"When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened, and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble."
Proverbs iv. 12.
The well-worn metaphor likening life to a path has many felicities. It suggests continual change, progress in a definite direction, the linking of all our days to one another, and a final goal. "The way" spoken of in the context is "the way of wisdom," both as being that which wisdom points out, and that in which wisdom accompanies us. "When thou goest"—that pictures the monotonous tramp tramp, tramp along the path, the humdrum "one foot up and another down," which makes the greater part of every life. "When thou runnest"— that pictures the brief bursts of more than usual energy, or the crises that are suddenly sprung on us. Both are provided against if we walk in the path of wisdom. That "if" carries a stringent condition, which assumes an even more imperative necessity and opens an even fuller blessing, when read in the light of Christ's incarnation than it did to the teacher of wisdom, who wrote these early chapters of Proverbs. To his vision there rose the august and serene figure of the queenly Wisdom, which is more than a personification, albeit somewhat less than a person. But the ancient sage's visions can only become realities when the Wisdom, which he saw shimmering through darkness, takes to itself a human form, and the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.
With that heightening of the conception of Wisdom, the conception of the path of wisdom is also heightened, and it becomes the path in which Jesus, the Incarnate Wisdom, walked, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps. What will walking in that path be then? We may put the answer in three sentences. We must let Christ, "the Wisdom of God," choose our path, and make sure that, by submission of our wills, our paths are His and not merely ours. We must walk where and as He walked, treading carefully in His footprints, as men on an ice-slope do in the guide's. We must keep company with Him on the road. If we do these three things—if we say to Him, "Lord, when Thou sayest go, I go; when Thou biddest me come, I come; I am Thy slave, and I rejoice in the bondage more than m all licentious liberty, and what Thou biddest me do, I do "—if we further say, "As Thou art, so am I in the world," and further: "Leave me not alone, and let me cling to Thee on the road, as a little child holds on by her mother's skirt or her father's hand" —then, and only then, we walk in the path of wisdom.
We have here, then, a promise for the long, uneventful stretches of life. The bulk of our lives is of the kind described by the first clause. For many miles of road there is nothing exciting to vary the grind. Everything is as it was yesterday, and as it will probably be to-morrow. "The trivial round" makes up the larger part of every life. By far the greater proportion of the wine is water, and only a small percentage of alcohol is diffused through the great mass of the tamer liquid. If Jesus Christ is not to help us in the monotonous stretches, what is His help worth? Unless the trivial is His field, His field is restricted indeed. We all know the deadening influence of habit, the sense of weariness and almost of disgust, at the repetition day after day of the same tasks. The only way of preventing the common from becoming commonplace, and the small from becoming trivial, and the familiar from becoming contemptible, is to link all to Jesus Christ, and to do all for Him and in company with Him. Then the rough places will be made plain, the mountains of difficulty be brought low, and the valleys of the commonplace be exalted. "He maketh my feet like hinds' feet," sang Habakkuk, the very embodiment of buoyant, graceful, swift movement. If we will walk with Christ towards Christ, we may have such ease of light motion, instead of a dull plodding along the dull road of uneventful life.
In another aspect, too, this promise is fulfilled, for though wisdom's way is narrow, it is broad enough for the lovers of wisdom. A sober man goes in a straight line, it is the drunkard who staggers over the breadth of the road. The limits which enjoining Love lays down, and obeying Love accepts, are not restraints. "I will walk at liberty, for—I do as I like?" No; that is slavery; but" I will walk at liberty, for I keep Thy precepts "; and I do not want to go vagrantising at large, but limit myself thankfully to the way which Thou dost mark out.
"When thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble." Crises do come, calling for the putting forth of all our powers to do or suffer. The spurts are short, but they exhaust. We live years in moments of supreme agony or bliss. The runner is apt to trip, and the greater the speed the more the danger of a stumble, and the more disastrous its consequences. We all know how many men there are that do very well in the uneventful commonplaces of life, but bring them face to face with some great difficulty or some great trial, and there is a dismal failure. But Jesus will make us fit to face great difficulties, or great sorrows, or anything that may storm down on us out of the dark. If we will attend to the conditions and walk in wisdom's way, the prophetic promise will be fulfilled to us, and He will lead us "through the depths, as an horse in the wilderness," that we "stumble not." A strong hand on the rein will hold up the trembling creature's head, as it goes sliding over the smooth, slippery, rocksurfaces, and it will safely reach, and rest in, the valley. "Now, unto Him that is able to keep us from stumbling" (as is the true rendering), "and to present us faultless ... be glory." If we trust Him, keep near Him, let Him choose our way, and try to be like Him in it; whatever great occasions may arise either of sorrow or of duty, we shall be equal to them.
But the virtue that comes out victorious in the crises must have been nourished and cultivated in the humdrum moments. For it is no time to make one's first acquaintance with Jesus Christ, when the eyeballs of some ravenous wild beast are staring into ours, and its mouth is open to swallow us. Unless He has kept our feet from being straitened in the quiet walk, He will not be able to keep us from stumbling in the vehement run.
"They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint," said the same prophet. So it is from God, the Unfainting and the Unwearied, that the strength comes which makes our steps buoyant with energy amidst the commonplaces, and steadfast and established at the crises, of our lives. But before these two great promises is put another: "They shall mount up with wings as eagles," and therefore both the other become possible. That is to say, fellowship with God in the heavens, which is made possible on earth by communion with Christ, is the condition both of unwearied running, and of unfainting walking. If we will keep in the path of Christ, He will take care of the commonplace dreary tracts and of the brief moments of strain and effort, and will bring us at last where He has gone, if looking unto Him, we "run with patience the race," and walk with cheerfulness the road, "that is set before us."