24. Man’s goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?
God’s uncontrollable power and sovereignty; man’s absolute dependence and helplessness — let these be foundation principles. Here is no infringement of liberty on the one side; no excuse for indolence on the other. Man often acts as if he were the master of his own purposes; as if his goings were of himself. Or else, in the crude notion of the predetermination of every event, instead of diligently working out the LORD’s purposes, he fancies “his strength is to sit still.” (Isaiah 30:7.) But the humble, heaven-taught Christian exercises free agency in the spirit of dependence. Though utterly powerless for obedience, he is ever putting forth the effort as the exercise in which he looks for the strength. The consciousness that his goings are of the LORD, gives energy to his faith. It is written again — “This is the way; walk ye in it.” (Isaiah 30:21.) Thus does Scripture guard against Scripture. Here is dependence without passive inertion; diligence without presumption or self-confidence. Antagonal principles thus work together in harmonious combination.
The true liberty of the will is the power of acting according to choice, without external restraint. Divine agency, so far from hindering its freedom, removes the obstacle of a corrupt and tyrannizing bias. This let [obstacle] removed, it acts more freely, and more powerfully. The man is not moved as a machine, unconscious of its operations and results, but acted upon by intelligent principles. He is not carried along the way, but enabled to walk. He is “drawn,” not driven, “with the cords of a man,” not of a beast; and those cords are so wisely applied, that they are felt to be “bands of love.” (Hosea 11:4.) He is enlightened, so that he sees; softened, so that he turns; “drawn, so that he runs.” (Song of Solomon 1:4. Psalm 119:32.) He is moved effectually, but willingly; invincibly, but without constraint. Divine grace acts, not as in a lifeless machine, but as in a purposing, willing, ever-working creature. Nothing is therefore distorted. There is no unnatural violence. It is “the day of the LORD’s power,” who “worketh in him to will and to do of his good pleasure.”† His goings are of the LORD, who at once inspires the effort, and secures the success.
The world of Providence shews the same over-ruling agency. Man determines and acts freely in the minute circumstances of the day. Yet the active pervading influence, disposing every step at the right time and place, makes it plain, that his goings are of the LORD. Rebekah came to the well just at the moment that Abraham’s servant was ready to meet her. “He being in the way, the LORD led him.” (Genesis 24:27.) Pharaoh’s daughter goes out to bathe just at the crisis, when the infant Moses was committed to the water. (Exodus 2:1-5.) Was this the working of chance, or some fortunate coincidence? Who can doubt the finger or the leading of God? A curse of extermination was pronounced against Eli’s house. The word was fulfilled by a combination of apparently casual incidents. David fled to Abimelech for relief. That very day Doeg was there; not in the ordinary course, but “detained before the LORD.” He gives information to his cruel master, and in a moment of anger the curse was accomplished.† Who can doubt but the goings of Doeg and of David meeting together were of the LORD? All parties acted freely. What was false in Doeg was righteous in God, whom we adore as a sin-hating God, even while, as in the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:23), he makes use of sin for the fulfillment of his own purposes.
Man’s goings therefore being of the LORD, they must often be enveloped in mystery. How then can he understand his own way? Often does it run counter to his design. The Babel-builders raised their proud tower to prevent their dispersion: and it was the very means of their dispersion. (Genesis 11:4-9.) Pharaoh’s “wise dealing” for the aggrandizement of his kingdom issued in its destruction.† Haman’s project for his own glory was the first step of his ruin. (Esther 6:6-13.) Often also is the way, when not counter, far beyond our own ken. Little did Israel understand the reason of their circuitous way to Canaan. Yet did it prove in the end to be “the right way.”† As little did Ahasuerus understand the profound reason, why “on that night could not the king sleep;” a minute incident, seeming scarcely worthy to be recorded, yet a necessary link in the chain of the LORD’s everlasting purposes of grace to his Church. (Esther 6:1.) Little did Philip understand his own way, when he was moved from the wide sphere of preaching the gospel in Samaria, to go into the desert, which ultimately proved a wider extension of the gospel.† As little did the great Apostle understand, that his “prosperous journey” to see his beloved flock at Rome, would be a narrow escape from shipwreck, and to be conducted a prisoner in chains.† Little do we know what we pray for. “By terrible things wilt thou answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation.” (Psalm 65:5.) We go out in the morning not understanding our way; “not knowing what an hour may bring forth.” (Chapter 27:1.) Some turn, connected with our happiness or misery for life, meets us before night. (John 4:7.) Joseph in taking his walk to search for his brethren, never anticipated a more than twenty years’ separation from his father. (Genesis 37:14.) And what ought those cross ways or dark ways to teach us? Not constant, trembling anxiety, but daily dependence. “I will bring the blind by a way that they know not: I will lead them in paths that they have not known.” But shall they be left in the dark perplexity? “I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16.) Often do I look back amazed at the strangeness of my course, so different, so contrary to my way. But it is enough for me that all is in thine hands; that “my steps are ordered of thee.” (Psalm 37:23. Compare chapter 16:9.) I dare trust thy wisdom, thy goodness, thy tenderness, thy faithful care. Lead me — uphold me — forsake me not. “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.”†