CHAPTER 27. —SUMMARY
We have now completed the survey of the facts presented to us in the scriptures which authentically illustrate the ways of providence. There are some omissions from the survey, but they are few, and do not throw further light on the subject. It may be profitable to summarise the results arrived at. They are of great value in the right reading of the ways of God. The ways of God are not confined to the age of miracle. They extend throughout all generations. They are extant today in the sphere both of politics and private life. It is a great help in the battle of life to be able to discern them aright. To make some small contribution to this discernment is the aim of these chapters, and the method of them has been to adhere strictly to what the scriptures set forth as illustrations of the subject, in the conviction that here only is reliable guidance to be obtained.
Much that is talked of in a common way as providence is no providence. Providence consists of the divine regulation of natural circumstances; and the principles upon which this regulation takes place, can only be learnt from the scriptures of truth. These principles we have endeavoured to exhibit, with the result of enabling us to realise that all who commit their way to God in a scriptural manner, are included in the operations of the only providence that exists in the universe—that is, the control of natural circumstances by angelic agency; in an unseen manner, however, and without any apparent interference with natural ways. Outside of this control, all is chance; for there is such a thing as chance, but chance is controlled when the purpose of God requires it. This control is exercised in accordance with the “charge” which the angels receive from the Creator. Where no such charge exists, things happen naturally, or according to the mechanical relations of things in nature.
It is a first principle of the subject that God is a glorious person, dwelling in heaven, yet filling the immeasurable universe by His Spirit, which is the effluent energy of His person, constituting the basis, or force, or first cause of all things in heaven and earth; in this Spirit all things exist. These things have fixed mechanical relations in Him, and a permitted independence of action, constituting the platform of His higher operations. All things are of God in the fundamental constitution; but the interaction of their established affinities in their detail, is not due to His volition, but results from the nature He has bestowed on them. He knows them all and can control them all; but He does not influence them where His purpose does not call for it. In this sense multitudes of occurrences are not of God. Some things He does; some He does not. Here is the sphere for the operation known as providence.
The light obtainable from the scriptures, as to the exercise of His providence, is clear, and of great practical value: that is, it is available for the regulation of our own lives, and may be appropriated without the least reservation as to its reliability. We may rapidly review the leading illustrations.
Abraham’s case shows the shield of an invisible protection over those whom God chooses to protect (and there is no respect of persons with Him, but whosoever fears His name and submits to His requirements is accepted with Him). It shows us also in Abimelech a righteous man unconsciously withheld from a wrong course which was right in his own eyes, through want of correct information. Abraham’s case also shows us in Ishmael a son blessed for his father’s sake, and the domestic path made divinely plain for another son in whom the seed was to be called.
Isaac shows us a man preserved without miracle in the midst of famine, doing his part, however, with the hand of wise industry, and receiving the blessing in a form calling for constant faith.
Jacob illustrated plainly the angelic nature of what we call providence giving affairs an intelligent bent this way and that, as occasion requires, without showing His hand. Where the angels do not operate, providence is not at work, but affairs are left to work themselves out on natural principles. Yet angelic operations in ordinary life are not distinguishable from the effect of nature, the results induced appearing natural. We cannot discover their hand and need not make the attempt. Our part is to fear God, keep the commandments, and go forth with courage and trust, believing the assurance that all things work together for good for those who love God. Jacob’s life is an especial illustration of one fact most important to be recognised, that the life of those whom God regards is not necessarily a life of unmixed prosperity. God is with them and God guides them: but because of the imperfect nature of the present state, “chastening” is a necessity which takes the form of evil permitted for correction. His case also forcibly brings into the foreground the fact that divine guidance does not dispense with the necessity for individual prudence. Though God is with His children, He looks to them to arrange their affairs with discretion, as testified in all the proverbs of Solomon. Human action is the basis for divine supervision. In its absence, there is nothing for the angels to work on. God has conferred upon man the God-like gift of independent volition within the boundary imposed by surrounding conditions. The limited independence of will is the basis of all God’s dealings with man. “Providence” manipulates circumstances, and so acts through without setting aside the natural action of the unconstrained human will. We have to work with God, doing our best with diligence, leaving the disposal of results with Him. Cooperation between God and man is God’s glorious arrangement by which man at last partakes of God’s joy.
Jacob’s case further shows us that God does not propose the bestowment of perfect good in the present state. The present life in its best state is a state of exile from Eden. Reconciliation and return are in process of accomplishment, but we shall make a mistake if we look for unmixed good till the proclamation is made:
“There shall be no more curse.”
The very best experience at present is only a state of divinely-regulated evil. The divine regulation of this may and does permit the experience of evil in severe forms by His people. Some of Jacob’s experiences, however, show that the cruellest and apparently most aimless wrench of affliction may be but the preparation for the highest blessedness even now. How completely is this lesson illustrated in the case of Joseph, which yields this additional feature, that God may be at work in our affairs not only when there is no trace of His hand but when it seems impossible He can be at work. It may often seem not only that God is not working with us but that He is working against us. Joseph’s case may teach us patience on this point. The very injustices and barbarities of men may be the Lord’s hand to put us to the proof and to twist our affairs into a form for future blessedness.
In the case of Moses, we learn a great lesson touching the working out of God’s purpose in the earth. God was remembering His promise of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt by disposing events in preparation for its fulfilment one hundred years before the moment of action arrived, at a time, too, when there was not the least indication of it—when God was silent and the hope of Israel seemed a forgotten dream. By a series of apparently perfectly natural circumstances, He laid the foundation long in advance, yet, to the last moment, there was nothing distinctly indicative of the tremendous crisis impending. The eye ranging over the whole earth could see nothing but ease, carelessness, power on the side of the oppressor, and wickedness established in safety. The purpose of God was invisible. But at the last, the situation having been prepared in a natural way as it seemed, the angel of the Lord announced His presence. The lesson is of special value to us who are living like Moses at the end of a period of Israel’s downtreading: who are looking for a promised divine interposition: who, like him, are able to discern providential signs characteristic of the situation, but who, like him, have nothing else to point to but the promise, and have been the subject of premature expectations. Like him, we may see that notwithstanding adverse appearances, God is at work, and will soon terminate the present attitude of expectancy on the part of His servants by the inauguration of the hour of open interposition.
The raising up of Pharaoh in the natural order, for a divine purpose, enables us to realise that in our own day, men may equally be a divine development though thoroughly natural in every element of their lives. The natural in such cases is but the form of the divine hand, or rather the tool used by it. The tool is invisibly guided in a way that seems to itself and others purely natural, and yet the work is divine work because divinely planned and divinely supervised in its execution, though the agents are unconscious of divine initiative. But this conclusion requires careful application. All natural things are not divine; few of them are. If we cannot make out which are and which are not, we need not be concerned. Sufficient that God may be at work where things are apparently natural. Our business is to subject all our constructions to the law and the testimony. It is ours to conform in all modesty to what God has required without reference to the undeterminable question of where and when He works during the present walk of faith. It is, however, a comfort to know that matters and men and results may be of God which are apparently natural only. The difference between such cases and those which are purely natural is the presence of a divine volition supplementing natural tendencies. This was constantly illustrated in the difference between the same acts of war when God was “with” Israel in the matter and when He was not (Numbers 14: 41-45). When God was “with” them, Israel stood firm to their work: when He was not, they quailed.
There is a sense in which everyone will readily recognise in which the work of God is independent of all human action: but when God works with and by means of man, human agency is far from superfluous. Israel were made to realise that while they could do nothing if God were not with them, He could not in a sense do His part unless they did theirs. God requires men humbly and faithfully and diligently to do their part as the condition and means of enabling Him to work out His purpose with and concerning them. In this beautiful combination we have to—
“Work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, while it is God who works in us to will and to do His good pleasure.”
It is a noble and beneficent principle tending to keep back man from presumption, preserving a place for faith and wholesome activity while giving us the comfort of divine cooperation in all that we do according to His will. While the performance of our part is necessary, the accomplishment of final results is all of God, who can prosper or frustrate the devices of men or leave them altogether to their own ineffectual ways. Nevertheless, the experience of both Moses and Joshua shows that if God gives men opportunities, He expects them to discern and enterprisingly use them. There is a time to stand still and see the salvation of God, but it is not when He proposes to work by us. All the promises of God presuppose active, diligent, courageous, and care-taking cooperation on the part of those to whom they are made. Where we are in circumstances which make this exercise on our part impossible—(as when Jeremiah was in the pit in the court of the prison, sunk to the arm-pits in mire)—prayer and waiting is the not unavailing alternative.
These are the principles yielded by a study of the scripture examples of the ways of providence in their individual application. In their larger form, as affecting the ways of nations, they are if possible still more clear. The cases passed under review show that nations are divinely used to execute divine purposes of which they have no knowledge; while in fact they, propose objects of their own purely, and while they distinctly feel in the mood expressed by the boast,
“Our hand is high; the Lord hath not done all this” (Deuteronomy 32: 20).
The calamities that have befallen Israel are the principal illustrations of this. Jehovah said He would bring these calamities, and acknowledged them as His work when they came; yet they were all apparently due to human power only. The nations prevailing against Israel have all been tools in the hand of the God of Israel. But they were not aware of it, and nobody could have known it from casual observation, yielding the conclusion abundantly manifest in the individual branch of the subject, that God may be at work when men as mere natural observers see no evidence of it. In such cases there was nothing apparently divine. They were all obviously natural. They can be explained on natural principles down to a certain point. It is always possible to put the finger on the circumstance or measure leading to defeat. But what about the causes of measures and circumstances? Here the human intellect is at fault. Yet here lies the root of all events which, while on the surface perfectly natural and spontaneous, may be the evolution of a secret will.
There are myriads of events that have no such root, but are due to the interaction of established conditions. The ways of providence have nothing to do with the determination of such events. But there are other events which are due to divine initiation and guidance as we have seen, though men are unaware of the guidance. Such are those affecting the political affairs of men. Those affairs stand related to the purpose God is working out in the earth, and which requires a certain state of things to be slowly prepared. Therefore those affairs are held in the lines and channels of His plan. The programme exists beforehand in the mind of the Deity, and has been entrusted for execution to angelic hands. It principally concerns events on the territory of the dominion represented by the Fourth Beast of Daniel—Roman or European territory. Consequently, the events of European politics are not haphazard. They are the results of carefully manipulated natural causes. These causes are invisibly affected in their inception, and guided to the working out of intended effects. The results that come are due to an invisible divine control, and are illustrated by the statement of Daniel, that—
“God ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever He will.”
It is this that imparts to political occurrences the character of “signs of the times,” in the discernment of such as are enlightened in the scriptures of truth. These occurrences, which to the natural man are the fortuitous changes of the hour, are to the other class the open and public expression of the secret and divine will which is moulding all public affairs, with a view to the appointed climax when all things will be gathered together under one head, even Christ. The recognition of this fact makes all the difference between the mere newspaper point of view, which is that of scientific Paganism, and the point of view of the Scriptures, from which we are able to see things as they appear to Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will, and who is guiding them to a determined end—even the end proclaimed in the gospel of the kingdom and the promises made to the fathers in the beginning.
Prophecy proves and necessitates, and history illustrates the operations of the ways of providence. Those ways are neither more nor less than part of the divine machinery for saving the world. They operate individually and nationally, because the working out of the plan involves both departments. This ignoring of them is part of the barbarism of the natural man. The recognition of them is part of true enlightenment. When the work of God is finished, when man sent forth from Eden to shift for himself 6,000 years ago, is received again into open friendship and fellowship with God in the day announced for faith beforehand in the gospel of the kingdom, and gloriously exhibited in the closing pages of Revelation, it will be seen with a clearness which may not be attainable now, that without the vigilant angelic supervision, both of national and individual affairs (otherwise the ways of providence), the glorious issue then reached would have been an impossibility. The world would have gone to chaos and no flesh would have been saved. The plan which was commenced when sacrifice was instituted at the gates of Paradise has been in ceaseless course of development from that day to this. God has been at work all the time, though the work has been slow and the means largely natural. The miracles and wonders and signs have been but as the lights on the steamer in the dark. There has been no break though often there has been nothing to see. The work that that is a present work and a natural work is not less a real work, because not obviously a divine work. The whole work is one—in many parts—“at sundry times and divers manners,” taking different shapes according to the exigencies of the particular situations; and when all is complete, each part will be seen in its true importance. The minor phases of the work will appear but as the softer tints in the rainbow that will arch the throne of glory.
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