Who among us can not quote verbatim from memory Proverbs 3:5 and 6? We memorize the passage; we teach it to our children. It rolls off our tongues . . . and, perhaps, right out of our hearts and minds. Yet one of the primary purposes of a proverb is to provide a pithy saying in order that, by remembering it, we might be guided by it. For our purposes today, we will think for a few moments only about the fifth verse, which constitutes a memorable proverb all by itself. It reads: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”
J. Sidlow Baxter makes the following observations about this proverb.
“How reasonable it seems to ‘lean on our own understanding’! Is not man’s intellect his distinguishing superiority? Was it not implanted by God, to be a lamp of guidance? Is there not then something strange-sounding in this proverbial counsel? Maybe at a glance there is; but when we reflect on it as set off against ‘Trust in Jehovah . . .” it opens up with sage spiritual meaning. That intellectual faculty which crowns man as being ‘in the image of God” was never meant to make men independent of God, but to make possible co-operative fellowship with God. Now that Adam’s posterity is a fallen race, man’s highest faculty can be his deepest snare, the more so as there is an active deceiver ‘going to and fro in the earth’.
What wisdom Mr. Baxter brings to this wise saying . God has not given us a mind in order to enable us to act independently of Him. But He has given us a mind and a will so that, through the liberty provided by redemption from sin, we can and may freely choose to seek both to know and to do His will. Surely, a creature acting in independence of Him is not God’s crowning glory. Lucifer and his minions, Adam and Eve, and every fallen creature thereafter attest to that. However, mere obedience would not be His crowning glory either: He could achieve that through the creation of automatons. The Lord is truly glorified when He saves a sinner and that redeemed and transformed sinner with all the knowledge of his understanding, all the power of his will, and all the strength of his body trusts in the Lord and yields himself wholly to his Savior and God.
It is a too little observed fact that the Lord did give us a mind, not with the expectation that we use it on our own, but in order that we might know Him and yield ourselves freely to Him in full understanding of what we are doing. We would scorn a man who, having the means to use a car or an airplane, nevertheless, would stubbornly walk from New York City to Los Angeles because God gave him two legs and expected him to use them. But that sort of waste pales into insignificance by comparison with the one who thinks that God gave him a brain in order to enable him to operate independently of His Creator, Redeemer, and Lord.
Our text leaves no room for doubt: “lean not unto thine own understanding.” Believers have been redeemed to fellowship and commune with their Lord, a relationship that begins with a yielded heart and submissive will. Independence and self-determination are deceitful delusions that will lead the believer astray. Why, then, do we have a mind and a will? In order that we might freely return to the Lord, by submitting to Him, the love that He manifested in providing us with eternal redemption. The analogy in the preceding paragraph is faulty because the man might actually walk to Los Angeles. A better analogy might be that of walking to Honolulu. He has a better chance of walking there from the mainland than a believer has of pleasing the Lord by the independent exercise of his own intellect. How foolish we are to lean on our own understanding when trusting in Him is the blessed alternative that the Lord offers us.
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