I believe there is nothing that Christians are so wanting in as having the Lord's guidance and leading in the minute as well as the important details of life. "I will guide thee with Mine eye" is the normal condition. The "horse" or the "mule," which have no understanding; whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, is more frequently the case with most of us. We need the "bit and bridle" of circumstances to force us into the path and action which is according to His mind; we have it more frequently than the guidance of His eye. It won't do to say, "What would Christ do in such and such circumstances? How would He act?" This won't do. Because more than likely He never would have been found in such and such circumstances. I may have brought myself into a position by a train of circumstances which it took years to bring about, and in which Christ never would have been found. This is, therefore, no rule. If we were always morally in the course of things as ordered of God, this might do. But who is there? Who has ever walked so as to have this place constantly before Him?
Christ is our life. The Holy Spirit dwells in us in power. To "walk in the Spirit," to be "led of the Spirit," is the normal condition of the Christian who has Christ for his life. But to enjoy this, and use it, we must have Christ continually before the eye. That One in whom "self" was forgotten. His life was one of obedience when tested to the uttermost. His course was one in which everything was brought to bear against Him, and there never was found one single disposition to shrink from that which His Father willed. He not only delighted to do His will; but bowed in meekness and submission to the Father's will when found in a path of rejection and reproach. But not only this--His life, in all its motives, went up as a sweet savor to God. God--His Father--was the spring of all. He lived because of (on account of) the Father (John 6: 57). Even when loving and giving Himself for us, it was "an offering and sacrifice to God, for a sweet smelling savor" (Eph. 5:2).
How then are we to have that guidance we so much need? I believe there is one very simple and healthful test which will be found of much value when we seek to know His mind in any course or difficulty. We cannot say, "I would like to do as Christ would;" because He might never be in the circumstances. It is to search our hearts before Him--in the secret of His presence--with the question, "What is my motive in this course? Is it self, or Christ?"
Paul gives this as a divine spring of all our actions. "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead: and He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14,15). The dying, suffering, mighty, everlasting love of Christ, constrains the new man to live to Him who is alive and was dead. Not to self, but to Christ. Self is unrecognized, ignored, refused. The motive, the spring, and governing action of the whole moral being is "Christ." A useful question then isó "Is this self, or Christ? What is it that governs the desire? Is it a living Christ that controls, constrains a nature which loves to be controlled and constrained--binding a heart with the unutterable love which poured out His soul unto death, to give expression to what was behind?"
I believe if there is a true searching of the heart thus as to the motives which influence it in a certain course, it will be found that self is more prominent than we would like to acknowledge even to ourselves. But it will be found too that at times (should it not be a normal state?), the desire is really of the Lord; when we walk near Him, outside self, this will be ever so. There is no hesitation then, or doubt in the soul, as to the course. The thought and desire is suggested by the Spirit of God, and in harmony with the will of the Lord. Conscience and heart approve. Self is not the governing power. At times, however, self is there, and the heart has to decide as to where the motive has sprung from. Self is refused; and it is felt as really denial of self for Christ. Faith is tried in these cases, too; and when there is decision for Him, and self is denied, the soul is invigorated by the consciousness that "Christ," not self, was really the motive which governed the heart; and this is its own deepest joy.
There are cases when we feel compelled to act, and when the necessity for action is right; but when there is not that seeking Him to know how we should act, we find ourselves in the course of action, and then we seek that guidance as to detail, which we know we need: perhaps the circumstances arousing the heart more fully into action before the Lord, who so orders that we may learn our want of dependence in the first instance. By failure and defeat, we are brought to look at the spring, and seek the guidance as to the root of things which should have been had in the beginning--then all goes well, and we are afraid to trust to ourselves--the Lord's will is the governing spring of all.
Israel, in Judges 20, illustrates this. There was a sin to be dealt with, and conscience is righteously aroused into action. They do not ask the Lord at starting how the thing is to be met. When they were in the midst of action, then they ask counsel as to details--(ver. 18)--"Which of us shall go up first?" The Lord answers, and they are discomfited twice. There is failure when they expected to have victory. Then they come to the root of the matter and enquire if they shall go up, or if they shall cease (ver. 23)? This is what should have been the root of the matter in seeking guidance; but they were not near the Lord. How often have we to learn thus!
I think Romans 14:7-12 very important as to this living to self or Christ. We shall have to give an account to God as to it by and by. The motives that actuated us here (self or Christ) will come out then. How blessed then to be enabled ever to give a divine reason why for all our actions.
The great secret of all is living closely to the Lord--the soul constantly in His presence. When there is this habitual turning of the heart to Him at all times--the habit of referring everything to Him, it comes from a sense of distrust in oneself--"no confidence in the flesh." The heart thus kept in such a divine sense of being directed of the Lord that nothing can equal. Trifling circumstances, which on other occasions would seem too minute for a thought, are found to be the indications of a guiding hand, which the heart, while it adores Him for them, dare not even allude to, to another. It feels that they had passed between the Lord and itself, and that it was for oneself alone--another could not appreciate it. Circumstances then, in His hand, establish the heart, and confirm the conscious leading one has had from Him. A letter is received confirming what had been laid upon the heart previously, and the event is felt to be the delicate touch of One who guides and cares for us.
I do not think circumstances are the best thing, however. There are times when one has gathered the Lord's mind in such a way that it must go on without a sign of any kind. Faith is thus tried and drawn out more distinctly to count upon Him.
Paul fails in making good the dissension about the Law at Antioch (Acts 15). He, Barnabas and others, go up to Jerusalem about the question, being sent by the others. Here was plainly an outward guidance; quite unmistakeable. Yet, when we come to read Galations 2, we find he had had a revelation about it from the Lord. Here there was the Lord's gracious guidance to His servant, confirmed by the pressure of circumstances through others. This case is plain; yet how sweet to find ourselves in His gracious hands. How blessed to live near Him--the heart peremptory with itself in refusing that which it knows would interrupt this intimacy. How sad to see the case of a Saul (1st Sam. 14:18,19,37). The energy of flesh bent upon its own way, and with the outward form of seeking the counsel of One whom he only sought as far as it would minister to self, and his own importance.
On the other hand, how sweet to see a Nehemiah--one whose heart habitually turned to God at all times (Neh. 2:4, ff). "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths" (Prov. 3: 5, 6), is a healthy counsel. One who does so habitually learns, in the little things of life, a guidance as unerring and distinct, as if His voice spoke to one's soul; and finds the truth of that guidance as plainly indicated by things in themselves trifling; and yet, when used by Him, are the unmistakeable indications from Him to us, which the heart understands as passing between the Lord and itself, for the loss of which nothing could compensate.