I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for your commandments.…
These words may be considered as expressing the very earnest longing of the psalmist for greater acquaintance with God in spiritual things; and then, in saying, "I opened my mouth, and panted," he merely asserts the vehemence of his desire. Or you may separate the clauses: you may regard the first as the utterance of a man utterly dissatisfied with the earth and earthly things, and the second as the expression of a consciousness that God, and God only, could meet the longings of his soul. "I opened my mouth, and panted. Out of breath with chasing shadows, and hunting after baubles, I sit down exhausted, as far off as ever from the happiness which has been earnestly but fruitlessly sought. Whither, then, shall I turn? Thy commandments, O Lord, and these alone, can satisfy the desires of an immortal being like myself; and on these, therefore, henceforward shall my longings be turned." We shall regard the passage under this latter point of view.
I. THE INSUFFICIENCY OF CREATED THINGS TO SUPPLY THE WANTS OF THE SOUL. Let the soul be set to the survey of any created good, and however enamoured of that good, its decision will be that its limits are discernible; and in making this decision its own capacities, unconsciously, it may be, but not the less surely, will enlarge so as to be greater than the good, and thus make hopeless the attempt at filling them therewith. The soul, in fact, grows with what it receives; and unless the horizon of a good be like the natural horizon, which recedes as fast as you approach, the soul will quickly pass the boundary line, and present again a void which craves to be filled. But this can be affirmed of no good save the Almighty Himself. God is that alone perfection of which I can see no end; with all others, the higher I ascend the more conscious am I that the horizon has a shore, however distant, and with the greater elasticity does my spirit spread itself, so as to embrace the expanse of wonders; but with God, the loftier my point of survey, the firmer my persuasion that the ocean is without a shore.
II. THE POWER THERE IS IN GOD'S COMMANDMENTS OF FILLING OUR CAPACITY FOR ENJOYMENT. We suppose that, had it been left with ourselves to draw the comparison, we should not have represented this man, who was exhausted by a fruitless search after happiness, as longing after the commandments of God. We should have been inclined to fix on the favour of God, or on the joys which He communicates to His people, rather than, with David in our text, on His commandments, as affording that material of satisfaction which is so vainly sought in any earthly good. But let the matter be carefully examined, and we shall find that it is strictly for the commandment that the wearied soul ought to long. The whole law of God is summed up in one commandment, the commandment of love; but in what does man's happiness lie, if not in obedience to this commandment? We deny the possibility of satisfaction of soul, so long as there is nothing of reunion with God. The human soul has been torn away from God, and all that restlessness which it manifests, until again linked into friendship, is an irrepressible evidence of the disruption. In its ceaseless but unavailing endeavours to find a resting-place in finite good, there is an ever-powerful testimony that it has fatally wandered from its home; its fruitless searchings after happiness in the creature are the melancholy evidences of alienation from the Creator. Indeed, fraught as the soul is with the consciousness of immortality — a consciousness which, however for awhile overborne by the tumult of passion, starts up frequently in every man, and forces itself on his attention, it is not possible that there should be aught but disquietude, so long as there is no sense of being at peace with the Almighty, And thus, even if you consider not the peculiar nature of God's commandments, there would be enough in the fact that they are God's commandments, and therefore to be obeyed, if we would not be everlastingly and unutterably wretched, to certify us that in God's commandments must happiness be sought, and that therefore those commandments must be longed for by any one who has exhausted himself in a search after good. But we must go beyond this. We must give heed to the fact that the commandments are summed up in love. Think of a man who knew nothing of envy, who was altogether free from jealousy, nay, who had not only purged himself from these corroding passions, but who had so identified the interests of others with his own, that he felt what befell them as befalling himself; and this would be the man who would obey the command, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." And can you imagine a happier individual? Can you ever take the measure of his happiness? But the love of man is not all which the commandments require; they require love of God; and this makes them adequate to our every capacity; for it is certain, first of all, that ere I can love God I must know myself reconciled to God. In loving God we throw from us the burden which, if unmoved, must press us down everlastingly into the depths of wretchedness; and we take hold of immortality, as purchased for us. and prepared, and reserved. We turn this earth, from a scene of jarring passions and petty rivalries, into one broad stage upon which to labour for the extension of the kingdom of Christ. We concentrate our affections on objects whose contemplation enlarges the soul, whilst their boundaries are unapproached by the mightiest expansion. If I love God I shall be continually travelling on His perfections, and continually discerning that I am as far off as ever from their limits. I shall be continually stretching the soul, that it may enclose what is Divine, and continually finding that what is Divine is too vast to be thus circumscribed. And therefore the command that I love God, oh l it is a command that I develop the immortality of the soul; that I employ my desires till they are as broad as my duration; that I prove myself too capacious for creation. Earth, and moon, and sun, and stars! He who made you all can alone occupy that spirit which, with this narrow framework of flesh as its centre, spreads its circumference wheresoever ye travel in your glorious wanderings. And if such be God's commandments, we may well set these commandments in contrast with every good from which those who are yet strangers to God would gather their happiness; and I can no longer wonder that a man worn out by the pursuit of earthly things, so that he exclaimed, "I opened my mouth, and punted," should turn to the law of the Most High as alone adequate to his capacities, and break into the utterance, "I longed for Thy commandments, O Lord."
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments.