The nightly journeys of Israel were guided by a pillar of fire—directing not only their course, but every step and movement. Thus is our passage in a dark and perilous way irradiated by the lamp and light of the word. But except the lamp be lighted—except the teaching of the Spirit accompany the word, all is darkness—thick darkness. Let us not then be content to read the word without obtaining some light from it in our understanding—in our experience—in our providential path. Did we more habitually wait to receive, and watch to improve the light, we should not so often complain of the perplexity of our path. It would generally determine our steps under infallible guidance: while in the presumptuous neglect of it—like Israel of old—we are sure to come into trouble.
Yet it may sometimes be difficult to trace our light to this heavenly source. A promise may seem to be applied to my mind, as I conceive, suitable to my present need. But how may I determine, whether it is the lamp of the word; or some delusive light from him, who can at any time, for the accomplishment of his own purpose, transform himself "into an angel of light?" Or if a threatening be impressed upon my conscience, how can I accurately distinguish between the voice of "the accuser of the brethren," and the warning of my heavenly guide? Let me mark the state of my own mind. If I am living in the indulgence of any known sin, or in the neglect of any known duty—if my spirit is careless, or my walk unsteady; a consoling promise, being unsuitable to my case, even though it awakened some excitement of joy, would be of doubtful application. The lamp of God under the circumstances supposed, would rather reflect the light of conviction than of consolation. For, though God as a Sovereign may speak comfort when and where He pleases; yet we can only expect Him to deal with us according to the prescribed rules of His own covenant; chastening, not comforting, His backsliding people. In a spirit of contrition, however, I should not hesitate to receive a word of encouragement, as the lamp of God to direct and cheer my progress; being conscious of that state of feeling, in which the Lord has expressly promised to restore and guide His people. Let me also inquire into the terms and character of the promise. When He "that dwells in the high and holy place," engages to dwell "with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit;" any symptoms of tenderness and humility would naturally lead me to consider this word of promise, as sent by my kind and watchful Father, to be a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Again—a distinct and experimental view of the Savior in His promises, endearing Him to me, and encouraging my trust in His faithfulness and love—this is manifestly light from above. Or if the purpose of the promise answers any proper end—to excite or to encourage to any present duty connected with the promise; I cannot doubt, but the lamp of the Lord is directing my path.
For example—when the promise was given to Joshua, "I will not fail you, nor forsake you;" he could not misconstrue "a word" so "fitly spoken" "in a time of need." And when the same promise was subsequently given to the Church, the application was equally clear, as a dissuasive from inordinate attachment to the things of time and sense, and an encouragement to entire dependence upon the Lord.
Further—The practical influence of the word will also enable me clearly to distinguish the light of heaven from any illusion of fancy or presumption. The effect of an unconditional promise of deliverance given to the Apostle in a moment of extremity, was exhibited in a diligent use of all the appointed means of safety. An absolute promise of prolonged life given to Hezekiah when lying at the point of death, produced the same practical result, in a scrupulous attention to the means for his recovery. Upon the warrant of a general promise of Divine protection, Ezra and the Jews "fasted, and besought their God for this." Now in these and other instances, the power of the word, working diligence, simplicity, and prayer, evidently proved its sacred origin. An assurance of safety proceeding from another source, would have produced sloth, carelessness, and presumption; and therefore may I not presume the quickening word in darkness and perplexity, to be the Lord's lamp unto my feet, and light unto my path, "to guide my feet into the way of peace?"
Let me apply the same test to the threatenings of the word. Their influence, meeting me in a watchful and humble walk with God, I should at once consider as the suggestion of the great enemy of the soul, ever ready to whisper distrust and despondency to the child of God. But in a self-confident, self-indulgent state, I should have as little hesitation in marking an alarming word to be the light of the word of God. It would be well for me at such a time to be exercised with fear; not as arguing any insecurity in my state; but as leading me to "great searchings of heart," to increasing watchfulness, humiliation, and prayer. "The commandment is a lamp, and the law is a light: and reproofs of instruction are the ways of life." Oh, that I may be enabled to make use of this lamp to direct every step of my heavenly way!
Whence then—it may be asked—the various tracks even of the sincere servants of God? Though there is clear light in the word, yet there is remaining darkness in the most enlightened heart. There is no eye without a speck, no eye with perfect singleness of vision—consequently without some liability to error. There is light for the teachable—not for the curious;—light to satisfy faith—not caviling. Add to this the office of the ministry—the Lord's gracious ordinance for Christian instruction and establishment; not to enslave, but to direct the judgment in the light of the word. To honor this ordinance is therefore the path of light. To neglect it, is the exposure to all the evils of a wayward will and undisciplined judgment.
Lord! as every action of the day is a step to heaven, or hell—Oh! save me from ever turning my face away from the path, into which Your word would guide me. Enable me to avail myself of its light, in the constant exercise of faith, prudence, and simplicity.
"Your word is a lamp unto my feet." We are walkers through the city of this world, and we are often called to go out into its darkness; let us never venture there without the light-giving word, lest we slip with our feet. Each man should use the word of God personally, practically, and habitually, that he may see his way, and see what lies in it When darkness settles down upon all around me, the word of the Lord, like a flaming torch, reveals my way. Having no fixed lamps in eastern towns, in old time each passenger carried a lantern with him, that he might not fall into the open sewer, or stumble over the heaps of ordure which defiled the road. This is a true picture of our path through this dark world: we should not know the way, or how to walk in it, if Scripture, like a blazing flambeau, did not reveal it One of the most practical benefits of Holy Writ is guidance in the acts of daily life: it is not sent to astound us with its brilliance, but to guide us by its instruction. It is true the head needs illumination, but even more the feet need direction, else head and feet may both fall into a ditch. Happy is the man who personally appropriates God's word, and practically uses it as his comfort and counselor—a lamp to his feet. "And a light unto my path." It is a lamp by night, a light by day, and a delight at all times. David guided his own steps by it, and also saw the difficulties of his road by its beams. He who walks in darkness is sure, sooner or later, to stumble; while he who walks by the light of day, or by the lamp of night, stumbles not, but keeps his uprightness. Ignorance is painful upon practical subjects; it breeds indecision and suspense, and these are uncomfortable: the word of God, by imparting heavenly knowledge, leads to decision, and when that is followed by determined resolution, as in this case, it brings with it great restfulness of heart. This verse converses with God in adoring and yet familiar tones. Have we not something of like tenor to address to our heavenly Father?
Note how much this verse is like the first verse of the first octave, and the first of the second and other octaves. The seconds also are often in unison.