"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
This is the polar star of a child of God—faith in his Father’s providence, promises, and grace. The unmeaning expression of trust on the lips of the ignorant and ungodly is a fearful delusion. What ground of confidence can there be when there is everything to fear? Can the sinner’s God, a just, avenging God, be an object of trust? What owe we to that precious atonement which has opened up our way to a reconciled God (Rom 5:11), and assured our confidence in Him as our Friend and Counselor! Nor is this the cold assent of the enlightened judgment. It is the trust of the heart, of all the heart. It is a child-like, unwavering (Psa 78, 2Ch 14:11; contrast Jer 1:6-8) confidence in our Father’s well-proved wisdom, faithfulness, and love. Any limit to this confidence is a heinous provocation (Psa 78:18-22). He is truth itself. Therefore, He would have us take Him at His Word, and prove His Word to the utmost extent of His power.
But our trust must not only be entire: it must be exclusive. No other confidence, no confidence in the flesh, can consist with it (cp. Phi 3:3). Man with all his pride feels that he wants something to lean to. As a fallen being, he naturally leans to himself, to his own foolish notions and false fancies. Human power is his idol. His understanding is his god. Many would rather be convicted of want of principle than want of talent. Many bring God’s truth to their own bar and cavil at it, as an excuse for rejecting it. In these and other ways, man “trusteth to himself, and his heart departeth from the Lord” (Jer 17:5). This is the history of the fall; the history of man from the fall; the dominant sin of every unhumbled heart; the lamented and resisted sin of every child of God. Need we advert to it as the sin of youth? How rare is the sight of the “younger submitting unto the elder” (1Pe 5:5)! If advice is asked, is it not with the hope of confirming a previously-formed purpose? In case of a contrary judgment, the young man’s own understanding usually decides the course.
Great reason then is there for the warning—Lean not to thine own understanding. Once, indeed, it gave clear unclouded light, as man’s high prerogative, “created in the image of God” (Gen 1:26; Col 3:10). But now, degraded as it is by the fall (Psa 49:20), and darkened by the corruption of the heart (Eph 4:18), it must be a false guide. Even in a prophet of God it proved a mistaken counselor (2Sa 7:2-5). Yet though we refuse to lean to it, to follow it may be implicit trust in the Lord; because it is a trust in His Divine power, enlightening it, as His lamp for our direction. The Christian on his knees, as if he cast his understanding away, confesses himself utterly unable to guide his path. But see him in his active life. He carefully improves his mind. He conscientiously follows its dictates. Thus practical faith strengthens—not destroys—its power; invigorates—not supersedes—exertion (cp. Gen 32:9-20; Neh 2:4-20; 4:9).
It is therefore our plain duty not to neglect our understanding, but to cultivate it diligently in all its faculties. In a world of such extended knowledge, ignorance is the fruit of sloth, dissipation, or misguided delusion. But lean not to thine understanding. Lean—trust in the Lord. Self-dependence is folly (Pro 28:26), rebellion (Jer 2:13; 9:23), ruin (Gen 3:5, 6; Isa 47:10, 11). “The great folly of man in trials,” as Dr. Owen justly remarks, “is leaning to or upon his own understanding and counsels. What is the issue of it? Whenever in our trials we consult our own understandings, hearken to self-reasonings, though they seem to be good, and tending to our preservation; yet the principle of living by faith is stifled, and we shall in the issue be cast down by our own counsels.”
Next, let our confidence be uniform: In all thy ways acknowledge him. Take one step at a time, every step under Divine warrant and direction (cp. Eze 18:21-23; Neh 1:11). Ever plan for yourself in simple dependence on God. It is nothing less than self-idolatry to conceive that we can carry on even the ordinary matters of the day without His counsel. He loves to be consulted. Therefore, take all thy difficulties to be resolved by Him. Be in the habit of going to Him in the first place—before self-will, self-pleasing, self-wisdom, human friends, convenience, expediency. Before any of these have been consulted, go to God at once. Consider no circumstances too clear to need His direction. In all thy ways, small as well as great; in all thy concerns, personal or relative, temporal or eternal, let Him be supreme. Who of us has not found the unspeakable “peace” of bringing to God matters too minute or individual to be entrusted to the most confidential ear? Abraham thus acknowledged God. Wheresoever he pitched a tent for himself, there was always an altar for God (Gen 12:7; 13:18). In choosing a wife for his son, there was a singular absence of worldliness. No mention was made of riches, honor, beauty; only of what concerned the name and honor of his God (Gen 24:1-8; cp. also his servant, verses 12-27). Thus did the wise man’s father in all his ways acknowledge God, asking counsel of Him in all his difficulties, and never disappointed.
Now if we be weaned from the idolatry of making our bosom our oracle, and our heart our counselor; if in true poverty of spirit we go every morning to our Lord, as knowing not how to guide ourselves for this day; our eye constantly looking upward for direction (Psa 5:3; 143:8-10; 25:4, 5), the light will come down. He shall direct thy paths. We want no new revelations or visible tokens (such as Exo 13:21, 22). Study the Word with prayer. Mark the Divine Spirit shedding light upon it. Compare it with the observation of the providences of the day (Psa 107:43); not judging by constitutional bias (a most doubtful interpreter), but pondering with sober, practical, reverential faith. Let the will be kept in a quiet, subdued, cheerful readiness, to move, stay, retreat, turn to the right hand or to the left, at the Lord’s bidding; always remembering that is best which is least our own doing, and that a pliable spirit ever secures the needful guidance (cp. Psa 32:8, 9; Isa 48:17, 18; with 30:21). We may “be led,” for the exercise of our faith, “in a way that we know not” (Isa 42:16; 50:10)—perhaps a way of disappointment, or even of mistake! Yet no step well prayed over will bring ultimate regret. Though the promise will not render us infallible; our very error will be overruled for deeper humiliation and self-knowledge; and thus even this mysterious direction will in the end be gratefully acknowledged—“He led me forth in the right way” (Psa 107:7).
From Proverbs by Chalres Bridges