Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Psalms 32:8 - 32:8

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Psalms 32:8 - 32:8


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

The Guiding Eye

I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go:

I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee.—Psa_32:8.

It was at the end of a long and bitter trial that this promise was given to the Psalmist. It was by passing through doubt, perplexity, and despair that he was taught at last to find his way by the light of God. He had tried long and desperately to be his own guide, to trace out a path for himself through life, and it was after many wanderings, and many shameful falls, and much misery, that he was forced to confess that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps, and that his only way of safety is to give himself up to One who will guide him better than he can guide himself. Feeling his ignorance, and perplexed at times by uncertainty as to his duty, he besought the Lord to teach and to guide him; and the Lord heard him and answered him, bringing strength to his weakness, light into his darkness, and showing him the way in which he should walk.

The beautiful suggestiveness of the Authorized Version, “I will guide thee with mine eye,” need not be wholly lost, though the Revised Version shows that the Hebrew does not mean that “a look is enough.” It means that with a Divine word of counsel in the ear, and the eye of Providence watching from above, the traveller in the pathway of life will be safe.1 [Note: W. T. Davison.]

I

Our Need of Guidance

1. We need guidance because we may deliberately reject God. There are those who may be called the unbridled: the men who care for no restraint; whose whole life is a challenge, “Who is the Lord, that we should serve him?” The Psalms are full of the description of them. They escape the eye and the hand of God to all appearance. But do they indeed escape? The mere men of the world are the worst of slaves; and of all men they are the most limited, checked, compelled, by the hand of God. A hard bar meets them at every turn, a check at every breath. God rules them though it be with a rod of iron. Blind to the glance of His eye, they must writhe under the pressure of His hand.

The pupil spoke: “You said once that the tramcar comes to a standstill if it loses connexion with the aerial wire. I know that very well. Would that my friends who are atheists and pagans knew what a relief it is to find the connexion again. It is like diving in crystal-clear sea-water after perspiring in the heat of the dog-days on a dusty high-road. The heart grows light; the systematic ill-luck ceases; one has some success, one’s undertakings prosper, one can sleep at night, and neurasthenia ceases. I remember how, after a night of debauchery, the most beautiful landscape at sunrise looked ghastly; while after a night of quiet sleep the same scene looked paradisal. When we gain the certainty, and the belief founded on certainty, that life is continued on the other side, then we find it easier on this one, and do not hunt after trifles till we are weary. Then we discover the divine lightheartedness of which Goethe speaks, which finds expression in a certain contempt of honours and distinction, promotion and money. We become more insensible to blows and abuse. Everything goes more softly and smoothly. However dark the surroundings may be, we become self-luminous, so to speak, and carry the little pocket-lamp hope with us.”1 [Note: A. Strindberg, Zones of the Spirit, 111.]

2. There are those whose hearts are divided between God and the world, and who need constraint to keep them in the right way. Some things are already settled in their minds on the subject of the duties and the issues of life. They know already that there is no blessing that is really worth anything but God’s. They would weep bitterly, and feel that life was utterly impoverished, if God’s presence were gone from it, and they were just left to make the best of a world that they love too well. But they will not risk too much in seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. One eye is always on the world, if the other is on God. They have their comforts, their luxuries, their pleasures, their possessions, which fill as large a space as the higher things in the horizon round which they sweep their sight. They are not ungodly, they are not indifferent to the benediction of Heaven. But there is a great dead weight to be lifted, a great back-longing to be overcome. They have to be driven in the way which they say they love, and to the end which they profess to desire more than worlds. How many Christians have to be driven in the way of life, at a cost of pain to them, and patience to Him, which God alone knows!

It looks to me now like a kind of humble russet-coated epic, that seven years’ settlement at Craigenputtock; very poor in this world’s goods, but not without an intrinsic dignity greater and more important than then appeared. It is certain that for living in and thinking in, I have never since found in the world a place so favourable. And we were driven and pushed into it, as if by Necessity, and its beneficent though ugly little shocks and pushes, shock after shock gradually compelling us thither! “For a Divinity doth shape our ends, rough-hew them how we will”: often in my life have I been brought to think of this, as probably every considering person is; and, looking before and after, have felt, though reluctant enough to believe in the importance or significance of so infinitesimally small an atom as oneself, that the Doctrine of a Special Providence is in some sort natural to man. All piety points that way, all logic points the other;—one has, in one’s darkness and limitation, a trembling faith, and can at least say with the Voices, “Wir heissen euch hoffen,”—if it be the will of the Highest.1 [Note: Carlyle, Reminiscences, ii. 244.]

Do you at all recollect that interesting passage of Carlyle in which he compares, in this country and at this day, the understood and commercial value of man and horse; and in which he wonders that the horse, with its inferior brains and its awkward hoofiness, instead of handiness, should be always worth so many tens or scores of pounds in the market, while the man, so far from always commanding his price in the market, would often be thought to confer a service on the community by simply killing himself out of their way? Well, Carlyle does not answer his own question, because he supposes we shall at once see the answer. The value of the horse consists simply in the fact of your being able to put a bridle on him. The value of the man consists precisely in the same thing. If you can bridle him, or, which is better, if he can bridle himself, he will be a valuable creature directly. Otherwise, in a commercial point of view, his value is either nothing, or accidental only. Only, of course, the proper bridle of man is not a leathern one; what kind of texture it is rightly made of, we find from that command, “Be ye not as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose mouths must be held in with bit and bridle.” You are not to be without the reins, indeed; but they are to be of another kind: “I will guide thee with mine eye.” So the bridle of man is to be the Eye of God; and if he rejects that guidance, then the next best, for him is the horse’s and the mule’s, which have no understanding; and if he rejects that, and takes the bit fairly in his teeth, then there is nothing left for him than the blood that comes out of the city, up to the horse-bridles.1 [Note: Ruskin, A Joy far Ever, §18 (Works, xvi. 28).]

3. There are those who desire and who willingly accept God’s guidance. To such God says, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee.” He will take a personal interest in them. For the guide of men is no Epicurean God, loftily serene and impassive, but one whose interest in the world, whose care for the world, brought Him to live in it that He might share its burden and pain. The gospel is the revelation of how much He cares; of how much the happiness of His creation, the order of His government, and the satisfaction of His heart depend on the way man takes. He has created a being of wonderful and complex powers, capable, if guided aright, of doing godlike work in the universe, or capable of making it an Aceldama, a Gehenna of wailing and death. And the great work of Heaven is to guide him; to make him know, trust, and love his guide. Truly “thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” When Christ has won this trust from a human spirit, His redemptive work is done.

To obey the will of the Lord is the secret first of all, of safety—security. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” From the moment a planet wheels into its path round the sun, there is nothing that can harm that planet, but just as soon as a star wanders from its orbit, and goes plunging headlong into the depths of space, it is liable to come into clash and crash with the universe of God. I have seen a great piece of machinery that would fill an immense building. Now, suppose that in that great piece of machinery, one little wheel, as small, it may be, as a shilling, should drop out of its place and fall into the midst of the machinery, that colossal mechanism moving round and round and round would grind this little wheel among its larger wheels into fragments, if not into powder. The Universe is one great Machine, and God is the Motive Power of it, and when a soul drops out of its place in this great machinery, and falls among the great wheels of God’s purpose, it is ground into powder, unless the grace of God puts that wheel back into its place in the vast system. The moment that you find out what the will of God is, and drop into your place, all the universe moves with you, and all the universe moves for you, the whole Godhead is back of you, the wisdom of God, and the power of God, and the love of God, and the grace of God; and you are as absolutely sure and safe as God is. And so Peter says: “Who is he that shall harm you if you be followers of that which is good?”1 [Note: A. T. Pierson.]

II

God’s Method of Guiding us

1. God guides His people by imparting to them understanding. There is a threefold assurance in the text: I will make thee wise; I will point out to thee the way; I will fix Mine eye upon thee. God will do something in the man. He shall yet be instructed more deeply than ever, and shall find himself never too old to learn. God will do something round about the man. He shall have the guidance of circumstances, of closed and opened doors, which only the wise can understand. Finally, this man being a backslider of proven weakness, God will watch him with fixed attention to correct the least slip. Providential care is shown to be a very complex thing, operating along many lines which converge to the great result. But more particularly for our purpose, it is largely an inward thing, dealing first and foremost with the mind rather than with the circumstances, according to this initial promise, “I will make thee wise.” Probably circumstances are much more nearly right than people admit, and where failure arises the man himself is generally at fault. Also, men can never be saved from the outside or by the most favourable circumstances. Deliverance must be wrought supremely by an inward grace illuminating the mind and making men circumspect and self-adaptive to win the mastery over life’s conditions. It is written that God did not stay the flood, but Noah, being warned by Him, prepared an ark for the saving of his house. The grand resource and secret of the Most High in the protecting of His children is this gift of wisdom.

The name “Wisdom” pervades the Old Testament, bringing the glimmer of jewels and visions of a good woman’s face as tokens of its power to adorn and enrich life. In the text a, smaller word is used, indicating circumspection or intelligence; yet that is but wisdom applied practically. The assertion is that we may be made wise to think God’s thoughts after Him, intelligent to recognize the meaning of His way with us, and when understanding fails—as fail sometimes it will—patient to endure with a great trust. Mere acquiescence cannot be the end of our faith. He has called us friends—not puppets. Trials and griefs have no inevitable efficacy. In every different destiny of joy and sorrow, health and sickness, help and injury, there lie hidden both a use and a misuse, both a blessing and a curse, and only active wisdom can choose the better part.

Many still think of God in the way Omar Khayyám thought of Him—as an infinite Chess-player, with the world for His board. There stand bishops and knights and pawns, each on its own square and perhaps untouched for long intervals. But every piece is moved from time to time by the inexorable Hand, and sooner or later every piece is sacrificed for ends that it cannot know. Our duty is simply to trust that God is winning the game in His own way. Thus do the uninstructed ones most pitifully talk, taking the name of the Lord their God in vain—finding faith a poor futility. They cast their burden upon the Lord in quite the wrong sense, for they lay only the blame of it on Him. They think themselves not so much led through the world as dragged through it, like a child’s toy across the parlour floor, meeting with a bump here and a bump there; and having caught a gleam of religious truth from the nursery or the pulpit, they feel it right to say without conviction, “I suppose the bumps are all for my good.” They are puppets in the hand of the Inscrutable One: they are not made wise.1 [Note: W. S. Hackett, The Land of Your Sojournings, 79.]

A lady put the universal difficulty to me in a simple but complete statement. “My troubles,” she said, “come from the unkindness of other people, and they are very hard to bear because I know they are not God’s will. Unkindness cannot be His will.” Her complaint well-nigh covers all the dreary catalogue of human suffering. Nearly always it is “somebody’s fault.” The cotton corner which spreads want over an English county, the opened lamp in the coal-mine which darkens a hundred homes, the careless workmanship at the drain which slays the darling of the household, the heartbreak of a fruitless search for employment—these surely are not the will of your Heavenly Father. Now it is quite true that Atlantic storms may be beyond control. But nothing hinders men from building ships strong enough to weather them. There may be limits which we know not to the miraculous betterment of circumstances outside, but there is no limit to God’s power to build up His saints inwardly in strength. He may be barred out of a thousand hearts, but He need not be barred out of mine. And this gospel is ennobling because it is educative. It may be doubted if “God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,” but it is not at all doubtful that He expects men to invent warmer clothing. The blessings of Providence are not for idlers, but for those who are willing to learn Wisdom 1 [Note: W. S. Hackett.]

2. God guides His own not by force, but by love. The eye is the indicator of the desire; the lips command; the hand compels. The lips can plead, but there is an inner plea which the eye alone urges. Those who know the language of the eye have mastered the language of the soul. It implies that a sympathy is already established. When the glance is understood and obeyed, there is perfect concert of mind and heart. A heart tuned to sympathy with the Divine purposes and hopes, leaps forth in glad obedience. It sees no meanings anywhere so joyfully as those which it reads in the eye of God.

What is it that makes thy life an intenser note than the music of the stars? Is it not just the fact that thou art free, just the circumstance that there is no iron belt around thee? What is this marvellous thing thou callest thy will? Wherein does its glory differ from the glory which the heavens declare? Is it not just in this, that thou art not compelled to come in? There is a guidance for thee, but it is not a star’s guidance; it is a guidance of the eye. It is the only guiding which a will can get without dying. Wouldst thou be driven like a star? then must thou cease to be free. The heavens declare God’s glory; but it is the glory of His hands. Who shall declare the glory of His Spirit? Not a star however bright, not a pulseless thing however fair; only something that can throb and strive and choose. He will not guide thee by aught but His eye. He will not compel thee to bear His cross. He will not sacrifice the joy of; being loved to the pride of being obeyed. He will draw thee, but He will never drive thee; He shall guide thee only with His eye.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Words by the Wayside, 17.]

Is God your leader?—or does He only rein you in? Are you personally conscious of the vast difference between these two experiences? It is well to be held back from sin, no doubt, but the joy of the God-directed, sanctified man is certainly beyond that of the horse and mule which have no understanding, and whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle. There is no holiness of a radical sort without Divine, positive, everyday guidance. This differs not only in degree but in kind from negative restraint. The latter may be no more than the rebuke or cry of our own alarmed conscience. Conscience is born with us, born with every man. We possess it without choice of our own. It is liable to error like other human faculties, even though of inestimable value. But God intends us to know Him of our own free choice, and much more intimately than by laws written involuntarily upon our heart. Those latter we have in common with the heathen. They operate upon our fears. Guidance appeals to our faith. “I will guide thee with mine eye,” is a promise to God’s people which goes far ahead of conscience, and so universally is it intended to be enjoyed that it was given even long before the coming of our Lord. But there is no guidance of this highest kind without the eager and abiding desire for it—a desire strong enough in its faith and intensity to survive during the severest trial and suffering.2 [Note: J. Rendel Harris, Life of F. W. Crossley, 165.]

3. God guides us, not by showing us at the outset the whole road that lies before us, and instructing us beforehand which turn to take, and what to do in each difficult place; but, step by step, as we go along, He reveals the path to us, and shows us how to walk. We should be appalled were we to see at a glance all that He sees. He does not guide us so. He Himself sees all; but He shows it to us, bit by bit, as we can bear the sight, and as it is needful for us to know. When we accept God’s guidance, we experience more and more the warm, cherishing, quickening sunlight, the light of God’s countenance, shining on, gladdening, and glorifying the life. We escape, too, all that is bitter in the school of discipline, all harm, all loss, all death. Nothing malign, nothing sorrowful, can lurk for a spirit in the path in which it is guided by the eye of God; while the life-path brightens as it travels, opening into a sphere of boundless activity, of glorious beauty, of perfect blessedness, as it nears the bounds of the eternal world.

My parents founded every action, every attitude, upon their interpretation of the Scriptures, and upon the guidance of the Divine Will as revealed to them by direct answer to prayer. Their ejaculation in the face of any dilemma was, “Let us cast it before the Lord!” So confident were they of the reality of their intercourse with God, that they asked for no other guide. They recognized no spiritual authority among men, they subjected themselves to no priest or minister, they troubled their consciences about no current manifestation of “religious opinion.” They lived in an intellectual cell, bounded at its sides by the walls of their own house, but open above to the very heart of the uttermost heavens.1 [Note: Edmund Gosse, Father and Son, 14.]

4. God’s guidance meets all possible circumstances and conditions. The eye has infinite capability of expression, and speaks all languages. It thus meets and fits any character, in all its feelings, and in all its circumstances, every moment. And yet it is actually personal. Other “guidings,” such as laws, or books, or commands, are general, and the same to everybody. The look of “the eye” is essentially individual; it brings the Guider and the guided into the closest association: “I will guide thee with mine eye.”

Of all bodily organs the most expressive is the eye. I can read in the eye of a friend far more than he utters with the tongue. It is the most accurate of all the heart’s dial-plates. It can express joy or grief, entreaty or reproof, approval or dislike. Parents and children, or brothers and sisters, living in the same home, can hold conversations with each other, even in the presence of strangers, by the language of the eye. Small signs pass between them thus which a stranger neither sees nor understands. And just so, those who live in close intercourse with God learn to read what may be called the glances of His eye, small indications of His will which strangers to heart-fellowship with Him cannot read at all.1 [Note: G. H. Knight, Abiding Help for Changing Days, 30.]

5. God’s guidance is unerring; it never fails. We read in the Old Testament that God guided His people in various ways—by angels, by dreams, by visions, by prophets, by priests, by Urim and Thummim, by signs and wonders. Although God no longer guides man by these special or extraordinary agencies, yet we may be as certain of God’s guidance now as though we saw Him in the heavens with His eye upon us and His finger pointing to the course He desires us to take. By an instinct, by an impression, by a sense of duty, by an exercise of judgment, by the advice of others, by a book, by a sermon, by a passage of Scripture, by helping us in one direction, by hindering us in another—these are the ordinary methods or agencies by which God is ever guiding those who obey His guidance. We are as a vessel being steered to port. There is One with us whose eye is always on the compass, and whose hand, so to speak, is always on the wheel of life. By His eye and by His hand every movement of a man’s life is guided. That hand and that eye are hidden, are unnoticed; but night and day they are in action, ever performing their guiding work till we reach the haven of God’s everlasting rest. We may make false moves at times, at times appear to get out of our providential track; but somehow, so long as the Divine eye is upon us and the Divine hand directs us, we go not far astray, and in the end reach our God-appointed port.

Keble recalled to men the teaching of Bishop Butler on the moral nature of the evidence by which spiritual convictions were reached. To the mere reason, this evidence could not get beyond suggestive probabilities; but these probabilities were used, by the living spirit of man, as an indication of the personal Will of God, which could be read by the soul that was in tune with that Will. So probabilities became certitudes. “I will guide thee with mine Eye,” was Keble’s favourite example of the mode in which Divine truth touched the soul. By deep glimpses, by rare flashes, by a momentary glance, the Eye of God could make us aware of Truths far beyond the understanding of reason. Such Truths possessed authority, which we could not dissect or critically examine. They were revelations of the mind of Him with whom we had to deal.1 [Note: H. S. Holland, Personal Studies, 78.]

There is a tender awe in knowing that there is some One at your side guiding at every step, restraining here, leading on there. He knows the way better than the oldest Swiss guide knows the mountain trail. He has love’s concern that all shall go well with you. There is a great peace for us in that, and with it a tender awe to think who He is, and that He is close up by your side. When you come to the splitting of the road into two, with a third path forking off from the others, there is peace in just holding steady and very quiet while you put out your hand and say, “Jesus, Master, guide here.” And then to hear a Voice so soft that only in great quiet is it heard, softer than faintest breath on your cheek, or slightest touch on your arm, telling the way in fewest words or syllables—that makes the peace unspeakable.2 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Personal Problems, 154.]

Not like the angel with drawn sword,

Neither with rod threat’ningly;

Leadst Thou, Lord, but fulfill’st Thy word,

“I will guide thee with Mine eye.”



We see Thee not, but Thou seest us,

Be where we may, Thou art nigh;

Whisp’ring, timid or valorous,

I will guide thee with Mine eye.”



Dark days come and our path is dark,

We know not to go or fly;

From the sky falls, like trill of lark,

“I will guide thee with Mine eye.”



Ah, Lord, we’re wayward and we’re weak,

Our gladness changing to sad sigh:

O keep Thou us as Thou dost speak,

And guide us ever with Thine eye.3 [Note: A. B. Grosart, Songs of the Day and Night, 33.]

Literature

Bourdillon (F.), Handfuls, 24.

Brown (J. Baldwin), The Sunday Afternoon, 278.

Hackett (W. S.), The Land of Your Sojournings, 37.

Knight (G. H.), Abiding Help for Changing Days, 27.

Matheson (G.), Words by the Wayside, 16.

Meyer (F. B.), Christian Living, 78.

Stone (C. E.), Children’s Sunday Afternoons, 186.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), New Ser., xiii. (1876), No. 989.

Voysey (C.), Sermons, ii. (1879), No. 1.

Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., xii. 96 (H. G. Youard).

Literary Churchman, xx. (1874) 95.

Sunday Magazine, 1880, p. 140 (R. H. Smith).