Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 28, 1953

"Lean Not Unto Thine Own Understanding"

Jesse M. Kelley, Jacksboro, Texas

Our caption is a quotation from Proverbs 3:5. The understanding is a natural faculty of man and is that which distinguishes him from all other creatures. Such things as the sea and moon and stars are governed by laws of which they know nothing, and follow their destiny wholly unconscious of the operations they perform. The beasts of the field and the fowls of the air have an instinct which often surprises us. But while it is wonderfully exact as far as it goes, it is limited; and admits no variety. These things are no wiser now than when they went to Noah for shelter and to Adam for names. Job said, ". . there is a Spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding." (Job. 32:8) By means of this endowment he can look backward and forward. He can examine and judge. He can choose to refuse or accept. He can survey principles in their abstraction, and duties in their circumstances, and actions in their moral bearings. And there is no power that God will use to arbitrarily take these from man.

This capacity, from the lowest degree of reason to the highest reach of intellect, is the gift of God, and should be cultivated by us as men and as Christians. We should rejoice that we live in a country and in an age that is so favorable to all kinds of information. It is a sad reproach to many, that in the midst of knowledge they are found so ignorant as they are; it must be the result of dissipation or sloth.

But though we are prize and improve and make us of our understanding, we are not to lean on it. Yet if we were not prone to this, the caution would be needless. There is nothing of which men are so proud as their knowledge. There are more than a few who would rather be charged with a want of principle than a want of cleverness, and would rather pass for knaves than fools. This regard seems indeed to be a kind of equalizer of the human race; and the only thing with which all are satisfied, and in which they feel an ineffable complacency, is their own understanding. They lean to their own understanding in preference to the understanding of others, whom yet, if asked, they would consider as very superior to themselves both in capacity and experience. They lean to their own understanding in preference to the understanding of God Himself; and indeed should they consult with an advisor it would be in the hope of finding a confirmation of their own opinion; and should his judgment differ from their own conclusion, they would feel little difficulty in resolving by which to abide. Many go to the word of God, not to learn its content, but in the hope that they may find that which may be construed to justify their own notions and ideas concerning religion. In a secular way we see these characteristics in those who are just going out into the world upon their own, and so much need a guide to escape those early mistakes that may affect the whole of their future life. Whatever quickness of perception they may possess, they must surely be destitute of that practical wisdom that grows out of observation and trial. Yet how little do "the younger submit themselves to the elder."

As this disposition is cultivated early, it is then later carried to things with reference to God and His word. They regard their own reason more than His word, and are reluctant to believe what they cannot understand or comprehend. We are told that Alphonsus, the astronomer, having apprehended some seeming irregularity among the heavenly bodies, was daring enough to say, "Had I been by the Creator when He made the world, I could have given Him some good advice." Such profanity makes a righteous man shudder; and yet who has not fallen, in some degree, into a similar error? Who has not found fault with God in His manner of governing the world, the church, the family, the individual? Who has not been ready to direct the Spirit of the Lord, and, being his counselor, to teach him. How many there are today, who will say that or this command of the Lord is unnecessary because their understanding cannot grasp a reason for doing it!

The true man of God will remember how limited his own understanding is, and will not presume to understand those subjects that are entirely beyond his reach. Let him reflect how much he is impressed by appearances, and how different these often are from the realities of things. Solomon said: "For who knoweth what is good for a man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow?" (Eccl. 6:12) What should we be now if things had always accorded with our minds and wishes? Let us look back, and see how frequently we have erred both in our hopes and fears. In many things we can now clearly see, that what we so eagerly desired would have proved our injury or ruin, and that what we were so anxious to escape has conduced to our best welfare, so that we can say, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted."

Man is incompetent to judge for himself, because he knows not the influence other and untried events will exert upon him. To these he goes forward with his present views and feelings, and may unfold secrets in his character of which he has no conception, and which may fill him, not only with surprise but dismay. Thus when Elisha predicted with tears the atrocities and cruelties he would commit, Hazael shuddered at the thought, and exclaimed, "What, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?" The man of God only answered, "The Lord hath showed me that thou shall be king over Syria." And his elevation transformed him from the man to the monster. Thus it is that a man is measured, not by the success he attains in this life, but by the kind of a man that success makes him.

Men cannot lean unto their own understanding without going wrong. We see this in David. He said one day, "I shall now perish by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines." The oracle, had he consulted it, would not have told him so. In truth, it was the worst measure he could have devised. It tended to alienate the affections of his countrymen, to justify the reproaches of his enemies, to deprive himself of the measure of grace, to put himself out of the divine protection, and to lay him under obligation to a benefactor he could not oblige without betraying the cause of his God. Accordingly, he was soon drawn into a scandal with Achish. Then he was ordered to go and fight against his own people Israel. And when he was released from this embarrassment and went back, he found that in his absence his property had been destroyed, and his family carried away captives. Jeremiah said, "0 Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." (Jer. 10:23) Lot leaned to his own understanding, and chose the vale of Sodom, which was well watered, like the garden of the Lord. By this movement he separated himself from intercourse with his faithful uncle. He was taken captive by the confederate kings. He was strangely induced to reside in the town itself; and dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds. At length he was burnt out of house and home. His wife, for looking back, became a pillar of salt, so that he never after could go or gaze that way. His daughters whom he reared and loved became contaminated and perished in the city's destruction. Lot learned the lesson too late that he could not lean to his own understanding, nor direct his own steps.

And why will not men today learn the lessons that are so graphically pictured, and given "for our admonition"? The "superior knowledge" of some men today will tell them that God gave some commands that are not necessary to the salvation of one's soul. There are those who lean unto their own understanding and reason that the Church which Christ died for is not sufficient to administer help and consolation in difficult times and under trying circumstances, and will presume to set up machinery to do that which God said the church of His Son should do. May we say with David: "I esteem all thy commandments concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way." Again: "In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths."