James Boorne

Stumbling In The Darkness

[A Sermon By Mr. Boorne, Preached At Devonshire Road Chapel, Thursday Evening, December 16th, 1880.]

“Cause me to hear Thy loving-kindness in the morning; for in Thee do I trust; cause me to know the way wherein I should walk, for I lift up my soul unto Thee.”—Psalm 143:8.

This short Psalm comes to us from the pen of David. It is full of prayer. He seemed in too low a place to sing much, his harp being on the willows; for he was persecuted by some one. Whether it was Saul, who often hunted him as a partridge upon the mountains, or whether it was his son Absalom, who wished to inherit his father’s throne, does not appear clear. But it is certain he was smitten before a foe, and this Psalm was evidently penned when he was passing through a sore trial.

He begins by begging God to hear his prayer—to give ear to his supplications—and he asked God also in His faithfulness to answer him, and in His righteousness. David seemed to know that he deserved God’s hand to go out against him, for he says, “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.” Whether it was after the Lord had told him that the sword should not depart from his house, when He sent Nathan to reprove him in the matter of Bathsheba, we cannot determine. He goes on to say, “The enemy hath smitten my life down to the ground,” and therefore his praise was turned into the voice of them that weep. But, although it was so, there was still a degree of spiritual activity in him; a spirit of holiness—not inherent holiness; but there was a spiritual- mindedness in him even when he was in this low state. Hence he speaks of lifting up his soul unto God—that is, lifting up his heart in his petitions—and, however latent the life of God may be, it is as our poet sings—

“True faith’s the life of God; 

Deep in the heart it lies;

It lives and labours under load; 

Though damped, it never dies.”

The words of our text include two short prayers. David prays that he might hear God’s loving-kindness; and he gives a reason, for he says, “in Thee do I trust.” In the second place, he was concerned about the way in which he should walk; and for this also he gives a reason, “for I lift up my soul unto Thee;” and oh, what a mercy to be enabled to give a reason for things, and of the hope that is in you, dear children of God! And you also want to search out God’s way of dealing with you, for “the works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.” I suppose we should all acknowledge that God does what is right, yet it may be in some, no less than fatalism: indeed, it may be sometimes with us little better than fatalism. But to see God’s hand, and to discover His handiwork, is the desire of the child of God.

Now, what we want is to follow the Psalmist in these words; but we are entirely dependent upon the Eternal Spirit, who is the everlasting God, to lead us into the very spirit of the Psalmist’s words. “Cause me to hear Thy loving-kindness in the morning.” Before we come to the full text, what does he mean by “the morning”? He says, “In the morning I will direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up;” “In the morning shall my prayer come before Thee;” “Cause me to hear Thy loving- kindness in the morning.” He exhorts God’s people to “show forth His loving-kindness in the morning, and His faithfulness every night.” Now, there seemed a reason for this. David had special times for devotion, for he says, “Evening, and morning, and at noon will I pray, and cry aloud; and Thou shalt hear my voice;” and he would not suffer any engagement to upset this. What higher engagement can we have than with the Lor? Therefore no domestic or business occupation should interfere with it, but we should say—

“My business lies at Jesus’ gate, 

Where many a Lazar comes.”

You may say, “I am not always able to do this.” Well, then, the Lord does not require it of you. You are not called to cut off even a quarter of an hour from your master’s time to serve the Lord. “Be not slothful in business, but fervent in spirit.”

“Cause me to hear Thy loving-kindness in the morning.” Now, David seemed as if he looked for the morning, for at night he had spiritual communion with God, hence he says, “At midnight I will rise and give Thee thanks.” When David was in the cave at night, perhaps when his men were fast asleep, he was awake in his Master’s service, and he was anxious at the spring of the day to know the Lord had heard his cries. The night is a time of darkness—it is sometimes a time of danger, of loneliness, and of distress.

Now, let us apply this spiritually. How is it with you? There are dangers in the night; and there are dangers on the road, sinner! Depend upon it, yours is a sorry case if you have not felt this. What a state man is in! He sleeps, and thinks he is right, and dreams he is feasting upon the good thing, of heaven; but, alas! he may wake up in hell, and find himself hungry aml thirsty, and gnaw his tongue with pain. Now, some of you have been in the night of danger, and you remember how fearful you were in the literal night to move about on account of the things that were upon your mind; and how terrified you were until the Lord was pleased to visit you with His loving-kindness. And what can turn this night of danger into safety? Only by the Lord enabling us to take shelter under the shadow of His wings. “How excellent is Thy loving-kindness, O God; therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings.” But do all men do this? Oh, no; there are but few who feel their need. Then who are they? Those that know His name. “They that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee.” They will want, when the storm is round about them, to hide beneath His atoning sacrifice, as the Israelites were screened by the blood of the paschal lamb, and then they will feel safe, and there find full salvation.

But then there are many nights. A night of distress. Some are not in such a state as not to know their danger, but are in great distress about it, and they would have their cries go up unto the Lord. David did. Thus he says, “I water my couch with my tears.” And how many a child of God does this; and how restless he will feel under such circumstances! The Church could not always rest. “By night on my bed I sought Him whom my soul loveth; I sought Him, but I found Him not.” Yea, says the Psalmist, “With my spirit did I make diligent search.” And so the children of God want the Lord to turn their mourning into joy. And what shall do this? It is only the Lord’s loving-kindness; and when they are distressed, His loving-kindness meets their case, for this reason—when people are in temporal trouble, temporal deliverance would satisfy them; but this is soul trouble. It is called “the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.” The things of this life will not do for him, for he may have all that concerns this life’s welfare, and people may wonder what he has to make him sorrowful. But he needs something better than life’s comforts; and what is better than life? Why, God’s loving-kindness; and when this steps in, it is better than life’s profits, pastimes, or pleasures. “Because Thy loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee.” The people of God would give up their life into God’s hands for that.

“For Thee I would the world resign,

And sail to heaven with Thee and Thine.”

But there is also a night of darkness; and what darkness comes upon the pathway of the dear children of God! Sometimes it will so cover up everything that they will lament with the Church, “We see not our signs; neither is there any that can tell us how long.” You know when persons are tossed about with sickness, they will frequently want to know what the time is. Job says, “Wearisome nights are appointed for me.” “Oh,” says one, “I wait for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning.” Such souls want God to give that light which comes to them as a forerunner of a bright day; they therefore long for Him to change the scene.

“‘Tis midnight with my soul till He, 

Bright Morning Star, bids darkness flee.”

But there is another night—the night of desertion. The dear Saviour felt God had deserted Him; and it may seem as if God has forsaken thee, and forgotten thee, dear child of God. How the soul will long for the Lord to change this scene! And what does God’s loving-kindness spring from? Why, from His loving heart; and it is seen sometimes through His pitying eye, and by His bountiful hand; and then the soul cannot keep it to himself. His cup runs over. Isaiah says, “I will mention the loving-kindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He hath bestowed on them according to His mercies, and according to the multitude of His loving-kindnesses.”

“Cause me to hear Thy loving-kindness in the morning.” What! cause me to hear it? Why, this is an uncommon expression. David sometimes says, “Show me Thy loving-kindness,” and “Hide not Thy loving-kindness from me.” Observe, the Lord sometimes brings things to us that seem to appeal to our sight or to our taste. But here he says, “Cause me to hear Thy loving-kindness.” David had heard it. Sometimes we seem to forget it, as a tale that is told; and we may sit and hear of God’s loving-kindness to others, and remain unmoved—be deaf to it as it were. You want Him not only to come and show you His loving-kindness, but to take away the scales from your eyes—that you may see His loving-kindness before your eyes—to speak to you of His loving-kindness, and make you to hear it also. This is the case with me sometimes, and it is so with you. The Church said, “Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to Thy voice; cause me to hear it.” One may say, “I don’t appear to be like one of Thy family, for I don’t hear Thy voice. Therefore, ‘cause me to hear Thy loving-kindness in the morning,’ at the spring of the day.” After a night of danger, a night of darkness, a night of distress, a night of desertion, how the soul will value a glimpse of His love and favour!

“For in Thee do I trust “—there is the reason. And why did he make this confession? Because he could not trust any one else safely. At one time he trusted in Saul and in his son Jonathan, in Ahithophel, and in others. Some were worthy of trust and some were not. But, after all, David must say to the Lord, “Thou art my Friend; to Thee I come; on Thee I lean.” “Cause me to hear Thy loving-kindness in the morning; for in Thee do I trust.” David said, “Deliver my darling from the power of the dog;” and he had to commit all his concerns to the Lord. The child of God says, “I commit myself to Thee, Lord. I cannot maintain myself in any position, but I commit it to Thee.” And David did this when he was driven out of his house by Absalom; and he would not have the ark of the Lord taken away from its appointed place, “for,” says he, “if the Lord delight in me, He will bring me back, and I shall see both it and His habitation.”

“The Lord has been our dwelling-place in all generations.” Take away Him, you take away my Shield, my Foundation, my Head. Yea, “God is the strength of my life, and He shall be my portion for ever.” Alas! David found by trusting in himself what a fool he had been, but he says, “‘In Thee do I trust.’ I make my venture for all in Thee, and my prayer shall be to Thee in this my calamity.”

But there is another petition: “Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk.” Not only does he want to hear God’s loving-kindness, but he wants God’s loving-kindness so to come into his heart that it shall affect his outward walk. How often those who are pleased with the liberty of the Gospel are loose in their life! But not so with the true children of God. Oh, no! The more they know of this, the nearer they will live to Him. It is because they know so little about the Spirit of Christ that they contract so much of the spirit of the world. Whence, then, do they get this? The Lord told His people by Hosea: “I have betrothed thee unto Me in righteousness, in loving-kindness, and in mercies.” This loving-kindness He treasures up in His Son, and lets it out to His people as He sees they need it; and draws them by His loving-kindness to Himself. And as it comes down into their heart, what is the effect of it? Why, they begin to be concerned to know “the way in which they should walk;” and oh, my friends, those that take up the truth without this know nothing truly, but get a smattering of it only. The Lord has predestinated us to good walk and to good works, for “God hath foreordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Some may say, “If the Lord has predestinated this, how is it that His people are often walking in forbidden paths?” The Lord has—I will not retract it—but He says, “If My people forsake My law, and walk not in My statutes, then will I visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes; nevertheless, My loving-kindness will I not utterly take from them, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail.” Here is the provision that poor fallen sinners and penitent backsliders should be brought back; and, though He makes them smart for sin, He causes them to know that there is a rich provision in the Gospel for sinners. David could see that the sword had not departed from his house, yet could say, “Although my house be not so with God; yet hath He made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure; and this is all my salvation and all my desire, although He make it not to grow.”

“Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk.” What a mercy to have a teachable spirit—to be willing to be anything, or to be willing to be nothing! It is easier work to be something than to be nothing. We are so proud; but the Lord will have His people brought down to that place—to be willing to be counted as nothing.

“When thou art nothing in thyself, 

Then thou art close to Me.”

See how He brought down Saul of Tarsus. “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Well, the child of God wants to know the way wherein God will lead him unto eternal glory. “Oh,” he says, “I do want to get to heaven, whatever it may cost me ! I want to walk in that way that shall be well-pleasing in Thy sight. Lord, I have a will of my own, and I find it is rebelling against Thee. ‘Lord, lead me in Thy truth and teach me.’ How often David asked the Lord to lead him, and to guide him, and to instruct him!

Then how are we to know? Why, the Lord will teach us. The grand point is to be meek enough to learn of Him. Yea, “Learn of Me, for I am meek, and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” But the Lord often guides His people by their petitions with Him. He gives them some reason to know that what they have asked of Him is in accordance with His will. At other times we know by this—or it amounts to this—“Speak to Me no more of this matter.”

We were reading this evening how the children of Israel should know when they were to move. It may be right to do a thing, but it may be the wrong time. “They that are wise discern both time and judgment.” It is said in Daniel that “the thing was true, but the time appointed was long.” Therefore, it should be not only our anxiety to know the way, but when He would have us to go in that way. Thus they were guided by the pillar of cloud and by the pillar of fire; and the children of Israel could claim the Lord’s protection when this cloud was upon them. And so when “the cloud” is going before a man, it makes him anxious to go on, for he wants to go the way the Lord moves the cloud. It is written: “Ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight; for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward.” You know for disobedience the Lord said, “Ye shall know My breach of promise;” and the children of Israel had to remain in the wilderness forty years longer, for they listened to the ill report of the ten spies, and did not regard the other two, who gave a good report of the land. But afterwards they went presumptuously, notwithstanding Moses and the ark of the covenant of the Lord abode in the camp, and the result was, they were smitten before their enemies. And so we may at times move without the Lord; but a child of God, kept tender in His fear, would not turn a straw contrary to God’s will.

We have a saying, “The burnt child dreads the fire;” and oh, what a mercy it is to know the way wherein we should walk and to learn wisdom by our past follies! Gideon was greatly concerned about this matter, and the Lord made him to know it by the fleece being wet upon the dry floor; then he wanted another proof, and he had the fleece dry and the floor wet; and yet another proof he wanted. And was the Lord angry? No! One said he would not ask a sign, or tempt the Lord; but, although he would not ask a sign, the Lord Himself gave him a sign, not for himself, but for others in ages to come. Oh, to be found walking in the right way! “Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.” You may seek to justify yourself for walking in a certain path, and say, such a person went in that path. But what may be right for him now may be more proper for you to go in by-and-bye. Every man must learn it out for himself. A prudent man has to work out his own problems before God. What a mercy when we feel, “Lord, my times are in Thy hand; my circumstances are in Thy hand. Lord, cause me to know the way that Thou wouldest have me to go.” Now, this would open a large field, but time will not allow us to go into it. It is said of Enoch, “He walked with God; and had this testimony, that he pleased God.” We shall never please God with anything that we can offer Him. But the Psalmist speaks of a sacrifice that shall please God better than an ox, with horns and hoofs. God is pleased with His own work, and, if you are coming to Him depending on the merits of Jesus Christ, then you are serving God aright.

“When we live on Jesus’ merit, 

Then we worship God aright;

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 

Then we savingly unite.”

It is a dreadful thing to be walking in a path and find God’s Word against us. David says, “In God I will put my trust: I will not fear what man can do unto me.” And we want to walk in God’s ordinances. It is said of Zacharias and Elizabeth that “they walked in all the commandments of the Lord blameless.” “Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk.” “The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord, and He delighteth in his way.” Oh, to be enabled to discover any of the steps of a godly man, and follow their faith, and to trace the footsteps of our God in His ordinance and providence! When you have gone out in a deep snow, you may have been glad to tread in the footsteps of others; so the child of God may rightly follow the Scriptural footsteps of those now in heaven: “Whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation: Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” “Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk.” He wants the Lord to give him knowledge of the way, and strength to walk in it. He that knew not his Lord’s will, and did it not, was to be beaten with few stripes; but he that knew his Lord’s will, and did it not, was to be beaten with many stripes.

“Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk, for I lift up my soul unto Thee.” And what is this? It is more than lifting up our hands. When the Church seemed to be mourning over her folly she said, “We will lift up our hearts with our hands unto God in the heavens;” but here says the Psalmist, “I lift up my soul unto Thee.” And what is it to lift up our soul unto God but to hold up our conscience to the light of God’s Word, and be subjected to heaven’s scrutiny? Our conscience is not likely to deceive us, yet it may be so hardened through the deceitfulness of sin that it may cease to reprove us, as is the case with those whose consciences are seared as with a hot iron. “Their very mind and conscience are defiled.”

Then, in lifting up the soul, we ask God to illuminate our understanding. We do not want to go on groping and grovelling from day to day ignorant of the Lord’s direction and regardless of His correction. We desire to profit by His leading, and to know the way as our own. We sometimes look back when so illuminated, and can discover many things which we did not perceive while passing through the particular path, by which our faith is confirmed and our understanding becomes established. Then there is a surrender of the affections unto the Lord by being divorced from every other object that would compete for the chief place in the heart, and the question is asked—

“Is there a thing beneath the sun,

That strives with Thee my heart to share?”

But, as we hold our affections up to the light, there is a willingness to surrender everything to the Lord.

But more: there is another very unruly thing, and that is the will. We may see things to be right with our judgment which the will ignores, and this stands out the longest. But He that conquered for us will also conquer in us; and he that has seen and felt the day of God’s power will sing another day of His power. And when the soul is thus lifted up to God, the believer can say, “I drop my will in Thine; I have no reserve, Lord. See, is there anything that I would keep back from Thee? Now, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? ‘Cause me to know.’ How shall I know?“ By prayer, by watching: “In everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God;” and by-and-bye he sees a cloud like a man’s hand, and then, as he discovers God’s will and way, he desires strength to walk therein, and so act and live beneath the Lord’s eye that he may ever while on earth seek to please Him who has done so much for him, and borne so much with him, and with whom he hopes to spend a blissful eternity when his time of sojourn here is at an end. 


James Boorne (1833-1894) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. In 1872, he was appointed pastor of the church meeting at Counter Hill, New Cross, which later removed to Devonshire Road Chapel, Greenwich.