Arthur Pink, 1953
"And He shall direct your paths" Proverbs 3:6
We come now to what is, in one sense, both the simplest and yet the most difficult clause of Proverbs 3:5-6. Paradoxical as it may sound, it is often the case that the simplest things are the most profound, and the profoundest things the simplest.
What is simpler than the Gospel? "Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things" (Act 13:38-39)! And yet what is more profound? Does not the Gospel make known things which even "the angels desire to look into" (1 Peter 1:12)?
What is more profound than the truth of God's sovereignty? As we seek to contemplate it, we are made to cry with the Psalmist, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me — it is high, I cannot attain unto it" (Psalm 139:6). And yet what is, really, more simple and obvious? If God is God, then He must be sovereign, high above all, supreme over all.
"And he shall direct your paths" (Pro 3:6). This is the simplest part of our text as a whole, inasmuch as it is a plain and definite assurance given to all who meet and conform to the conditions named in the preceding clauses. This divine promise needs no analyzing or philosophizing about. It is presented for our faith to lay hold of and our hearts to rest upon. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved" is plain enough. It needs to be received and obeyed, not discussed or reasoned about.
But that is no plainer than if we,
(1) "Trust in the LORD with all our hearts."
(2) "Lean not unto our own understanding."
(3) "Acknowledge the LORD in all our ways"
— then, most assuredly, He shall direct our paths. The need for being "directed" by the Lord is real and pressing.
The children of Adam are fallen and ruined creatures, "Alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Eph 4:18). The natural man is like a rudderless ship or a motor-car without a steering wheel. Scripture emphatically affirms, "The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps" (Jer 10:23). True, it is otherwise with the Christian, for the Spirit of God indwells him — yet the "flesh" is still in him, too, and this world is a "dark place" (2 Peter 1:19), a trackless desert.
It is not without reason that the Lord's people are termed "sheep," for no other creature is so apt to stray or has such a propensity to wander. Of old, God said concerning Israel, "Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet" (Jer 14:10). And this is recorded for our learning and warning. The Hebrew word for "direct" means "to make straight." We are living in a world where everything is crooked. Sin has thrown everything out of joint, and in consequence, confusion worse confounded reigns all around us. Even the natural man, who is thoughtful and serious, is often bewildered by the conflicting opinions and theories concerning present-day life. Old standards are forsaken. The ways of our forefathers are looked upon as the product of an ignorant age. This is true of every realm.
How blessed, how comforting, how reassuring is the language of our text to the child of God! If I really desire to please the Lord, He will not allow me to remain in ignorance of His will, "He shall direct my paths." He will make clear to me the course of duty. But remember that this promise is conditional. It is given only to those who comply fully with the preceding admonitions. Scripture interprets Scripture. In the New Testament, we have a word parallel to Proverbs 3:5-6, "I am the light of the world — he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12).
What does it signify to "follow" Christ?
First, it means full confidence in Him, for I would not take as guide one I did not trust — trusting Him with all my heart.
Second, it means completely resigning myself to His directions — leaning not unto my own understanding.
Third, it means unqualified submission to Him — acknowledging Him in all my ways.
Then, but only then, have I the divine assurance that I "shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." As another has said, "A believer's course indicates where he is in his soul, and sooner or later exposes the motives that control him. It is pretty easy to see when a man has the Lord before him. You find him regulated by divine motives, and ordering his ways with reference to the will of God and the interests of Christ. He will not be occupied with guidance, but his whole course will evidence that his steps are ordered by the Lord. On the other hand, if a man is carnal and worldly, it will come out in his ways. He will have no divine judgment about things — no spiritual sensibilities or tastes — and though he may maintain a certain degree of outward correctness, it will be manifest that he is not guided by the Lord. It is in having to do with the Lord that we are enlightened and our spiritual intelligence is developed, so that we are enabled to discern the path that is pleasing to Him. God would guide us, as a rule, by forming our souls in the intelligence of His will, and thus enabling us to exercise a spiritual judgment about things.
"Many would like to have guidance without any reference to their spiritual condition — but this is never the Lord's way. I have often been amazed at devices to which even converted people will resort in a moment of perplexity. A favorite plan is to open the Bible haphazard or put a pin between the leaves, and read the text which happens to turn up. This savors more of witchcraft and superstition than of godliness. As we go on with the Lord, and become acquainted with His mind, our vision is cleared in a wonderful way" (C. A. Coates, 1862-1945).
Let us seek to add a few more words upon the conditions of divine guidance. The word "conditions," in this connection, would be objected to by some, namely, hyper-Calvinists who deny human responsibility. Restricting themselves to the divine side of things, they have so lost the "balance" of truth that they are really "fatalists." Confining all their thoughts to the fact that God has, from the beginning, mapped out the whole of our course, they see no need for being exercised in heart as to guidance, still less are they aware of "conditions" governing it.
On the other hand, some are so much occupied with the human side of things, and dwell so exclusively upon Christians themselves being responsible for their walk, that divine fore-ordination has little or no place in their thoughts. These people need reminding of such passages as Proverbs 21:1; Romans 11:36; Ephesians 1:11.
Still others are confused when they hear of both sides, and are puzzled to know where the sovereignty of God ends and human responsibility begins in relation to our daily walk. Without attempting now to explore this great deep, let us humbly offer two remarks for prayerful consideration. First, whatever of good there is in our lives — unreservedly give God the glory for it. Whatever there is of sin — we must unqualifiedly take the blame unto ourselves. Second, learn to distinguish sharply between God ordaining our course — and God directing our paths. God has fore-ordained everything that comes to pass, but He does not, by direct agency, bring everything to pass. God has predestined that we should taste the bitter consequences of self-confidence and reap the awful sowings of self-will, in order to wean us from self and sin. But He does not, personally and immediately, lead us into such things; our own evil lusts are responsible for that.
That there are "conditions" which we must meet, if we are to enjoy God's immediate ordering of our path, is clear not only from Proverbs 3:5-6 and John 8:12, but from many other Scriptures.
Take the order of truth brought before us in that familiar twenty-third psalm: "He leads me beside the still waters," (verse 2) is preceded by, "He makes me to lie down in green pastures." There must be an implicit and complete resting in God's authoritative Word (of which the "green pastures" are the figure) before I can count upon His "leading me."
So again, in the next verse, "He leads me in the paths of righteousness," is preceded by, "He restores my soul." Not until His grace brings me into right relationship, experimentally, with Himself is the "leading" given. How solemnly searching is this!
Again, in Psalm 25, which reveals so much on the subject of divine guidance, in verse 9 (where we have God's response to the prayer of verses 4-5), we are told, "The meek [those who are subject to God's will] will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way." So in verse 12, "Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him."
How searching is the verse which immediately precedes that oft-quoted (frequently lightly quoted, we fear) 105th verse in Psalm 119. It is only when, through God's "precepts," we get understanding, and by them, are made to hate "every false way" — that God's Word becomes to us, experimentally, "a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path."
"I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go. I will guide you with my eye" (Psalm 32:8). Here again, we have what is both blessed and searching. A person cannot guide another with his "eye" unless that other is near to him, and unless the eyes of that other are steadfastly fixed upon him. The immediate context (Psalm 32:6-7) speaks of subjection and confidence in God. If these are lacking, then we become, "as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle" (verse 9). Even then, the Lord, in His mercy, does not give us up. He keeps His hand on the reins, and uses circumstances to check, restrain and guide us. But this is a painful experience, when compared with the blessedness of being "guided by his eye."
Yes, these are "conditions," if we are to have God's immediate guidance, and these "conditions" are summed up in Proverbs 3:5-6. If we exercise wholehearted trust in the Lord, lean not unto our own understandings (cease to be controlled or influenced by the dictates of "common sense"), acknowledge Him in all our ways (seek His permission, and have before us His glory in everything), then, He shall direct our paths. May the Lord, in His abounding grace, work in writer and reader "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phi 2:13).