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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles,
Lord’s Day Evening, November 27, 2011

“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

Dr. Charles L. Feinberg was the dean of Talbot Theological Seminary for many years. I knew him personally because he spoke several times at the First Chinese Baptist Church of Los Angeles, when Dr. Timothy Lin was the pastor. Dr. Feinberg said this about our text, “Man can never direct his life so as to achieve blessing without God’s help...No one can decide the course of his life. God is in ultimate control” (Charles L. Feinberg, Th.D., Ph.D., Jeremiah: A Commentary, Zondervan Publishing House, 1982, p. 95; comment on Jeremiah 10:23).

“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

This verse comes right after Jeremiah’s sorrowful lament that the people of Judah were about to be taken away as captives to Babylon. Jeremiah said, “Lord, I know.” The prophet spoke a fact that he knew very well – that what happens in this world is not under our control. God is all powerful. By His providence He rules everything that happens to us. As that old hymn Mr. Griffith sang put it,

This is my Father’s world, O let me not forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
   (“This is My Father’s World” by Maltbie D. Babcock, 1858-1901).

As Dr. Feinberg said, in his comment on our text, “No one can decide the course of his life. God is in ultimate control.”

“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

“It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” We may decide that we will do something, but God may stop us from doing it by putting up an obstacle. You may decide to do this or that. But, even if you are young and strong, God may make it impossible for you to do so. We saw this last week in Acts 16, where Paul and his assistants, by the providence of God, were forced to go to Philippi, where they led Lydia to Christ. I originally had the idea of going as a missionary to the Chinese in Hong Kong or Taiwan. But God stopped me from doing so by a series of events.

Another person may be stopped from doing what he had hoped to do by sickness, or by some other event that stops him from doing what he planned. When you begin to realize that you are not in control of your life, you will say with the prophet, “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”

One of the main reasons we should not try to control our own lives is because our hearts are evil. Even after conversion we cannot trust the feelings and thoughts of our hearts – because there are still traces of sin that can deceive us. That is why the Bible says,

“He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26).

In these strange days of apostasy we often hear people say, “God led me to do this or that.” All of us who have been through a time of great convulsion in our church, heard people say, “God led me to leave the church.” What they mean is that they wanted to leave. God had nothing to do with it. “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”

People who are greatly blest in their Christian lives tend to be those who are very conservative when it comes to the great decisions of life – such as where they should work, who they should marry, and what church they should join.

In my own life I have never made a major decision based on an inward feeling. I have been an active member of only three churches. I came to all of them by acts of Divine providence. I remained a member of the Chinese church for twenty-four years. Although I started a church near San Francisco, I never joined it. I only joined this church in the mid-nineteen-eighties. My feeling has always been that I would not leave a church of which I was a member suddenly, or in a way that I couldn’t go back afterwards. It has always been my policy never to leave a church where I was a member even if there were hardships or trials. I would never leave even if I felt like leaving. I have always believed that the best way for any man or woman is to be in one church for one lifetime. Marriage is one man and one woman joined together for one lifetime. And the Apostle Paul compared marriage between a man and a woman to the marriage of Christ and the church. He said,

“This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).

After years of seeing people stumble who said they were “led” to leave their church, I have become deeply suspicious of such “leavers.” The Apostle Paul exhorts us “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro” (Ephesians 4:14). I believe in the local church. I believe that we should be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” in our local church (I Corinthians 15:58).

Rather than trusting our own hearts in this matter, we should seek the counsel of the pastor and the deacons. The Bible says, “In the multitude of counsellers there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). The Bible says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls” (Hebrews 13:17). It means, “Obey your leaders.” Dr. John Gill (1697-1771), the classical Baptist commentator, said of Hebrews 13:17,

Their spiritual guides and governors...these the apostle exhorts them to obey: by constantly attending upon the word preached by them, and harkening to it...for a contrary behavior is pernicious to souls, and highly resented by God...and by regarding their admonitions, counsels, and advice...for they are spiritual fathers, and children should obey their parents...and they are pastors or shepherds of the flock, whom the sheep should follow (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, originally published in 1809; reprinted by The Baptist Standard Bearer in 1989, volume III, p. 489; comments on Hebrews 13:17).

“It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps”
       (Jeremiah 10:23).

Even to this day I would not think of making a major decision without seeking the counsel of our senior deacon, and often with the other deacons in our church as well. “In the multitude of counsellers there is safety.”

We have often found that people who leave their church have experienced a false conversion. The Apostle John said,

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (I John 2:19).

Dr. Gill said that I John 2:19 speaks of those

...who made a profession of religion, were members of the church, and yet they...withdrew themselves from the church, or churches to which they belonged...but they were not truly regenerated by the grace of God, and so apparently were not of the number of God’s elect: notwithstanding their profession and communion with the church, they were of the world, and not of God (John Gill, D.D., ibid., pp. 630-631; note on I John 2:19).

Albert Barnes, in his note on I John 2:19, said,

This affirms, without any ambiguity or qualifications, that if they had been true Christians they would have remained in the church (Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, Baker Book House, 1983 reprint, p. 303; note on I John 2:19).

The Apostle Jude said,

“These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (Jude 19).

Dr. Gill said that Jude 19 refers to those who separate themselves “from the pure worship, ordinances, and discipline of God’s house...and made divisions and separations among the churches, for worldly ends, and through if they were more knowing, more holy, and more spiritual than other men: when best were but natural men...hence it follows, ‘having not the Spirit’” (John Gill, D.D., ibid., p. 679; note on Jude 19).

To avoid such apostasy, let us remember, “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). If God brought you here by His providence, we pray that He will draw you to Jesus by His grace. And when you are converted we pray that you will stay here and be a pillar in this local church.

I recently heard from another pastor how Spurgeon’s Tabernacle in London was saved. The pastor told me that Dr. Peter Masters spoke there forty years ago, when there were only 35 families left in that church. Those people asked Dr. Masters to come and be their pastor. I was told that Dr. Masters agreed to come on the condition that those 35 families would promise to stay with him in the church for the rest of their lives. My pastor friend told me that, among the 35 families, those who had not died are still in the church forty years later. It is an inner city church, like ours. It is not easy to stay in the inner city. Those 35 families could have retired long ago and moved to the countryside. Yet they sacrificed to stay at Spurgeon’s Tabernacle. Today that church has over 1,200 members, and evangelizes two nearby universities. Many young people have come to that church from those schools and have been saved by faith in Jesus. And I say to you all this evening – “Go thou and do likewise!” Amen. Please stand and sing hymn number eight on your song sheet.

Give us a watchword for the hour, A thrilling word, a word of power,
A battle cry, a flaming breath That calls to conquest or to death.
A word to rouse the church from rest, To heed the Master’s strong request.
The call is given, Ye hosts, arise, Our watchword is, evangelize!

The glad evangel now proclaim, Through all the earth, in Jesus’ name;
This word is ringing through the skies: Evangelize! Evangelize!
To dying men, a fallen race, Make known the gift of Gospel grace;
The world that now in darkness lies, Evangelize! Evangelize!
   (“Evangelize! Evangelize!” by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, 1889-1986;
       to the tune of “And Can It Be?” by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

You may be seated.

I cannot close this service without explaining the Gospel of Christ to those of you who are not yet converted. The human race was plunged into sin when Adam fell in the Garden of Eden. Rapidly darkness and evil religion spread throughout the earth. God called the Nation of Israel to be a light to the Gentiles. But Israel failed in her mission, returning time and again to idolatry. At last God sent Jesus, His only begotten Son, down from Heaven. Jesus went to the Cross, and died to pay the penalty for our sins. He shed His precious Blood to cleanse us from all sin. He was buried in a borrowed tomb. The door of the tomb was sealed, and Roman guards were placed there to keep watch. But on the third day Jesus rose physically, flesh and bones, from the dead. For forty days Jesus appeared again and again to His followers. Finally He ascended back to Heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father.

To be saved you must turn away from sin and look to Jesus. Come to Jesus. Trust Jesus. Believe on Jesus. He will save you from judgment for your sin. He will cleanse you from sin with His own Blood. “Only trust Him, only trust Him; only trust Him now. He will save you, He will save you; He will save you now.” Amen!

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: I John 2:15-19.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“This Is My Father’s World” (by Maltbie D. Babcock, 1858-1901).