We Are Led by a Way That We Know Not
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
"Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands." Deuteronomy 8:2
We are to consider the facts and circumstances which confirm the doctrine that the Lord's providence is at once universal and particular — and indeed, that he leads us by a way unknown to ourselves.
And who that has reflected upon his own life, or upon the life of others, or upon the current events of the day — will not bear witness to the universal application of this principle?
Look to the affairs of the world, to the nations and governments of all the earth, and tell me — where is anything turning out according to the forethought and prudence of man?
Look to the movements of our own country, and say whether human prudence ever devised what we behold? What party or what individuals have ever, in the long run, brought things about as they expected? And how is it in our own city, and under our own eyes?
In the societies of the church, and in organizations for church extension, the same rule applies. And I might ask, where does it not apply? I might give examples. But this is unnecessary, when they are so numerous, and so fresh in the memory of everyone.
But when we turn to the experience of individuals, we meet with the most unlimited application of our subject. The life of every person is a standing memento of its truth. For who is there, who has come to his present point in life — by the route that he had marked out for himself? I will imagine that ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago each one of you fixed on your plan of life, for a longer or shorter period. It matters not what the original plan was. It matters not what prudence, sagacity, and forethought were employed in making it. It matters not how much money and power have come to the support of it. Still its particulars have never been filled up as you originally sketched them.
Many particulars were altered and amended, from day to day, as you went along. Some things were abandoned as useless; some as hopeless; some as impossible; some as injurious; some things were neglected, and others forgotten. An unknown hand now and then interposed, turning the tables entirely. An unaccountable influence was found operating on certain individuals, changing their tone, and modifying their conduct.
An unknown individual has come alongside of you, and has become your friend. He has mingled his emotions and his plans with yours. You have modified your plans. He has changed his.
Business and commerce have taken an unexpected turn. You are the gainer or the loser — it matters not; your plans are changed by the event.
An intimate friend has left you and become your open enemy; an open enemy has been reconciled and has returned to the affection and confidence of your heart. Your plans in life have to be changed to suit such events as these.
Several friends and relatives, who were near to you, have been removed into the spiritual world. It may be that by such providences — your feelings, thoughts, and actions have been changed — changed utterly and forever! Darkness of mind, gloominess of life, and anguish of spirit, may have come upon you, by some such unexpected providence — and thus your plans may have been changed, or even utterly abandoned!
But beyond matters of this description, which are somewhat external, and as we say accidental, and certainly incidental, to a life in this world, and in all of which we are led in a way that we know not — there are unexpected changes of another kind, that we all have experienced. I now refer to changes in the inner man, and in the inner life.
For there is a something within us which shapes our ends; and while the things of the outward life remain much the same, we experience changes of the inner life, that are at times amazing and terrible. They come like the swelling of the tide, and like the beating of the waves rolling on from a distant ocean — the deep emotions of the soul arise and swell and sweep away; the fire of thought is kindled; the imagination paints the canvas; the tongue stands ready to utter the influx of love and wisdom; and the hand to illustrate it.
As these internal states of the soul change, by conjunction with the Lord and communion with Heaven, on the one hand; or by opposition to God and alliance with Hell, on the other — we see all things of the outward world in a different light.
The changes of our internal man are, to appearance, much more directly of the Lord's Divine Providence, than the events of the outward life. Nevertheless, the two are so related by the constitution of the mind, that each individual determines, in rationality and freedom, which of the emotions and thoughts of the 'inner life', he will bring forth into 'ultimate acts'. And it is here that the man may ally himself with the good and the true on one hand — or with the evil and the false on the other; and in this manner determine his destiny for Heaven or Hell!
The practical bearings of our subjects hinge chiefly on this: we are to confide in the Lord; lean upon his great arm; and look to Him, with the assurance that although He leads us by a way that we know not, nevertheless He is leading us aright; and if we trust to Him, and do His will, He will finally bring us to Heaven.
Hence we may rest assured, that however meager may be the good we experience, it is vaster by far than we should inherit, if we had been permitted to carry out our own plans and to have our own way in those numerous particulars in which we have been frustrated in our plans and disappointed in our hopes.
"Teach me your way, O LORD; lead me in a straight path." Psalm 27:11
"Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you." Psalm 25:5