THE SPIRITUAL CHASE
“My soul followeth hard after Thee —Thy right hand upholdeth me.” [Psalm 63:8]
The first thing that the soul “followeth hard after” God to obtain is, RIGHTEOUSNESS.
The first teaching of the Spirit in the conscience is to convince us of our own unrighteousness—that we are sinners in the sight of a holy God; and to make us feel that unless we have a righteousness in which we can stand accepted before a pure and a holy God, we can never see Christ in glory. Now when a man begins to feel his lack of righteousness, when his sins and iniquities are opened up to him, and laid as a burden upon his conscience; when he knows that he has to do with a God who cannot be mocked, and whose justice cannot “clear the guilty,” he feels that he must have a righteousness which at present he has not, or perish in his sins.
And most people, in order to obtain this righteousness, seek it by “the works of the law.” Like the Jews of old, “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, they go about to establish their OWN righteousness, not submitting themselves to the righteousness of God.” The Lord having certain purposes to answer, allows them to set off in this ‘vain pursuit’. And what success have they? What does this vain pursuit do for them? For every step which they think they have taken forward, they find that they have slipped two backward; so that instead of obtaining this righteousness, they have only found a deeper discovery of their own heart, and are more and more convinced that in themselves, that is, in their “flesh, dwells no good thing,” and that all their “righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”
Now when a man is brought experimentally, in the feelings of his soul, to groan under the weight and burden of sin laid upon his conscience, the Lord the Spirit, sooner or later, enlightens his eyes to see, and brings into his soul a feeling apprehension of CHRIST’S glorious righteousness. The reason why so many stumble at the imputed righteousness of Christ is because they have never seen their sins in the light of God’s holy law, have never felt condemned before Him, have never had the deep corruptions of their heart turned up from the bottom, so as to loathe themselves in dust and ashes. Men therefore mock and scorn at imputed righteousness, because they are so deeply enamored with their own.
But when a man is brought to stand on the brink of eternal ruin, with but one step between him and death; when he is brought to see and feel that he is nothing, and has nothing in himself but sin and guilt, then when the Lord begins to set before his eyes, and bring into his heart a feeling apprehension of Christ’s glorious righteousness; when He shows him the dignity of Christ’s Person, and that His righteousness is that of the God-man, he is anxious to stretch forth the hand of faith, and “lay hold of eternal life.” Thus the soul “followeth hard after God,” that it may obtain this righteousness, and stand accepted and complete in the Beloved.
2. Again; in following “hard after the Lord,” the quickened soul followeth hard after PARDON. None of God’s people can live or die happily without the manifested pardon of their sins; and they cannot be satisfied without receiving it from God’s own lips. It is not merely having some loose, floating ideas about it; it is not taking it up as a doctrine, or learning it from the experience of others; but every child of God must sooner or later feel the pardon of sin manifested in his conscience. And when he feels guilty and condemned, then he “follows hard after” pardon—the manifested forgiveness of his sins, through the blood of sprinkling applied to his conscience. But if a man never knew what it was to follow hard after God, nor the many difficulties he has to press through before he can obtain it, he has never had pardon yet manifested to his soul.
3. GRACE is another thing which the soul “followeth hard after” God to obtain. Grace only suits those who are altogether guilty and filthy. Grace is completely opposed to works in all its shapes and bearings. Thus no one can really desire to taste the sweetness and enjoy the preciousness of manifested grace, who has not “seen an end of all perfection” in the creature, and that “God’s law is exceeding broad;” and is brought to know and feel in the conscience that his ‘good works’ would damn him equally with his ‘bad works’. When grace is thus opened up to the soul, when it sees that grace flows only through the Savior’s blood; that grace superabounds over all the aboundings of sin; that grace heals all backslidings, covers all transgressions, lifts up out of darkness, pardons iniquity, and is just the very remedy for all the maladies which we groan under; when grace, in the sweetness and blessedness of it, is thus spiritually opened up, there is a following hard after it in order to lay hold of and enjoy the happy and peaceful effects of it in soul experience.
But let us look at the expression “YOU.” “My soul followeth hard after Thee.” Not only does the quickened soul follow hard after the blessings which God has to give, but THE GREAT AND ARDENT OBJECT OF ITS PURSUIT IS GOD HIMSELF—the Giver. The Lord has made Himself in some measure manifestly known; He has discovered to the soul the dignity of His Person, with the beauty and loveliness of His countenance; and thus He has secretly drawn up the affections unto Himself, and the soul desires to know Him—and Him only. In following, then, hard after the Lord, it is that it may obtain possession of Him—that it may, as the apostle says, “win Him,” that is, clasp Him in the arms of faith, and embrace Him with spiritual affection, so as to be mutually loved and embraced by Him.
Now there is something in the expression “HARD,” which demands a little attention. It does not say merely, “my soul followeth after Thee,” but “hard after Thee,” which implies the INTENSITY OF THE PURSUIT. It is not merely a simple following, but a following with eagerness and ardor. And the expression also shows that THE OBJECT SOUGHT AFTER IS VERY DIFFICULT TO BE OVERTAKEN. It is not a slothful pursuit that will attain the object desired; it is not a mere wishing after something that will bring down the desired blessing; but the pursuit in which the soul is engaged is a most intense and eager one. There is also implied in the expression that THE OBJECT RETIRES, so to speak, as we pursue it; that it is not only overtaken with great difficulty, but that the Lord, the object of the soul’s pursuit, so withdraws Himself as we advance towards Him, that it requires all the intensity, and I was going to say, agony of the soul to pursue, and if possible to overtake and gain in Him all that it longs to enjoy.
But HOW does the soul thus “follow hard” after the Lord? Chiefly in longings, breathings, earnest cries, and intense pantings after Him. The Psalmist has expressed this in one short sentence, and a most emphatic and beautiful one it is—”As the deer pants after the water-brooks—so pants my soul after Thee, O God.” He there represents the hunted stag panting and thirsting after one refreshing draught from the water-brooks; panting as David himself once panted for the water of the well of Bethlehem, when he uttered that poignant desire, “O that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem!” Thus it is by the panting and longing of the soul after God in intense desire and vehement longings of the soul to enjoy His presence, that this “following hard” after the Lord is chiefly manifested.
And God’s people know this experimentally. How many times do they stretch themselves on their beds, and pant after the Lord as though the last breath were going out of their body! How often, as they are engaged in the daily pursuits of life, is there a cry going up out of their heart after the Lord, pleading with Him, and telling Him that they cannot be satisfied without His manifested presence! How often, perhaps, when for some time you have felt cold and dead, a sudden spirit of grace and supplication has come into your hearts, that has vented and breathed itself forth in cries to the Lord! And thus your soul has gone forth with the most intense desire to enjoy the sweet manifestations of His Person and testimonies of His covenant love.
“My soul followeth hard after Thee.” THE LORD (we would speak with reverence) DOES NOT ALLOW HIMSELF AT FIRST TO BE OVERTAKEN. The more the soul follows after Him the more He seems to withdraw Himself, and thus He draws it more earnestly on the pursuit. He means to be overtaken in the end—it is His own blessed work in the conscience to kindle earnest desires and longings after Himself; and therefore He puts strength into the soul, and “makes the feet like deer’s feet” to run and continue the chase.
But in order to whet the ardent desire, to kindle to greater intensity the rising eagerness, the Lord will not allow Himself to be overtaken until after a long and arduous pursuit. This is sweetly set forth in the Song of Solomon (5:2-8). We find there the Lord coming to His Bride; but she is unwilling to open to Him until “He puts His hand in by the hole of the door.” She would not rise at His first knocking, and therefore He is obliged to touch her heart. But “when she opened to her Beloved, He was gone!” and no sooner does He withdraw Himself, than she pursues after Him; but she cannot find Him—He hides Himself from her view, draws her round and round the walls of the city, until at length she overtakes, and finds Him whom her soul loves.
This sweetly sets forth how the Lord draws on the longing soul after Himself. Could we immediately obtain the object of our pursuit, we would not half so much enjoy it when attained. Could we with a wish bring the Lord down into the soul, it would be but the lazy wish of the sluggard, who “desires, and has not.” But when the Lord can only be obtained by an arduous pursuit, every faculty of the soul is engaged in panting after His manifested presence; and this was the experience of the Psalmist, when he cried, “My soul followeth hard after Thee.”