God’s People Led by Him
in His Paths
Preached on Tuesday Evening, May21st, 1839, in
“Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.” Psalm 17:5
One difference betwixt the presumptuous professor and a child of God, blessed with a tender conscience, is this: the presumptuous professor seems anxious to know how far he may go without being particularly criminal, what steps it is possible for him to take in pleasure or in vice without bringing himself in as false and vile; but the child of God, with a tender conscience, is constantly praying, “Hold up my goings in thy paths.” He is not wanting to know, “Can I do such a thing that is pleasing to flesh and blood, and yet not be criminal?” But he wants to be preserved tenderly walking in the fear of God, and giving proof that there is a solemn vitality in the religion of the cross of Christ. I do not mean that he will never be tempted to some evil thing; but that is not his home, that is not his element, that is not his joy.
There are people in the world who if they speak of the workings of their inbred corruption, speak of them rather as a virtue than a vice, as if they were to be nursed and cherished and delighted in; but God’s people, when in their right minds, have to speak of them with abhorrence, to detest them, to loathe them. And there are professors in the world who, if you give a description of a part of the workings of the human heart (for you can only give a part; give as much as you will, you will never get to the bottom); and if you point out the preciousness of Christ to such sinners, those call you corruption‑preachers. They know nothing about the matter; they are like Jonathan’s lad, they are not in the secret. If ever God, in the riches of his grace, had taught them the plague of their own heart, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the preciousness of Christ as suited to such sinners, they would have a better opinion of such preaching. Such men will talk very soundly upon the letter of doctrines, and go swimmingly on; but they have never had any loggers tied to their heels; they never had their sore laid open; they have never been brought into God’s hospital. And till God brings them there, they will know nothing about the preciousness of a cure. They cannot understand what the Lord spiritually means when he says, “The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”
We read this portion as a text last Tuesday evening, and promised, first, to make a few remarks upon God’s paths; secondly, to speak a little of God’s people’s goings in those paths; thirdly, their liability to slip in those paths; and lastly the nature and necessity of this prayer, “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.”
I. Now as to God’s paths we noticed
1. That solemn path that is laid down in God’s own infinite mind—the counsel and purpose of his grace, by the which and according to which he moves in all the bearings of the great economy of salvation.
2. Next we consider that glorious path, the Person, blood, and obedience of Christ, by which the eternal God comes down to sinners, in which he leads sinners to him, and in which God and sinners meet—the Lord Jesus Christ, in his blessed love, blood, and obedience.
3. Now we come next to a path that is not very pleasant to any, and much set at naught by many, —the path of tribulation.
“But,” say you, “is that one of the Lord’s paths?” God has said that it is “through much tribulation ye shall enter the kingdom.” And there is one solemn portion of God’s Word that has been at times very blessed to my own soul, and that is, “Tribulation worketh patience.” It does so in two ways. It finds patience something to do. Men talk about being very patient, who have nothing to try their patience. They know nothing about whether they have any patience, for they have had nothing to put it to the test. But let God, either by his permission or in the dispensations of his providence, suffer or bring his people into this path of tribulation, and that tries their patience and finds patience something to do. And then eventually it produces patience, as they are brought by the Holy Spirit to know something of the power of God overruling their crosses and trials, to the glory of his name and the blessedness of their own souls. And this tribulation is one of the Lord’s paths. ‘‘ By these things men live.”
But what are we to understand by tribulations? I might take up the whole evening with this, and yet say but little about it. However, I will just notice that, as it respects troubles, God’s people have all things in common with other men; such as poverty, disappointments, worldly difficulties worldly trials; but then each real spiritual believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has conflicts peculiar to himself, and which the world knows nothing of. As Hart very beautifully observes in one of his hymns, —they all have to suffer “martyrdom within.” God sends tribulation into their souls, dries up almost every spark of light, every drop of love, every particle of life that God communicates to their souls; and through an infinite variety of checkered scenes they are brought to such an internal conflict as to be “at their wit’s end” almost, and wonder where the scene will end; and they are ready to conclude that God has given them up and will have no more to do with them, and that these things are come as evidences that they are not his children. I was going to say I do not believe God takes such pains with any but his children; he lets others nurse up themselves in their delusions and go comfortably on; but he sends tribulation to his children which seems to dry them up, and to bring them from all false confidences, false comforts false evidences, and false joys, and appears, at times, as if he was burning all up. But he only burns up the hay and the stubble; for whatever you may think of yourselves, if you have known much of the working of nature, I am certain you have been building up, at times, some tolerably high heaps of hay and stubble, and you have looked at them and thought they looked so very pretty, and you have said, “Aye, we are going to get on a little now.” But God sent a storm, or sent a fire, and set it alight and burnt it up, and you were “saved, but so as by fire.” Thus you have known something feelingly and spiritually of the path of tribulation. There is no such thing as a child of God missing it; for the Lord says, we “must enter into his kingdom through much tribulation.” Yet what pains have we taken to make a better road, what pains to smooth the path, what pains to lay a fine carpet all the way, that we may go to heaven without any difficulties or trials! But God has determined that his people shall have conflicts within and such conflicts that nothing short of the Lord himself can support them in and deliver them out of; and thus they must walk through the path of tribulation.
4. Another path of the Lord is the path of walking into the various branches of God’s revealed truth in the glorious doctrines and promises of the Gospel.
If you are a child of God, and have been brought to know something experimentally of the power of divine truth on your conscience and at the same time have a tolerable acquaintance with the doctrines of truth (such as the doctrine of God’s eternal election, the inseparable union betwixt Christ and the church, the glorious pardon of sin through the atonement, the free justification of the sinner by the righteousness of Christ imputed, the fullness of Christ to supply all our needs, the final perseverance of the saints, and the ultimate glory of all God’s people); and if you never really got at them through the path of tribulation, they will make you giddy and you will walk very unsteady, and by and by all your stock will appear to fail you, and you will have to get at every particle of these divine mysteries through hot fires and deep waters, and then you will find they are solemnly sweet and solemnly precious to your soul, and you will be led to glorify God even for crosses. It was so with myself at any rate; and every one has a right to talk of the road he has gone. I recollect I believed the doctrine of election naturally, as far as nature goes. I had not been taught it, but I used to reason with myself, when a youth, that as to supposing God did not know who will be saved and who lost, why we might as well say he is no God at all. And I think so still; at least he cannot be the God of heaven, who “sees the end from the beginning.” Why, precious soul, if he is a God that does not know that, you might as well worship that pillar. But the child of God may get a knowledge of these things in the judgment, and by and by be brought into such a fierce conflict that all will tend to weigh him down, rather than give him any support or consolation. But when he is brought by the Spirit of God to walk in these things, to enter into these truths, what a blessed immortal mine opens to him, what solemn lettings down there are! He can take a survey of the purposes of God in the settlements of heaven, in the gifts of Christ, in the blessed work of the Spirit, in the building up of his people in fear and love, propping up their souls in storms, and at last leading them triumphantly to glory. A solemnly sweet matter it is, when God the Spirit leads us with vital faith to walk in this path. John speaks very highly of the elect lady’s children, who “walked in the truth.” But mind, it is consecrated ground; it is not to walk with levity, with lightness, with indifference. He must be no light frothy professor, that is “carried about with every wind of doctrine.” He will feel a solemn weight in his soul, in his sense of the importance of these doctrines.
5. Lastly, the Lord leads his children also in the path of his precepts.
I know some people say, when you start that, “O! It is legal; I have nothing to do with precepts.” Why, they are in the Word of God, and if the preceptive part of the law of Jesus, as King of Zion and Head of the church, is too trifling for your notice, surely you cannot be much attached to the Lord of the house. His blessed Majesty says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments;” and therefore it is an awful look‑out, when professors can slight them.
Now we can only mention here a few of the things which God enjoins upon his children. That they “love one another.” Then they must not be proud consequential, above the poor brokenhearted child of God. If we say we love the Lord and love not his poor mourning child, we deceive ourselves; for he is a member of Christ a limb of Christ, a part of Christ. He says so himself. You and I should remember everyone of these is a limb of our blessed Christ and a part of ourselves, for it is one blessed body, and there can be no separation betwixt Christ and his mystical members.
Then another branch of Christ’s precepts is “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” It becomes the child of God to meet with God’s dear family, to hear and for prayer; and their united prayer, under the indicting of God the Holy Ghost, is more powerful than a million armies of men.
Another branch of the Lord’s precepts is to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints,” and not to consider any branch of divine truth of little moment, but to remember God has connected his honour with it. It is not that we are to be quarrelling; but we are to maintain divine truth in the meekness and love of Christ.
Another branch of the precepts is this (it comes very close, God help us to walk in it): “Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” What is the “bond of peace?” Why, love and blood. In the bond of the love and blood of the God-man Mediator, may we be concerned to show ourselves one blessed family, born from above and bound for the world of ineffable glory, where “God shall be all in all.” And if there were time, I could go over the preceptive parts of divine truth enjoined upon the members of Christ, according to the office they fill in the world, the church, or the family, as masters or servants, husbands or wives, parents or children. In your station, be concerned to know the will of Jesus concerning you and to walk in obedience to it under the divine, anointing of his Spirit.
II. We pass on to notice next the “goings” of God’s people in his paths.
Now one of the first paths that we move in, with peace and joy, is that path which God moves in to come to us and draw us to him. Ah! How sweet and precious it is, when the Holy Ghost draws the sinner from self to Christ, and leads him by faith and in feeling, to walk in the Redeemer as the Lord his righteousness and strength! God the Spirit draws his feet up to heaven, to walk in the “fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.” He is plunged in that immortal flood, loses his guilt from his conscience, and feels a solemn enjoyment of interest in the Lord the Lamb, more prizeable than a thousand worlds. Well then, he looks and finds his own emptiness; and God the Spirit draws him by faith to walk by faith in the fullness of Christ, who is “full of grace and truth.”
Perhaps there is some poor soul here tonight, just upon the threshold of this road, and yet he cannot take a step in it. I have often seen a poor sinner standing at the borders of the fullness and glory of Christ as suited to him and he has looked, and, as we commonly say, he has longed. It is like a poor famished creature looking through a window and seeing a table richly and wonderfully loaded with the bounties of providence, but he dare not hope to be the partaker of a crumb; and there he stands thinking and quaking. Perhaps here is some soul in this state tonight. Some people tell you, “0h! You must venture in.” Ah! It is pretty talking; but doing is another thing. Perhaps now he is sure there is every thing his soul needs; but he thinks there is certainly nothing for him. But by and by the dear Lord comes, and, by the sweet power and blessed energy of his Spirit, he draws the soul in to walk into the glorious mysteries of the love of Christ; he lets down a sense of the fullness of Christ into his heart, and says, “Eat, 0 friend, and drink, yea, drink abundantly, 0 beloved; and let your heart delight itself in fatness.” And as his blessed Majesty thus speaks, he gives an enlarged heart to receive and thus fills it from his own heart; and thus brings the soul, by faith and in feeling, to walk in the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not you recollect what the Lord says by the mouth of the apostle: “ As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him?” He would not have said so, if he had not known that his people are very prone to forget that. Why, sometimes they walk round and round Christ, and look and look and yet, poor souls! they cannot walk one step into him, so as to bring the power of his blood and fullness into their hearts. But when the blessed Spirit leads them to walk in, then they have holy liberty. And sweet work it is, when Christ and the soul sit together, and there is an immortal union and communion at the banquet, which the world knows nothing of.
And so again, when a poor soul feels a load of guilt; how is he to get rid of it? “0h! “say some people, “Begin to do your duty; and when you have done a little duty, then you are to take the comfort of the Bible.” I believe it is the devil’s trap, to insult the Spirit of God and to deceive sinners. “Why,” say you, “you would not encourage them not to do their duty?” Nay, that is another thing. It becomes them to walk in the precepts of God and practice all what are called duties; but that will not do for a ground of comfort and happiness. If ever we feel guilt, and if God the Spirit does not apply the atonement and bring us to walk into the efficacy of the blood of the God‑man Mediator, and we get rid of guilt without it, it is the devil deceiving our souls and we have wrapped up ourselves in some sad delusion. Nothing but that can bring solid peace to the conscience and clear our sky of clouds. That is what makes matters straight with God, and he crowns our faith with divine apprehensions, and faith crowns him with all the glory. And thus there is a solemn coming and going betwixt the soul and the Lord, when God the Spirit is pleased to lead us by faith to walk in this way. But we shall find we only walk there as “necessity is laid upon us” and God the Spirit draws us. We may talk about the fitness of things, as if it were a matter that we could get at because it was a fit matter. It is no such thing. It is as God the Spirit draws us, and leads us and guides us, and fills our souls with his heavenly dew and his divine love; and then we are brought to walk in this path, which God himself has laid down.
Well; by and by we get into the path of tribulation; and we must walk there. The first branch of my walk in the path of tribulation I cannot forget. After I had had the bondage of guilt for a few months and the Lord had delivered me, I went cheerfully on for a few more months, and thought I should be happy all the days of my life. But at length I was brought into such gloom, such darkness, such wretchedness, such rising up of sin, such teeming or oozing up of filth, pollution, misery, unwholesomeness, that I really could not compare myself to anything better than a walking devil, and imagined that I was enough to breed the plague upon earth and that I carried a pestilence about with me. I dreaded, at the time, meeting anyone that I thought a child of God, for I was afraid the moment I met him he would find out what a monstrous hypocrite I was; and as I knew every one that lived in the village where I then was and they knew me, I thought if one of them found out what I vas and came to tell the people, I must run away and leave the country, for they would point at me and jeer me and hoot me, —I was such a wretched monster. “Aye,” some will say, “you are joking, man; you never thought you were such a vagabond as that.” Yes, indeed I did; and I think I am not much better now; for when I look at the corruption that there is within, I feel that nothing but Christ’s blood can give me rest, and nothing but his Almighty power can bring me safe along. However, by and by, God, in the dispensations of his providence, made this a path to lead me into the mysteries of his kingdom. I believe there is more in that text than many of his people think of: “Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom.” We do not merely enter the kingdom of heaven through much tribulation, but we really enter feelingly and spiritually into the kingdom of his manifested grace in the soul through tribulation; and as we are brought to have tribulation upon tribulation, the Lord appears, and blesses our souls with the unction of this truth, and we begin to walk blessedly into it.
I will just tell you how it was with me. When in this state,
I made up my mind to keep out of the company of all God’s people. But on one
occasion a poor woman, who is now gone to glory, saw me come and called me by my
name, and said, “Are you going to
Now when God the Spirit has brought the poor child of God sweetly and solemnly thus to walk in his paths, what a solemn mystery is unfolded, when God comes to make known his own path of eternal purpose and counsel, by which the Lord walks in all his dispensations! Have you ever felt it? Have you ever seen it by faith? Has God the Spirit drawn you to walk by faith and in feeling, in this path, —to trace (notwithstanding all your uncertainty, unsteadiness, fickleness, wanderings, foolishness, vanity, and wretchedness, which have burdened and oppressed you) the stability, and firmness, and glory of God’s eternal counsel? Has he brought you, in heart and soul, to walk out of your own fickleness into God’s eternal fixtures, and find there a settledness, more blessed than a thousand worlds? If God the Spirit thus leads us, we then, in some blessed measure, walk in God’s paths, and know what it is to hold converse with the Father, and with the Son, and with the blessed Spirit.
I am sure, when this is
the case, it will be no task to walk in the path of obedience. To “run in the
way of God’s commandments” will he now burden then; no, not even if the Lord
brings us so into the path of obedience as to expose us to the scorn and
derision of men. We then know something of the blessedness which Moses felt,
when by faith he esteemed even “the reproach of Christ greater riches then the
Now do you know anything
of this? It is very easy to talk about this thing being the best, and that thing
being the best. There is great deal of talk among men about a variety of things
of an eternal nature; but the
III. But we observe, in the next place, there, is a possibility of our footsteps slipping. “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.”
There is one blessed thing, we shall never depart entirely out of his paths. The Lord will invariably so order it that his people shall move on in some way or other. But we know there is a possibility of slipping. We may temporarily slip as to the doctrines of the Gospel. How was it with the Galatians? Paul says, “Ye did run well; what hath hindered you?” Ah! Their feet had slipped. And if you mind, he calls the men who had been the means of leading them to slip, wizards, because it must be a wizard or a witch which had “bewitched them.” That is the name he gives to the Judaizing teachers, the men who had seduced them from the truth. And I will tell yon how they did it. If they happened to be a little bewildered in their mind, up comes one of the religious wizards (and God knows there are plenty of them in our day), and says, “I fear you have been turning Antinomian, I fear your minds have been entangled with some notions about particular feelings and particular points of doctrine. “Now mind,” says he, “the religion of Christ is a holy religion, and what you have to do, is to mind to be holy, and to walk holily. I wish to preach Christ,” he says; “but then you must have your own holiness as well. That must be maintained, and the law must be your standing rule, and you must yield obedience to it, or you cannot be saved.” Well, this seems very right; and sometimes the poor creature begins to say, “Why, Sir, I really felt so; but when the glorious Gospel of Christ came with power to my heart, I found it had everything in it of precept and life and power, and it seemed to fit my soul well.” “Oh!” answers he; “that is Antinomianism.” Thus they try to get the old veil over the poor creature’s eyes; and if they succeed in that, he gets bewildered, and cannot tell what he is about. Now you mind what the apostle says about that: “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Why, if there is this “entanglement,” who in the name of conscience, can walk straight? With a veil over his eyes, or an entanglement upon his heart, he is sure to make some slip, and be brought into such a state of mind as to cry out, as my text does, “Hold up my goings in thy paths,” for he finds Himself slipping a great deal from “the simplicity that is in Christ,” and this brings bondage and entanglement into his conscience.
Well; there is a possibility of this slipping in precept; and that is an awful thing. Solomon slipped; and perhaps some here have solemnly slipped, though it has been hid from the world. If Telltale Truth were to write your slips on parchment upon your foreheads, where would you put your heads? But Telltale Truth will come to your conscience some day or other, if you are a child of God, read you your own souls, and make you feel your awful state, however you may cover it for awhile from the world. And I am sure, if you have a tender conscience and feel the natural proneness that there is to slip into practical sin, as well as to wander from the simplicity of the Gospel, you will send up this prayer, day after day.
IV. And that will lead us just to say a word as to the nature and necessity of this prayer: “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.”
For my part I can say I really dare not trust myself. Sometimes when I enter a little into the world and have not felt suspicious of myself nor been enabled to commit myself to God’s care, I have been brought to stand amazed, and say, “Lord! What a presumptuous arrogant monster I am! What a wonder it is that thou hast not let me slip!” I solemnly declare; that I wonder, at times, that God has not let my feet slip into some awful labyrinth which would have disgraced my character; it is a wonder of wonders, that by the grace of God I stand. 0h the wonders of the love of God! Perhaps some high‑towering professor here says, “0h! I feel no danger!” Why, you do not know your sore, poor creature; you never had your heart laid open; and the worst wish I leave for you is that God would lay it open and make you feel and see what you are. I should not like you to stay there long, for it would drive you mad if there were nothing else. Put when a poor soul has laid open to his view what an awful sinner he is and he feels how prone he is to slip, then he comes with all his heart to this prayer: “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.”
Now is this your prayer:? Perhaps there is some professor in this assembly who makes a glaring show and is thought very highly of, yet is living in practical guilt in a scandalous way every day of his life only it is concealed. Perhaps he has a plan now, before he reaches home, to practice some unhallowed crime. “Be sure your sin will find you out.” May the Lord have mercy upon you, strip you of your presumption and bring you to know something of your lost condition, that you may be led, as a perishing sinner, to the Lord Jesus Christ. Whilst you can live in the practice and delight of these things, you do not know what it is to use this prayer; you do not come with it daily to the Lord, as a pauper and a pensioner. If you feel now and then a few qualms of conscience, you want to drown them and get rid of them; you want to have a little more elbow‑room for the practice of the unhallowed feelings of your hearts. This is the work of the flesh; and may God the Spirit cut up your false hopes, and bring you to cry vehemently before him, “ Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.” And as you are led to pray, you will find, at times, the necessity of being in an agony, as it were, with the Lord. It will not be a mere tale; it will not be a mere formal prayer; there will be such plans laid to catch your feet, such suggestions and temptations of Satan, the world, and yourself, that it will really be an agonizing crying, “Lord, hold me up.” You will feel as if you were that moment sinking and wanting present aid and present power; and it will be a vehement crying to the Lord, “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.” For the children of God will certainly wish to live as witnesses for God, to crown the brow of the Lord, and to prove that God’s truth produces holiness in the conscience and leads a man to walk in the life and power of the truth of God. May the Lord bless you and me with a vital concern for his honor, and lead us to walk in his paths, spiritually and blessedly, for his own name’s sake. Amen.