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Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.—Ver. 133.
IN the former verse the prophet had begged for a comfortable look from God, and some renewed taste of his mercy; he now amplifies his request, and as he there prayed for pardoning mercy, so now for sanctifying grace. Many that seek mercy to deliver them from the guilt of sin, do not desire grace to deliver them from the power of it; and yet the one is as necessary as the other, that we may not offend God, as well as that sin may not hurt us. To pray only for pardoning mercy would seem to be a praying only for our own interest, and not for God’s. God’s interest lies in our subjection, our interest lies in impunity and freedom from the curse of the law and the flames of hell; and let me tell you that our interest is not sufficiently provided for till the heart be sanctified as well as sin pardoned; for an unholy creature can never be happy, that is clear against the course of all the Lord’s wise proceedings. He hath settled everything, and put it into its proper place, and a sinful creature can never enjoy impunity; therefore, as we need to pray, Lord, be merciful to us, so, Lord, ‘order my steps in thy word,’ &c.
In this prayer there are two branches:—
1. A petition for grace for the regulation of his life, order my steps according to thy word.
2. A deprecation of the contrary evil, and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.
The first part of his prayer is by way of prevention, the second is by way of reserve; and the connection of both doth in effect speak thus, Lord, if thou dost not order my goings, surely iniquity will have dominion over me. Therefore he first prays that God will not permit him to err; or if the Lord should by his righteous providence permit him to fall, that he might return again to his duty, that sin may not wholly and clearly carry it in his heart, and have a full power over him: Lord, ‘order my steps according to thy word;’ but if I should fail, ‘Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.’ The same method is used Ps. xix. 13, ‘Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins.’ He doth desire absolutely to be kept from presumptuous sins; but then he adds by way of supposition and reserve, that if he could not by reason of his naughty heart be kept from them, yet that they might not have full power and dominion over him. Rabbi David Kimchi indeed refers the former branch to the affirmative precept, ‘order my steps according to thy word;’ and the latter branch to the negative precept: and so he makes the meaning to be this, Let me neither break thy laws by omitting any duty or committing any sin. You may take that division of the words if you will.
In the former branch observe the act of grace, order; the subject, my steps; the rule, thy word.
In the latter branch observe the evil deprecated, the dominion of sin, the universality or degree of the deprecation, let not any iniquity, neither great nor small sins, take the throne by turns.
To explain these circumstances, the act of grace, ‘order.’ The Septuagint, κατευθυνον, direct or set straight my steps. Junius hath it, institue, frame or appoint; and Ainsworth hath it, firmly direct; for indeed the word signifies to instruct, order, and establish. We are ignorant and apt to err, therefore God must instruct us; we are various and uncertain in our motions, therefore God must order us in a way of obedience, and reduce us into a settled course and method, that all may be done in a subordination to our great end; for order respects that. And we are soon discouraged, therefore God must support and establish us: so firmly direct, that thou mayest establish our steps according to thy word.
The subject is, ‘my steps.’ Because the affections are the seat of the soul, by which it walks out after the object represented, the understanding represents and the will chooseth; therefore some would limit these steps to the affections. I think it compriseth all the actions of the reasonable creature, that no thoughts, no deeds, no counsels, no enterprises of his might transgress the limits of God’s word.
For the rule, ‘In thy word.’ The Septuagint, κατὰ τὸ λόγιόν σου, according to thy oracle. However the phrase is to be noted, ‘In thy word;’ not only according to this rule, but in this path. The sum is this: Lord, thou hast invited me to walk in thy word; now direct me, strengthen me to walk in it, and let all my motions and my actions keep within the compass of it.
For the other part, ‘Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.’ Because the Septuagint reads, μὴ κατακυριευσάτω μου πᾶσα ἀνομία; and out of them the vulgar, ‘Let not all iniquity tyrannise over me,’ some have conceived the sense to be, let me not be trampled upon, not oppressed by all kind of wrong and all kind of injustice; as if he pleaded here to be kept from the tyranny of his enemies. But this is not probable, and other scriptures that are parallel to this, where the like expression is used, will not permit such a sense; and therefore he saith, Let not any or every iniquity have dominion over ne. Why? Because sins take the throne by turns. Sometimes a man finds this sin and sometimes that sin in the throne, and sometimes strange sins that we little think of may get a great power over the heart, even those that we fear least many times may steal into the throne.
From the first branch observe—
Doct. 1. That there is a constant daily necessity of grace to direct and order our motions and actions according to the word of God.
Now, that there is a daily and hourly necessity of grace, is a point that frequently offereth itself in this psalm. I shall briefly dispatch it, therefore, in these propositions:—
1. It appears from the strictness of Christianity. He that would please God had need of a tender conscience, that he may wholly frame himself to do the will of God; and not only take care to be right for the main of his course, but that every particular action should be orderly and regular: for the man of God does not beg grace here to choose a right path, but that his steps may be ordered. This is the strictness of Christianity, that a man should make conscience of every step, that every action should be under the power of grace, and fall within the rules of the word. It needs to be so. Why? Because the word of God is not only a general rule to show us our path, but a particular direction to order our steps: Ps. cxix. 105, ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path;’ to my feet as well as my path. Every action or step of ours is morally considered in its own tendency, either a step to heaven or hell; if good, a step to heaven; if evil, a step to hell: therefore we had need make conscience of our steps. Besides, if we do not make conscience of our steps, we shall not make conscience of our way; for he that is not faithful in a little, will not be faithful in much. Every wry step is so far out of the way, and the more we persist in it the more we wander. Therefore see what is required of Christians: 1 Peter i. 15, ‘Be holy,’ ἐν πάσῃ ἀναστροφῇ, in every creek and turning of your lives, ‘In all manner of conversation.’ A man that would approve himself to God, must be good in all conditions, in all his businesses, affairs, all ages of his life, young or old, in actions civil, sacred; if his condition be prosperous or adverse; when in adversity or prosperity, he must carry himself as a Christian; he ought still to approve himself to be a hater of sin, and a lover of what God loves. In all his affairs, not only in his religious actions, but in his civil and common actions. Godliness is not a holiday suit, but an apparel that is of constant wearing; and therefore a Christian is to show himself a Christian in all things, though especially in those things which are solemn and most weighty; a Christian in his prayers, a Christian in his business, in his recreation, in his meals, a Christian in the disposal of himself and condition, a Christian in all his converses. I lay this for a foundation. Certainly here are steps spoken of. The holy man would have them ordered, and that by the strictness of Christianity; so that no one particular action must allowedly be sinful. You see what need there is of direction. Care less and slight spirits, that only look upon Christianity in the lump, they think that truths are few and easy, and that the art of holy living, is soon learned, and they do not see a need of this ordering our ways, and to be willing to please God in all things. But those that count the least sin to be a very heavy burthen, a greater evil than the greatest temporal loss, that make it their business to approve themselves to God in all things they put their hands unto, will be earnest and importunate with him for his grace.
2. The necessity of the word of God. Whoever will please God in all things, and will purge his own soul and his life from sin, must take the word of God for his rule and direction. Our lives are not to be framed according to our own fancies, but God’s word, where the genuine holiness is recommended to us, and which is the only proper means to work the heart to it. I shall prove that the word of God is the great rule both to warn us of our dangers and to instruct us in our duties; and so it is the great means to sanctify the heart. I say it is the great rule to warn us of our dangers: Ps. xix. 11, ‘More over, by them is thy servant warned.’ This discovers temptations, inconveniences, snares, which otherwise we should never discern. There are many dangers that wait for us on every side. So Ps. xvii. 4, ‘Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips, I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer.’ It is the only proper means to keep us from the paths of the destroyer. Alas! otherwise if we do not strictly consult with his statute and rule, we shall cry up a confederacy with those that cry up a confederacy against God; we shall embrace the temptation which opportunity offers, if he follow the guidance of his deceived and deceiving heart. And the word of God doth only discover our duties to us: Prov. vi. 23, ‘For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.’ Mark, whatever condition we are in, whether in the night, or whether in the day, whether in this or that condition, here we have a lamp and light; here is that which will show us what God requires of us in every state and condition. Now, as this is the only rule, so it is the only appointed means with which God will associate the operation of his grace for the converting and curing of the souls of men; for when God had stated a rule for the creature, it is fit the knowledge of that might be a means of sanctification; so the word is commended to us: John xvii. 17, ‘Sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth;’ if the Holy Ghost will sanctify, if he will beget not an apocryphal and bastardly holiness (that may be by the institutions of men, and rules men prescribe), but a genuine, true holiness, which is acceptable to God; put them into a capacity to serve, love, and enjoy God: Ps. cxix. 9, ‘Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.’ A young man, that is in the heat of his lusts, and in the ruff of his sin, is impetuously carried away. How shall he do to break this boisterous violence, and bring his heart into some competent way of obedience to God? Why, the word of God is the only means; the Lord interposeth by his word, and blesseth his word. Let a man read Seneca, Plato, Plutarch, all the philosophers, he will have but cold and faint respects to holiness and to better things, until he come to be exercised in the word of God. Man is not a vessel that comes newly out of the potter’s shop, but he hath a smatch of the old infusion of sin; and he cannot have this taste and tang put out but by the word of God sanctifying his heart and breaking the power of his lusts: Ps. xix. 7, ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.’ We are out of joint, unfit to please and serve God. Now, how shall a man do to get his soul set in joint again, that he may be in a capacity to serve and enjoy God? Why, this restores the soul to a capacity; the Lord blesseth this institution and this means; for it is not bare truth, but instituted truth, with which God will associate the operation of his Spirit. By this word of his, that was indited by the Spirit, and penned by holy men that were moved by the Holy Ghost, he doth join his virtue and power and efficacy of his Spirit to sanctify the souls of men.
3. They that make it their scope and business to please God in all things, and take his word for their rule, their souls will soon see a need for divine direction, and the establishment of his grace. This reason is taken from the temper of the persons that are to walk in this strict way, according to his strict rule; they are such as are naturally blind, and naturally opposite to God: now certainly such need to go to God for direction. I gather that from these words, ‘Order my steps.’ Every man is a poor blind creature, and hath a heart opposite to the ways of God; he need beg this grace of God, Lord, incline my heart. Every man is a blind creature, partly because our own spirits are blind, crooked, and unstable, that we shall neither consult our rule nor understand our duty, nor like it when it is represented to us, until the Lord doth enlighten us. A man’s heart is naturally blind: 2 Peter i. 9, ‘He cannot see afar off,’ he hath no skill in spiritual things, 1 Cor. ii. 14. The heart is naturally full of darkness, and then this darkness grows upon us, partly by prejudice or custom, ‘and many evil habits: 2 Cor. iv. 4, ‘The god of this world hath blinded men’s eyes.’ There are many inordinate affections that increase upon us. So it is then that a man is blind by nature, more blind by custom and inordinate affection, is exceedingly blinded; which have a great influence upon our judgments in all practical cases. Though we should know general rules, yet to bring them down to every particular action is very grievous, and hard to bring the heart to. But you will say, When we have received the Spirit, God hath put his law into our minds, this blindness is cured; therefore why should such as David pray, ‘Lord, order my steps,’ &c.? Yes, we are cured, but in part, non totaliter. Grace doth heal us but in part, much of the matter that clouded the mind before is yet upon us; and when lusts are awakened by temptations, we strangely forget ourselves, our own reason, our senses, and examples of others; we are misled, so that we know not what to do, unless the Lord order our steps. Well, as we are blind, so we are opposite too. When we know our way, what we should do, yet we are apt to stumble at every stone. Naturally the wisdom of the flesh is opposite: Rom. viii. 7, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God.’ And so much as the wisdom of the flesh still remains, we are apt to be discouraged from walking with God according to his strict rule, and in the way that he hath given us, and we are extremely slack, that unless we be quickened by the lively and strengthening light of the Spirit, alas! how soon shall we miscarry! Therefore this ordering is a strengthening against the reluctances of the flesh: Ps. xvii. 5, ‘Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.’ Alas! when a man finds a good way, he is either apt to lie down out of laziness, or to stumble and fall, and we cannot keep our footing against temptations. Every man of experience seeth the need of this. Therefore, Lord, direct me, ‘Order my steps.’
4. The reason is taken from the value of the blessing here asked. It is one of the chiefest blessings of his grace and favour to have his illuminating. After he had said, ‘Lord, be merciful unto me,’ presently follows, ‘Lord, order my steps.’ To prove this must needs be a great blessing and favour. It will appear out of the words of the text; partly from the word ‘order;’ it makes our lives orderly and regular. Alas! what a confused, disproportionable thing is a man that is half in and half out with the ways of God! His conversation is not all of a piece, sometimes right and sometimes wrong; there is not that beauty, that harmony, that holiness to be found in them. Solomon tells us, Prov. xxvi. 7, ‘The legs of the lame are not equal; so is a parable in the mouth of fools.’ Baines on the place saith thus, The man hath knowledge to speak well, but he lives ill; so his conversation is halting, like the legs of the lame. Sometimes his speculative light will incline him to do easy things, but his practical endeavours will carry him another way; there is no even and uniform strain of godliness. Then is a man’s conversation ordered, when all is carried on with a fair respect to his last end; for it is the last end that fixeth a man’s mind, and cuts off impertinences and inconsistencies, and makes a man’s conversation beautiful; otherwise the man is tossed up and down in a various uncertain motion, distracted by a multiplicity of ends and objects that his will is in no composed and settled frame. I remember David prays: Ps. lxxxvi. 11, ‘Unite my heart to fear thy name.’ It is a blessed thing when a man is united, when his conversation is all of a piece; and James i. 8, ‘A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.’ A divided mind will beget an uncertain life. I say, the last end of our lives doth unite all the parts of it, and there is a regularity and harmony between them. But others, their life is a mere lottery; the fancies by which they are governed are jumbled together by chance, and they live at peradventure and haphazard, and there is not a comely, entire, uniform order to a blessed end. Again, partly, too, from the reason here, ‘Order my steps according to thy word; and let no iniquity have dominion over me.’ This will prevent the dominion of sin. Perverse affections are apt to sway us, but when the Lord supplies fresh directions, the tyranny and dominion of sin is prevented and crushed in the egg. Sin usually steals into the throne by insensible degrees; temptations and occasions reduce us to some evil practice. Well, and that produceth another, then do multiplied acts get strength, then they ensnare us; and when once the soul is ensnared then this bondage daily increaseth, and is hard to be broken; for by multiplied acts custom creeps upon us, and that is another nature, and that which was but indifferent at first grows more difficult. As diseases looked to at first are easily cured, otherwise they grow desperate; so sins when they come to a slavish tyranny and custom, they cannot help it. All this is prevented by the seasonable warnings of the Holy Spirit. Partly, too, because this is only vouchsafed to God’s special people. God, as he loves any, so he manifests himself to them. This appears out of the text; for in the verse before the text the words run thus, ‘Look upon me, and be merciful unto me; as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name;’ and what then? ‘Order my steps in thy word.’ Oh! this is to do good to us, as he useth to do good to them that fear his name. Mark, some have only providence and natural conscience; there are others that have the word, and have an enlightened conscience, that plead God’s interest in them; but there are others are honoured so far that they are his people, that have not only his word, but Spirit, to enforce his word upon their hearts. How did Christ declare his love to his people? John xv. 15, ‘I call you friends, for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.’ There is God’s love declared, when he shows us his whole will, when he doth guide us in all his ways; this is the favour of his people: Ps. xxv. 14, ‘The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.’ There is the great privilege that God vouchsafes to his peculiar people; they know the mind of God more than others do, and in all doubtful debates and uncertain controversies they are not left in the dark: Mark iv. 11, ‘Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.’ David surely found such direction to be a very special blessing. Again, another argument from the text that this must needs be a very great blessing, partly because it helpeth us in our way to true happiness. I gather that from the word ‘steps;’ for all motion hath a term to which it tends, and every journey hath its period. Now, whither doth the path of the word lead us, but to God, and to the everlasting enjoyment of him? Oh! here they have an infallible direction that they cannot miscarry in so great an affair as this is, as the getting home to God. Surely that is a great blessing. I remember David saith, Ps. lxxiii. 24, ‘Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel, and afterwards receive me unto glory.’ They that wait upon God’s direction are sure to be received into his heavenly glory; their steps are directed for the present, and they may be confident that at length they shall get home to God; for God will accept of what he hath ordered. You are sure God will take pleasure in you when you walk according to his direction. So you see the need from the value of this blessing.
5. Consideration, that the children of God are sensible of their need of it, that they cannot choose but pray for it. I take this from the very form of the words: ‘Lord, order my steps.’ It is a prayer from the man of God. They seek it humbly and earnestly, therefore they shall find it. They that make their bosom their oracle, and wit their counsellor, God is disengaged from being their guide; they need him not, but the snares they run into will soon show how much they need him. But the children of God need him, therefore they shall find it: Prov. iii. 6, ‘In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.’ You should ever go to God for the direction of your way, then God will not disappoint you, nor defeat your expectations: Ps. lxxxv. 13, ‘Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.’ Sometimes we wander, turn aside, and walk out of the right way; at other times we fall and stumble in the right way; but the Lord will set us in the paths of his steps.
Use. To press us to seek this great privilege of God, beg of the Lord continually to order your steps according to his word. Alas! evil may surprise you before you are aware. Little did David think danger was so near him when he walked upon his terrace; he gave leave to his eye to wander, and his eye fired his heart. Every morning be with God about this business: Ps. v. 3, ‘O Lord, in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.’ You need not only protection against dangers, but direction against evils and snares. As we seek for protection in the night, so in the morning, prayer is for the direction of the day. Nay, we need not go to God in the morning, but all the day long: Ps. xxv. 5, ‘On thee do I wait all the day.’ Beg of him that you may not miscarry, but carry yourselves humbly and prudently, and may do nothing that is contrary to the will of God and his grace, but that the Lord would support and guide you continually. There is one argument that may mightily encourage you in praying. Consider your covenant interest in God doth establish this blessing, as the saints always plead the relation: Ps. xxv. 5, ‘Lead me in thy truth, and teach me; for thou art the God of my salvation;’ Ps. cxliii. 10, ‘Teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God;’ Ps. xlviii. 14, ‘For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even unto death.’ To be a God to any is to be a guide; for to a people in covenant, God makes over his whole self. Now in God there are considerable these three great attributes—his wisdom, power, and goodness. Look, as God by virtue of his power is all-sufficient against all dangers, and by virtue of his goodness is a fountain of everlasting happiness, so also by his wisdom is a fountain of all goodness to guide and direct us. Now as God hath engaged all his goodness to make us as happy as heart can wish, and his power to defend and maintain us, so all his wisdom to guide and direct us.
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