|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Promise of Guidance|
|Text||Psalm 32 vv.8-9 |
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"I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee" (Psalm 32, 8-9).
The subject which is brought before us here in these words is that of 'guidance'. That is the theme that I wish to look at today: guidance.
1. TWO KINDS OF GUIDANCE
2. THE EYE OF GOD
By way of introduction, allow me to say that there are two views in the Bible commentators as to who it is that is speaking in verse eight - "I will instruct thee and teach thee".
One point of view, which is held, indeed, by some very eminent men, is that the "I" in verse eight ("I will instruct thee") is David. The view is this: David was a man of tremendous Christian experience. I use the word 'Christian' in a somewhat anachronistic sense; I mean a man who was taught of God, as Christians now are taught of God. A man who, because he walked so closely with God, had amassed great stores of spiritual wisdom and therefore here, this is the view at any rate which they hold, David offers to guide others in the light of his own experience. There is, of course, great truth in that. The more mature a Christian becomes the more qualified he is to guide his brethren. One set of commentators looks at the speaker in verse eight as being David. Personally, I don't share that view.
I take the alternative view of other writers that this is God speaking. I give you, what seems to me to be, a very strong reason why this is God not David - it is in the end of verse eight: "I will guide thee with mine eye". With all due respect for those who take a different view and regard this as David, I fail to understand how David can say that he will guide us with his eye. He could scarcely, in that sense, be said to guide his own contemporaries, still less can he guide those who are living today some thousands of years later. Therefore, I respectfully say to you, it seems to me the only really satisfactory explanation as to who the speaker is, is to say it must be God because of His 'eye', His all-seeing eye, which He has upon His people.
That then is by way of an introduction. Now we see the substance of the verse. God says here that He will instruct us and teach us in the way we are to go: He will guide us with His eye. I want you to feel that I am quite justified in deducing from these words that here we have a very precious statement as to God's readiness and willingness to guide us and to lead us throughout life: to instruct us and to carry us forward. Surely, that is the point. He uses a sort of illustration in verse nine that we are not to be like a horse or a mule - mules being proverbially stubborn creatures that don't have any understanding as a man should have. If you want a mule or a horse to obey you then you have to use an instrument: a bit, a bridle, possibly even a whip or a spur. That is the warning. We are not to be stupid. God has given to us understanding, we are human beings, therefore, we are to follow His teachings; we are to heed His promptings and walk in His ways. That surely must be the substance of that illustration.
So then those two verses belong together - one is God's readiness to lead us in life and the next verse, verse nine, deals with the possibility that we shall be so stupid that we are not prepared for God to lead us and guide us in which case He must needs take instruments to put us in our place. Perhaps He will do something to us in our health which will force us to listen to His voice. Very often, that is necessary, just as we need to chastise a child when he or she is disobedient and unruly. We chastise them for their good, so God - many, many times in our lives - has to stop us and He has to bring some problem into our lives which will make us wise. You and I, and all others who have been taught of the Lord, know the meaning of that. That comes in verse nine.
The theme then, as I have said, is that of 'guidance', God's guidance. I point out to you that guidance from God is fundamentally of two different kinds and both of them are here in these words.
The first kind of guidance is what I shall call 'moral and spiritual guidance'. The whole Bible is nothing but a treasury or a directory as to how we should live and what else is such teaching but guidance. It is guidance as to how to live and guidance as to how to conduct our lives. The Bible is the sinners' handbook as to how we should behave in every way and in every situation - guidance of that kind.
There is, however, another kind of guidance: guidance of a particular kind. By this second kind, I am referring to 'guidance in our lives'.
For instance, supposing you were a young person and you wanted to know what job to prepare for in life, let us say. The Bible would give you general principles but it would not say to any young man "You must become a carpenter" or "You ought to become a farmer". Such things are not found in the Bible. We don't go to the Bible with a pin, put a blindfold on and prick a verse looking for miraculous, magical guidance. The Bible is not to be used like that. That is a misuse of the Bible.
Or, again, a young person may be at a stage when marriage is feasible. They might have met somebody and be wondering, "Is this the right one?" The Bible can only give general principles: it cannot say you must marry somebody called John or Michael or Peter. We don't treat the Bible in a fanatical way. I am now in the second case speaking about 'particular guidance': guidance in specific situations. That situation in which a person says, "What am I to do now? Which way am I to go - this way or that way?"
I think it might be clearer if I use an illustration to make these two forms of guidance stand out more in your mind.
If someone were travelling by car on a journey - there are two things they would need to know. First of all, they need to know the Highway Code. If it is an American friend driving on the wrong side of our roads then there is only catastrophe ahead. He has got to know that you drive on the left and not on the right side of the road. You have got to know that when you see a red light you must stop under all circumstances. Never go through a red light. These things are part of the Highway Code.
The Bible is the Highway Code for the Christian - it gives us the principles - but the Highway Code wont get you from Inverness to Edinburgh if you don't know anything else but the Highway Code. It doesn't tell you that you must go north, or south, or east, or west, or turn to the right or turn to the left. The Highway Code is to give the principles, not the specifics. To get the specifics of direction you need a map.
These then are the two forms of guidance in life. One is, instruction in righteousness: the Highway Code of heaven. Then we need the map: "Lord, what am I to do in this situation?" That is another kind of guidance.
This text, surely, is a promise from God that He will give us both of these things. He will both, teach us the way of righteousness and He will give us day-to-day guidance through life. Listen to the words of verse eight. "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye." This is indeed a great help to us. It is right for us to believe that God has a particular work for every Christian to do. So that what you are called to do, nobody else is called to do in quite that way. My life is not your life and your life is nobody else's life. There is a particular providence for each believer and we are to believe that. Let me give you two texts of Scripture to confirm you in that doctrine. "I will cry unto God most high: unto God that performeth all things for me" (Psalm 57, 2). That is a description of the way God will guide His people in life - to do and to be exactly what He foreordained them to do and to be.
In other words, before we were born, He had a work for each one of His children to do in this world; He had foreordained their life. Of course, we don't know that. We have no special messenger from heaven to tell us where to go, where to work or whom to marry. We have to discover this as we take a step-by-step approach to life on earth. I am saying to you here that we must believe in this - the Apostle Paul did. Remember how he said something we recite without possibly understanding its meaning: I wish to "apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3, 12). What does that mean? He believes that he was ordained by God from his mother's womb, to do the things that in the course of history and time in his life, he was led to do.
Before he was born, God had appointed him to be the apostle to the Gentiles. In the course of his lifetime, God showed him these things and led him on. We have various ways in which we see that. I shall take one instance of several. It is the instance where he is in Asia Minor or modern Turkey, at a place called Troas. There he didn't know what to do next. The Holy Spirit had forbidden him to go this way or that way and here they were at this coastal town - what should they do? In a vision of the night, God gave them understanding. This man from Macedonia said, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us" (Acts 16, 9) so they journeyed to Europe with the Gospel.
We in our lives are very seldom, if ever, going to get such marvellous forms of guidance as that, which illustrates the fact that, whether we get those marvellous forms or not, God is nonetheless guiding us: the footsteps of a righteous man are being guided by the Lord.
Now, dear friends, I have spoken of two forms of guidance. Let me summarise them again.
One form is this - it is the guidance and instruction God leaves us as to how we should conduct our lives in this world. The principles of righteousness, morality and spirituality. The Bible is given for that.
What is given for the day-to-day guidance of our lives? The answer is: "I will guide thee with mine eye" (text). Providential guidance is what we are secondly referring to: the guidance of the Bible in matters of morality and spirituality; and the providential guidance of God day-by-day leading.
These two are connected. The more you and I study the Bible and strive to work it out in our lives, the more God is likely to honour us by giving us wonderful guidance here below. The more closely we keep to His instructions in the Word of God, the more we shall be led day-by-day in marvellous providences.
There are many instances of this which could be used as an illustration. I will take just one, one which deserves to be well known. The modern missionary movement began in the 1790's with that Englishman whose name was William Carey, a shoemaker or cobbler. He was living at Leicester and he was a pastor or part-time minister - a very great man. He had a tremendous burden to go to India and to bring the Gospel to the heathen. You must understand that this was hardly being done at all in the world; few were doing it. His great example inspired thousands and thousands to follow on. This was a critical moment in the history of missions.
After immense difficulties, William Carey found a ship, which they could afford as a society, to send him on. He boarded the ship with his belongings. He couldn't take his wife with him or his family except for one boy, Felix. You now have William Carey on the ship with this little boy - his son. His wife was at home; she couldn't yet follow. Other members of the family were at home also and couldn't follow. Then an extraordinary thing happened. The captain of the ship ordered Carey to leave with his possessions and all his goods - so far from getting a trip on that ship to India, he found himself back on English soil. He was absolutely heartbroken. I could give many more details but I must get on. God was working it all wonderfully for good because what eventually happened was that another ship took him and this time his wife and children were with him; the whole family were together. They all arrived in India together.
That is just one instance of the way God guides us from day-to-day. God's frowning providences hide a smiling face. The difficult things of life, which we find so awful to face, are amongst the wonderful ways in which God is leading us on. That is why I read from Genesis 24. There was a need: Abraham's son, Isaac, was now a mature man of marriageable age. Whom would he marry? The difficulty was that all the women round about were pagan, heathen, barbarian: they did not love and worship the true God. Abraham being a man of principle insisted with his principled servant, Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15, 2), he said, "Come aside with me". He took this servant aside. "Kneel down," he said. He knelt down. "Put your hand under my thigh," he said. "Swear by the God of heaven that, whatever happens, you will never take a pagan wife to my son Isaac." He must marry a believer is what he meant. The man promised but, of course, there were possible problems. "Supposing the woman would not come whom I try to obtain for him from your family in Syria?" "In that case you are free from the oath," said Abraham, "but be sure of this, you mustn't under any circumstances, take a pagan woman to my son" (Genesis 24).
That was the situation and as you saw in the reading, they then looked for guidance. Eliezer of Damascus took the camels and the fellow servants and on they went for some hundreds of miles - from where Abraham was to where his relations were. This man had no idea where to find them. Many years had passed since there had been any contact between them. What does he do? He did the very thing which is promised in this text, he knelt down and said, "Oh God of my master, Abraham, show kindness to us and guide us at this time of life. Let it be that the woman who comes to the well and I say, "Give me drink" she will say to me, "Drink, and I will give your camels a drink also." Let that be the one."" The words had hardly left his mouth we are told in Scripture, when along came Rebekah, a beautiful, young, virgin girl. She did everything that he had prayed about and the servant was astonished - a very touching word. He waited to see what the Lord was doing. His heart rate was very rapid at that moment. When she confirmed the sign, he said, "Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy" (Genesis 24).
My very dear friends, these things are written for our comfort, for our assurance. They teach us this: God will never, never leave His people without His guidance and without His help. Even in the most difficult situations in life, the Lord's eye is upon us. Listen to these words of my text. " I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye" (text). That is the way God puts it. His eye was upon Abraham. His eye was upon the fact that Abraham walked with God. His eye was upon the fact that Isaac needed a wife - God had already provided one. This is given to us all as being a specimen and an example of the loving kindness of the Lord to all His people.
Your duty and mine then is to take these things to ourselves and to realise that in all situations of life, not marriage only, we are to look up and to take God at His Word and to plead His promises of guidance.
There is a reference here to the eye of God about which we can say three things.
The first thing is that the eye of God sees your need. Isn't that a comfort, my dear, suffering, Christian friends? Isn't it to reduce your sorrow and to halve your burden to realise that the Lord knows where you are. He knows what you are going through and He knows what you need.
I had a dear friend who became a missionary in Japan. He was a fellow student with me nearly half a century ago now but he was a dear Christian. He would get up early to pray every day. I greatly admired him. He used to say to me, "Isn't it a comfort to know that we can say to God, "Lord, Thou knowest."" It is isn't it? It is a comfort in the midst of our trials, perplexities and uncertainties, amongst men that hate us and hate what we stand for, to be able to look up and say, "Lord, Thou knowest all that I am going through." That is the eye of God. The eye is upon you my dear Christian friends - the all-knowing eye of God. He sees your situation, your problems, your difficulties and your burdens. He sees the tears you shed last night. He sees the difficulties you face now - perhaps at work, school or college - difficulties and uncertainties. How are you to educate your children? What job are they going to do? Their friends? Everything in life. The Lord knows; He sees. Remember the eye that is upon you.
Hagar did this when she was obliged to run away from home because Sarah oppressed her. The passage in Genesis 16 tells of how she was with child by Abraham by an arrangement which we would call surrogate motherhood today. Sarah oppressed her and she ran away and came to a well of water. There the angel of God met her, spoke to her and comforted her. She was so astonished to realise that the Lord was watching her she said, "Thou God seest me" (Genesis 16, 13). She called the well of water by that name, Beer-lahai-roi: the well where God is watching me. "Thou God seest me." It is true, the Lord sees His people.
There is a second sense in which the eye helps us here. The God who sees our problems sees the answer to our problem and the solution to our need. Dear friends, there is no such thing as an insoluble problem with God. There is with us, we don't know what to do from day-to-day. How on earth are we to get through life? I sometimes put it to myself like this. "Here am I a worm of earth. There is heaven. Who knows how long I am going to live. How do I know how to get from here now, to heaven, where I want to be - and where you want to be?" We have no idea! If we sat down for the rest of our lives pondering, we would still be no wiser. We just don't know how to get to heaven. We know, of course, we are to believe in Christ. We know, of course, that the Bible is our handbook of guidance but we don't know what we are to do from day-to-day - but the Lord knows and His eye is upon us. He knows the way we are to take. My very dear friends, this ought to have an effect upon us. It ought to emancipate us from fears, alarms and worries.
Here is a good piece of news for you. The Bible has hundreds and thousands of instructions, commands, orders and prohibitions but never once in the Bible are we ever told to worry. Isn't that good news? God never tells us to worry. He tells us to trust but not to worry. "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you" (1 Peter 5, 7). Therefore, in this sense too there is an eye upon us. He knows the problem and He knows the solution.
Then, thirdly, there is a way in which the eye helps us. We give guidance to people with our eye. Perhaps we don't always realise this but a master gives guidance to his servants at a feast. The master's servants are standing to attention at the side of the room. All he has to do is indicate and they come with a fresh dish of food. He guides them with his eye. They know what he means just by a movement of the head or a gesture of the finger. His eye is upon them and so they come. So it is with thousands of angels waiting on God and as soon as they get the nod, as it were, from Him - I speak in reverence - they will come as ministering servants and spirits to minister to the people of God who love Him in this world. His eye is upon His angels to command them to help us in every time of need.
Let me then put it like this. Here we are on the journey of life. We know where we have come from: we have come from sin and death. The Lord has saved us out of it. Where are we going? We are going to the heavenly kingdom above to see the glory of God. How do we get there? We need two forms of guidance. We need His Word, oh blessed, blessed Book. No wonder Christ says, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Luke 4, 4). We have got to know this Book and to study it. No wonder John Wesley said, "I am a man of one Book. Is there a Book in which God speaks? Give me that Book!" My friends, you have it before you: the Book that guides us from earth to heaven.
Then we need another form of guidance: providential, day-by-day guidance. How do I know what to do next? The answer is - put God first. Honour Him, do His revealed will and He will show you His secret will. As surely as He brought Rebekah to Isaac and gladdened the hearts of all the family, not least Eliezer of Damascus who came all that way to find the wife for Isaac and Who answered his prayers so spectacularly, that same God is able to answer your prayers and mine, spectacularly.
We all need guidance about many things. It is a perplexing time for Christians. My friends, let us rest in the promises of God.
I close with the words that He has given you. "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye" (text). Oh, that we might, all of us, find it to be so, today, tomorrow, next year and until we close our eyes on this foolish, sinful world and open them to behold the glory of the face and the glory of that eye of God which is upon us all through our pilgrimage.
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