O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps.
I. Consider the conviction here expressed, in its sources.
1. The nature of our condition. It is a dependent one; we are not our own, and therefore we are not at our own disposal.
2. The limitation of our powers. "Vain man," says Zophar, "would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass's colt." When he grows up, even when he comes to what is called years of maturity, of discretion, even then how liable is he to be deceived and deluded! How narrow then is his horizon of vision; and how foggy and cloudy is it! How unable is he to distinguish, in a thousand instances, between appearances and realities!
3. History. You have heard of Robespierre — so famous, or rather so infamous — and the torrents of blood which he shed. Yet he originally seemed an amiable character; so he was deemed in all his neighbourhood. He was a civilian; he published two books, one on electricity, the other on the code of criminal jurisprudence, lamenting that it was so sanguinary, and endeavouring to ameliorate it. But the current of the Revolution laid hold of him, and the flood hurried him away; and he became the reverse of all he had appeared to be before.
4. Experience. Franklin says, "Experience is a dear school," but adds, "Fools will learn in no other." The fact is, that they will never even in this. We ascribe always too much to experience: it is not so influential a teacher as many imagine. "I never," says Mr. Burke, "knew a man who was not wise before, who grew wiser by his troubles." No; things operate upon us according to the qualities which they find in us: they are mistaken, who suppose they can bring these qualities.
5. Scripture is another source of this conviction. In all such cases as these "to the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because they have no light in them."
II. Consider it in its USES. It is not information that we commonly need. We all feel what a difference there is between our creed and our conduct — what a difference there is between our speculative and our practical religion. The certainty of a thing is not that by which we are principally influenced; but the frequent presentation of it to the mind, and the realisation of it by meditation. There is nothing so sure as that you shall die; and yet, by pushing this aside continually, you can live less under the influence of it than perhaps anything else.
1. If "a man's way is not in himself," and "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps," this should produce gratitude. Your advantages and your indulgences, whatever they have been, are wanting in their firmest support, their loveliest ornament, and their sweetest relish, unless you acknowledge the agency of God in them.
2. This should produce submission. You may, indeed, always pray, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me," if you can add, as our Saviour did, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
3. You are to use the conviction as a check to presumption with regard to futurity. "Boast not thyself of tomorrow."
4. You should apply this conviction to induce you to repair to God in humble and earnest prayer. Are any of you in perplexity? Wait upon Him; and let integrity and uprightness preserve you the while. And not only wait upon Him, but also wait for Him. Do not act while your mind is in a state of uncertainty: secure the approbation of your conscience by erring, if you do err, unintentionally and conscientiously.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS of this conviction. Though "man's way is not in himself," and "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" —
1. God is able to direct your steps.
2. God is willing to direct your steps.
3. God is engaged to direct them.
Parallel VersesKJV: O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.