People who try to do God’s will, do not all approach obedience from the same standpoint, nor hold the same attitude toward it. The quality of the obedience is not in the act, but in what lies back of the act. It is the right attitude toward God’s will and the right intent in doing it that is the true essence of obedience. Obedience may be given in a way that magnifies and glorifies the obedience, or in a way that robs it of most of its value. A retrospective view of past history, and perhaps even of our own lives, may furnish us many illustrations of the different kinds of obedience that may be rendered. We shall notice some of these kinds of obedience.
There is a partial obedience which, with the will of God well known, draws back from part of it. It does not fill the cup of obedience to the brim. It does not follow the entire specifications. It falls short of the full demands of duty, even when that duty is well known. We have a striking example of this in King Saul. The will of God was definitely revealed to him. He did not stand in doubt concerning it. He was to destroy utterly the Amalekites and all that was theirs. He went with his army, fell upon them, and slew, not only the people, but many of the cattle; but when Samuel went out to meet him, perhaps to congratulate him upon his success and upon his obedience to God, he found that Saul’s obedience had not been full and complete.
The Prophet heard the lowing herds, and the bleating flocks, and saw King Agag, who had been reserved alive for some future purpose. Did Saul appear, acknowledging his guilt, with the consciousness that he had not fully obeyed? No, he came to the Prophet with the full-voiced assertion of duty completed, of the will of God fully performed. Perhaps there was a secret sense of unrest and fear in his soul, but he did not show it. He boldly declared that he had done the will of the Lord.
There are may “Sauls” today. They do a part of the will of God and make much of what they have done, but say nothing of what they have not done. What has not been done, takes away all the virtue of what has been done. Saul, instead of receiving approval for what he had done, was severely condemned for what he had not done. When we obey only partially, our obedience is not acceptable to God, for it leads only to rebellion. When the obedience has gone as far as there is willingness to obey, it comes to a wall of rebellion, to a will set on disobedience, which is exceedingly hateful to God, and which shows that the partial obedience that has been rendered has not come from a genuine disposition to obey, but from some other consideration. Where there is a genuine disposition to obey God, there is no choosing of what part of his will we shall do. One part of his will is then just as acceptable as any other part of it.
Another series of examples concerning such partial obedience is seen in the various reformations that took place under different kings of Israel and Judah. After telling what good things had been done, how the idols had been destroyed, how the worship of Jehovah had been renewed, again and again we find this statement, “Nevertheless the high places were not taken away” The kings did well so far as they went, but they stopped short of their full duty, and so left a continuous temptation before the people, who, in secret, still worshiped at the high places. This secret worship, as soon as the people dared to make it such, again became public worship.
When we turn to God, we should not leave the high places standing in our lives. But many are doing just this. There is not a complete severing of the ties that bind to the world. There is still a secret attraction that is drawing world-ward. This secret attraction, draws the soul away from the fullness of God’s will, and prevents the fullness of that communion with him that makes the Christian life so blessed. These high places that are left undestroyed in the life are elements of continual danger, and are hindrances to complete obedience. Thousands of souls have drifted away from obedience altogether, back to the old world-life, back to the old rebellion, because in the beginning of their Christian lives they did not completely do the will of God, fully sever every bond that held them to the world, and become wholly, unreservedly, and for all time, only the Lord’s
We repeat---partial obedience is rebellion. It is rebellion because it puts our will above God’s, will. We determine within ourselves what part of God’s will we will do, and what part we will not do. This puts God in the second place. This makes his will subject to our will. This sets our will upon a throne above his will, and no acceptable service can be rendered while we hold such an attitude. Not all persons who only partially do God’s will are bold to declare they have done the will of God as Saul declared. In the secret depths of their heart many of them have a feeling of guilt and shame, which tortures them. They may hide this from the eyes of men. People may suppose them to be very good Christians, but they themselves, know the canker that is eating at their hearts. There is a lack of spirituality in their lives, a lack of those Christian graces and virtues and that whole-hearted trust in God and reliance upon him that it is the privilege of those who do God’s whole will, to have. To do God’s will fully, to throw one’s whole heart into it, to have the conscious assurance that our service is acceptable, brings a satisfaction and rest to the soul, which cannot be put into words. This is one of the most blessed experiences of the Christian life, and only he who has experienced it, can know what a glorious thing it is.
There are those who do God’s will fully, or try to do it fully, yet who do it reluctantly or hesitatingly. They are driven by conscience, or by constraint of duty, or by fear that they will be lost if they do not do it, or that God will chastise them, or let something evil happen to them unless they obey him. So, like the slave, they obey, even when they prefer not to do so. Or, perhaps they fear that their pastor or church will discipline them if they do not accomplish their duty: or they are driven to obedience by what people will say of them if they profess to be Christians and do not obey. Reluctant obedience is never acceptable obedience. Compulsory service can never bring pleasure to the one serving or to the one being served. It is unsatisfactory to both, because it lacks the elements that give it worth. Reluctant obedience is, at bottom, disobedience, for the will does not obey---it is coerced. When it shrinks from obedience, it lacks the disposition of obedience, and lacking this disposition, it can never offer anything higher in the way of service than that which the task-driven slave renders to his master.
There are others who obey, not reluctantly or hesitatingly, but carelessly and half-heartedly. Like a poor workman, they care more about getting through with the job than about doing it well. They may be partly absorbed in other interests, so that they are not enough concerned about doing of God’s will, or perhaps they shrink from the effort necessary to do well what they undertake. Such service robs them and God of the pleasure that comes from careful and whole-hearted service. Careless and half-hearted Christians are always lukewarm Christians, and they themselves cannot be satisfied with their Christian lives.
There are others who obey, not simply for God’s eye to see them, but because they have a disposition to do things so as to attract the attention of those about them. They have a desire to be noticed. There is “a something” in their actions, which straightens itself up self-righteously and says, “See what I do.” Like the Pharisees, they blow a trumpet to call attention to their good deeds. Jesus said, “They have their reward.” That is, the reward they receive for such service is the reward that they get from men, for their service is not directed toward God, but toward men. As the Indian warriors delighted to recount the tales of their prowess around the campfire for their own glorification, so these persons delight to tell what they have done. Nothing is more-sweet in their ears than the praise of men. Verily, they have their reward, but it is not a heaven-sent reward. Such service can never be acceptable to God. It is always based on selfish considerations and is done for self or at least this element more than any other enters into it.
Acceptable obedience to God has in it certain characteristics that give it its acceptable quality. First, it must be a sincere service, directed toward God. It must be done in view of his will, and with the earnest purpose of fulfilling his will in an acceptable manner. It must be based solely on the intent to obey. In such service there is singleness of heart, earnestness of purpose, zealous faithfulness. These qualities give even the lowliest service the same qualities and worth that characterize the highest service in the greatest things, and thereby lowly service is glorified and brought upon a highly exalted plain.
Acceptable service is willing service, a service that is gladly rendered from choice. The language of the soul is, “I delight to do they will, O God!” and as Jesus said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me.” In such service there is no feeling of constraint or compulsion. It is the out-flowing of love, the carrying out of the heart’s desire; and so all tasks are made light and all service a pleasure. The nature of obedience is inward; that is, it begins with desire in the heart. Nothing is true obedience that is not cheerfully given and prompter by love. It is never a sullen yielding to necessity; it is never task-work; but it is ever the soul’s joyous oblation.
Acceptable service is humble service. It is not done to be seen of men, nor for the purpose of bringing their praise to us. It is not done for their esteem, but simply to please God. Pride and display are inconsistent with true service. Sometimes people plan a course, which they hope will lead to preferment in the church, or which will give them influence and leadership. These are the things for which they are working; therefore their service cannot be an unselfish, devoted service, a humble and consistent service, such as is precious in the eyes of God. In seeking such rewards for service, men miss the true and great reward of service, and at the same time fail to give God the service that is due him.
Acceptable service is patient service. Life often seems long and the round of service sometimes grows wearisome; so we have to put patience into our service, lest we grow weary in well-doing. The kind of service that counts is not some spectacular service today, and then little service tomorrow---it is the every-day round of doing duties and rendering cheerful obedience that counts. If we can be relied upon to be at our post and render never-failing obedience, no matter under what circumstances, then God and men can trust in us. What each of us should do is to purpose to do God’s will from day to day---purpose to do his will during our whole lives; that is, have a settled determination that God’s will shall be done, a fixed purpose to do his will. We shall not then approach God’s will doubtfully. Whether we shall obey or disobey will then have been determined already, before the question arises; and having decided to obey God’s will, there is no indecision or hesitation.
We shall approach his will with only one thought---that of doing it. We shall meet hindrances in doing God’s will, hindrances within ourselves, hindrances in circumstances, hindrances from our fellow men. If our purpose to do God’s will is sufficiently strong, it will enable us to surmount all these hindrances and to go forward, rendering acceptable service. We shall be able to shut our ears against what people say that would otherwise hinder us. We shall be able to surmount the obstacles that they place in our way; and no matter whether the world approves of our obedience to God or disapproves of it, our purpose to carry out what he wills will enable us to go forward undismayed. The tongue of the gossip, the criticism of the critic, the sneers of the scoffer, the misrepresentations, and misunderstandings of our motive, and whatever may come to us as a result of our obedience to God, will then be borne with quiet patience and not allowed to hinder us in our service.
Three Steps to Obedience
There are three steps we must take before we can render acceptable service. The first is to have a right view of God. The idea of God that is most prominent in our minds will be most potent in forming the idea of his will that we shall entertain. If the text, “From everlasting to everlasting, “ expresses our predominant idea of God; that is, if we look upon his majesty and greatness, his eternity and unchangeableness, as his supreme characteristics, we shall stand in such awe of him that our service will be inspired by fear more than by love.
If we look upon him as the august Sovereign, we shall most easily render obedience from a sense of duty. But if our greatest thought of God is expressed in the words, “Our Father,” then we can realize that his will toward us is the will of a father---a kind, loving, devoted father. Then we can serve from love, and put fear and duty in the background. Service to our Father “instead of being slavish, is filial; instead of being reluctant submission to a mightier force, is glad conformity to the fountain of love and goodness; instead of being sullen resignation, is trustful reliance; instead of being the painful execution of unwelcome duties, it is the spontaneous expression in acts which are easy because of the indwelling love.” And so the character of our service to God is determined by whether or not we have this sense of his fatherhood. If we lack this, let us draw nigh to him. Let us seek him until he comes and fills the place of our hearts with himself, and we come so to know him that instinctively our hearts will call him Father.
The second step in acceptable obedience is to say, “Not my will be done.” So many try to say, “Thy will be done,” when their hearts are saying, “My will be done.” Jesus was the greatest of all servants. He set us an example of obedience, being obedient even unto death. He says in regard to his attitude toward the father, “I came down from heaven not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38). He exemplified this all through his life. In his prayer in Gethsemane, we hear him saying, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” Every desire that our own wills may be done is a barrier to our doing God’s will. So we must fight the hot battle, and perhaps the long one, of conquering our wills, so that we can say, “Not my will.” Right here is where so many fail. They try to say, “Thy will be done,” they try earnestly, they struggle desperately, and yet in the depths of their hearts they find a reluctance, a hesitation, a shrinking from God’s will. Why is this? They have begun at the wrong place. They have not yet crucified their own wills. We may say, “Thy will be done,” from our lips, but never truly from our hearts, until we have first said, “Not my will.” But when we have crucified our own desires, when we have mastered ourselves so that we can say without reluctance or hesitation, “Not my will,” then we have laid well the foundation for acceptable service.
The third step is to say, “Thy will be done.” Having taken the other two steps, this is easy, because it is the soul’s most earnest desire. But there are many who say, “Thy will be done,” who do not comprehend what a scope in their natures and lives this covers. First, it means “Thy will be done in me.” It means a surrender of the heart, its desires and purposes, its ambitions and hopes, its plans and expectations. It means to submit to God that he may make in us such changes as are desirable to him. It means for us to allow him to refashion us, to cleanse, to prune, in fact, to make of us what he desires.
“Thy will be done” means “Thy will be done for me. This means that we shall allow God to choose the future course of our lives, and turn them into whatever channel he wills. It means that we will allow him to do what he will with all the we call ours---our possessions, our relatives, our friends, our business, our reputation, our standing with the world. It means that we will allow him to choose for us, to will for us, to plan for us. It means a full submission of all things into his hands, with our hands taken off, and our claims given up in order that we and ours may be his fully, irrevocably, eternally.
It means “Thy will be done by me.” This requires the dedication of all our powers to the active performance of his will, without hesitation or reluctance. It means making this the chief purpose of our lives, the purpose which runs through all other purposes and lies back of all of our activities, under all circumstances and conditions, amid all influences and environments, whether things go easy or hard, whether circumstances are favorable or unfavorable, whatever desires may arise in ourselves or in others, whatever sacrifices are demanded. “Thy will be done by me” means all this.
“Thy will be done” means “Thy will be done through me.” “Whatsoever thou mayest desire to accomplish through me, I yield myself as the instrument of thy will, whether it be through honor or dishonor, through sickness or health, prosperity or adversity, good report or evil report, whether it means service at home or in a foreign land, to the high or to the low, in life or in death, whether I may understand or not---thy will be done through me.”
And finally it means “Thy will be done to me.” If it be needful to God’s purpose that we suffer persecution and endure the malignant hatred of his enemies and that our names be loaded with reproach, if it means the prison or the cross, “thy will be done to me.” It means the meek suffering of persecution and opposition, and the patient endurance of hardness of whatsoever sort. Although it does mean all this, it also means the joy of God’s salvation and the presence of his living Spirit with his strengthening, comforting influences. It means joy unspeakable that no man taketh away. It means the abiding “peace that passeth all understanding.” It means having a sense of God’s approval. Finally, it means eternal glory at the Father’s right hand forevermore.
When we have said, “Thy will be done,” from the heart’s depths, there is no jealousy or envy of others when they excel us. There is no holding back from God’s will and no undue pushing forward into things without considering his will. We are content to await the revelation of his will, knowing that he has promised to lead the way. When the heart says, “My Father, not my will, but thine, be done,” it enters the vale of sweet content to feast in the green pastures by the still waters. While storms may come into such a life, there is: a deep, undisturbed calm, that the winds of trouble cannot ruffle, nor can the waves of tribulation reach its depth. Here we dwell hard by the gate of heaven, ready to enter in when the Master shall bid us.
Many times people find the will of God hard to do. Wherein does the hardness lie? It is not so much in what must be done, though that may require earnest endeavor; the hard part lies in the heart. It is caused by unwillingness or unbelief, hesitation or reluctance. When the heart is willing, we shall always find “his yoke is easy and his burden is light,” but a very small burden may be heavy to the unwilling heart. The glory in service comes to the willing-hearted. So let us follow the three steps earnestly, faithfully, till we reach the place where we can do his will without shrinking, or without wishing it were otherwise, but content to have things as he will have them, and fully satisfied in his will.
When Paul, after having been for a time without a knowledge of the will of God concerning him, was made aware of “that will” in a vision, his responsiveness was shown by these words, “After he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go” (Acts 16:10). This disposition should characterize every Christian. If the heart says, “Thy will be done,” there is no occasion for delaying, but immediate obedience can be rendered. What does delay indicate? First, it indicates a lack of fervor, a want of zeal. When love is warm, obedience can be rendered. What does delay indicate? First, it indicates a lack of fervor---a want of zeal. When love is warm, obedience is ready; so a lack of responsiveness to God’s will shows a lack of love toward him. Secondly, delay shows a disinclination to do his will. It show either a desire that his will were otherwise than it is, or a reluctance to make the effort necessary to its accomplishment. Thirdly, delay leads to disobedience. A disagreeable, or difficult duty always becomes more so by delay. The Psalmist says, “I made haste, and delayed not to keep they commandments” (Psa. 119”60. “Delayed duty is present discomfort.” The heart can never be quite at ease with a sense of duty undone. The longer it is delayed, the harder it becomes to do that duty. Immediate obedience is the only satisfactory obedience, the only easy obedience, and the only kind that opens the gates of blessing to the soul.
Delayed duty means loss of opportunity. When the business man sees an opportunity, he is quick to grasp it. How many times the Christian sees opportunity and delays taking advantage of it, only to see the opportunity pass unused, perhaps to regret it for years! Immediate obedience, therefore, is the only safe way. Failure to obey means an hour of duty left empty, and that hour of duty once left empty can never be filled. If that neglected duty ever is done, it fills another hour that might have held another service , and so an hour of service is lost and lost forever. And shall not those empty hours mock us? Shall not the slighted opportunities rise up to condemn us? Therefore, let us fill each hour with its duty, with its loving service, and thus we shall have no regrets.
Faithful service includes the doing of the little things, and the doing of these seemingly little, unimportant things with the same care and earnestness and with the same faithfulness that we put into the greater things. The true disposition of our hearts is revealed in our attitude while doing the little things. Jesus said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s who shall give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12). Here the principle is revealed that unfaithfulness in one thing is inconsistent with faithfulness in anything else. In other words, if we do not show a faithful spirit in the small things, we shall do the greater things if we do them, not because of faithfulness, but from some other consideration. Jesus said that those who broke the least commandment, and taught men to do likewise, should be least in the kingdom of heaven. The spirit of true obedience, makes one, esteem the smallest portion of the will of God. He, who can neglect God’s will in the little things, cannot rightly esteem it in the greater things. He who has not the true spirit of obedience in the little things does not obey in the greater things because of faithfulness.
It is not a question of the importance of the thing commanded, but of the importance of obeying or rebelling. It is one’s attitude toward God’s authority. Many, who will obey God in the greater things, because they feel the constraint of conscience, neglect or ignore a multitude of little things which are just as much the will of God for them to do as the greater things, and still feel no compunction of conscience. When people do only that part of God’s will, which they wish to do, it is not obedience to God; it is obedience to self. Many times in the past, God revealed his will through the prophets. The people listened and approved, but they did not obey. This spirit is manifested today in ten thousand instances. People sit under the preaching of God’s word; they approve what the minister says; they go away, and straightway do the opposite. They do not feel bound to obey. They read in the Bible things that reveal their duty, but they shut the Book and go on as though they had not read it. Have these a true spirit of obedience? Not so. They have a spirit of disobedience. They disregard God’s will without any consideration of what attitude of heart is thereby revealed. Such persons cannot hope to be in the spiritual condition, where joy, peace, and contentment are their lot, or where the approval of God will rest upon them.
Lacking the disposition of heart to render obedient, cheerful, faithful, loving, and full obedience, we lack what nothing else can supply, and it is impossible for us to be pleasing and acceptable to God, and to reap the reward in our hearts and in our lives that it is God’s good pleasure to give to those who render unto him whole-hearted service.
HOW GOD LEADS
God works in many ways, and divine guidance operates through many channels. God guides according to the need. Sometimes we need more guidance than at other times. On some occasions we need different guidance than at other times, but the wisdom of God knows just how much and what kind of guidance we need, and he has promised to give that guidance. We shall note some of the methods of guidance.
God leads with his hand. “I, the Lord thy God, will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, fear not” (Isa. 41:13. As a father takes his child by the hand, and leads him along the way, supporting him if he stumbles, assisting him over the obstacles, guiding him into the smoothest places, so God leads his children. We are often conscious of such guidance. He has said, “My presence shall go with thee.” So he walks with us along life’s way. He meets all our need for guidance. He often smooths the pathway before us, gives us strength for our difficulties, and we have the sweet consciousness that we are not left alone, nor left blindly to go in our own way. This character of divine guidance is very blessed, especially in times of difficulty. But divine guidance never assures us of an easy road. It assures us that we shall be holden up, that we shall not be overcome, and that we shall be able to walk in a way that will please the Lord. Of course, God does not literally hold our hand, but he guides us as though he did hold our hand---the results are the same as though we could feel the touch of his hand upon ours.
God guides us with his voice. In Acts 8:26 we read: “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip saying, arise and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaze, which is desert.” We are not told whether there was the appearance of any form, but there was a voice of guidance, a voice that revealed the will of God in a definite and understandable way. Philip knew that the instructions were from God; so he immediately followed them. In verse 29 we read: “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, go near and join thyself to this chariot.” We find another instance recorded thus: “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Paul, speaking of his journey to Jerusalem, said, “I went up by revelation (Gal. 2:2). We do not know the exact method employed in these instances, but we do know that the message conveyed was plain and definite; it was understood to be the voice of God, was unhesitatingly obeyed, and the results of obedience were good.
God often speaks into the conscience, causing us to have an inner conviction of duty that is as unmistakable as though an angel from heaven stood before us, and gave us a message from God. God often speaks to our reason, bringing to our attention things for our consideration, illuminating our understanding, bringing texts of scripture and various other things to our remembrance. By this means he often makes plain his will.
God spoke to Peter and to Cornelius in visions. His language was definite and his purpose made clear. He spoke also to Joseph, warning him to take Jesus and to flee in Egypt. Such things were not chance visions or dreams; neither things which they imagined they heard. It was the voice of God giving them definite instructions; and more than that, they recognized it to be the voice of God. There was not question as to what their conduct should be. Things that come to us and leave us in uncertainty, that tend to confuse and bother us, should not be regarded as the voice of God. We may not always understand, at once, all that is meant, and the instructions may be only partial, but they are sufficient for the time being. When the voice said to Peter, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat,” he did not know the full application of the words. They conveyed to him only a part of God’s message, but in due time he was given the understanding. And so, if God makes his will clear in part to us, we should wait till the full understanding comes, at least a full enough understanding to make our course plain and our duty clear, though many times we have to go forward in obedience without knowing what the final result will be.
God often guides in judgment. The spiritually enlightened mind judges wisely. He who sincerely desires to know God’s will, and holds an attitude of submission to it, may be assured that God’s promise, “The meek will he guide in judgment,” will be fulfilled toward him. The exercise of a divinely enlightened judgment, which takes into consideration the principles of divine truth, is one of the safest of any guides in which to trust. Sound judgment and discretion will save us from many blunders; keep us out of many errors; keep us balanced; and will keep us safely within the will of God.
Many times we have divine guidance in judgment when we have no especial consciousness of guidance. The man who trusts God for guidance receives that guidance, but many times he needs no other guidance than the enlightenment of his judgment. However, to trust to our judgment without seeking divine guidance may result in acting upon our own judgment independently of God. When we use our judgment, with a prayer to God for guidance, we shall not err in the way, or if perchance we should, that error may after all prove to be God’s way of guiding us.
God guides us with his eye. “I will guide thee with mine eye” (Psa. 32:8). How does God guide with his eye? He cannot speak to us with his eye. He cannot hold our hand with his eye. He cannot instruct our judgment with his eye. How, then, can he guide us with his eye? Here is a form of guidance that is often unrealized. God may be giving us definite guidance, and at the same time, we may be wholly unconscious of it.
When God guides us with his eye, he watches the path before us. He sees that which threatens, and fortifies us against it before we reach the place of danger. He drives away the enemies that lurk in wait for us. So the promise, “I will guide thee with mine eye,” means much more to us than we can comprehend. Many times when we seem to be walking alone, God’s eye is leading us. So dark a night never comes to us, but, that the eye of God pierces through its gloom, in order to guide our footsteps in the way of truth.
God leads us in giving us directions. In this day of automobiles, many people ask directions. They are going over a strange road. They wish to know how to go. So we say to them, “Go so far straight ahead, then turn to your right, then after you have gone to such and such a place, turn to your left. That road will lead you where you wish to go.” Such directions guide a traveler over his way, just as though we had gone with him. In like manner, God gives directions on the way to glory. These instructions are found in his Word. There is guidance in the general teaching of principles, also by precepts and examples. This guidance is both negative and positive---it shows us what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. Very often the Scripture is given a special application to us by the Holy Spirit in order to enlighten us concerning God’s will. In all questions that involve moral principles, the Bible is the standard. No guidance that goes contrary to it is divine guidance. No inner impressions that go contrary to it are divinely given impressions. God’s Word being the standard of human life and conduct, we should go to the Word first, for guidance. When the Word speaks, it is useless to seek other guidance. When duty is made clear, it is presumption to seek other guidance in the duty that is already known.
But if the Word reveals duty only partially, or only the principles of duty, it may sometimes become necessary to seek special guidance in the application of those principles in order to go forward in the duty. The application of Biblical principles to an existing situation may require further divine guidance. That guidance may be confidently expected, if earnestly sought. We should not take one isolated text alone for our guidance, but the general teaching of the Bible, for many times one text is modified by other texts, or its meaning illuminated by other texts. We need to get the broad, general idea. Suppose we take the text, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” and give it a universal application without making any exception whatever. We may then suppose that we are not to love anything or anybody. To receive guidance from this text, we must learn the Bible definition of the world, which we are not to love. Where the Bible says, “Give to every man that asketh of thee,” we must not take this text in its unlimited sense, but find out from its connection and from other scriptures what limitations God puts upon it; then follow it out in this limited sense. That is, give to those who are in need, and ask.
The Scriptures are a sage guide when properly used, but when improperly used they may lead us into the wildest fanaticism and far away from the will of God. So we must use our intelligence, our best judgment, and make a careful search of what is taught in the Word, in order to have reliable guidance from it. One thing stands out clear, however: it is never sage to go contrary to the teachings of the Bible. The Psalmist said, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psa. 73:24). The Bible is full of wise counsel. When we follow its counsel, we walk in a sage path. When we disregard it, we walk in slippery places.
God guides us by his providences. Sometimes he does this by creating favorable conditions, or by permitting things to happen, that reveal opportunities or duties to us. Sometimes God places barriers in our way in order to turn us from the path we would have chosen, into the path of his choosing. We have an example of divine guidance in the sixteenth chapter of Acts. Paul and his company were upon a missionary tour. They went from church to church until they had made the rounds of those congregations where they had preached before. Then something else was to be done. A new course was to be struck. It seems that they had planned to go on through Asia Minor, but they “were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia” (v. 6). When God says, “No,” what shall we do? They tried to go some other way: “After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia; but the Spirit suffered them not” (v.7) Again God said, “No.”
Has not this experience been duplicated many times in other lives? We lay our plans and start to carry them out, when suddenly and unexpectedly God says, “No, not this way. You must give up your plans.” And when we give up our plans, what next? Well, we generally try to do something else. We plan again. We should not do this, if we knew God’s will, but like Paul and his company, we do not know his will, and circumstances compel us to do something. So we do the best we can, or the best we know, and start out in some other direction. This they did only to run into another wall, another “NO” had stopped them short in their course. Surely, they were perplexed. They had started twice in ways that seemed favorable to them, ways that seemed best under the circumstances, ways they supposed each time to be God’s way, but God said “No.” He gave them no other instructions. They were left almost in bewilderment. Then they turned backward to Troas. They supposed that they were going back, but the event proved that they were on their way to the place to which God was sending them, for when they had come down to Troas, God showed Paul his will definitely in a vision. Then they knew what they were doing. Troas was a city on the seashore, a port from which vessels sailed over the very course that they must go in order to reach Macedonia. So God’s two “no’s” turned them, without their knowing it, into the very course that he intended they should take. They went on that course without knowing that they were upon God’s chosen course going toward the destination that he had chosen for them
There is a great lesson for us in this experience of Paul and his company. If we are left in perplexity, if God says, “No,” when we think we are sure we are on the right way, we may have some disturbing experiences. For the time being we may have to strike out blindly, as it were, without any definite knowledge of what is before us, or of what are God’s plans. At such times we may cry out, “Oh, if I knew what to do---If I only knew.” Sometimes we must wait at “Troas,” and, perhaps, wait till the ship that we thought would take us, has sailed away, and still we are left to question and to wonder. But presently, in God’s own time, the “man of Macedonia” calls to us and we learn God’s will---learn it in plenty of time to work out God’s purpose.
God’s “no” is not always the same, nor does it always come in the same way. Sometimes it is a mere consciousness that God will not have us to do what we had planned, or what we had thought to do, or even what we had supposed it to be his will that we do. We should not go contrary to these inner warnings of the Spirit. It may seem better to go ahead, and stopping where we are, may leave us in the greatest uncertainty for the time, but when God says, “No” in our spirit, we should heed it. Sometimes he says, “No,” by placing an obstacle in the way, which effectually bars our progress. Sometimes he lets things happen that seem to destroy all our expectations, and bring our plans in ruin at our feet. Sometimes it seems that the very worst possible thing has happened. Never mind, perhaps it is only God’s “no” that he says, in order to turn you into the way that he has chosen. At any rate, you can go to “Troas” and wait there until directions come.
When obstacles arise in our way, we must carefully discriminate between those things which are difficulties to be overcome and those things which are intended to divert us into another course. Many things are obstacles, which God cannot take out of the way, but which must be overcome by our own effort, assisted by his grace and power. So we must not be too hasty in concluding that a mere obstacle in the way is God’s effort to change our course. It may be; it may not be. But it behooves us to find out definitely, for if we turn back from that which is a mere obstacle, we shall be turned out of the way of God’s will. If we fight through and overcome the obstacle that God has meant to change our course, we shall be going the wrong course. We must learn the meaning of God’s providences, and not be in too big a hurry to decide. When uncertainty exists, there should be the most careful consideration before determining the future course. After Paul had his vision at Troas there was doubtless a consultation as to what it meant. The words “assuredly gathering” in verse ten literally mean “laying things together.” They evidently discussed the question carefully from every angle, took into consideration all the facts, and then when they had done this, they were all agreed upon what was God’s will.
Obstacles, instead of being hindrances, may sometimes be helps. “If my supreme will is to do God’s will; then, nothing, which is his will and comes to me because it is, can be a hindrance. A Christian man whose path is simple obedience to the will of God can never be turned from that path by whatsoever hindrances may affect his outward life.” Here is the secret of turning hindrances into helps; that is, that our supreme will shall be to do God’s will.
God sometimes leads his people through human instrumentality. God, “that led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm” (Isa. 63:12). God was their leader, but he used Moses as the human instrumentality. The Psalmist said, “Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses” (Psa. 77:20). The means, by which he made Moses capable of leading his people is told in Isa 63:11: “Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? Where is he that put his Holy Spirit within him?” It was the Holy Spirit in Moses that made him a capable leader. So God puts his Holy Spirit in men nowadays, and teaches them the will of God, so that they can instruct others.
He who is too self-willed, or who reposes so much confidence in himself that he cannot be instructed by others, even by those who are older and more experienced, cannot be led. Such a person many times falls into serious errors, and suffers severely for his temerity. The humble are glad to be instructed. Sometimes people ask advice of those who are capable of giving them good advice, then go and ask the advice of someone else whom they know to be no wiser than themselves, and then often follow the advice of the less wise person, to their own hurt. God has made some wise with the wisdom that cometh down from above, and they give good counsel. We should not follow advice, blindly, but we should not treat it lightly when it comes from one who lives close to God. It is never sage to disregard, without consideration, the warnings of holy people.
Sometimes God leads us into the wilderness, as he led Jesus, of whom we read, “And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordon, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). He was led away from the crowd, where it seemed his work lay; away from the land of usefulness, or seeming usefulness; away from human habitation, away out in the wilderness. He was led away from human counsel and sympathy, into a strange land where all was new and life seemed barren. If our Lord was thus led into the wilderness, we need not be surprised if we have a similar experience. Under such conditions may souls have come to the conclusion that they have strayed away from God, that God has forsaken them, and that they are in a place where his will is not being done in them. Jesus might have concluded thus too, but the Word tells us that he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” He did not go there of himself---he went in obedience to God. You and I may find ourselves in the wilderness without knowing God has led us there, but if our trust is in him, though we stay there forty days, and no angels come to minister unto us, let us not suppose that God has forsaken us, or that we are outside his will.
Jesus was let into the wilderness for a definite purpose. We read, “Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matt. 4:1). Luke tells us that he was tempted forty days. What these temptations were, we do not know. We are told only of the ones that occurred at the end of the forty days. But this we do know, that when Jesus came forth from the wilderness and mingled with men again, he was prepared for his mission. He was ready to do the works of God. He “suffered being tempted” (see Heb. 2:18). It was not a mere holiday excursion, upon which he went into the wilderness. The spirit led him there for serious business. Many times nothing but a wilderness experience will develop in men and women, that moral fiber and that courage and fidelity to the truth, and give that wisdom and understanding of God and of his purpose, that will prepare them for their life-work.
Then, too, it is sometimes necessary, if we should get too self-confident, too self-reliant, too sure of ourselves, or if we should grow careless, or lose the keen edge from our zeal, that we be led into the wilderness, there to suffer and to be tempted until we have regained what has been lost and have been prepared to go back and take up our duties again and do them better than before. Or, it may be that there is some experience ahead of us for which we are not yet strong enough. It may be that there will be praise from men, prosperity, difficulty, or suffering for which we are not prepared and which might be disastrous to us if it came before we had a proper preparation for it. So God leads us into the wilderness, and there we suffer until he has wrought in us that preparation which he sees is necessary in order to carry us through our difficulties and make us equal to the situation that confronts us. So if into the wilderness we must go, let us go trusting in God, not supposing ourselves to be rejected, nor condemning ourselves, but let us go patiently, as doing God’s will, for when we come forth from the wilderness, it will be to work the works of God.
Life has many different experiences for us. Sometimes we must go into the wilderness of uncertainty, and sometimes to the desert, where our lives seem barren Sometimes we are permitted to go up to a lofty height of spiritual exaltation, there to have things transfigured before us and spread out like a great panorama at our feet. We behold wonderful things in God’s law, and in God’s purpose and workings. Again we must go down into the valley of humiliation or suffering, but when our shame is gone, and we are humbled, and satisfied to be humbled, or when the sobs are stifled and the soul comes out into quietness and submission, then God comes down like the dew. All these and many other experiences may come into a single life, but they all work out God’s purpose and help to mold us in his image and prepare us for his service.
Sometimes we wait too long for guidance before acting. It is often necessary to start in some direction when only a step is clear before us, but when we take that step, further guidance will be given. Taking that one step which we see, when all is dark beyond it, is a test of our loyal obedience. Having met this test, we have prepared ourselves to be led farther. We must not wait until we see the end from the beginning. One of the secrets of being led is not to require that everything shall be explained in advance. We may draw a very good lesson for ourselves from what Abraham’s servant said, “I, being in the way, the Lord led me” (Gen. 24:27). Sometimes we have to start out upon a way that leads we know not where, but if we are in the way and obedient in the way, the Lord will lead us to the desired destination. So, let us be content to go as far as we can see, expecting that when we arrive there, further directions will be given us.
Sometimes people can learn only through their mistakes, or can learn better through their mistakes than through any other method. So God lets us make our mistakes, if we will be led in no other way, or can be led in on other way, just as a parent when he sees his child’s course is unwise sometimes lets the child do as it thinks best, saying of the child, “Let him go ahead, he will find out”; that is, his error will teach him---he will be convinced when he learns by experience. So, if we make mistakes, let us be taught by those mistakes. Let us not be crushed by them, nor prevented from making further effort, but let us learn through them, and be more easily led the next time.
The way in which God led Israel from Egypt to Canaan, and their experiences on that way, teach us many useful lessons. There was a short, easy way, between the two countries---the regular caravan route. It was a way by which they might have readily gone, with very little suffering or inconvenience, but God did not choose this way for Israel, and he tells us why. “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt” (Exod. 13: 17). He saw that if they went on the easy way, by which their father Jacob had come from Canaan into Egypt, when they faced the situation they must face in conquering Canaan, they would be discouraged and would turn about and flee back into bondage again. So we read, “But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea (vs. 18). He led them through this desert, and opened the sea before them, thus placing an obstacle behind them, the consideration of which would make them hesitate to turn back. Just so, God must lead you and me sometimes in a path of difficulty. He must confront us by our Read Sea; then make a way through it, in order to make sure that we shall continue on our way and not turn back.
God then led them up to the borders of the land at Kades-Barnea, but here their faith failed and they refused to go forward. They were affrighted at the story told them by the ten spies. When they disbelieved God and hardened their hearts against him, when they would not listen to his promise of proffered aid, nor to the counsel of Joshua and Caleb, God turned them back into the wilderness and sent them by a roundabout way through the desert of the Sinaitic Peninsula, a long, hard journey of forty years, before they reached the Promised Land. His purpose in this is thus related: “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Deut. 8:2, 3). They had to have this hard experience, in order to teach them obedience, and to teach them to humble their hearts before the Lord and do without murmuring what he commanded them to do. So, disobedience and murmuring may cause you and me to have our journey through the wilderness. We may hunger and thirst, or we may get footsore and weary before the end of our way is reached, but if the journey teaches us submission to God and makes us to know him as he is, it will not have been in vain, but will have been a blessing to us, even as this long desert journey was to Israel.
In whatsoever test may come, we have the assurance of God’s guidance. He says, “I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked thing straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them” (Isa. 42:16). But God often requires faith on our part. If we feel and believe that we are not being guided, we bring ourselves into a condition that renders it very difficult for God to guide us. When we rely upon him for guidance, when we look up into his face and say, “Thou wilt guide me in all my ways,” and the trust him to do it, we shall be guided, whether we are conscious of that guidance or not, for with his voice and his eye and his hand he will lead us in his way, in paths of peace and righteousness for his name’s sake.
Forward to Chapters 13-15
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