What a striking figure has David made use of in these words. Conceive a wounded stag, with the arrow in his flank or pursued by a crowd of hunters and hounds, all eager to pull him down; conceive him to have run for some space of time under a burning sun and over heaps of sand; and conceive that at a distance this poor wounded or hunted animal sees water gently flowing along. Oh, how it pants! How its heaving sides gasp, and how it longs for the cooling stream, not only that it may drink large draughts of the fresh waters and lave its panting flanks and weary, parched limbs, but, by swimming across, may haply escape the dogs and hunters at its heels. How strong, how striking the figure.
And yet strong as it is, how earnestly does David employ it to set forth the panting of his soul after God. We cannot, perhaps, rise up into the fulness of this figure; we cannot, we dare not lay our feelings stretched fully out side by side with his, or use the same burning, vehement, ardent expressions. But we may at least see from them what the saints of God have experienced in times of temptation and trial in days of old; and we may in some measure compare the feelings of our soul with theirs—sometimes to fill us with shame and confusion at our short-comings, sometimes to stimulate and encourage us so far as we experience a degree of similar teachings; for these things are written for our instruction, "upon whom the ends of the world are come."
Thus in various ways and to various ends we may, with God's help and blessing, look at and into such expressions as we find in the words of David, and in the fear of God search our hearts to see if we can find anything there corresponding to the work of grace that the Holy Ghost describes as existing in his soul. Nor be utterly cast down nor wholly discouraged if you cannot find a full or close similarity. Can you find any? If so, take encouragement, for the Lord despises not the day of small things. It is his own work upon the heart and his own work alone to which he has regard, as David felt when he said, "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever; forsake not the works of thine own hands" (Psalm 138:8). And that work will ever be a copy in full or in miniature, a complete or reduced photograph, of the work of grace described in the Scripture as carried on by the Spirit in the hearts of God's saints of old.