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HOW MAY A CHRISTIAN ASCERTAIN THE DESIGN OF GOD IN HIS PROVIDENCE?
REVEALED truth is the Christian's rule of duty in every dispensation of Providence: and no action of God, abstracted from his word, can become the Christian's rule of action. Providence is not a new revelation of duty in any case; but the word of God is “the lamp to our feet and a light to our paths," in all possible circumstances. If in any situation, a question occurs, what course shall I take? The answer is that to which I am directed by the word of God. If I expect more than this, I am exposing myself to delusion, by looking for a new revelation. To ascertain the mind of God in some cases is an affair of considerable difficulty: that difficulty we must encounter. We must "consider our ways"-ponder the path of our feet-consult impartial friends-seek divine direction by prayer.
We ought to guard against the influence of whatsoever tends to mislead us; such as the advice of persons who may wish to gratify our inclinations or serve themselves. It is necessary to guard against the force of passions, prejudices, self-love, and a disposition to persuade ourselves contrary to clear conviction of duty.
We may be sure, in all cases, from the word of truth, that where pride and ambition, a supreme regard to worldly ease, honour or wealth, is the governing motive; it is from "the spirit of the world, and not the Spirit which is of God." "Try the spirits," your own spirit, in seeking counsel; that you wish to know the mind of God, and resolve to follow it, in opposition to the will of the flesh.
"Try the spirits" of other persons who may advise yon, whether they be of God; and if they appear to advise from a regard to their own interest, reputation, or ease-from any sinful passion or biasbeware of being turned to the right hand or the left. A fickle spirit may induce us to think lightly of our present situation, and pride may suggest that we ought to seek a better one. And that which at first view appears a wrong step, may, by opposition to conviction and plausible reasoning, at last "seem right to a man." A restless mind may easily imagine that a new situation will, at least, relieve it from its present cross; but prudence will suggest the propriety of great caution in trusting the promises of persons whose friendship has not been tried, and of slighting the council of wise tried friends.
Hypocrisy will form a plan agreeably to a person's inclination, and then intreat God to bless him in the execution of it.
Move not too fast; "he that hasteth with his feet sinneth :" and shun unnecessary delay, where duty is plainly marked out.
Let no detached part of Scripture, no sudden impulse, no success or disappointment, form your rule of conduct: remembering, that God's word is no rule but in its pure meaning; that a sudden impulse may lead us right or wrong: that temporary success is sometimes God's curse on self-seeking; and disappointment in duty, designed to try, improve, and introduce the reward of faith. Some cases are plain; as when a Christian is unwilling to remove from one situation to another, and Providence renders his present situation uncomfortable to him, and points out another sphere of duty, unsought and unexpected, to which his safety, peace, and usefulness urge him; in this case it resembles the wind, which opens one door and shuts another.
The providence of God is very mysterious, and often presents to the Christian, difficulties which require much wisdom from above, to prevent his being "turned to the right hand or to the left." His concern is to ascertain the path of duty, by the best means he can use, and the strongest evidence he can obtain. This evidence must vary with circumstances. But, on the whole, the Christian is in general directed by a combination of incidents, rather than any single occurrence. He may, however, know his present duty by means; and after using all his light, and all the assistance he can obtain, he may not know three steps of his way; but he may have light sufficient to direct one step. Let him take that step and pause, unless he is directed with equal satisfaction to a second. If all is obscurity, he is not required to proceed on doubtful ground; let him stand still-patiently wait-watch the aspects of Providence -search the Scripture-review his experience and past observations on divine dispensations-especially cherish a fear of acting wrong, and a concern to approve himself to God, in dependence on his Spirit, and prayer for his guidance. This is a frame of mind which in itself tends to lead the Christian by a right way, and the decision he makes in this case, he may conclude a right one, for "the integrity of the upright shall direct his way." In proportion to his concern to know and follow the will of God, however trying to him, will be his warrant to conclude, that his determination is from God, A determination, the result of strong desire, to be and do rightby impartial inquiry, and fervent prayer, we may expect to be right. The mind thus acquires satisfaction after doubts and conflicts, and is settled in its purposes. This corresponds with the promises of God. "Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established," they shall be arranged and settled, and the mind composed and satisfied with its decisions.
Indeed, we have no reason to fear that God will permit a soul,
thus acting, to miss his way. This were to distrust his word of promise; "in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." In this case, if any man will do his will, the intimations of his providence he shall understand. "The meek," the teachable and submissive soul, will he guide in judgment; "the meek will he teach his way."
Follow present light. If a Christian has light sufficient to direct one step, let him take that step, he may then see his way to a second. Should all be doubtful, let him pause. If he cannot proceed, he must wait-stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord. Such a state of mind is truly interesting: we may be invited different and not hear the call of duty in either. Conscience may say, stand ways, still, or you will hazard your character, your comfort and usefulness. Read the word-examine your heart-observe the hand of the Lord-implore direction. A soul in these circumstances, in a degree, resembles Israel following the cloud. When that was stationary, they pitched their tents and moved not till that moved. This conduct was not solely the effect of observation on the movement of the cloud, but of the council of God in his word, by Moses. If they ask, what are we to do when the cloud moves? The word answers, "follow it."-When it is stationary? Pitch your tent, and never move without it, nor continue in any place when the cloud leaves it. Thus, the Christian may hear the voice of God in his word, under some circumstances, commanding him to keep his station till he is warranted to leave it. Never to take a step on doubtful ground as an experiment; this is trifling with Providence, it is tempting the Lord, and entering into temptation ourselves.
Do not prescribe any signs or tokens, by which the will of God may be known. Some persons have tried this rule, and God has met them in their own way, by affording them their heart's desire as a strong delusion. Finding themselves disappointed, they have doubted the truth of Scripture and followed their own lusts.
Freedom in praying for any thing, is no rule of duty. Self-deceit and self-love, often induces a person to pray fervently and frequently for the accomplishment of his heart's desire; and when he opposes this inclination, he may feel no liberty in prayer. But the path of duty often appears that for which a person finds no inclination to pray.
If it appears clear from the word that I cannot keep my present situation without opposing my conscience, I ought to leave it. The word calls us, in such circumstances, to leave a place which we cannot keep without neglecting our duty, or committing sin. This is a first step, and must be taken even before another situation may be found.
If our present situation which demands our co
, and another presents itself,
doubt the lawfulness of moving, whilst you are lawfully occupied, and can, with an approving conscience, continue in your present circumstances, keep your place, or you are self-condemned. In this case, whatsoever is not of faith is sin. A state of suspense may be painful; but we must exercise patient self-denial, or make sinful haste.
Thirdly. To find out the will of God in different circumstances, we should seek a passive frame of mind; a mind that is entirely interested in doing only " that which is right in the sight of the Lord." This frees the mind from temptation; as, whatever presents itself, it is only anxious to know and do what is pleasing to God. This affords peace to the conscience, self-possession, and qualifies the mind to judge impartially, and affords it a rational ground to expect divine direction. The meekly submissive he "will guide in judgment, and teach his way." Psalm xxv. 9.
If the mind be not sincere, it will be unsettled; now yielding to one counsellor, then to another, whose advice is opposite; "for a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."
Fourthly. To discern the dictates of Providence, we should let our spiritual interests stand before our temporal; and make the latter subservient to the former. It is not only a present, but a permanent good to himself and to others, which regulates the judg-. ment and heart of him who seeks first the kingdom of God. That which will promote his present and most lasting advantage, and qualify for the most permanent and extensive usefulness to others, should influence our minds in all cases.
When the mind is thus watchful, against false guides-follows present light-cultivates a passive frame--uses all the means of obtaining information-implores the direction of God, and watches for his hand; and, calm and settled, a decision succeeds perplexity and doubt; it may conclude, that such a decision is the dictate of God.
And this is agreeable to the divine word. "What man is he that feareth the Lord? Him shall he teach in the way that he (the Lord), shall choose." Ps. xxv. 12.
"Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established." Prov. xvi. 3.
"The integrity of the upright shall guide them." Prov. xi. 3. "Trust in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not to thy own understanding." "In all thy ways acknowledge him (by faith in his promise, submission to his will, prayer for his direction, and gratitude for his favour), and he shall direct thy paths."
One wrong step may, to some persons, appear trivial; but who can asure himself that the ruin of his character, peace, and usefulness, is not involved in that step? The possibility of consequences so serious, should awaken us to great circumspection and earnest
concern, that the Lord may guide us by his counsel till he receives us to glory.
Such an upright disposition and conduct, qualifies the mind to ask and receive counsel. Should a friend oppose the divine will from different views of the same dispensation, we may, perhaps, discern a degree of pride or covetousness, prejudice, rashness, or some selfish passion, which will convince us whilst we try his Spirit, that in this case it is not of God.
This disposition will also prevent a good man from wishing to advance his situation or worldly interest, at the hazard of his character, his peace, and his usefulness. He will not, like Ephraim, bring forth fruit to himself, by determining without asking counsel of God, and after leaning to his own understanding in forming his plan, beg of God to bless it.
Such integrity and circumspection will prevent the Christian from moving too fast. He ponders the path of his feet-asks counsel-suspects himself, and fears to oppose his inclination to the will of God. He guards against being misled by sudden impulses, detached scriptures, an instance of disappointment or success, impatience under a loss, or any wrong bias of mind from pride, fickleness and worldly affections in himself or others, who have some iufluence over him.
Integrity will produce consideration and vigilance, lead us to prefer suffering to sin, spiritual to temporal, and a permanent to transient good. It will make us self-suspicious, especially where our worldly interest is concerned, and our near relations urge us to act. It keeps us back from taking an unlawful step-hesitates at the beginning of an untried situation-goes not into the way of temptation-is bound fast by his engagements-allows the importance of counsel from impartial friends, who are most interested in our welfare. To such a soul the promise is verified; "the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous," &c. Ps. xxxiv. 15.
ON DYING DAILY.
NOTHING is more evident, than that the generality of mortals care not how they live, which is an awful proof that they cannot bear to think that they shall die. Nay, to suggest an idea of death, is sufficient to incur the name of saint in derision, or of a melancholy