Is The Child Of God Guided By Providence?
W. Kelly

Perhaps there is no more remarkable development of the grand truth of divine providence in the Bible than the entire book of Esther. It is a beautiful illustration of how God makes use of ordinary matters to bring about the most surprising results -- results that play a distinct part in the maintaining, shielding, vindicating, justifying of God's own people, and in bringing punishment on their enemies. Observe, however, how the Name of God does not appear throughout the entire book of Esther. This ignorant men have supposed to be a defect; whereas in truth, if the Name were openly named in its course, the book would be materially spoiled. The prime object is to evince His hand secretly working where His Name could not rightly be proclaimed. Far from being a fault, this is one of the most strengthening considerations when we remember that we have to do with a similar secret providence every day.

It is not meant assuredly that this is all; for now we know God has been revealed fully and personally in His Son. God's Name not only has been proclaimed to us, but, so to speak, is named upon us. We are brought into living relationship with Him: "I ascend unto My Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (John 20:17). But besides that, what a comfort to know that while God Himself, as our Father, guides us by His Spirit, the secret providence of God controls circumstances and compels enemies where we could not be -- and could do nothing if we were, yea where we ought to do nothing!

But God fails not to work for us, and often works too by His worst adversaries. The devil himself is one of those who are obliged most of all to work out the fiats of God's providence. He, when least intending or expecting it, brings about, in spite of himself, what God means in goodness. Is not this, then, a truth full of comfort? If Satan is obliged, when he most exalts himself, to be only God's scavenger, it is very evident that we may trust our gracious Lord for everything; for the foot of pride after all cannot but do menial services for the purposes of God. It does not matter who it is or what it may be; the providence of God unseen invariably accomplishes His purposes.

Let it be repeated that this is not all. We have something infinitely nearer and more intimate; and I make this remark the more because those are not wanting who think that a Christian ought to be guided simply by God's providence; it is not too much to affirm that such guidance would be always wrong. It is never set forth as guidance. Providence does not guide saints, but controls circumstances and foes. The Holy Spirit condescends to guide Christians. Still we have to do with external things; and there the providence of God works. But we have to do with God as our God and Father; and here we are not left to the unseen processes of circumstances and what might seem to be the casualties of the world, though really accomplishing divine purposes or ends. We have to do with the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is pleased to lead us by the written Word. This puts everything in its place, at least to faith.

It is an oversight to suppose that to bind up the guidance of the Holy Spirit with the Word of God is to take it out of the affairs of daily life in any case. There are no doubt instincts of spiritual life; but the Word of God is large enough to take in everything. And this increase of spiritual apprehension serves but to enlarge the sphere of obedience--only we do not always perceive the exceeding breadth of the Word, and sometimes we may be guided insensibly where we might fail to allege a definite text. How comforting to find our conviction sustained and strengthened and carried further intelligently by direct Scripture! The simple believer is thus guided, more than at first sight appears, by the Word of God. You see a Christian at once taking exactly the right line. If you asked him why he did so or so, perhaps he might not be able to say with clearness. Hence, when it is affirmed that the Holy Spirit guides by the Word, it is not meant that there is always the positive and distinct application of the divine Word on the part of him who is guided. Doubtless in any measure of our scriptural knowledge, one can intelligently point to example and principle, if not formal precept, in Scripture for what is according to God's will. One should always seek ability to gather from the range of His Word the conduct to be pursued or to be pressed on others.

Thus, for instance, supposing a parent tells the Christian child to take care that the pot simmers properly, or any other duty of the simplest every-day sort, is it meant that one can bring a Scripture for these? Certainly one can. The child who is set to watch that the milk should not boil over is called to act in obedience to her parents, and so please the Lord. If excluded from the province of scriptural principle, what mischief must result! On one ground the Christian child in such circumstances is amazingly strengthened by the feeling that it is not a question of the milk, or the pot, or the fire, or only of a parent's charge, but of doing the will of God. It is good to link all with Him. Therefore, it seemed well to take the smallest matters that might be thought too low for the dignity of inspiration; but the truth is there is nothing more wonderful in Scripture, as in Christ, than this very feature. They both--He in deed, it in word, show that there is nothing too great for man, and that there is nothing too little for God. Therefore, "let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; ... and whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him" (Col. 3:16-17).

Suppose now a more perplexing case. An evangelist has two or three stations before him at which to preach the gospel. Where is the Scripture directing to one more than another? Am I to give up the Word here? Certainly not. If I went to a place where another servant of Christ was preaching the gospel, I should not feel disposed to thrust myself in to do the work, knowing that self-assertion or slighting another would be alike contrary to the grace of the gospel. An open door known to be here or there would be a loud call, even if there were many adversaries. Were others there at work in the field, surely the Master would have us confer as fellow-servants, that the good desired should not be ill spoken of or misjudged. Love would lead a workman to engage the cooperation of another to help in the work of the Lord -- a principle amply illustrated in the Word of God. And thus, one would find oneself directed with an exercised conscience before God, and not by the mere circumstances of providence; as the apostle says, "I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace." Every case I am persuaded the wisdom of God has forestalled in Scripture, if we have ears to hear, and pronounces upon each difficulty that can arise for the believer, though not apart from his state. Hence, of course, insensibility of conscience, or even want of intelligence, may hinder our perception; and therefore more or less expose us at least to uncertainty, and it may be to error and wrong; however, truly in such cases, the goodness of God interferes to hinder the full results for the simple who lack intelligence.

But it is our privilege, now that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, to bring everything within the scope of the written Word. Thus, suppose you must go shopping: there at once a question arises, and you will surely incline to one of two desires. In your purchase, you will seek to please either yourself or Christ. Even in deciding where to go, the same test is really applicable. If among a multitude of shops, you wish to know which is the right one to visit, it remains before you still to please Christ. Can one not ask one's conscience, What is my motive for going here or there? In the great majority of cases, such self-judgment would cut short many a visit to this or that shop, as well as make no small difference in what is bought. Take the very common habit of gratifying one's taste. When one enters a shop, the temptation that occurs to the mind is to get what one likes as far as one can. Where is Christ in this?

We may then look for the distinct guidance of the Lord by His Spirit in the daily affairs of life, as well as the more spiritual occupations that engage our service; but the measure of our spirituality and knowledge of the Word gauges our ability to use the Word aright as our directory. And thus, where we do not clearly see a duty to act, our duty is to wait rather than act. The waiting is a confession of ignorance, but at least of dependence. We desire to do His will and shall not wait in vain. "The meek* will He guide in judgment; the meek will He teach His way" (Ps. 25:9). "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth," says the attitude of waiting, where restless self-will would prompt to this act or that. But God guides either by bringing clearly before one something that calls on love for action, or by keeping one waiting yet longer. Undoubtedly, as there is reality in a believer's intercourse with God, so he can look for special guidance. But never let us forget that when we have not a distinct duty before us, we should forbear to act at all. I do not speak exactly of an impression, but of a plain call to duty, or the positive energy of unselfish love. Undoubtedly, there is guidance of the Holy Spirit often without the letter of a command, but not therefore without Scripture. Both the active outgoing of love and the calls of duty fall within Scripture, which shows us their fulness in Christ. For instance, a Christian does not know what to do, we will suppose, next Monday. But his mind is made up to serve the Lord; and he is not anxious about it. An individual comes while he is waiting on the Lord, and brings before him a claim to serve Him in a way not outside his measure. Is not the duty then plain enough? May that one be doubted in the slightest degree? Is it not the will of the Lord that one who loves Him should respond to a call of love?

If two come and represent similar things before you, have you Scripture to tell you which to select? Will not perplexity ensue? So it might appear and may really be. But, in fact, such perplexities do not often arise, if indeed they ever do, without some distinct means afforded of the Lord for judging between them.

It thus resolves itself largely into a question of communion with God. The child of God that goes on in communion with Him will not be perplexed because He walks with One Who is light. Our Father takes the greatest delight in guiding a child whose object is only to meet His mind. Of course, it is another thing if we have ends and purposes of our own; in such a case, a Christian would not sincerely wait. But "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him;" and though there might not be a positive precept, yet there is the hearing of God's mind in Scripture in many real though less direct ways. If there is a perplexity, it is time to stop. One cannot act aright without the Word; and this is often missed through lack of communion, which itself implies the guidance of the Holy Spirit; but we must not sever this from the Scriptures.




*"The spirit of meekness can only be where the will is not allowed to actively work for that which we may desire." --W. Kelly