"Order my steps in Your Word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me" (Psalm 119:113).
Our text is a prayer, a prayer to the Lord, a prayer that He order our life according to the truth of His Word and thereby free us from the domination of evil loves and wayward thoughts. It is a prayer that the Lord reform and regenerate us. Implicit in this prayer is the acknowledgment that the power to change is from the Lord and not in ourselves.
"Order my steps in Your Word!" In effect, we are asking the Lord to introduce order into our lives. When we speak of order, what do we have in mind? What is order? Order may be defined as the Divine laws which govern the universe. In thinking of the universe, we should beware lest we limit our thought to the material plane the created natural universe of suns and planets, solar systems and galaxies; we should have in mind the created universe on every plane, both spiritual and natural from the inmost heaven right down to the earth we live on.
On every plane, from the inmost to the outmost, the Lord governs all things according to Divine laws of order according to His Word. If we wish to live in the happy state for which the Lord created us, if we yearn to be free from the dominion of evil loves, then we must learn the laws of order from the Word and live according to them. The truth of this becomes very evident if we consider first the realm of the natural universe.
There was a time and not so very long ago when very little was known of the laws which govern the natural environment in which we live. Superstition was rife. The earth was thought to be flat; it was believed that the sun rose above and sank below its edge. Then people began to study the stars and their movements, and the science of astronomy was born. Methodical observations were made and carefully checked. The accumulated data were analyzed and conclusions drawn. Postulates were made and methodically tested. From these studies a new concept of the natural universe opened up which had far-reaching consequences; among other things it led to improved navigation. This in turn led to the systematic exploration of our globe. This resulted in tremendous changes in the way of life for people on our planet.
The quality of natural life has benefitted in innumerable ways from the development of such sciences as chemistry, physics, agronomy, horticulture, and animal husbandry, not to mention mechanics, electronics, and aerodynamics. Through the development of these sciences, a much fuller and more efficient use has been made of the earth's resources. We may say that through the discovery of the Divine laws of order on the plane of nature, and by ordering our steps according to these laws, tremendous advancement has been made on the natural plane of life.
Admittedly, many erroneous conclusions were drawn as well as mistakes made in application. Many people abused the knowledge derived from these studies and exploited the environment for selfish ends. While this is true, it does not negate the fact that great progress has been made through the discovery of these Divine, natural laws of order.
Consider also those sciences which are more closely related to human beings: the sciences of biology, anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Since the development of these sciences it is now generally recognized that there are definite laws which govern physical and mental growth. From a study of these laws, and by acting in harmony with them, significant advances have been made in the field of education and the detection and treatment of mental disorders. By ordering our steps according to these Divine natural laws, the potential for human development and achievement has been greatly increased, with a corresponding deepening and extension of man's potential for being of use to his fellow human beings and to society.
The progress we have been speaking of has been the result of people studying, discovering and learning natural laws, and ordering their steps according to those laws. They have been able to make this progress because the operations of these laws are observable. But man is not merely a natural being we are also spiritual, and there are Divine laws which govern the growth and development of our spirits. These laws are above human consciousness. We cannot discover them by natural observation, analysis, and induction. These spiritual laws are revealed by the Lord in what we call Divine revelation, or the Word.
Only when these laws are known and understood, and as man's steps are ordered in them, can we expect to see a development of man's full potential. Much that is wrong in the world today results from our failure to recognize, or refusal to acknowledge, this truth. Great efforts have been made in recent years to improve the human condition. The extension of educational opportunities and the improvement in educational facilities have been undertaken on a grand scale. Extensive social welfare schemes have been devised and implemented.
Unfortunately, the philosophical underpinning of most of these efforts has been an erroneous belief and assumption that man is intrinsically good, and that the evils which beset human society are due to ignorance, an imperfect environment, and corrupt human institutions. While certain benefits have resulted from these efforts, they have also created a host of other problems. The real ills of human society have not been cured; nor will they ever be through such efforts alone.
There is a teaching in the Word which reveals the reason for this. The teaching is striking for its directness and simplicity. It states: "In the other life everything is possible that is in conformity with order. The Divine truth which proceeds from the Lord is what makes order and is order itself. Consequently, as everything that is according to Divine truth is according to order, it is possible; and as everything that is contrary to Divine truth is contrary to order, it is impossible" (AC 8700, emphasis added).
It is a Divine truth that man is a spiritual being. It is also a Divine truth that since the fall of the Most Ancient Church, man, by heredity, tends toward evil. It is a Divine truth that we must be reformed and regenerated if we are to experience true, lasting peace and happiness. To ignore these truths, to act apart from them, is to act contrary to order. That which is contrary to order is impossible! It is, therefore, impossible to cure the ills of society without reference to these and other Divine truths. Conversely, when the Divine truth is known and acknowledged, and when man's steps are ordered in the Word, then such improvement and the perfection of society are possible, for "everything is possible that is in conformity with order" (AC 8700).
The same thing is true of us individually. Presumably we are all desirous of attaining a state of deep happiness, inmost contentment and peace of mind. We also desire the same for the children entrusted to our care. And this is possible. It is possible if our steps are ordered in the Word. It is therefore fitting that we should pray to the Lord: "Order my steps in Your Word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me" (Text).
As we said in the beginning, implicit in this prayer is the acknowledgment that the power to do this is from the Lord and not in ourselves that we need His help and guidance. But this does not mean that there is nothing we can do to help. The end cannot be achieved without man's cooperation. Otherwise, we would not appropriate the results to ourselves. And the cooperation required of us is this: that we act as of ourselves to achieve the desired end with the acknowledgment that the Lord alone does it.
To this end the Lord has given the Word to us. In the Word the Lord tells us what is evil and what is good. He tells us what evils are to be shunned, why they are to be shunned, and how they are to be shunned. He tells us what goods are to be done, why they should be done, and how they should be done.
As we order our thoughts, our speech and our deeds in conformity with these teachings, the Lord, from within, orders our inmost loves and affections in a corresponding manner. As we shun evils in the externals of thought, speech and act, the Lord removes the lusts which gave rise to them. As we think, speak, and act with self-compelled consideration and charity for others in accordance with the teaching of the Word, the Lord implants within us a love of doing the same, together with a living perception of how the love should be expressed. As we order our steps in the Lord's Word, He orders our lives therein.
In the new revelation which the Lord has given us the Word of the Second Advent the Divine laws of order are set forth as fully and completely as is possible in words of human language.
We live in a terribly confused and troubled world. We are not untouched by this trouble and confusion. But let us realize that we can escape from this disordered state. There is a haven of happiness, peace and hope for us. It lies in going to the Word, learning there the Divine laws of order, and ordering our steps therein. As we do this, so will the Lord lead us forth from the dominion of iniquity into the happiness and peace of the heavenly state. Amen.
Lessons: Numbers 9:15-23; Psalm 119:129-144; DP 125, 126
Divine Providence 125, 126
These angelic truths are stated here in order that it may be understood how the Divine Providence of the Lord operates to unite man to Himself and Himself to man. This operation does not act upon any particular of man separately but upon all things at the same time, and is effected from the inmost of man and from his ultimates at the same time. The inmost of man is his life's love, his ultimates are what reside in the external of his thought, and intermediates are what reside in the internal of his thought. It has been shown in the foregoing numbers what the nature of these is in a wicked man; and from these considerations it is again made clear that the Lord cannot act from inmost things and ultimates at the same time except together with man, for in ultimates, man and the Lord are together. Therefore as man acts in ultimates which are matters of his choice, because they are within the scope of his freedom, so the Lord acts from his inmost things and in the things ranging in series to his ultimates. What the inmost things of man contain and what is present in the series from the inmost things to the ultimates are totally unknown to man; and man is therefore quite unaware of how the Lord operates and what He accomplishes there; but as those things are linked together as one with the ultimates, man need not know more than that he should shun evils as sins and look to the Lord. In this and in no other way can his life's love, which by birth is infernal, be removed by the Lord and a heavenly life's love be implanted in its place.
When the Lord has implanted a heavenly life's love in place of the infernal one, then there are implanted affections of good and truth in place of the lusts of evil and falsity; and in place of the delights of the lusts of evil and falsity there are implanted the delights of the affections of good; and in place of the evils of infernal love there are implanted the goods of heavenly love. Then also instead of cunning there is implanted prudence, and instead of thoughts of malice there are implanted thoughts of wisdom. Thus man is born again and becomes a new man. The kinds of good that take the place of evils may be seen in The Doctrine of Life for the New Jerusalem (nos. 67-73, 74-79, 80-86, 87-91); also, that so far as a man shuns and turns away from evils as sins he loves the truths of wisdom (Life n. 32-41); and so far he has faith and is spiritual (Life n. 42-52).