by Thomas Manton
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.—Psalm 119:105
THE present world, as much as it suits with our carnal nature, it is but like a howling wilderness with respect to Canaan, in which there are many crooked paths and dangerous precipices, yea, many privy snares and secret ambushes laid for us by the devil and his instruments; so that unless we have a faithful guide, a clear, full, and sure direction, we shall certainly miscarry, and every day run into the mouth of a thousand mischiefs. Now God, out of his abundant mercy, hath given us a light, a rule to walk by, to set us clear from these rocks and precipices, and to guide us safe to true happiness. And what is this light? It is his word; so David acknowledgeth in this verse, thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Here you may observe—(1.) The double notion by which the direction of the word is set forth. (2.) You have the object, or the matter wherein we are directed; that also is expressed by a double notion, 'It is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.' Let me explain these a little.
1. The two notions whereby the direction is expressed, it is a light, that is a more general expression; the other is more particular; it is a lamp, possibly with allusion to the lamp of the sanctuary. The use of a lamp is to light in the night, and the light shines in the day. The word of God is both a light and lamp; it is of use to us by day and night, in all conditions, in adversity, in prosperity, in all the conditions we pass through in this world. Chrysostom hath an observation, but I doubt a little too curious, ὁ νόμος λύκνος ὀνομάζεται, ὁ Χρίοτος υἵος τῆς δικαιοσύνης, saith he—The law shineth in narrow limits, within small bounds, therefore that is called a lamp; but Christ, in the gospel, is called a son of righteousness.
2. Let us come to the term by which the object is expressed, path and feet. By path is meant our general choice and course of life; the law will direct to that; not only so, but it is a light to our feet, that is, will direct us in every step, in every particular action.
Doct. That the word of God is a clear and a full rule to direct us in all the conditions and affairs of the present life.
It is a clear rule, for it is called a lamp; and it is a full rule, for it is a lamp not only for our path, but for our feet. I shall speak of both severally, that it is a lamp and a light.
First, It is a clear rule, and therefore called a light, and that in three regards:—
1. By reason of its direction, as it shows us the right way to our desired end. He that would come to his journey's end needs a way, and needs a light to see and find it out. Our end is eternal life, and that to be enjoyed in heaven: Prov. 6:23, 'The commandment is a lamp, and the law is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.' God hath stated the way that leads to eternal happiness by his wisdom and justice, and revealed it in the scriptures. See that place, Ps. 43:3, 'Oh, send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me, let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.' We should have wandered up and down in various uncertainties, and have neither pitched upon the right end nor way, but have lost ourselves in a maze of perplexities, if God had not sent forth his light and truth. Austin reckons up two hundred and eighty-eight opinions about the chiefest good. Men are seeking out many inventions, looking here and there to find happiness, but God hath showed the true way.
2. It is a light in regard of conviction, as it convinceth of all errors and mistakes both in judgment and practice—Verum est index sui et obliqui. In this respect it is said, Eph. 5:13, because of this convincing light that is in the word, 'All things that are reproved, are made manifest by the light; for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.' It discovereth to us our sins as well as our duties; light doth manifest itself, and make all other things manifest. Now this convictive power of the world is double—by way of prevention, and by way of reproof.
[1.] By way of prevention. The word of God shows us our danger, pits, precipices, and stumbling-blocks that lie in our way to heaven; it shows us both our food and our poison, and therefore he that walks according to the direction of the word is prevented from falling into a great deal of mischief: 1 John 2:10, 11, 'He that abideth in the light, there is none occasion of stumbling in him: but he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.' The meaning of that place is this, he that walks according to the light of scripture, and lives in obedience thereto, avoids stumbling; but he that is blinded by his own passion, he wants his light, knows not whither he goes, neither in what way he goes—respectu viœ, et respectu termini. What will be the end of his going? He mistakes the way, sins for duties, and good for evil; or he mistakes the end, thinking he is going to heaven, when he is in the highway to hell.
[2.] By way of humiliation and reproof, it discovers our sins to us in their own colours, so as to affect the heart, yea, our secret sins, which could not be found out by any other light: 1 Cor. 14:24, 'When he that believeth not, or is unlearned, comes in, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all.' The light of the word it brings a sinner upon his face, makes him fall down, acknowledging the majesty of God in his word. God's word it hath his signature upon it, it is like himself, and bewrayeth its author by its convictive power and majesty. So it is notable, Heb. 4:12, 13, 'The word of God is quick and powerful, &c., and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.' Mark what he had said of the word. He proves the properties of the word by the properties of God; that God searcheth all things, God's word is like himself.
3. It is light in regard of comfort: Eccles. 11:7, 'Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun;' especially to those that have been shut up in darkness, and kept in a dungeon. Oh, it is a pleasant thing to behold the light again! So is the word of God light in this sense, to relieve us in all the dark and gloomy passages of the present life.
[1.] In outward darkness. When all outward comforts fail, and have spent their allowance, the comforts of the word are left; there is enough to support and strengthen our hearts in waiting upon God: Ps. 23:4, 'When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.' The staff and rod they are instruments of a shepherd, and Christ is our spiritual shepherd, so that this staff and rod are his word and Spirit, they are the instruments of the spiritual shepherd; and this comforts us when we are in the shadow of death; in our crosses, in confusions and difficulties, when we have nothing else left but the promises, this is a reviving to the soul.
[2.] It is a comfort and refreshing to us in spiritual troubles, that arise from the guilt of sin, and want of the sense of God's love: Isa. 50:10, 'Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.' What shall he do? Shall he compass himself about in his own sparks? Oh, how miserable are we then! No; but let him depend upon God according to his promise. The word of God is a great part of his name; let him stay his heart upon the word of God, when he walketh in darkness, and seeth no light.
Now, that the word of God is such a light, such a sure and clear direction, I shall—(1.) Give a direct proof of it from scripture; (2.) Some types of it; (3.) Prove it by experience; (4.) By reason.
1. For the proof from scripture, you have the notions of the text. So Prov. 6:23, 'The commandment is a lamp, and the law is light.' It is that which keeps us from stumbling. So 2 Peter 1:19, 'We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.' The world is a dark place. Ay! but now here is a light that shines in a dark place, and that is the Holy Scripture, 'the sure word of prophecy;' it showeth us our way to heaven, and prevents us from stumbling into hell.
2. To prove it by types. Two types I shall mention; one is, Israel being directed by the pillar of a cloud; the other is, the lamp of the sanctuary.
[1.] The type of Israel's being directed by the pillar of the cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night, till they came into the land of Canaan, Exod. 13:21. Still they moved up and down, hither and thither, as the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire went before them. Thus our whole course is to be ordered by God's direction. See how this type is expressed, Neh. 9:19, 'The pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day to lead them in the way, neither the pillar of fire by night to show them light, and the way wherein they should go.' Mark, when they were in the wilderness, the pillar of cloud and fire showed them the way where they were to go; this is an emblem of the safe conduct the church may expect from Christ Jesus in all ages; God's pillar departed not from them by night nor day. So while we are travelling in the wilderness of this our pilgrimage, his word and Spirit is continued to us. When they entered into Canaan, that was a type of heaven, then this pillar of cloud was removed. It is notable, Josh 14, when Israel passed over Jordan, we do not read the pillar went before them, but the ark of God was carried before them. So when the church comes to heaven, the resting-place, then this conduct ceaseth; the word hath no more use. Jesus Christ, as the great shepherd, leads his flock into their everlasting fold.
[2.] The other type was the lamp of the sanctuary; we read of that, Exod. 27:20, 21. There was a great lamp hung upon the veil, to distinguish the holy of holies from the other part of the tabernacle, and was fed with pure oil-olive, and this lamp was prepared and trimmed up by the priest daily. Now what did this lamp signify? Mark the application. This pure olive-oil signified God's pure word; without the mixture of human traditions; this hung up in the veil, shined in the church, and every day it was prepared, furnished, set forth by them that are called thereunto, for the use of the faithful.
3. Let me prove it by experience, that the word is such a sure direction.
[1.] Because natural men have a sense of it, and upon that account fear it. See John 3:20, 21, 'Every one that doeth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.' Natural men will not come to the word, they fear it as discovering, and therefore never feel it as refreshing. Evil-doers hate the light; they are afraid of the word lest it should convince them, and discover them to themselves; therefore they stand off, and shun all means of closing with it; there is such conviction in the oar, a secret jealousy of the searching power that is in the word of God.
[2.] Godly men do find a great deal of comfort and satisfaction from this light as to all the doubts and fears of the soul: Ps. 19:8, 'The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.' All their scruples vanish; here is an apt and fit doctrine accommodated to the heart of man. A man hath never true and rational delight till he is fully satisfied in point of religion, till he can have rest for his soul, and commodious notions of God. Now, if you would have rest for your souls, Jer. 6:16, here it is, the children of God find it. There is a fair compliance in this doctrine with all those natural principles and ingrafted notions within us concerning God and his will; they find satisfaction in it to conscience, though not to fond curiosity; the one is necessary, the other dangerous and unprofitable. Christians! there is a great deal of difference between these two, satisfying conscience and satisfying curiosity, as much as between quenching the thirst of a sober man and satisfying the lust and appetite of a drunkard. Here is enough to satisfy conscience, a fair accommodation of excellent truths to a reasonable nature, truths becoming God, truths suiting with the heart of man, and therefore here they find it to be light, that is a sure direction. The wicked feel the discovery of it, and the saints feel the impression of it.
[3.] We have this external and outward experience to assure us of our rule and light that shines in the word of God, because those that go against this light and direction do sensibly miscarry, and are sure to split themselves upon some rock or other. Our first parent, Adam, when he hearkened to the voice of the serpent rather than the voice of the Lord, destroyed himself and all his posterity. As long as he obeyed the word of God, he remained in a blessed estate in paradise, but when he gave heed to other counsels, he was cast out of paradise, and rendered liable to many sorrows, yea, eternal death. So all that walk in the imagination of their own hearts, and have not light from the word, they presently run themselves into sundry mischiefs. The young prophet is an instance of this, 1 Kings 13:21. To go to particular instances would be innumerable, every day's experience will furnish us with enough of this; they that will not take the light of God's word, stumble upon dark mountains, for God hath owned his word to a tittle, owned both the tables: Rom. 1:18, 'The wrath of God is revealed from heaven,' &c.; from heaven, by the effects of his wrath. If men be ungodly and unrighteous, they are punished; nay, not only in the general, but in particular: Heb. 2:2, 'For if the word spoken by angels were steadfast'—why?—'for every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward.' By every transgression he means a sin of omission; by every disobedience, a sin of commission. And as he will do so for sins against the law, so sins against the gospel; that place where the gospel was first propounded smarted for the neglect of it: 1 Thes. 2:16, 'Wrath is come upon them to the uttermost,' for despising the gospel. And still God secures the certainty of our direction by new judgments; those that will go contrary to the word, turn aside to paths of their own, they perish in their devices.
4. Let me prove it by reasons that certainly the word must needs be light, that is, a clear and sure direction. I prove it from the author, the instruments, and penmen, and from the ends why God hath given the word.
[1.] From the author of it, it is God's word. Everything that comes from God hath some resemblance of his majesty: 'God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all,' 1 John 1:5. His word is light. If God would give us anything to direct us, it must needs be clear and sure, it must have light. As at first God gave reason to direct man: John 1:4, 'That life was the light of men;' as it came from God, before it was weakened by the fall, it was a full direction, it discovered its author; and now since the fall, still it discovers its author. Conscience, which remains with us, it is called the candle of the Lord,' Prov. 20:27. From a glorious sun now it is dwindled to a candle, yet it is called the candle of the Lord; it is a candle lighted by God himself. The understanding and conscience that is privy to our most secret motions, thoughts, and actions; though it may be maimed and lessened by sin, it is sensible of some distinction between good and evil, and acts God's part in the soul, sometimes condemning, sometimes approving, accusing and excusing by turns, Rom. 2:15. But, alas! if we were only left to this light, we should be for ever miserable. The light of reason is too short for us now, and there is a double reason; partly, because our chief good and last end being altered by sin, we shall strangely mistake things, if we weigh them in the balance of the flesh, which we seek to please. Now our chief good is altered, or rather we are apt to mistake it; all our business is to please the flesh, and to gratify lust and appetite, Ps. 49:12. Therefore go to a man led by carnal and unsanctified reason, he shall 'put light for darkness, and darkness for light; good for evil, and evil for good,' Isa. 5:20. He shall confound the names and natures of things, so miserably grope in the dark, and not find out the way to true happiness, either stumbling, dashing his foot against a stone, or wander out of the way in a maze of a thousand uncertainties; therefore it is a blessed thing not to be left to this candle of reason, the light within us, for that will not guide us, but God hath drawn a straight line for us to heaven, which if we follow we cannot miss. Again, partly because man's condition since the fall is such that he needs a supernatural remedy; before he can be happy, he needs a redeemer. Now the gift of a redeemer depending upon the free grace of God, cannot be found out by natural light, for that can only judge of things necessary, and not of such things as depend upon the arbitrary love of God, therefore this light cannot guide, John 3:16. Well, then, because the candle of the Lord that is within us is not enough to direct us, God hath set up a lamp in the sanctuary to give us light, and to guide us in the pursuit of true happiness, and that is the scripture. Now, if they have God for their author, surely they must needs be clear and full, for nothing indited by his Spirit can be dark, confused, and inconveniently expressed, either with respect to the things revealed, or to the persons to whom this revelation is made. For if God should speak darkly (here is my argument), especially in necessary things, it is either because God could not speak otherwise, or would not. The former is direct blasphemy; he that made the eye, cannot he see? and he that made the mouth, cannot he speak plainly and intelligibly to his people, so as to be understood by them? And the latter cannot be said, that God would not, for that is contrary to his goodness and love to mankind: Ps. 25:8, 'Good and upright is the Lord; therefore will he teach sinners in the way.' If this be true, that God is a just good God, he will teach us plainly; the Psalmist infers it, he is just, and will not lead us wrong; he is an upright God, and he is a good God; and therefore, though we have fallen from the state of our creation, though the candle of the Lord burn dim in our hearts since the fall, yet he is a good God, therefore he will show us the way. Now it is not to be imagined that there should not be light in the word of God, that that should be dark, confused, and unintelligible; that the most powerful and wise monarch, and most loving of all, that he should write a book to teach men the way to heaven, and do it so cloudily, that we cannot tell what to make of it. Therefore if God be the author, this book must be true; here must be light, a clear and sure direction to guide us in all our ways.
[2.] I prove it by reason again, from the instruments used in this work. Shall I take those words for my groundwork? 2 Peter 1:21, 'For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost;' that is, it is not the fancies or dictates of men, but the word of God; for they were holy men, and holy men guided by the Holy Ghost, and so guided as that they were moved, borne up by the special motion of the Spirit. Let me reason thus: those that God hath employed to deliver his mind to the world, look either to the prophets of the Old Testament or apostles of the New, and you will find them to be holy men, burning with zeal for God and love to souls; and it is not to be imagined that they would deliver God's mind so darkly that nobody could understand their meaning. Christians they were, not men that were to act a part of their own upon the stage of the world, not men that aimed at ostentation of wisdom and curiosity of science; but they were holy men, they were free from ambition and envy, and other such vile affections, which are wont to make writers to affect obscurity; therefore in all simplicity of style, plainness of heart, and faithfulness to their message, they minded their master's honour and the people's good; they renounced pomp of words and lofty speculations, minded that people might understand the mind of God published by them. As they were holy men, so they were acted by the Spirit of God. Now the Spirit of God is not a spirit of darkness but a spirit of light, which gives understanding to all men, therefore they spake luminously and clearly. Nay, they were not only acted by the Spirit, but they were borne up by the Spirit, carried by the Holy Ghost while they were employed in this work, publishing the mind of God to the church; they were carried beyond the line of their natural spirits, by an extraordinary impulse infallibly borne up, so that they could not err and miscarry. Now from such holy men that were not swayed by ambition and private aims, so guided, so acted by the Spirit, what can be expected but what is sure, clear, and plain?
[3.] I argue and reason again from the end of God in giving us the scriptures; all which doth clearly infer that here is a sure and plain direction that will lead you to heaven. There is a fourfold end wherefore God hath given us the scriptures:—
(1.) That by this means heavenly doctrine might be kept free from corruption, that men might not obtrude articles of faith upon us and fancies of their own brain, that heavenly doctrine might be put into a stated course and kept pure from corruption. When mankind sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, it was necessary that one way or other they should have light, that God by some way or other would reveal his mind to them, either by word of mouth or by writing. Now God did it by oracles and extraordinary messages at first, while there were but few truths revealed, and such as did not much burden the memory, and while men were long-lived, and so could a great while avouch their message from God, and while they were of great simplicity, and the church was confined to a few men, to a few families, within a small compass of ground, not liable to those miseries and changes now in latter days. Before Christ came it was fit God should send his messengers; but now in these latter days, when he hath spoken to us by his Son, Heb. 1:1, it is fit the rule of faith should be closed up. It is not for the honour of the Son of God that after him should come any extraordinary nuncio or ambassador from heaven, as if he had not fully discovered his Father's mind. Well, then, therefore God hath put all his messages into writing for the use of after-ages, and for this end that there might be some public standard for trying of things by. Now God's end would not be accomplished if this writing were not clear. Here is the argument, the world would be left at great uncertainties, far more than in old time, and so this end for preserving truth for the use and direction of the church would be wholly lost. Well, then, if God will make a writing serve instead of extraordinary messages, which brought their own evidence with them, certainly he will not put it into words liable to mistake, but that are intelligible. Wisdom saith, Prov. 8:9, 'They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge.' Certainly they that come in simplicity of heart, with a mind to learn God's will, not to cavil, they may know.
(2.) God's end in setting forth the scripture was that it might be read of all ages and of all sexes, as the book of the law was to be read in the congregation before the men, women, little ones, and strangers, Deut. 21; from day to day it was read in the synagogue, Acts 15:21; and God would have them teach their children, Deut. 6:6; and Timothy is commended for reading the scriptures from his youth, 2 Tim. 3:5. And the apostles do express themselves to be 'debtors both to the wise and unwise, to Greeks and barbarians,' Rom. 1:14, to speak wisdom to the wise and plainness to the simple; and St John he writes to children and young men and fathers, 1 John 2:13. Well, then, here is my argument, if God would write a book to be read by men, women, children, all sorts, surely it is that all might understand, not that they might repeat it by rote, and toss the words of it in their mouths as parrots do words they understand not; surely, then, they are compiled to profit all.
(3.) God's end in giving the word was for converting of men, or leaving them without excuse. Now take either end, and it shows there must be a plain direction. If for converting of men, then it must be so plain that it may be understood by them, for there is nothing gets to the heart but by the understanding: 'After I was instructed I smote upon my thigh.' And all influences are conveyed by light, and if God gains any heart it is by teaching and by light. Or if it were for leaving them without excuse, it must be by a clear revealing of his will, otherwise they might pretend obscurity. The apostle pleads this, 2 Cor. 4:2–4; saith the apostle, there is such plain truth in the gospel that every man's conscience may take it up if he will; and if they cannot see the majesty of God in this doctrine they are blinded by Satan; the fault is not in gospel light, but in their own eyes; they cannot complain of God, but of themselves.
(4.) The end is, that it might be a rule of faith and manners by which all doctrines are to be tried. A rule of faith: Isa. 8:20, 'To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.' And Acts 17:11, 'They received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so.' So to be a rule of manners: Gal. 6:16, 'As many as walk according to this rule,' &c. There are many actions which God requireth of us that expose us to great difficulty and hazard. Now, before the heart be gained to them, we had need have a plain proof that it is the will of God; for who will venture his all unless he have a clear warrant, that knows whither he goes, and whither to look for amends, if he suffer the loss of all things? Thus there is light in the word.
Secondly, But now it is a full direction, for David speaks it of his feet and path.
1. In general observe this: it is not a light to our brains to fill us with empty notions, but a light to our feet to regulate our practice and to guide our actions, Jer. 6:16. He doth not say, hearken after the true religion, but walk therein. For a man to study the scripture only to satisfy curiosity, only to know what is right and good, and not follow it with all his heart, is but to make a rod for his own back, and doth but cause his own condemnation to be sore and terrible, Luke 12:47. To be able to dispute for truth and not lie under the power of it, to avoid heresy and live in vice, will never bring him to heaven, Gal. 6:16. It is not them that are able to talk of it, but to 'walk according to this rule;' not to play with it, but to work with it. Knowledge and practice must be joined together; they do never well asunder, but excellent together.
2. In our practice.
[1.] Our path, our general choice. A man that consults with God's word, 'The Lord will teach him the way that he shall choose,' Ps. 25:12. Everything appointed to an end must have all things absolutely necessary to that end, else it is not perfect in its kind; though perfect to guide us to eternal life; therefore it must contain all things that belong or conduce to that end. It is not a rule given us to be rich or safe, but to be eternally happy.
[2.] As it is a light to our path, so to our feet. How? In the particular actions that we perform, and in the particular conditions that we pass through.
(1.) In the particular actions that we perform. Every action we go about must be guided by the word. Why? Because obedience in particular actions we are most apt to miscarry in. Many are wise in generals, but in particulars they quite mistake their way. We have general notions that we must be holy; ay! but we are not 'holy in all manner of conversation,' 1 Peter 1:15. In every creek and turning of our lives, in all our actions of eating, drinking, sleeping, and waking, we are to be mindful and respect the command of God in all these. No path of a Christian's conversation but ought to savour of grace and holiness; not only his religious, but his common and civil actions. Every action is a step to heaven or hell, for this life is compared to a walk, and in a walk every step brings us onward in our way. Briefly, in every act, either sin or grace interposeth, therefore we had need look to every step, and still to walk according to rule.
(2.) It guides us in all the conditions that we pass through. In every age; here is milk for the weak, and strong meat for men of ripe age. In every calling, from the king to the lowest beggar. In every state of life, adversity, prosperity, still here is light for you.
There are two parties whose interest it is to decry the clearness of scripture, papists and libertines. Papists, they are afraid to stand to this trial, they would bring all to the judgment of the church; therefore, it is for their interest that the scriptures were not a clear, safe, and a full direction. Libertines, they decry the clearness of scripture upon several grounds. Those that plead for a boundless toleration, what is their great argument? Nothing is certain in religion. If the word be a clear rule, then, &c.
Source: An Exposition of Psalm 119, by Thommas Manton