longed to be taught of the Lord. Oh for more of this eager hungering, thirsting, pining, panting!