A man’s heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his steps (Proverbs 16:9).
The first verse of this chapter is in many translations made to express the same truth. “The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue to the Lord.”1
The Lord has a sovereign influence over the hearts and thoughts of men, and they can devise nothing without the concurrence of his providence, for in him we live, and move, and have our being. When men are even taking unhallowed means to determine their conduct, the holy providence of God, by undiscerned influence, overrules their minds, and decides in their councils. When the king of Babylon used divination to direct him whether he should direct his march to Rabbah or Jerusalem, it was the Lord that determined him to come against his own people, to punish them for their iniquities. Yet Solomon affirms with truth, that a man’s heart deviseth his way, because man exercises full freedom of will in forming his projects.
The decree and providence of God do not interfere with the free-will of rational creatures, far less can man’s free-will preclude the absolute dominion of the Most High, over the hearts, as well as the fortunes of men2.
The sovereign dominion of God shines clearly in the disposal of men’s ways. They either execute their counsels or not, as his wisdom has determined. They sometimes accomplish their own counsels, but whether they do or not, they never fail to accomplish the purpose of God. Those that know not God, those that will not acknowledge his decrees and providence, and those that set themselves in the most avowed opposition to God, are all of them employed as instruments in the execution of his decrees. The devil himself was deeply concerned in the accomplishment of the glorious purpose of God about our salvation.
God not only determines the event of a man’s devices, but every step in his progress. He not only directs every step of his people3, but every step in the walk of every man, and even of his greatest enemies, is ordered by him4. And accordingly, we find Isaiah and Micah, when they speak of the Assyrian invasion of Judea, naming the particulars of their march, as if they had been writing an history, rather than a prophecy; for they were inspired by Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, and makes use of all creatures as the ministers of his providence5.
What comfort to God’s people may be derived from this point! Our heavenly Father has all hearts, and tongues, and hands under his management. A dog cannot move its tongue against any one of us, unless he give it commission (Isaiah 54:17).
Whatever befals us by the spite of men, should lead our thoughts to God; and when we consider it as a piece of his providence, we shall see that we have no reason to complain, but much reason to adore6.
Let us never lay down any plan of conduct, without acknowledging God. If we will not take notice of his providence in proposing our measures, we shall find in the prosecution of them, that there is a providence which will have its course, in spite of all the wisdom and strength of men.
1. To account for the variety of translation in this and many other places, it is necessary for the English reader to remember, that the meaning of the Hebrew particles is very indeterminate, and the verb, often omitted.
2. Psalm 33:15
3. Proverbs 3:5
4. Jeremiah 10:25
5. Isaiah 10; Micah 1
6. Lamentations 3:37, 38, 39
The reading for today is an excerpt from “Exposition of the Book of Proverbs” by George Lawson.