In following "hard after the Lord," the quickened soul follows 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 in his soul.
Grace is another thing which the soul "follows 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 want 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 followed hard after you.
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 Apostles, 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 follows after you," but "hard after you," 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 you, O God! 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 souls has gone forth with the most intense desire to enjoy the sweet manifestations of his Person and testimonies of his covenant love.
The more the soul follows after him, the more he seems to withdraw himself, and thus he draws it more earnestly in 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 hind'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, 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 we observe, secondly, that there are certain obstacles and impediments in the way of this arduous pursuit ; and therefore the Psalmist adds, "your right hand upholds me.
These words imply our need of divine strength, in order that the soul may not merely commence, but also be strengthened to keep up the pursuit. We soon grow faint and weary after the heart has been a little drawn forth to the Lord; and like Abraham, "when the Lord left off communing with him," we "return to our place.
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Perhaps after the soul has been going forth in earnest pantings and intense longings after God's manifested presence, a deadness and coldness comes over the mind, as though we had neither a God to find, nor a heart to seek him. In order, then, that we may not utterly faint by the way, there is a continual reviving of God's work in the soul, enabling it to follow hard after him. And this is implied in the expression, "your right hand upholds me. But unbelief will sometimes dampen this arduous and anxious pursuit. Unbelief, when the power of it is felt, seems absolutely to unnerve a man's limbs, and to paralyze every spiritual faculty.
When he would run, unbelief hamstrings him, so that he cannot "press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Thus, as his soul finds the power of unbelief sensibly weakened, and the power of faith sensibly increased, he is enabled to press anxiously on, and follow after the Lord.
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Sometimes doubts and fears , and heavy despondency lie as a burden on the soul, and keep it back from pursuing this arduous chase. Doubts whether the heart is altogether right with God; killing fears as to whether he will receive us when we draw near; painful apprehensions and suspicions as to whether our religion be God's word in the soul— these things lying as weights and burdens on a man's soul, check and impede him in running the race set before him.
The Apostle therefore says, "Let us lay aside every weight.
These weights lie heavy on the shoulders, and keep the soul from following "hard after the Lord;" no, under these weights and burdens it would sink, did not the right hand of the Lord uphold it; but he secretly communicates strength, so that these burdens do not altogether press it down; and enables it, in spite of all its weights, to run patiently and perseveringly on.
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