“Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” — Psalm cxix. 133.
NOTICE, in the previous verse, how the psalmist expresses his longing desire to be treated as one of the Lord’s family: “Look thou upon me, and be merciful unto me, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name.” We also, dear friends, wish to be treated as God treats all the rest of his children; I am sure that every humble believer will be quite content with that arrangement. There was a time when you would have been willing that he should make you one of his hired servants; but you have seen the mistake of such a desire as that, and now your prayer is, “Deal with me, O Lord, as one of thy children; treat me according to thy use and wont with thy redeemed! I do not ask anything different from the lot of the rest of the heirs of heaven. If they are poor, I would be poor with them; if they suffer reproach, I would be reproached with them; if they carry the cross, I would carry the cross, too. Whatever is the appointed portion of the Lord’s children, I am prepared to share and share alike with them. If thou dost chasten them, I hope to have thy chastening; if thou dost smile upon them, I shall delight to be smiled upon as thou art wont to smile on them.” Brothers and sisters, we feel a sweet kind of communism in the Church of God; we none of us desire to have anything more than the common lot of the redeemed family.
At the same time, each believer must have and will have his own apprehension of his personal needs, and he will therefore present to the Lord his own special prayer. I hoped, just now, when we were praying, that my words might suit the cases of many of you; but I felt more concerned that each one should be offering petitions and thanksgivings for himself. Oh, what power there often is in those personal prayers where there is no audible voice, but only the lips move, as did Hannah’s! At such times, the woman of a sorrowful spirit goes her way comforted because of her secret fellowship with God. Do not imagine that any form of prayer — liturgical or extempore, — can meet the needs of your case at all times. No; you must present your own personal supplication; and the Lord seems to say to you, as Ahasuerus said to Esther, “What is thy petition, and it shall be granted thee; and what is thy request, . . . it shall be performed.”
It seems to me that my text may suit all of us who are in this assembly. I am sure that it suits me. I have prayed it before I have preached from it, and I desire to be praying it while I am preaching concerning it. I commend it to those who are just beginning the divine life, and I suggest it as equally appropriate to those who may have wandered somewhat out of the way of holiness. Ay, and I suggest it to those who are venerable and full of wisdom; I suggest it even to my elders, to the beloved fathers in our Israel, that this is a prayer which may last all of us right up to the gates of heaven, “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” You, too, who are just; beginning to seek the Saviour, should be told that this is the kind of spirit to which you will have to come; and if the Lord brings you to be his own, this is the kind of prayer that you will pray; and if you cannot pray it, and will not pray it, you will bear witness against yourselves that you are not the children of God. I am sure that I am not too severe when I speak thus.
I. As the Holy Spirit shall enable me, I want to bring out four things in this text which are well worthy of your earnest consideration. The first is, the COMPLETE SUBSERVIENCE to the will of God of the man who thus prayed: “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.”
You see, he begins his prayer with the word “order.” He is a man who wishes to be under orders, he is willing to obey the Lord’s commands, and he is anxious to receive them, and to be made to carry them out. Now this is not the way of the world; worldlings say, “Who is the Lord, that we should obey his voice? We are our own masters; who is Lord over us?” Free thinking and free living, — these are the desires of ungodly men; but when the grace of God has renewed the heart, the soul finds its true freedom in obedience to Christ’s commands, and its best thinking while sitting at the feet of Jesus to observe his gracious words.
“Order my steps in thy word.” Beloved, once we lived without any order, or plan, or method; but the grace of God makes us method-ists in the highest possible sense. It makes us live according to God’s method; and our prayer is, that we may never be disorderly, but that in all things, just as the universe is arranged by God, and all the stars keep their appointed courses, so we may be made to take our proper places, and may be kept in them, joyfully obedient to the will of the Most High. It is one of the marks of the grace of God when we ask God to order us, and willingly put ourselves under his command.
Moreover, the psalmist prayed, “Order my steps in thy word.” He was perfectly satisfied with God’s revelation; he had not so much of it as we have, but there was room enough in it for all his steps: “Order my steps in thy word.” He wanted no greater liberty than the Bible gave him, no wider range than he found in the commands of the Most High. His prayer was like that verse we sang just now, —
“Make me to walk in thy commands,
’Tis a delightful road;
Nor let my head, or heart, or hands,
Offend against my God.”
Are you satisfied, dear hearer, to keep within the compass of the divine command? If so, take it as an evidence that God has changed your heart. But oh, my dear hearer, if you live outside of that Book, if you never get inside it at all, if you never care what it says, what it promises, what it commands, then take it as certain that you do not know the Lord! Let us, each one, at this moment breathe this prayer to God, “Order my steps in thy word. Make me to live as a man who is under authority, who finds directions for his living in the law of his God, and who makes it his desire and his delight to be conformed thereto.”
So, you see the complete subservience of the man of God, his earnest desire that he might be cleared from every kind of iniquity. I may mention that, in the Hebrew, the prayer, “Order my steps in thy word,” may mean, “Make my steps firm in thy word.” The psalmist would be kept from all vacillation, hesitation, or wandering; but he wants, when he is right, to be firmly right, to be distinctly, decidedly right, so he pleads, “Make my steps firm.” Oh, how we often stagger along! We do what is right, but we quiver and shake while we are doing it. Have you not known, dear friends, what it was to seem to be wavering? Your feet had almost gone, your steps had well-nigh slipped; but the psalmist’s prayer is, that his obedience may be firm, decided, steady obedience. You young beginners will do well to pray that this experience may be yours. It is often given to God’s saints, when they have been long in his ways, to get confirmed in habits of righteousness, so that they are not carried about by every wind of temptation, and it should be the prayer of all God’s servants that they may be so established in righteousness that they can say with the apostle Paul, “From henceforth let no man trouble me.” It is no use for them to try to do it, for they cannot entice me away from my dear Master’s service. “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” I bared my back to be branded as Christ’s slave, so that the mark shall never be removed as long as I live. I have given my arm to be tattooed with the cross, so that never, while I have an arm to move, should it belong to anybody but to Christ himself. It is a blessed thing when you reach this point, and say, “I cannot and I will not listen to thy temptations, O sinful world! Thou mayest call, but I will not answer. Thou mayest invite, but I will not listen. The time of parleying is past, the hour for making my choice is over. I belong to God, and my prayer is, that my footsteps may always be confirmed in obedience to his mind and will.”
I leave this prayer with you as to its complete subservience. Do you kick against it? Do you want to be something other than God would have you to be? My dear bearer, I am sorry for you; but if, on the contrary, you yield to him, and desire to be like wax under the seal, that God may stamp upon you bis own impress, and no other, then the Lord is dealing with you in a way of grace, and you may confidently hope that you belong to him.
II. Now, secondly, I call your attention to the CAREFUL WATCHFULNESS of this prayer, the detailed watchfulness of it: “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.”
You see that the psalmist enters into detail when he presents this petition; he does not say merely, “Order my life,” but, “Order my steps.” Godly men desire to be kept right by God even in the little things of life. It is often in little things, such as steps, rather than in long periods of running, that the good or the evil may be most plainly seen. Blessed is that man to whom there exists no such thing as a trifle, who desires to serve God even in the jots and tittles, for he shall not fall by little and little, as so many have done. He shall not have grey hairs upon him here and there, and yet not know it, for bis careful watchfulness shall enable him to detect the slightest deflection from the right way, and so shall he be able to hold to the straight path of integrity. Brethren, the old proverb is, “Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves,” which I will translate into the language of our text, “Take care of the steps, and the day’s walking, as a whole, will take care of itself.” True Christians want the Lord to bless them in everything, ay, even in those plain and simple words which drop from their lips almost without a thought. We do more wrong, perhaps, by want of thought than by any will to do evil; and hence the necessity of crying to God, “Order my steps; take care of the little things in my life, that I sin not against thee.”
“Order my steps.” That prayer means, “Order my ordinary daily life.” Do not many think that religion is only something for Sundays? They put it on with their best hat, and put it away when they put that hat into the box. Believe me, that the religion which is taken up only once a week, and dropped during the rest of the week, is neither fit to live with nor to die with. It is like a bad bank-note; if you find such a counterfeit, you had better lay it down, and run away from it, and not let anyone suspect that it ever belonged to you.
True godliness concerns the ordinary actions of daily life. Do not tell me what you can say at a prayer-meeting. What do you do in the parlour? What do you do in the kitchen? How do you behave yourself to your wife? How do you act towards your children? “He is a very good man,” said one to me, “he is a very good man indeed, but his children are all afraid of him.” “Then,” I thought, “he is not a good man, but a very bad man indeed.” I could not conceive him to be good, I would rather believe Howland Hill’s saying that a man was not truly converted if his cat and his dog were not the better off for it. It ought to be a blessing, and it must be a blessing to everybody round about him, if the grace of God enters into his soul. “Order my steps in thy word,” means, “Help me to turn the common actions of my ordinary life into a hallowed service.” When I put on my weekday clothes, may I be even as when a priest in the olden time put on his holy vestments, and ministered before the Lord, and may everything that I do be the exercise of a sacred priesthood unto the living God! The apostle Peter’s exhortation is still in force, “Ashe which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” So are Paul’s injunctions, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God;” “and whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
Thus, the watchfulness included in the text concerns the little things and the ordinary things of our lives; and following the psalmist’s example, we shall especially pray about all our advances. It is by steps that we go forward. This is the age of progress; everybody is crying out, “Forward!” Well, then, here is a prayer for those who wish to progress wisely: “O Lord, order my steps in thy word! So shall my progress be a progress toward thyself, a progress within the compass of thy sacred truth.” He who outruns Scripture will have to come back again; he who goes beyond the boundaries of the right road will lose his way, and the more progress he makes the greater will be the distance that he will have to return if he is to reach his journey’s end in peace. Pray this prayer, young man, if you want to be safe, “O Lord, order my steps in thy word!” There is great temptation, nowadays, to take up with anything that is new. A man buttonholes you, and tells you of a new discovery that he has made; well, hear what he has to say if you think well. “Prove all things,” but, “hold fast that which is good;” and be this your continual prayer, that your steps, when you take any steps, may always be ordered according to the Word of God. “Well,” says one, “you tie us up pretty tightly.” No, my friend, I do not want to tie you up at all, you can roam where you like; but I know that the tighter I am tied, the better it is for me, and the happier I am. There is a prayer in the 118th Psalm which I like always to pray, “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” Lord, hold me fast from morning till night, and through the night as well; I long that thou shouldst fill my very dreams with thoughts of thee! Lord, bind me fast both winter and summer, and every day in the year; I would not have a single hour in which thou didst not order me and command me! Lord, bind me as to every step I take, and every advance I make, for where may I not go if I ever advance beyond thy Word, and what can be good for me if thou dost not count it good, and what wilt thou withhold from me if it be really good for me?
So I commend this prayer to you, dwelling much on these two points, — first, complete subservience to the divine will, and then, careful watchfulness about all the details of your life. Only turn them both into prayers; do not say, “I am going to order my steps.” Are you? Do not say, “I am going to obey God in everything.” Are you? This holy road is not fit for such feet as yours while you talk like that; until you are shod with a simple dependence upon God, you will never take to this narrow way; and unless the Lord holds you up in it, you will soon either fall in it or fall from it. So make no resolutions in your own strength, but offer the prayer of our text in the name of Jesus, and the Lord will hear you.
III. In the third place, I call your attention to the COMPREHENSIVE OBEDIENCE which is desired in this text.
It has two clauses, the positive and the negative. “Order my steps in thy word;” that is, “Lord, make me positively to do the right thing!” Then, “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me;” that is, “Lord, preserve me from any thought or word or deed which would be contrary to thy mind and will!” He is the right sort of believer who is an all-round Christian, one who is positive for doing the right, but who is equally determined not to do the wrong. We have some very active professors who are not, at the same time, watchful on the negative side, and we have a great many negative professors who might offer the Pharisee’s prayer, “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” They look to some extent to the negative side, but then there is nothing positive for the right, there is nothing that they are really doing to please the Lord. We want to have a divine amalgam of the two parts of our text, “Order my steps in thy word,” and “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.”
With regard to this comprehensive obedience, notice that the psalmist desires that no sin of any kind should be tolerated within his heart: “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” Some men have their pet sins, and some women have their darling sins. They cry to the evil things within, “Out with you, out with you all, except this one.” There is a winking of the eye, or a lifting of the finger, which means to some iniquity, “You may stop behind.” “But, my dear sir,” says one, “have we not all some besetting sin?” Possibly it is so, but what is a besetting sin? If I were to go across a common at dead of night, and half-a-dozen men met me, and gathered round me, crying, “Your money or your life,” I should be beset by them. Suppose that I had to cross Clapham Common to-night, and that I was thus surrounded and robbed, I should be beset by the thieves; but suppose I went that way again to-morrow night, and on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday night, and Thursday night, and Friday night, and Saturday night, do you think that I should be able to say that I was “beset” by the robbers? People would naturally ask, “Why did you go that way? If you are attacked and robbed once, we can understand that; but what do you mean by going that way again?” Here is a man who says that drinking is his besetting sin. Well, my brother, I can understand that you were led on by degrees from glass to glass till you lost your balance, and were overcome. You call that your besetting sin, and yet you still go to the public-house. Well, that is what I call going across a common on purpose to be robbed, and I cannot believe in your excuse about besetting sins.
I think that I have heard many things of that character, whereby people try to excuse themselves on the ground that some sin besets them. The negro said that drunkenness was an “upsetting” sin much more than a “besetting” sin; I think he was quite right in saying so, and there are many other upsetting sins of that kind. Men open the door, and say to some iniquity or other, “Come in, you are my besetting sin.” They put themselves in the way of it, they indulge themselves in it, and then they talk as if they really could not help it. Down on your knees, and cry, “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me. Lord, save me from it, for my desire is to obey thee completely in everything without leaving anything out from under the dominion and sway of the laws of Christ!”
IV. Now, lastly, this prayer commends itself very much to me, not only for its comprehensiveness, but because of a certain CAUTIOUS APPREHENSIVENESS which seems to lie in it.
I like the holy fear which glows within the psalmist’s prayer like the fire within an opal. He says, “Order my steps in thy word.” He means, “Lord, I am afraid to take a single step without thine orders, I am afraid to put one foot before another for fear I should go wrong!” “Happy is the man that feareth alway.” He that was too bold was never too wise. He that leaped before he looked, looked very sadly after he had leaped. He shall go right who knows where he is going, is careful about the road, and afraid lest he should go astray. He is the man who prays, “Order my steps in thy word.”
Then notice, especially in the latter sentence, “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me,” how the psalmist seems to say, “Lord, I feel that I am liable to the very greatest iniquity
But the prayer seems to me also to intimate that he felt fearful of the least evil. There is here, to my mind, a very sweet apprehensiveness concerning little sins, if there be such things. “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me. Perhaps, Lord, I shall never be a drunkard; for thou hast given me reason, and thought, and the love of sobriety, but then, Lord, what avails it if I should be guilty of covetousness, which is idolatry? Let not that iniquity have dominion over me. And if I should escape from covetousness, perhaps I may fall a prey to some secret lust. Lord, if there be a leak in the ship, the ship will go down; even if there is not a leak in the stem of the vessel, yet if there is a leak in the prow, or anywhere in her hull, that will suffice to sink her. Lord, let not any iniquity have dominion over me!”
Suppose that I do not fall by any of these known sins, yet if I do not walk with God, if I neglect secret prayer, if I have not yielded myself fully up to the working of the Holy Spirit upon me, the result will be just the same. This prayer is needful for every one of us: “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” Brothers, I do not feel afraid for the most of you that you will become the prey of any overt scandalous sins; but I am afraid that some of you may be eaten up with dry rot, that the white ants may secretly eat through you, and yet leave all the skin and outside of everything just as it used to be. We have heard travellers tell that, when they have gone into their rooms which they had left for some time, there stood their boxes, their sets of drawers, and their tables, just as when they left; but as soon as they have touched them, they have dropped into so much dust, for the insects had eaten all the heart of the wood away. Is it not possible for us to get into that state, — to seem everything that is good, and yet the very heart of us may be eaten out? Pray, then, this prayer, “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” O children of God, you who really do know and love him, be concerned about yourselves that you be not mistaken, and that you do not fall under the supremacy of any evil and false thing! Cry mightily to God about this matter; search and try yourselves, and make sure work for eternity. I say this especially to myself and to all ministers, for there are so many ways in which ministers may deceive themselves; we may preach to others, and yet be ourselves castaways. I say this also to you, church-officers, and to you, revered members of the church who have grown grey in your profession. Take heed to yourselves, and every one of you breathe this prayer, “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.”
Then what shall I say to you who have never believed in the Lord Jesus Christ? If the righteous scarcely be saved, where will you be found? “Oh!” says one, “I never made a profession of religion.” You are proud of that, are you? Suppose you were brought before a magistrate, and charged with being a thief, and you said to him, “I never made a profession of being an honest man.” “Oh!” he would say, “take that fellow to prison, he is convicted out of his own mouth.” You never made a profession of fearing God, you never made a profession of believing in Christ; is that so, sir? Then the day of judgment is almost a superfluity to you, for you have judged yourself, and condemned yourself; and before long my Lord’s sheriff's officer will lay his skeleton hand upon you, and arrest you in the name of that divine justice which you have despised. There will be no resisting him, and you will have to go with him to prison and to death. Ere that dread event happens, I entreat you, by the very reasonableness of the thing, do consider, and repent, and turn unto the Lord. Look to Jesus Christ upon the cross, for he is the only way of salvation. Find in him the power to hate sin, and the power to conquer it, for there is no power anywhere but that which comes from his dear streaming wounds and from his ever-living Spirit Look to him; and when you have so done, and have trusted him, then pray this prayer to the Lord, “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.”