Unknown Footsteps "Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known" (Psalm lxxvii. verse 19)
The psalm before us is concerned with the affliction which comes with spiritual temptation. Temptation of this nature is quite different from ordinary natural anxieties, griefs, suffering, disappointment or catastrophe. All those can be utilised as much for victory as for defeat. The Divine purpose is to form man into angelhood - perfect manhood; and to that end the Lord moves with man into successive spiritual campaigns against his natural lusts and errors. Step by step, the inherent selfishness and mischief of man's natural affections are repelled. Man comes to look upon life from an entirely new angle - to see in it a new purpose - and he is called upon to relinquish much that he had hoped for and much that gives him pleasure. The nature of spiritual temptation would seem to be beyond mere description - it must be experienced for it to be understood. But between what we are and what the Lord would have us be, there are the affliction and despair to which this psalm, in its internal sense, refers. It is the experience of all who are being regenerated. It was the experience of the Lord Himself in the course of glorification. And so it is that the psalm is no mere cry of distress. It is no mere helpless invocation of the Lord. All that is said of the Lord in the psalm embodies great truths which point out to man how the power of the Lord can be grasped and wielded in the course of temptation conflict. In olden days, men thought it sufficient, literally and solely, to " call upon the name of the Lord ". Such invocation was their sole strength in the hour of need. But with enlightenment, this refuge, though not denied to man, takes on a new form. In the light of spiritual truth, we come to realise that a mere invocation is a feeble aid. It may, of itself, be no more efficacious than a resort to a medicine man or to an incantation. " To call upon the Lord " comes to mean for the enlightened man of the Church, a resort to revealed truth when in affliction and distress. With the enlightenment which truth brings, we see a more clearly defined task than mere invocation. We see exactly what we ought to do, because we understand more perfectly the Will of the Lord and His way of effecting it. This plainly is a source of confidence and strength to man in his temptations. It equips man far more effectively than mere invocation. Knowledge of truth is no mere theoretical enquiry - it is the revelation of the whole duty of life - the general principles and the minute details of how we, in all circumstances, are to adjust our life to Divine requirements. The cry to the Lord, made in the psalm - and the repeated confidence of the psalmist in the power of the Lord - carries with it, spiritually, this assurance that man's need in temptation is the power of Divine Truth. This is not to be prayed for and invoked as if endowed with some magical efficacy. We are not to call upon the Lord as upon some idol. Man is to seek to understand the truth of the Lordto live and act in its light - and thus, in a sense, to look after himself and assist himself, while in temptation. This does not mean that of his own power man is to redeem himself. It means that man's own intelligent self-adjustment to the laws of revealed truth will sustain him in spiritual trial and bring him safely through the darkness to triumph and to light.
The Lord's power operates through the Lord's Truth - and it is vain to call upon the Lord for succour when that truth is neither sought nor considered, nor observed.
When the psalmist declares, " Thy way is in the sea and Thy path in the great waters ", he embodies the great principle that the whole purpose of the Lord, the end for which the Infinite labours - the whole object of the creative Love and the myriad ways by which that object is to be effected - are to be found outlined, defined, ordered and explained in the Word of Divine Truth. That is the " sea " which shows the " way" of the Lord - its truths are the " great waters " which declare His " path ". In revealed truth is the Will of the Lord made known - not only His general purpose, the establishment of a heaven from the human race but His detailed purposes, His Will in every and any circumstance of our conduct and life.
In the New Church we are called to more than mere blind obedience. We are called, by the revelation of interior truth, to an understanding of the Lord's way and will. We are to enter intellectually into the mysteries of spiritual and Divine principle - there to see the purposes which actuate the Lord - there to grasp something of His way of effecting them - and intelligently to adjust our whole thought and life in harmony with those divine ways. Therein lies man's power in temptation - the promise of succour and victory. It is no usurpation of Divine merit - the efficacy is in the truth, not in man. That truth radiates eternally from the Divine Love that it may reach man, be the means of enlightening him, of showing him the path of life, and drawing him upwards towards more perfect communion with the Lord, its source.
There are those who suggest at times that it is an impertinence to hope to know the ways of the Lord. Ignorance and darkness and misapprehension with them are confused with humility of spirit. But to know intelligently and to use with zeal the truth of the Lord is but to reach heaven by the Divinely appointed way. A Father of love would be known and understood by His children. Yet the Infinite Wisdom of God must always in its fulness elude the mind of man. The " footsteps of the Lord " are not known. We look with wonder upon the stars, the miracle of world formation, the stupendous character of snowcapped mountains - the cameo perfection of a flower's heart, and we learn and wonder at the perfect law that fashions each. It is so in all things. The way of the Lord is discernible in the revelation of truth He has made. He has disclosed its story, has declared His purposes and made known" the great principles of love's activity. Yet His footsteps are not known. We can discern the laws of life - yet the most perfect knowledge of such laws could not suffice to fashion a flower - much less a star.
In the Word of Divine Truth we discern the way of the Lord - His eternal purposes regarding us - His Love enfolded in Wisdom - His Providence safeguarding and preserving us in all experiences - His concern each day for that which is of abiding worth for each one of us. And yet His footstep is unknown. As His Providence ultimates itself in the complicated thread of our experiences, we lose all comprehension of what is being effected for us. We are surrounded by circumstances whose bearing on our salvation is utterly unseen. We are subject each day to experiences whose ultimate effect on our regeneration is quite obscure. We are lost in a mesh of providential circumstances - powerless to see how obedience to truth will preserve us or make salvation and happiness sure. All that is possible is the understanding of the way - the grasp of Divine principle as it operates for the achievement of its end. The Word unfolds that " way " before us. It reveals the Divine path - the Divine purpose - the goal of Divine Providence. We can see the path and set our footsteps in its way.
Beyond that, a veil falls. Where the Lord's footstep touches the thread of our natural life we lose clear vision. Just as Divine activity crystallises itself out into the loveliness of a flower - just as the flower, however much we learn of it, must always be a miracle - so the Lord's Providence can be seen as to its principles while yet in the warp and woof of natural life it is one unfailing miracle. Our eyes are screened from its immediate operation. That, too, is of providence. The duty of life is clear, the way of the Lord and the way for man is declared in the Word. That path, once followed with zeal and prayer - the miracle of Divine Providence reveals itself in wonder around our path and satisfies our every need.