1879: God's Leadings


Brethren Op The Graduating Class :— You have reached the end of a long course of preparatory study. The most of you go now for the first time to be pastors of churches at home, or preachers of the gospel abroad. To all of you, I do not doubt, this breaking with the old, and entrance upon the new, is a time of serious self-examination. You recognize your weakness and un worthiness, and say, "Who is sufficient for these things?" But at this crisis of your lives you feel also the stress of Providence. Another hand has guided you. A thousand converging lines of divine influence find their focus at the spot where you now stand. You perceive that there is no real significance in this hour, unless God has had to do with your past life and will have to do with your future. As you look out upon that future, you see as you never saw before, that you need to be led by God. My last words to you will have this for their subject:— " God's Leadings of His Servants in the Ministry."

There is an external leading of God's Providence, of which the subjects of it are unconscious. He leads the blind by a way that they know not. He ordered your birthplace, your early associations, your later experiences. On some slight influences, such as a casual meeting, the loss of a letter, a shower of rain, a trivial indisposition, the caprice of a friend, you now see that your whole earthly career has been made to depend. What caused you to choose the ministry? A very little thing may have turned your thoughts toward it at the first. As you have gone on in life you have been gathering up the threads of the past and weaving them into a definite pattern. You have begun to see the meaning of incidents in your history which you could not understand years ago. All through David's early life with its varied experiences and wonderful vicissitudes — shepherd-boy, outlaw and monarch, by turns — we see how God was fashioning a heart to sing such songs of sorrow and rejoicing as might be the vehicle of his church's devotions through all coming time. In Luther's obscure origin and literary ambition and monastic struggles, we see how God was preparing a familiar but powerful voice for the great German discontent with Papal corruption of Christianity. God was in the whole complex mass of events that prepared the way for the Jewish kingdom and the Protestant Ref ormation. But God has been equally in the past influences which have shaped your lives. Evil has been overruled for your good. Sorrow has softened you. Difficulties have awakened new energy. Even your own sins have shown you your weakness, and the weakness of mere human nature. The way has opened before you, when every earthly power conspired to close it. God has gone before you, as truly as He led those Israelites by a pillar of cloud by day, and of fire by night.

On the front of an ancient house in the city of Chester, England, is an inscription that comes down from old Puritan times: "God's Providence is our Inheritance." Take this for your encouragement to-night. If you go on God's errands, God's Providence will work for you. It is hard to preach without this. To stand alone in a universe of evil infiuenees, all combining to thwart your efforts and kill the seed you sow, this is enough to discourage the most earnest and patient soul. But this is not your lot. The minister of Christ has the assurance that all things work together for his good, and for the good of the cause for which he labors. No sooner does he put his hand to God's work, than He to whom all power is given in heaven and earth makes all the forces of the universe conspire to further his labors. No word that he speaks shall be useless. No weapon formed against him shall prosper. His eyes may be blind to them, but there are horses and chariots of fire round about him. The world and life and death are his servants, and the kingdom of God is advanced by his seeming failure, as well as by his seeming success.

It is a great thing to have this external leading of God, and many a stalwart worker has had it without knowing it. But I wish to impress upon you to-night the fact that you may have something better even than this, namely, an internal leading of God — a leading of his Spirit that supplements the leading of his Providence. God's Providences are dark to us, until his Spirit interprets them and brings us into harmony with them. But it is possible to see God's hand in the events of every day, to discern the signs of the times, to be filled with the knowledge of God's will. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. As I have said to you elsewhere, he interprets to us God's Providences as he interprets to us God's Scripture. He presses our own powers into the service. He energizes our own faculties, so that we exercise a common-sense that after all is very uncommon, and a judgment free from selfish bias. And the result is that while we never allow ourselves to act blindly or irrationally, but accustom ourselves to weigh evidence with regard to duty, the Holy Spirit gives us an understanding of circumstances, a sense of God's providential purposes with regard to us, which makes our true course plain to ourselves, although we may not always be able to explain it to others. So God points out to us the place, the time, and the method of our work. No great servant of God has ever lived who was not at times seized with a spirit of desire and prayer, such as no powers of his own nature could account for, and then with impulses to do and dare for God, such as worldly men and even uninstructed Christians would call madness. But wisdom is justified of her children, and myriads of times in the history of his church, God has shown that the seeming madness was foresight, and that the audacity of his servants has struck blows for truth that resounded throughout the world.

Do you know anything more magnificent, my brethren, than a life in which the external leading of God's Providence is accompanied by a constant internal leading of his Spirit? Do you think it some extraordinary and

inaccessible grace, to which you may not aspire? Not so. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." This grace belongs by right to all ministers and to all Christians. You believe in each element separately. I call upon you, as the condition of highest success in your ministry, to believe in both at once and together. Realize your relation to Christ, and you can believe in them; for Christ is not only the external ruler and administrator of God's providential government, but be is also the inspirer and director of his people. In Christ, the two poles touch, and like the positive and negative wires of a battery, their meeting results in the light and heat of an intelligent Christian activity. Christ outside of us by his Providence pushes on the whole mass and movement of the world; Christ inside of us, by his Spirit, pushes us on, so that we keep abreast of our time — nay, lead it — for Him, to his own ends of glory and salvation.

To be up with the times, in this sense, is truly to live. A ministry that is not thus led by God is worse than useless. One touch of God's finger can give you more of strength than all the self-moved efforts of a life-time. The inspiration of the Almighty can give you more understanding ,than all the wisdom of this world without it. Will you, by obedience and purity, keep yourselves open to divine suggestions, or will you go out to your work in the impotence of your own natural powers, to misrepresent Christ, to lead astray the immortal beings who look to you for guidance, and perchance to be castaways yourselves? Brethren, I am persuaded better things of you than this. I hear you cry with Moses, "If thy presence go not with me, carry me not up hence!" And I hear God's voice of answer, "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest!"

Go then, my brethren, to the solemn work before you, strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Because you have God's Providence for your backer, be hopeful and aggressive. Because God's Spirit leads you on, let no rebuffs or defeats dishearten you. Persist and conquer. God will provide places for you, just as soon as you are prepared for places. Seek them from God, more than you seek them from men. Hold them as Godgiven, when once God brings them to you. So, serving your apprenticeship to his ministry in your early years, and serving your generation by his will through life, you will find at last, with a great number who have been saved through your labors, that as Christ by his Providence and Spirit has prepared you for heaven and a crown of righteousness, so he has prepared heaven and a crown of righteousness for you. With the earnest prayer that this may be so with each of you, I bid you, for myself and on behalf of the Faculty of the Seminary, an affectionate farewell.