A Well-Ordered Life
“Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” — Psalm cxix. 133.
THIS is not the prayer of an unconverted man, or the cry of an awakened sinner foolishly expecting to find salvation in good works; it is the prayer of one who is saved, and who knows it. The verse preceding the text shows this, for he asks to be mercifully dealt with as the Lord uses to do unto those that love his name. He therefore is confident that he is one of those, that he is a partaker of divine favour, and has the evidence of this in his love to the name of the Lord. Now, those persons who are truly saved are amongst the very loudest to cry out against anything like confidence in good works; you shall hear them denounce with all their hearts self-righteousness in every shape; you shall hear them preach up with might and main the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ as the only confidence upon which a soul may rest; and yet at the same time these people are of all others in the world the most zealous for good works, and the most earnest themselves to be holy, and in the fear of God to adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things. David was no professor of salvation by his own merits; he had been led by grace to trust in the sprinkling of the precious blood, and to glory in another righteousness than his own, but yet he is indefatigable in prayer and in earnest endeavours to be purified from all faults of life, and to be made in practical holiness the faithful servant of God. The prayer before us is the sighing of a saved soul after a higher state of sanctification; it is the panting of a spirit already reconciled to God, to be more perfectly conformed unto the Lord’s mind and will.
Let us carefully note each word of the text. “Order,” saith David, or as some read, “direct,” “set straight,” “appoint,” “firmly establish,” or, “rightly frame my steps.” David, looking abroad upon nature, saw order ruling everywhere, in heaven above, and on the earth beneath, and even among the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea; he desired therefore to fall into rank, and keep the harmony of the universe. He was not afraid of being laughed at for living by method and rule, for he saw method and rule to be divine institutions. He did not aspire to a random life, or envy the free-livers, whose motto is, “Do whatever you like.” He had no lustings to be his own master, he wished in all things to be governed by the superior and all-perfect will of God. In the text, king David bows in homage to the King of kings; he enlists in the army of the Lord of hosts, and asks for marching orders, and grace to obey them.
Note the next word, “My steps he is anxious as to details. David doth not say, “Order the whole of my pilgrimage;” he means that, but his expression is more expressive and painstaking; he would have each single step ordered in holiness; he would enjoy heavenly guidance in each minute portion of his journey towards heaven. Much of the beauty of holiness lies in little things. Microscopic holiness is the perfection of excellence: if a life will bear examination in each hour of it, it is pure indeed. Those who are not careful about their words, and even their thoughts, will soon grow careless concerning their more notable actions. Those who tolerate sin in what they think to be little things, will soon indulge in it in greater matters. To live by the day and to watch each step, is the true pilgrimage method. More lies in the careful noting of every single act than careless minds can well imagine. Be this then your prayer: “Lord, direct my morning thoughts, that the step out of my chamber into the world may be taken in thy fear. At my table keep me in thy presence; behind my counter, or in my field, or wherever else I may be, suffer me not to grieve thy Spirit by any evil; and when I come to lie down at night, let the action (which seemeth so indifferent) of casting myself upon my pillow, be performed with a heart that loveth thee; so that I shall be prepared to be with thee, if wakeful during the night.” This brief prayer, “Order my steps,” teaches us attention to the minutiae of life; may we have grace to learn the lesson.
“Order ray steps in thy word.” Notice the expression — not by thy word, nor according to thy word. The sentence means that, but it means far more. The psalmist evidently looks upon the word of God as being the very path of his life, and he prays that he may walk within the lines which God’s word has marked out, may keep always within the sacred enclosures which the commands of God have made for the king’s highway. Not “order my footsteps by thy word,” as though it were a law hanging up upon the column in the market-place, to be read and studied, and then left hanging in its place; but in thy word, as though it were engraven in my heart, and then encompassed all my ways, thoughts and being. The word is the road of our marching, the sea of our sailing, the pasture of our feeding, the home of cur resting. Lord, never allow us to have a step out of it, nor a disorderly step in it. “And let not any iniquity have dominion over me,” adds the psalmist. He frequently adds a negative petition to his positive prayers, as if to complete them. The second expression is weaker than the first, and is pitched upon a lower key, as if the suppliant would say, “If, O Lord, my steps cannot be so ordered in thy word as to be altogether without sin, yet let not any iniquity gain the mastery of my spirit; even in the aberrations of my soul, let it still be in the main true to thee; if sin assails me, at least let it not enslave me. If for awhile I stray, yet let me be reckoned as still thine own sheep, and not one of the flock of Satan. O my Lord, suffer no iniquity to sit down on the throne of my heart, and make me its serf and vassal. If I slip into the mire let it be but a slip, and do not suffer me to wallow in the mire.”
Thus I have opened up the words one by one, and now leaving out the last sentence, as we shall not have time to consider it this morning, I shall ask you to give me your earnest attention while we speak upon the solemnly practical topic of sanctification. First, we shall consider the order of a holy life; secondly, the rule of holiness by which that order is arranged, “Order my steps in thy word;” and thirdly, the great Director of that order — the Lord himself. When we have spoken upon these points, we shall conclude with a few practical words, and may the Holy Spirit graciously bless them to us.
I. A holy life is no work of chance, it is a masterpiece of ORDER.
David prays that his steps may be ordered; holiness rejoices in symmetry, harmony, proportion, order. If we consider at the outset the order of holiness to be that of conformity to the prescribed rule, we have that rule given us in living characters in the incarnate Word. The law, not in the hand of Moses, but in the hand and life of the Redeemer, is the rule of life to a Christian man. It behoves us that every single action of life should be, if judged by itself, and examined by the all-seeing God, an upright action — an action conformed into the perfect holiness of the Lord’s Christ. Alas! I fear me there are many professors who do not scruple to perform hundreds of actions without so much as once pausing to use the plumb-line of Christ’s example to see whether those actions are upright ; but a tender conscience, a heart that has been really quickened by the Holy Spirit, will often pause, and after each distinct act will say, “O Lord, my God, I pray thee forgive thy servant if my words have not been ordered according to thy will; and help me now in the next step that I am about to take, that I may proceed according to thy mind.” Every step a man takes in life, remember, is a step towards heaven or hell. We serve God or the devil in all that we do. No action of a man’s life is unimportant. The pilgrim either gains or loses by each step he takes. True, being in Christ, the believer shall not perish, but being a child of God, his naughtiness shall bring upon him certain and sharp chastisement; if he sinneth, he shall lose rest of spirit, and somewhat of the light of his Lord’s countenance if he do err. We can never afford to trifle with our doings, words, or thoughts. Even when we are alone, and do not seem to have any duty imperatively impressed upon us, yet standing as we do even in solitude in the full blaze of the divine inspection, it is always incumbent upon us to the highest degree to watch the outgoings of our hearts, lest by any means, by evil imaginations, we vex the Spirit of God. Men become fools when they think with levity even of their most inconsiderable actions. Life is evermore a great solemnity, linked as it is to God and to eternity. Take care that thou so regard it, and never trifle with it as though it were a Vanity Fair. Many men seem to play at living, but he doeth best who lives earnestly and thoughtfully each single instant, and lifts up his heart to God, that every one of his separate thoughts, words, and deeds, may bear the scales of the last judgment, and may be found in conformity with the righteousness of God. The first order, then, of a holy life, is the order of conformity to the Lord’s will.
Another form of order after which we should strive, I shall for the helping of our memories style the arithmetical. Things are never in order when the second is before the first, or the fifth taketh precedence of the second. Order in life consists very much in seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and seeking other things in due place. Order in a Christian life consisteth in putting the soul first and the body next, in putting eternal treasure first and worldly gain second, third, fourth, or far behind — in seeking first the glory of God, and our own happiness only as a subsidiary aim. Oh! it is well with the Christian when he has learned his notation table well, and gives the first thing the first place, the second thing the second place, and the third thing the third place. Since many men make mistakes here, and put the major in the place of the minor, and the servant in the room of the master, let it be our daily prayer, “Lord, teach me this sacred arithmetic, and order thou my steps in thy fear.”
Another form of order is what the mathematicians know as geometrical. There should be a progress in Christian life. It should not merely be first, second, and third, but there should be a continual advance; and if the advance be by a constant multiple, how greatly will a man increase! Why, take but the lowest number, two, and beginning with one, you come to two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, one hundred and twenty-eight, and so on, to I know not what greatness of numeration. He who did a little for Christ when but a babe in grace, should do more as a young man, and most of all as a father. He who, having but little faith, could bid the sycamore tree be plucked up, should, when he hath more faith, command the mountain to be removed and cast into the sea. The youth who rent the lion should, when a man, smite a thousand Philistines, hip and thigh, or tear up the gates of Gaza, posts, and bar, and all. We are never to be satisfied with what we have done. If thou be self-contented, thou shalt soon be poor. If thou shalt once say, “I have attained,” thou shalt drift adown the current; but a holy dissatisfaction, a craving after holiness , an opening of the mouth, a panting after something better, this it is which will conserve what thou hast, as well as enrich thee in things to which thou hast not yet attained. The right order for a Christian is the order of advance. “Superior,” cries the eagle, as he mounts higher and higher, and leaves the clouds below him. Higher, higher, higher, believer! this is God’s will concerning thee, and be not thou slack to avail thyself of the consecrated privilege. “Order my steps in thy word, O Lord,” by a constant geometrical progression, that I may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
There is another order which every Christian should observe; namely, the proportional order. There are certain duties which to the uninstructed appear to conflict with each other. How far am I to observe the first table; how far the second? Sometimes my duty to God may cross the track of my duty to my parents, or to my master; what course then will be right? How far shall I go in either road without sin, and where shall I halt without being guilty of omission one way or the other? All Christians should endeavour so to balance their lives that there shall not be an excess of one virtue and a deficiency of another. Alas! have we not known professors whose graces in one department have been so apparent as to become glaring, while the absence of graces has been lamentably manifest. Courage some will have till they are rude, and coarse, and intrusive; modesty will rule in others till they are cowardly and pliable. Not a few are so full of love that their talk is sickening with cant expressions, disgusting to honest minds; while others are so faithful that they see faults which do not exist; while a third class are so tender that for the most glaring vice they make apologies, and sin goes unrebuked in their presence. The character of our Lord was such that no one virtue has undue preponderance. Take Peter, and there is a prominent feature peculiar to himself; one quality attracts you. Take John, and there is a lovely trait in his character which at once chains you, and his other graces are unobserved. But take the life of the blessed Jesus, and it shall perplex you to discover what virtue shines with purest radiance. His character is like the lovely countenance of a classic beauty, in which every single feature is so in exact harmony with all the rest, that when you have gazed upon it, you are struck with a sense of general beauty, but you do not remark upon the flashing eye, or chiselled nose, or the coral lips: an undivided impression of harmony remains upon your mind. Such a character should each of us strive after, a mingling of all perfections to make up one perfection; a combining of all the sweet spices to make up a rare perfume, such as only God’s Holy Spirit itself can make, but such as God accepts wherever he discovers it. May we have grace then to keep the proportions of the virtues; and remember this can only become ours by waiting upon God with daily prayer, crying evermore, “Order my steps in thy word.”
Another form of order is that of relation. We stand not in this world alone: we are all thecentres of circles, and innumerable lines intersect each other in the region of our hearts. Now, the believer should ask that his steps may be ordered in conformity to the relations which he bears to all things. Towards God what is the order of my life? To walk humbly with my God is my daily duty. O may God teach us this difficult virtue! Pride is inherent in us, and I suppose we shall never lay it aside till we undress for our last bed; but pride before God on the part of a sinful creature, must be a very abhorrent thing, and our souls should daily agonise after true humility towards the Most High. The Lord, moreover, deserves our love, our gratitude, and in consequence of our gratitude, our zeal, our daily service, our reverent homage, our loving consecration of spirit, soul, and body, to his cause. O that we did but live as in his sight, seeing him who is invisible. We are God’s creatures, God’s children, God’s servants, God’s elect, members of Christ’s body, Christ’s spouse: what manner of people ought we then to be? The Lord help us to live according to our relationship to himself.
Then we bear a relationship to the Christian church; and there is a fitness of walk in reference to our fellow pilgrims. We are not to be censorious, and yet not blind to their faults; we are to be zealous, but not passionate; independent of man, but not disobedient to Christian rule and order. Alas! how many are unwilling to take their true place in the church, but desire to be first, and to be highly esteemed. To certain persons it is one of the hardest lessons to know how they ought to behave themselves in the house of God. Factious spirits cannot learn the lesson, and must needs set up small establishments of their own, on the principle that they had sooner rule in hell than serve in heaven. They cannot bring themselves to acknowledge discipline or maintain order: from such may the Lord deliver us.
We must not forget our relationships to our families. He is a sorry Christian who would neglect to walk in his own household according to the duties required in the word. Art thou a child? Christianity does not loose thee from honouring thy parents. Art thou a servant? The gospel of Jesus does not teach thee to be an eye-server, to purloin, or to be pert and disrespectful. Art thou a master? Thy religion puts thee under bonds to be the best of masters, for thou thyself hast a Master, even Christ. Art thou a parent? Religion imposes upon thee new duties to train up thy children in God’s fear. Are we neighbours? Let us bless all around us: bless and curse not. Whoever our neighbour may be, we owe him, according to our Lord’s law, no small consideration. I have no right to annoy my neighbour; I have no right to do anything which causes him loss or injury; on the contrary, I am bound to love him as myself, and if I can serve him in any way, to lay myself out so to do. Beloved, you have relationships towards sinners. These are of a very solemn kind. Since Christ loved you, and died to save you, he has taught you to love others, and to be willing even to lay down your lives that they may be saved. Do you see how this subject opens up? It widens before my mind’s eye into a boundless expanse. What a strange thing must holiness be, then, if the man who possesses it has to act in conformity to a thousand relationships! What a wonderful piece of artistic adjustment! A painting by a masterhand! A work of art unparalleled! A music of intricate and ravishing harmonies! “An honest man,” says the proverb, “is the noblest work of God correct the phrase, and say a holy man, and you have the truth. I dare to affirm, that the balancing of the clouds, and the arranging of the firmament, the upheaval of the mountains, and the guidance of the stars; the creation of living bodies, with all their wondrous tissue of muscle, and sinew, and nerve — ay, and all other works of God put together — do not exceed in splendour of wisdom and power the holiness of a life which has been moulded by the Spirit’s sacred power. In holiness God is more clearly seen than in anything else, save in the person of Christ Jesus the Lord, of whose life such holiness is but a repetition. The relationships which encompass us on all hands cast a clear light upon David’s meaning in the words, “Order my steps in thy word.”
I have not quite finished this subject. I must call you to observe, that there is an order of period; the order of the celestial Almanack. Punctuality is demanded; seasons must be kept, due time must be regarded. Now, the Christian man can only be said to have his life ordered rightly as to time when all his time is sanctified to noblest ends. Perpetuity of uprightness is the very beauty of holiness. No man’s life is well ordered, if by fits and starts he is careful, and again is careless as to how he acts. Holiness consists not in the rushing of intense resolve, which like Kishon sweeps everything before it, and then subsides, but in the constant flow of Siloah’s still waters, which perpetually make glad the city of our God. Holiness is no blazing comet, amazing nations with a transient glory; it is a fixed star that, with still, calm radiance, shines on through the darkness of a corrupt age. Holiness is persevering obedience; it is not holiness at all if it be but occasional zeal and sensational piety.
Moreover, holiness as to its order in the matter of time is seasonable. It is the fault of numbers that their virtues are always too late; they are patient when the pain is over, generous when the opportunity for liberality has passed away, forgiving after they have vented their anger in unkind words; they are sorrowful after they have done the ill, and therefore evidently right at heart; but if they could but have abstained from the ill, how much better! The tree that God commendeth bringeth forth its fruit in its season. Would God we all had this ordering of our footsteps that we could bring forth the appropriate virtue in its time. O could I have back those opportunities of pleading with sinners which I have allowed to slip, how would I hope to use them! Could I have back those times for glorifying my precious Master which have now, alas! rolled away with the years beyond the flood, how would I seek to honour his dear name! But the fruit in its season did not come, alas! alas! for me. My God, help me in the future, that when the time arriveth, the man may be ready for the time by thy Spirit.
Once more on this point, there should be about the Christian’s holiness an order of suitability, by which I intend this: what would be right enough, and as much as would be expected in an ordinary man, is not the measure of a Christian’s service to his God. “What do ye more than others?” is a very pertinent question to every professor of the faith of Christ. To be barely honest, to be barely just, what is this? There are thousands of Atheists who are all this. To be observant of the Sabbath-day, to be careful in the maintenance of regular family devotion, what is this? Many a hypocrite hath done this year by year for a lifetime. There is a peculiar tenderness of walk, an elevation of spirit, an unworldliness of mind, which is expected from the Christian, not as a man, but as a man twice born, as a favourite of heaven, as one whose way is Christ, whose end is Christ, and who therefore cannot be allowed and tolerated in conduct such as might be expected from an unconverted man. O Christian, thou art a priest; take care how thou servest thy God, at whose altar thou dost stand. Let not merely the bells of thy profession sound musically, but let the pomegranates of thy holiness be thy beauty. O heir of heaven, thou art a king: play not with beggars. Grasp thy sceptre, and rule over thy lusts. Be of princely character, as thou art of princely blood. Thou art a citizen of heaven: let thy conversation be on high. Thou shalt soon sit to judge angels; a place at the right hand of the great Judge in the last assize is reserved for thee; as thine honours, as thy pedigree, as thine estate, as thy favours are, so let thy life be, and let thy steps be ordered according to the dignity of thy condition.
We have spent; too long a time, but the subject tempted us. There are vast battalions of thought in ambush in the text.
II. Very briefly, in the second place, we will note THE RULE of this order.
“Order my steps in thy word,” not “Order my steps according to my wishes.” This would be mere self-will. Many men order their steps according to the principle of worldly profit and loss; that is good that pays; that is sure to be avoided which costs too much; this is meanness and greed. The true follower of Jesus doth not ask to have his steps ordered according to the rule of pleasure as those do who always choose the grassiest road, whether it lead down to hell or up to heaven; this is childish folly. The good man is anxious to be conformed to God’s word, let the road be rough or smooth. He doth not ask to be conformed to precedent, as the multitude do who will not attempt what has never been done before; they must always tread where they can see the marks of traffic; custom is their law. Not so David. If he be the first to tread the path, he is well content if it be God’s way. It is folly to be singular except when to be singular is to be right; but then singularity, and even eccentricity, become the highest wisdom. Better go to heaven alone than to hell with a herd. The saint does not request to be conformed to tradition; little cares he for that — nay, less than nothing. What mattereth it if one be damned according to old rubrics? Better by half to be saved according to the way which men call heresy. Nay, nay; the saint cares not for the dogmas of priests or the traditions of the elders, but “Order my steps in thy word ” is his prayer.
Some, I know, fall into a very vicious habit, which habit they excuse to themselves — namely, that of ordering their footsteps according to impressions. Every now and then I meet with people whom I think to be rather weak in the head, who will journey from place to place, and will perform follies by the gross under the belief that they are doing the will of God, because some silly whim of their diseased brains is imagined to be an inspiration from above. There are occasionally impressions of the Holy Spirit which guide men where no other guidance could have answered the end. I do not doubt the old story of the Quaker who was disturbed at night and could not sleep, and was led to go to a person’s house miles away, and knock at the door just at the time when the inhabitant was about to commit suicide — just in time to prevent the act. I have been the subject of such impressions myself, and have seen very singular results therefrom; but to live by impresssions is oftentimes to live the life of a fool, and even to fall into downright rebellion against the revealed word of God. Not your impressions, but that which is in this book must always guide you. “To the law and to the testimony;” if it be not according to that word, the impression comes not from God — it may proceed from Satan, or from thine own distempered brain. Our prayer must be, “Order my steps in thy word. Now, that rule of life, the written word of God, we ought to study and obey. The text proves that the psalmist desired to know what was in God’s word; he would be a reader and a searcher. O Christian, how canst thou know what God would have thee to do, if thy Bible be unthumbed and covered over with dust? The prayer implies too, that when David once knew God’s word, he wished to fulfil it all. Some are pickers and choosers. One of God’s commands they will obey; another they are conveniently blind unto, or, even directly disobedient to it. O that it were not so with God’s people, that they had a balanced mind in their obedience, and would take God’s word without making exceptions, following the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. “Order my steps,” Lord, not in a part of thy word, but in all of it. Let me not omit any known duty, nor plunge into any known sin. There was in David’s mind, according to this prayer, a real love for holiness. He was not holy because he felt he ought to be, and yet would fain be otherwise, but if there were anything good and lovely, he desired to have it; if there were anywhere in God’s garden, a rare fruit or flower of purity and excellence, he longed to have it transplanted into his soul, that in all things his life might be the perfect transcript of the word of God. Stick then to God’s testimonies. There is a perfect rule in the divine statutes. May the Holy Spirit cast us in the mould of the word.
III. Thirdly, two or three words upon the DIRECTOR whom David had chosen.
He applies to God himself to order his steps. Much will depend upon the model that a man takes, and the captain under whom a man serves. We read in the papers last week of a commanding officer at Aldershot, who was obeyed by his soldiers with that prompt discipline which is peculiar to the British soldier, but who through some mistake or mismanagement managed to dash together two parties of dragoons, so that one or two were injured, and one man was killed outright. It is a glorious thing for us that we have a Commander who never makes such mistakes, who will so order our footsteps that our virtues shall not come into collision, and so direct our lives that it shall be always safe for us to follow his commands.
What does David mean by putting himself under the orders of God? He means this. First, “Lord, give me a heart to love thee: I beseech thee, change me so, that whereas I once tended towards evil by the force of nature, I may now tend towards righteousness by a yet more powerful force, the force of a new nature. Order my footsteps, put a propelling power within my spirit, that shall constrain my steps towards the right, and the true, and the holy.”
He means next, “Lord, illuminate me to know thy word. Pour a flood of light into my spirit that I may never mistake good for evil, never choose light for darkness. O light up the darkest recesses of my soul, that I may always discern at the very first look that which is contrary to thy mind, when it comes in the most flattering guise!”
He means again, “Let thy Holy Spirit overshadow me. Let my spirit only follow, but let thy Spirit lead the way. Let thy Spirit subdue all my faculties, understanding, affections, will. Let everything be subordinated to a divine government, that so being no longer independent of my God, I may be holy as he is holy.”
He seems to mean again, “Charm me with the beauties of holiness. Let me so see the example of thy dear Son that I may be fascinated by it, and compelled to do as he did by the divine order and behest of his example.”
And does not he also mean, “Lord, so arrange providence that I may not be tempted above what I am able to bear; check me when I am likely to sin; send me help just when I shall need it to achieve some difficult task of obedience”? Providence co-works with grace. There is the hand of a man and the wing of an angel going together, and where God sets the soul to work after sanctification, he is quite sure to order both its outward joys and sorrows, so that its holiness shall be promoted. Lord, do this, and thus order thou my steps in thy word.
I have concluded when I have given two or three words of earnest practical advice. My brethren and sisters, especially you who are members of this church, does it need that I commend to you earnestly to seek after conformity to the Lord’s word as laid down in his revealed will? Should there be any such necessity, I beseech you hear me patiently but for a minute. You all desire to extend the power of the gospel and the glory of Christ’s kingdom; know then that you can by no possibility do anything which shall be more likely to accomplish this than by seeking after holiness. A holy church is always a powerful church. A band of people without gifts, without wealth, who shall exhibit much of the likeness of Christ, will be a power in the land. Covet not talent, but covet grace. Pant not so much after honour as after holiness. This is the great point with you, if you are to win the battle for Christ, and put the crown upon his head. O give me but to know that you are godly parents, that you are obedient children, that you are pious masters, that you are diligent servants, and my crown of rejoicing will be bright indeed; but ah! if your lips be unhallowed, your testimony goes for nothing, and my crown is gone. I pray you, by the glory of him who wore the thorn-crown for you, by all his love and his compassion, and by the love which you bear him in return, “watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation,” and commit your ways unto God that they may be directed in his fear.
Brethren, I commend holiness to you, because above all things in this world it is one of the most comforting in the hour of trouble. Let a soul be brought low, and let there be sin connected with its humiliation, and there is a thorn in its pillow; but when a man knows that, in the sight of God, he has been kept from evil, and his integrity cannot be impugned, then quiet reigns in his soul. There may be roaring tempests without, but his soul is at peace when he can say, “Thou hast upheld me in mine integrity; and thou hast set me before thy face for ever.” Remember that the best way to enjoy fellowship is holiness. Many saints of God do not see Christ’s face by the month together, because they are careless in their living. “How shall two walk together except they be agreed?” The Lord will not cast off his people, but at the same time he will not manifest to them the tenderness of his love unless they walk very carefully with him. Much will be endured by a king from a common subject which could not be borne with from a courtier. You are of the king’s counsel; you are a favourite of the Lord; see that ye walk circumspectly. The place where God is, according to Jacob, is a dreadful place, and so it is, because there is a holiness required in the presence of the Most High which should make us put off our shoes from off our feet in holy dread. We have been for a long time sighing and crying, because we do not see a revival of religion. It is the common talk with earnest souls that the times are flat and stale. They are not so bad as they were, yet still there is no advance in the kingdom such as we looked for; but remember, if we want to see the Master come in the power and fulness of his Spirit, one of the surest ways to get him is to be more holy. His church hinders the blessing by her inconsistency. A worldly church chases away the Spirit of God. Wherever there is a people conformed to the maxims and ways of the world, indifferent in prayer, and sluggish in effort, there will be the name to live, but there will be death ; but where there is a people who, with little strength have, nevertheless, kept God’s word, and above all have kept their garments unspotted, there will ere long come the making bare of the almighty arm in the eyes of all the people. Wash ye, make ye clean, put away your secret iniquities, humble yourselves, O professors, before God. May the Lord give you the spirit of repentance, may he pour out his spirit upon each of us, may we put away the old leaven, and so shall we keep the feast. May we shake ourselves from the dust of every sin, so shall we put on our beautiful garments, and the time of the church’s glory and our triumph shall come. My lips refuse to speak as I wish they would, upon a theme which weighs upon my spirit right heavily. O God, send us holiness; if by no other means, then let trouble come to work in ns hatred of sin; if thou canst not answer otherwise, then by terrible things in righteousness do thou answer, O God, but do make us holy for thine honour’s sake.
Lastly, I fear that mingled in this throng are some who never prayed the prayer, “Order my steps in thy word,” for their steps are certainly not ordered in God’s word. Some of you have halting steps; you are halting between two opinions; you cannot make up your minds. O fools and slow of heart, ye cannot make up you mind, which is better, God or the devil, holiness or sin, heaven or hell! It seems to be a point wherein no delays or considerations could be needful. O that ye were taught wisdom by the Holy Spirit, and would halt no longer, but decide this day, for as the Lord my God liveth, ye have but short time to live, and if ye continue halting as some of you have done these forty and sixty years, the sermons you have heard, and the prickings of your conscience, shall be swift witnesses against you to condemn you.
There are others whose steps were never ordered in God’s word, for their ways are hypocritical. They walk to-day like Christians, tomorrow as worldlings. They sing the songs of Zion, and they chant the hymns of Baal. They worship the Lord with his people, but they worship Bacchus also with his votaries. Alas! for the many who wear a mask and a vizard, and make fair pretences and a glittering show, but the truth is not in them. I fear me there are some of you whose steps are not ordered by God, for your ways are sin. Pleasure enchants you; alas! this fleeting pleasure, whose cup glitters with beady bubbles, but whose dregs are hell! Would God ye would cease you from your evil ways, and turn you at his rebuke, for then he has promised he will have mercy upon you. Among us this morning are many whose outward conduct is unblameable, and whose morals are excellent, but yet their heart is not right with God. They live without prayer day after day; they have an atheistic heart which shuns the Deity. I put this prayer before you not that you may use it, but that you may judge yourselves by it; and if this one prayer condemns you, how will you bear the majesty of the Judge of all the earth, who shall come in person to judge the world in righteousness according to our gospel? Jesus has died for sinners; he came to save the ungodly. Trust him, trust him, trust him, and from this day you shall begin to live. O may the Spirit of God help you to trust him, and then, but not till then, shall ye be in a fit state to breathe this prayer for sanctification to God of perfect holiness, “Order my steps in thy word.”