To expect the favor of the Lord without an habitual desire of conformity to His image, is one among the many delusions of a self-deceiving heart. It is the peculiar character of the Christian, that his desires are as earnest for deliverance from the power as from the guilt of sin. Having therefore prayed for acceptance, he now cries for holiness. For even could we conceive the Lord to look upon him with a sense of His favor, he would still feel himself a miserable creature, until he has received an answer to his prayer—Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.
But it is often difficult to distinguish the power of temptation from the prevalence of sin, and thus precisely to ascertain, when iniquity may be said to have dominion over us. Is it not however the influence of temptation—not acting upon the mind, but admitted with consent into the heart? It is this actual consent of the will, obtained by the deceitfulness and solicitations of sin, that marks its real dominion. Light, knowledge, and conscience, may open the path of holiness; but while the will—the sovereign power in the soul—dissents, the reigning power of sin continues undisputed. Much care, however, much singleness, and a most jealous scrutiny of the springs of action, are required, accurately to determine the bias of the will, and consequently the dominion of iniquity. The perplexed, conflicting soul may mistake the rebellion for the dominion of iniquity—its continued impression upon the heart for its ruling sway. On the other hand, a constrained opposition of conviction may present some hopeful symptoms of deliverance, while the dominant principle is still unshaken. The present resolution to any particular act of sin may be weakened, while the love and habit of it remained unaffected. Sin is not always hated, when it is condemned, or even forsaken; nor are duties always loved in the act of their performance. The opposition to sin, which the awakened superficial professor considers as his evidence of uprightness of heart, is often only the unavailing resistance of a natural enlightened conscience to the ruling principle of the heart. The light and power of conscience may do much in condemning every known sin, and in restraining from many; in illustrating every known duty, and insisting upon the external performance of many; while yet the full dominion of iniquity is undisturbed. Were not Ahab and Judas as completely under his dominion after their repentance as they were before? Did not Balaam, with all his knowledge—and the young ruler, with all his natural loveliness and semblance of sincerity, "lack that one thing"—a heart delivered from the dominion of its own iniquity? Yet it is not occasional surprisals, resisted workings, abhorred lust, nor immediate injections of evil and blasphemous thoughts; but only the ascendancy of sin in the affections, that proves its reigning power. The throne can admit but of one ruler; and therefore, though grace and iniquity may and do co-exist within, they cannot be co-partners in one sovereignty. Yet do not forget that every sinful indulgence is for the moment putting the scepter into the hands of our worst enemies. The setting up of an usurper is the virtual dethronement of the rightful sovereign. The subjection to sin is therefore the rejection of Christ.
How inestimably precious is the thought, that deliverance from this cursed dominion is inseparably connected with a state of acceptance with God! The man who enjoys the unspeakable blessing of pardoned iniquity, is he "in whose spirit there is no deceit." He has a work done within him, as well as for him. His Savior is a whole Christ, "made of God unto him Sanctification" and complete "Redemption" as well as "Righteousness." He comes to the cleansing fountain, as the double cure of his iniquity—equally effectual to wash from its power, as from its guilt.
But let us duly estimate the value of David's preservation. He had been used to "hide the word in his heart," as his safeguard against sin, and from his own experience of its power he had recommended it to the especial attention of the young. Yet the recollection of his continual forgetfulness and conscious weakness, leads him to turn his rule into a matter of prayer—Order my steps in Your word;—implying, that if his steps were not ordered, from want of their keeping, iniquity would regain its dominion. And who of us have not daily need of this ruling discipline? Without it, all is disorder. Our scattered affections need to be "united" in one central principle, under the direction of the word. The universal influence of this rule also is so important. The word not only cheers our path, but orders our steps. Every act—every duty—are as steps in the heavenward path—guarding us from the devious paths on either side, beset with imperceptible danger, and spread with the fowler's snare. And what a blessed path would this be for us, if we had singleness and simplicity always to "look right on, and straight before us!" But alas! we are often only half-roused from our security. The word is forgotten; or there is an unreadiness to receive its Divine impressions. Our own wisdom is consulted: and, "or ever we are aware," iniquity regains a temporary dominion over us.
Now I would ask myself—What do I know of this godly, careful walk? Am I frequently during the day looking upward to my heavenly guide; and then looking into His word as my direction in the way; and lastly considering my heart and conduct, whether it is ordered in the word? The man, who has "the law of God in his heart," alone possesses the security, "that none of his steps shall slide." When I take therefore a step into the world, let me ask—Is it ordered in God's word, which exhibits Christ as my perfect example; so that, walking after Him, and following in His steps, I may be able to frame my temper and habits according to this unsullied pattern?
But let us mark, how fully is this prayer warranted by the special promise of the Gospel, "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law, but under grace." The law stirred up sin, and gave it increased power; while it left us to our unassisted exertions to subdue it. We watch, pray, and strive against it; yet, alas! it mocks our efforts—rages, yes, tyrannizes more than ever. But it is the cross of Calvary, that gave the child of God his first view of sin, that first made him loathe it, that first enabled him to contemplate a holy God without fear, and even with confidence. This—this alone—subdues his pride, rebellion, enmity, selfishness. In Him that hung there we trust as an Almighty conqueror; and we are made ourselves "more than conquerors through Him that loved us." His very name of Jesus marks His office, His crown, His glory. Here therefore—not in doubts and fears—not in indolent mourning for sin—here lies the appointed means of present relief—the only hope of final victory. Iniquity, even when subdued, will struggle to the last for dominion: but looking to and living on Jesus, we have the victory still. The more clear our view of Jesus, the more complete is our victory. Supplies of continual strength will ever be given to restrain the dominion of iniquity, and even to "keep under" its daily risings; except as they may be needful for the exercise of our graces, and be eventually overruled for the glory and praise of our faithful God.
"Order my steps in your word." This is one of the Lord's customary mercies to his chosen, "He keeps the feet of his saints." Thus he uses to do unto those who love his name. By his grace he enables us to put our feet step by step in the very place which his word ordains. This prayer seeks a very choice favor, namely, that every distinct act, every step, may be arranged and governed by the will of God. This does not stop short of perfect holiness, neither will the believer's desires be satisfied with anything beneath that blessed consummation.
"And let not any iniquity have dominion over me." This is the negative side of the blessing. We ask to do all that is right, and to fall under the power of nothing that is wrong. God is our sovereign, and we would have every thought in subjection to his sway. Believers have no darling sins to which they would be willing to bow. They pant for perfect deliverance from the dominion of evil, and being conscious that they cannot obtain it of themselves, they cry unto God for it.
Taken in connection with the former clause, we learn, that to avoid all sin we must observe all duty. Only by actual obedience can we be preserved from falling into evil. Omissions lead to commissions: only an ordered life can save us from the disorder of iniquity.