Of Walking Humbly with God, Part 1
by John Owen
“And to walk humbly with thy God.”
Mic. vi. 8
The beginning of this chapter contains a most pathetical expostulation of God, by the prophet, with his people, about their sins and unworthy walking before him. Having, with an apostrophe to the mountains and hills, verses 1, 2, stirred up their attention, and raised them to the consideration of his plea with them in verses 3–5, he emphatically presses them with the mercies he had of old bestowed upon them, with the patience and love toward them which he showed and exercised in his dealings with them.
The conviction being effectual to awaken them, and fill them with a sense of their horrible ingratitude and rebellions, verses 6, 7, they begin to make inquiry, according as is the custom of persons under the power of conviction, what course they shall take to avoid the wrath of God, which they could not but acknowledge was due to them. And here, as God speaks, Hos. vii. 1, when he would heal them, their iniquity and wickedness is discovered more and more; they discover the wretched principles whereon they were acted, in all that they had to do with God.
Indeed convictions, on what account soever, made effectual upon the soul, draw out its inward principles; which are not otherwise to be discovered. Many there are who have, in notion, received the doctrine of free justification by the blood of Christ, whom, while they are secure in their ways, without trouble or distress, it is impossible to persuade that they do not live and act upon that principle, and walk before God in the strength of it. Let any great conviction, from the word or by any imminent or pressing danger, befall these men, — then their hearts are laid open, — then all their hopes are in their repentance, amendment of life, performance of duties in a better manner; and the iniquity of their self-righteousness is discovered.
Thus was it with these Jews. Their sins being charged home upon them by the prophet, so that they are not able to stand under their weight and burden, he now discovers the bottom of all their principles in dealing with God; and that is this, that having provoked him, something they must do whereby to appease him and atone his anger.
In their contrivance to this purpose, they fix on two general heads. First, They propose things which God himself had appointed, verses 6, 7; — secondly, Things of their own finding out, which they supposed might have a farther and better efficacy to the end aimed at than any thing appointed of God himself, verse 7.
First. They look to sacrifices and burnt-offerings for help; — they consider whether by them, and on their account, they may not come before the Lord, and bow themselves before the high God; that is, perform such a worship for which they may be acquitted from the guilt of their sins.
Sacrifices were a part of the worship of God appointed by himself, and acceptable to him when offered in faith, according to his mind; yet we find God frequently rejecting them in the Old Testament, whilst yet their institution was in force, and themselves good in their kind. Now, this rejection of them was not absolute, but with respect to somewhat that vitiated the service in them. Among these, two were most eminent:—
1. When they were rested in, as the matter and cause of their justification and acceptation with God, beyond their typical virtue.
2. When they were relied on to countenance men in the neglect of moral duties, or to continue in any way of sin.
Both these evils attended this appeal of the Jews unto their sacrifices. They did it first to please God, or appease God, — that on their account they might be freed from the guilt of sin, and be accepted: and then to countenance themselves in their immoralities and wickedness; as is evident from the prophet’s reply, verse 7, calling them from their vain confidence in sacrifices, to justice, judgment, mercy, and humble walking with God. But, —
Secondly, They find this will not do; conscience will not be satisfied nor peace be obtained by any performance of these ordinary duties, though they should engage in them in an extraordinary manner; no, though they could bring thousands of rams, and ten thousand rivers of oil. Though men attempt never so vigorously, in never so extraordinary a manner, to quiet their souls, terrified with the guilt of sin, by any duties whatever, it will not do, — the work will not be accomplished; therefore they will make farther attempts. If nothing that God hath appointed will reach the end they aim at, because they were never appointed by him for that end, they will invent or use some way of their own that may appear to be of more efficacy than the other: “Shall I give my first-born for my transgression?”
The rise and occasion of such sacrifices as here are mentioned, — the sacrificing of men, of men’s sacrificing their own children; the use of such sacrifices throughout the world, among all nations; the craft and cruelty of Satan in imposing them on poor, sinful, guilty creatures, with the advantages which he had so to do, — I have elsewhere declared. For the present, I shall only observe two things in the state and condition of convinced persons, when pressed with their sins, and a sense of the guilt of them, who are ignorant of the righteousness of God in Christ:—
1. They have a better opinion of their own ways and endeavours, for the pleasing of God and quieting their consciences, than of any thing of God’s institution, or the way by him appointed for that end. This is the height that they rise to, when they have fixed on what is most glorious in their own eyes. Tell a Papist who is convinced of sin, of the blood of Christ, — it is folly to him. Penances, satisfaction, purgatory, intercession of the church in the mass, have much more desirableness in them:— these Eliabs must wear the crown. The case is the same with innumerable poor souls at present, who hope to find more relief in their own duties and amendment of life than in the blood of Christ, as to the appeasing of God and obtaining of peace.
2. There is nothing so horrid, desperate, irksome, or wicked, that convinced persons will not engage to do under their pressure on the account of the guilt of sin. They will burn their children in the fire, whilst the cries of their conscience outcry the lamentation of their miserable infants: which, as it argues the desperate blindness that is in man by nature, choosing such abominations rather than that way which is the wisdom of God; so also the terrors that possess poor souls convinced of sin, that are unacquainted with the only remedy.
This being the state and condition of these poor creatures, the prophet discovers to them their mistake and desperate folly in the verse of my text.
Two things are contained in this verse; — the one is implied, the other expressed in words:—
First. Here is something implied; and that is, a reproof of the error and mistake of the Jews. They thought sacrifices were appointed for the appeasing of God by their performance of them; and that this was their business in their worship, — by their duty in performance of them, to make satisfaction for the guilt of sin. This the prophet calls them from, telling them that is not their business, their duty: God hath provided another way to make reconciliation and atonement; it is a thing above their power. Their business is to walk with God in holiness; for the matter of atonement, that lies on another hand. “He hath showed thee, O man, what he requireth of thee:” he expects not satisfaction at thy hands, but obedience on the account of peace made.
Secondly. What is expressed is this, — that God prefers moral worship, in the way of obedience, to all sacrifices whatever; according to the determination afterward approved by our Saviour, Mark xii. 33, “What doth the Lord require of thee?”
Now, this moral obedience he refers to three heads:— Doing justly; loving mercy; and walking humbly with God.
How the two first are comprehensive of our whole duty in respect of men, containing in them the sum and substance of the second table, I shall not stay to declare.
It is the third head that I have fixed on, which peculiarly regards the first table and the moral duties thereof.
Concerning this I shall do these three things:— I. I shall show what it is to walk with God. II. What it is to walk humbly with God. III. Prove this proposition: Humble walking with God, as our God in covenant, is the great duty and most valuable concernment of believers.
I. As to our walking with God, some things are required to it, and some things are required in it:—
1. Some things are required to it; as, —
(1.) Peace and agreement. Amos iii. 3, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” And he tells us, that walking with God, when there is no peace with him, is like walking in a forest where and when the lion roareth, verse 8, — when a man can have no thoughts but what are full of expectation of his immediately being torn asunder and devoured. So God threateneth to deal with them that pretend to walk with him, and yet are not at peace with him, Ps. l. 22, “Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.” Who are these? Those to whom he speaks, verse 16, “But unto the wicked, God saith:” the exceptive “but,” distinguishes them from those of whom he spoke before, verse 5, who had made a covenant with him by sacrifice, and so obtained peace in the blood of Christ. When Cain and Abel went into the field together, and were not agreed, the issue was, that the one slew the other. When Joram met Jehu in the field, he cried, “Is it peace?” and finding by his answer that they were not agreed, he instantly flew, and cried out for his life. “ ‘Agree,’ saith our Saviour, ‘with thine adversary whiles thou art in the way,’ lest the issue be sad to thee.”
You know at what enmity God and man do stand, whilst he is in the state of nature. They are alienated from God by wicked works, — are enemies; and their carnal mind is enmity to him, Rom. viii. 7; and his wrath abideth on them, John iii. 36; — they are children of his wrath, Eph. ii. 3. Were I to pursue this head in particulars, I could manifest from the rise and first breach, from the consideration of the parties at variance, the various ways of managing of it, and its issue, that this is the saddest enmity that can possibly be apprehended. You know, also, what our peace and agreement with God is, and whence it doth arise. Christ is “our peace,” Eph. ii. 14. He hath made an end of the difference about sin, Dan. ix. 24. He hath made peace for us with God; and by our interest in him, we, who were afar off, are made nigh, and obtain peace, Rom. v. 1; Eph. ii. 14, 15.
This, then, I say, in the first place, is required to our walking with God, — that we are at peace with him, and agreement in the blood of Christ; — that we are by faith actually interested in the atonement; — that our persons are accepted, as the foundation of the acceptation of our duties. Without this, every attempt for walking with God in obedience, or the performance of any duties, is, —
[1.] Fruitless. All that men do is lost. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;” their holy things are dung, which God will remove. In all their duties they labour in the fire; not any of their works shall turn to their eternal account. God looks on all their duties as the gifts of enemies, that are selfish, deceitful, and, of all things, to be abhorred. Such men may have their reward in this life; but as to what they aim at, their pains are lost, their hearing is lost, their alms are lost, — all is fruitless.
[2.] Presumptuous. They put themselves upon the company of God, who hates them, and is hated by them. Ps. l. 16, “But unto the wicked saith God” (this is God’s language to them in their duties), “Thou bold, presumptuous rebel, what hast thou to do to take my name in thy mouth? Why dost thou howl thus before me, and offer swine’s blood in my presence? How camest thou hither, not having a wedding garment? I hate thy most solemn oblations.” Indeed, it will be found at the issue, that intolerable presumption lies at the bottom of all unregenerate men’s attempts to walk with God. They count it a slight thing to do so; — they deal with him as one that took very little notice how he is dealt withal.
This, I say, is the first thing required to our walking with God, — that we be at peace and agreement with him in the blood of Christ. And, as the psalmist says, “Consider this, ye that know not God,” who have not made a covenant with him, in and by the sacrifice of his Son. You meet him in the field, — you put yourselves upon his company, — you pretend to walk with him in these duties, and those other, which custom, education, conviction, or self-righteousness, puts you upon; — in every one of them you provoke him to his face to destroy you. You seem to flatter him that you are agreed, when he declares that you are at enmity. Let a man deal thus with his ruler:— conspire against his crown and dignity, attempt his death, despise his authority, reproach his reputation; and then, when he is proclaimed rebel and traitor, and condemned to die, let him come into his presence, as in former days, and deal with him as a good subject, — offer him gifts and presents; — shall he think to escape? Will he not be seized on, and delivered over to punishment?
Every man, in his natural estate, is a rebel against God. Thou hast rejected his authority, conspired his ruin, the ruin of his kingdom, — art proclaimed by him a traitor and rebel, — art sentenced to eternal death: is it for thee now to meet him, — to go and flatter him with thy mouth, and fawn upon him in thy other duties? Will he not remember thy rebellions, despise thy offering, command thee out of his presence into bonds and prison, — abhor thy gifts? What canst thou else expect at his hands? This is the best and utmost of their condition, in their obedience, who are not interested in Christ; and the more earnest and zealous you are, the more ready in the performance of duties, the more do you put yourselves on him and his company who hates you upon the justest grounds in the world, and is ready to destroy you.
(2.) The second previous thing is, oneness of design. For persons occasionally to fall into the company of one another, and so to pass on together for a little season, doth not suffice for them to be said to walk together. Oneness of aim and design is required to it.
The aim of God, in general, is his own glory; he makes all things for himself, Prov. xvi. 4; Rev. iv. 11; — in particular, as to the business of our walking with him, it is the praise of his glorious grace, Eph. i. 6.
Now, in this aim of God to exalt his glorious grace, two things are considerable:— First, That all which is to be looked for at the hand of God, is upon the account of mere grace and mercy, Tit. iii. 4, 5. God aims at the exalting of his glory in this, — that he may be known, believed, magnified, as a God pardoning iniquity and sin. And, secondly, That the enjoyment of himself, in this way of mercy and grace, is that great reward of him that walks with him. So God tells Abraham, when he calls him to walk before him, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward,” Gen. xv. 1. The enjoyment of God in covenant, and the good things therein freely promised and bestowed by him, is the exceeding great reward of them that walk with God. This also, then, is required of him that will walk with God, — that he hath the same design in his so doing as God hath; — that he aims in all his obedience at the glory of God’s grace; and the enjoyment of him as his exceeding great reward.
Now, according to what was before said of the design of God, this may be referred unto three heads:—
[1.] In general:— that the design of the person be the glory of God. “Whatever we do,” saith the apostle (that is, in our worship of God, and walking with him), “let all be done to his glory.” Men who, in their obedience, have base, low, unworthy ends, walk as contrary to God in their obedience as in their sins. Some serve him for custom; some for an increase of corn, wine, or oil, or the satisfying of some low earthly end; some aim at self and reputation. All is lost; — it is not walking with God, but warring against him.
[2.] To exalt the glory of God’s grace. This is one part of the ministry of the gospel, — that in obedience we should seek to exalt the glory of grace. The first natural tendency of obedience was, to exalt the glory of God’s justice. The new covenant hath put another end upon our obedience: it is to exalt free grace; — grace given in Christ, enabling us to obey; grace accepting our obedience, being unworthy; grace constituting this way of walking with God; and grace crowning its performance.
[3.] Aiming at the enjoyment of God, as our reward. And this cuts off the obedience of many from being a walking with God. They perform duties, indeed; but what sincerity is there in their aims for the glory of God? Is it almost once taken into their thoughts? Is not the satisfaction of conscience, the escape of hell and wrath, the sole aim they have in their obedience? Is it of concernment to them that the glory of God be exalted? Do they care, indeed, what becomes of his name or ways, so they may be saved? Especially, how little is the glory of his grace aimed at! Men are destroyed by a self-righteousness, and have nothing of a gospel obedience in them. Look on the praying and preaching of some men: is it not evident that they walk not with God therein, seek not his glory, have no zeal for it, no care for his name; but rest in the discharge of the duty itself?
(3.) That a man may walk with another, it is required that he have a living principle in him, to enable him thereunto. Dead men cannot walk; or if they do, acted by any thing but their own vital principle and essential form, they are a terror to their companions, — not a comfort in their communion. For a dead carcase, or a trunk, to be moved up and down, is not walking. Hence this is everywhere laid down as the principle of our obedience, — that we “who were dead are quickened;” that “the law of the Spirit of life makes us free from the law of sin and death,” Rom. viii. 2. That we may walk with God, a principle of a new life is required; that we may have power for it, and be pressed to it from that which is within us. Had not a man rather walk alone, than have a dead carcase, taken out of a grave, and acted by an external force and power, to accompany him?
This, I say, is a third consideration. The matter of our walking with God consists, as shall be showed, in our obedience, — in our performance of duties required. In this, we are all more or less engaged; yea, so far, that perhaps it is hard to discover who walks fastest, and with most appearance of strength and vigour. But, alas! how many dead souls have we walking amongst us!
[1.] Are there none who are utter strangers to a new spiritual life — a life from above, hid with Christ in God, a life of God — that mock almost at these things; at least, that can give no account of any such life in them; — that think it strange it should be required of them that they should give any account of this life, or of being begotten again by the Spirit; yea, that make it a most ridiculous thing? “What, then, is it they will yet plead for themselves? Why do they not walk with God? Is not their conversation good and blameless? Who can charge them with any thing? Do they not perform the duties required of them?” But, friend, would it be acceptable to thee to have a dead man taken out of his grave, and carried along with thee in thy way? All thy services, thy company, is no other to God; he smells nothing but a noisome steam from thy presence with him: thy hearing, praying, duties, meditations, they are on this account all an abomination to him. Tell me not of thy conversation. If it be from a pure conscience (that is, a conscience purified in the blood of Christ), and faith unfeigned, which is the life, or a fruit of it, whereof we are speaking, — it is glorious and commendable; if from other principles, the Lord abhors it.
[2.] Are there none who are acted, in their obedience and duties, not from inward principles, and spiritualized faculties, but merely from outward considerations, and external impressions? The apostle tells us how believers “grow,” and “go on to perfection,” Eph. iv. 16; Col. i. 19. Christ is the head; from him, by the Spirit, into every joint and sinew is derived an influence of life, that the body may thereby and therewith go on towards perfection. How is it with sundry others? They are set upon their feet by custom or conviction: one joint is supplied by repute, another by fear and shame, a third by self-righteousness, a fourth by the lash of conscience; and so they are driven on by a mere external impress. And these are the principles of the obedience of many. By such things as these are they acted in their walking with God. Do you suppose you shall be accepted, or that peace will be your latter end? I fear many that hear me this day may be in this condition. Pardon me if I am jealous with a godly jealousy. What means else that hatred of the power of godliness, that darkness in the mystery of the gospel, that cursed formality, that enmity to the Spirit of God, — that hatred of reformation, that is found amongst us?
Use. If there be so many things required to walking with God, to fit men for it; and many who do strive to walk with him are yet lost from a defect of them, in the midst of their obedience and performance of duties, — what will become of them, where shall they appear, who never once attempted to walk with him, — who are wrought upon by no considerations to make it their business so to do? I speak not only of those amongst us, young and old, whose pride, folly, idleness, debauchery, profaneness, hatred of the ways of God, testify to their faces, to all the world, to the shame and danger of the places wherein they live, that they are servants to sin, and walk contrary to God, — who also will walk contrary unto them, until they are no more. I speak not, I say, of such as these, who are judged of all; nor yet only of those who are kept to outward observances merely on the account of the discipline of the place, and the hopes which they have laid up in it for their outward good, with such other carnal aims; — but of some also who ought to be leaders of others, and examples to that flock that is amongst us. What endeavours to walk with God are found upon them, or seen in their ways? Vanity, pride in themselves, families, and relations, yea, scoffing at religion and the ways of God, are the examples some give. I wish worldliness, selfishness, hardness, and straitness of bowels, with open vanity, do not eat up all humble walking with God, as to the power of it, in others.
The vanity of the highest profession, without this humble walking, which is another deceit, shall be afterward spoken unto.
For the present, let me speak to them of whom I have spoken somewhat already. If many shall cry, “Lord, Lord,” and not be heard; if “many shall strive to enter,” and shall not; what will be their lot and portion? Poor creatures! you know not the condition of your souls; you cry “Peace, and sudden destruction is at hand.” heed, lest the multitude of sermons and exhortations you have, make you not, like the men that dwell by the falls of mills, deaf with their continual noise. God sends his messengers sometimes to make men deaf, Isa. vi. 10. If that be your portion, it will be sad with you. Give me leave to ask you two or three questions, and I have done:—
1. Do you not please yourselves, some of you, in your ways, and that with contempt of others? Do you not think they are fools, or envious, or hypocrites, or factious, that reprove you; and scorn them in your hearts? Do you not rather love, honour, imitate, such as never pressed you (nor will) to this business of a new life, — to walk with God; and so suppose the times ruined, since this new-fangled preaching came up amongst you; — desiring to hear things finely spoken, and fopperies of men ignorant of God and themselves? Or, —
2. Do you not relieve yourselves, with the help of profligate souls, that you will be better, — you will repent when the season is better suited for it, and your present condition is changed? Or, —
3. Do not some of you labour to put far from you all thoughts of these things? “Amici, dum vivimus, vivamus;” — “It will be well enough with us, though we add drunkenness to thirst.” Do not, I say, one or all of these rotten, corrupted principles lie at the bottom of your loose walking with God? Take heed, I beseech you, lest the Lord tear you in pieces!
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