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Of the relation of the will of God to the life of faith. Of the difficulty in ascertaining the divine will. The will of God two-fold, general and specific. The particular or specific will of God known in connection with his providences. His providences known moment by moment.He, who lives rightly, lives moment by moment. References to the Scriptures. Inferences from this subject.

HE, who seeks to walk in the way of faith, and who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, really walks and lives in the truth and essence of that better way, has virtually, and perhaps we may say, has really ceased from all natural desires. That is to say, NATURE, which was once the source of action, has become GRACE; and all the desires of nature are fulfilled in the one and comprehensive desire of fulfilling the will of God. The will of God may be said to be the sphere, the element in which the truly believing and holy man exists.

2.—This, we may reasonably suppose, is sufficiently obvious. The whole operation of the Spirit of God in the human soul may be resolved into two things; first, to make known the will of God, second, to unite us to that will. Nevertheless, it is a remark not unfrequently made, that we are ignorant, in a multitude of cases, what the will of God is; and that our disposition to do his will is rendered ineffectual by our want of knowledge. This view, which is so frequently presented as to require notice, will be found to be less plausible on examination, than it is at first sight.

3.—It is proper to remark, in the first place, that the will of God may be regarded in a two-fold aspect, viz., as general and specific. We take it for granted, that all persons, who are truly interested in the cause of religion, harmonize, in a considerable degree, with what may be called the general features of God’s will. They may be said, in the general sense of the terms, to love his cause, to desire its advancement, and to wish well to the various benevolent movements that are subordinate to its advancement. But it is very obvious that something more than this,—that much more than this,—is wanted to constitute a holy character. In order to constitute such a character, it is necessary that our desires should correspond with the purposes of God, as they are developed in particulars. Every requisition, which our heavenly Father makes upon us, even to the moving of a finger, must be met with a harmonious consent on our part. In relation to the obedient and sanctified heart, it can truly be said, that God dwells within; but it seems to us to be equally true, that he reveals himself there, only in connection with the
facts of the present moment. The slightest discord between our souls and the will of God, as developed and interpreted in his momentarily occurring providences, is a discord, a want of harmony, between our souls and God himself.

4.—The question then arises, How shall we know the will of God specifically or in particular cases? The answer, which we propose as a satisfactory one to a considerable extent, is, that God always meets us with a specific revelation of his will in the events or providences of the present moment. In other words, the events of God’s providence, just so far as they give us information at all, are to be regarded as an expression of his will. And so far as they do not give us information of themselves, they furnish a basis of information, which may be deduced from them. Taken in connection with what he has revealed, they give us all the facts which are necessary to us. And the decision, which we make in view of them, if our hearts are fully consecrated to God and if we look for his guidance in true faith, will necessarily be a decision which the divine will approves. In other words,
it will be the divine will to us. God will assuredly accept us, if in the exercise of a humble and strong faith we seek to be guided, in view of the facts which his providence presents.

5.—It will be seen at once, that this view gives a great importance to the present moment. It is obvious, that the facts of God’s providence, which have relation to a particular course of conduct, cannot be fully developed till the moment of taking that course arrives, the precise moment of action, the present moment. Consequently we are not at liberty to pronounce what the will of God is, in relation to such course of action, until the present moment, as we may conveniently designate the precise period of action, has come. In order to know what is right and duty, we must have ALL the facts; but no moment, antecedent to the present moment, or the precise moment of action, can give them. We cannot tell to-day absolutely what may be our duty to-morrow, because we have not as yet all the facts which God’s providence will lay before us, and which are obviously necessary to the foundation of an absolute or positive judgment. When the time comes, as already intimated, we shall have all the facts before us. And although we may have approximated a decision before, in other words may have formed a probable opinion from the light we had, it is evident that we must decide absolutely and permanently what duty is,
at the very moment when duty is to be performed. And duty, it is obvious, is only another expression for the will of God.

6.—It is hardly necessary to say here, that the doctrine which has been laid down, when it is rightly understood, is in accordance with numerous passages of Scripture. “Take, therefore,” says the Savior, “no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The passages of Scripture, which require us to watch, appear not only to involve, but to have a special reference to the facts of the present moment. “Watch thou
in all things,” says the Apostle to Timothy. “My soul waiteth for the Lord,” says the Psalmist, “more than they that watch for the morning.” “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might,” says Solomon. That is to say, give your whole power to the accomplishment of whatever God in his providence now places before you. And he gives a reason; “for there is no work, nor desire, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest.”

7.—In view of what has been said, we proceed to make a number of remarks. And we observe, in the first place, that one practical result of the principles which have been laid down, is, that we should not be over confident in the expression of opinions on things which are partly future. It is evident from what has been said, that, in ordinary cases of human conduct, we cannot pronounce positively what the will of God is, until the moment of specific action to which the will of God relates, and which it is destined to direct, shall actually arrive. This is a state of things, which has the obvious advantage of being opposed to self-confidence and rash judgments, and of being favorable to forbearance, charity, and humility. Hence it is that very holy men, in a multitude of cases, defer their judgments; while others, who are less holy, are prompt in deciding. The first class of persons, it is true, see the light dawning; God is gradually giving them intimations of what his will is likely to be; but they are kept in the posture of childlike indecision, of humble waiting and inquiry, and cannot say that they know any thing with positive certainty of the personal duties that are before them, until the arrival of the decisive moment, the moment of action, the moment in God’s unalterable providence, which brings with it developments that no other moment ever did or can.

8.—We observe again, it is a result of the doctrine which has been laid down, to keep men steady in their position in life; we mean, in that position in which God’s providence has placed them. In the order of that divine and beautiful providence, (a providence which, though revealed in time, had its origin in eternity, and was born from infinite wisdom,) there can hardly be a doubt in the mind of him to whom God is all in all, that every moral being, whether high or low, has his talent, his vocation, and his place. Too often the natural mind, inflated with self-conceit, and rendered rebellious by selfishness, is dissatisfied with what God has given it, and is restless also in the position in which God has placed it. It has not a “single eye,” looking ever to the pole star of God’s will; but it sees things distorted and double, and is driven about hither and thither, in the “multiplicity” (that is to say, amid the multiplied, and generally conflicting and false motives,) of the life of SELF. Such a person is always changing. But he, who lives in the divine moment, stands firm. However poor, suffering, and unhonored he may be, he is willing to wait patiently where he is, till the moment of God, written over with the words and inscriptions of his holy providence, reveals to the interpreting eye of the inward light the divine order of his departure.

9.—In view of the principles which have been advanced, we make another remark, viz., that we are not at liberty to attach ourselves strongly to
plans of action. By a plan of action we understand a general course of action, which will embrace many particulars. We are at liberty, from time to time, to form such plans. But it is obvious that the ability to carry them into execution depends upon the developments of God’s providence, step by step, and moment by moment. God’s providence may reveal to us that it is agreeable to his will that we should form a plan; but his providence does not reveal to us that we shall have life and ability to carry it into effect in its successive particulars, until the times or periods of fulfilling those particulars successively arrive. We enter upon the prosecution of the plan, therefore, knowing nothing as to its ultimate fulfillment, except as God shall show his will and give us ability in the successive steps of its progress. God may stop us at any one moment, and he may have good reasons for so doing, however far we may have advanced. Therefore, we ought to sit loosely to every thing, except the present moment. We ought not to permit our affections to become enlisted, as they are very apt to be. We should enter upon the plan in accordance with God’s will; we should advance step by step in accordance with his will; and without the least emotion of disappointment or displeasure, we should stop in accordance with his will; which we cannot well do, if we let our affections go in advance of the divine moment, which is the present moment, and cleave to objects which have not as yet received the divine sanction.

10.—We see, further, that the doctrine of “LIVING BY THE MOMENT,” which is the doctrine generally adopted by persons who have had deep experience in holy living, has a real and permanent foundation and ought to be universally received and put in practice. No man lives well, who lives out of the will of God. No man lives in the will of God, who anticipates the divine moment or moment of actual duty, by making up a positive decision before it arrives, or by delaying a decision until after its departure. We must meet God there, and stand in his will there, or meet him no where, and stand out of his will every where. If, therefore, we would live in the will of God, we must conform to that beautiful and sacred order, in which his will is made known. In other words, if it is our sincere desire to live in the divine will, it seems to follow that we must live by the moment.

11.—This doctrine keeps the mind fixed to God alone. Every moment presents our blessed Maker before us, with the facts of his providence all arranged and convergent to one point, and requiring of us as moral agents a prompt decision. God is in that moment as it arrives; his unseen presence is embodied in that small point of time; he speaks to us in the still small voice; if we hear and reply with correspondent heart and action, it is well; if we do not listen and obey, he is gone from us; and an eternity to come cannot remedy the loss of that one moment. This doctrine not only keeps the mind fixed to God alone, but it makes us place our happiness in God alone. Standing in the will of God as our true position, and adopting the will of God as our true and only guide, we cannot look for happiness any where else if we would. And if we were at liberty to do it, no where else should we find it.

12.—Finally, it is a result of the principles which have been laid down when they are put in practice, that they preserve us from the very considerable evil, (certainly a considerable evil in its bearings on holiness of life,) of
reflex acts of mind; that is to say, of frequent and unnecessary returns of the mind upon itself, in the form of self-inquiry, of self-condemnation or of self-gratulation, and in other ways which might be mentioned. This result seems to follow from the fact that, on the system of living by the moment, the mind always has before itself a present object, and that the object fully occupies and absorbs the mind, because God himself is present in it. I presume it is a reasonable supposition, that the minds of angels and other holy beings in another state of existence are free, to a considerable extent, from such reflex acts as have been referred to. They have no disposition, in their present state of feeling, to be looking back on the past either in the way of self-condemnation, or of self-gratulation, or even of self-inquiry. To be frequently thinking even of their holiness, by means of reflex acts which would necessarily turn them away from the contemplation of God’s blessed will, would be equally dangerous and unnatural. Their faces, therefore, are turned continually in one direction; their motion is continually onward; like the mystic beings of the vision of Ezekiel, of whom it is said, “They turned not when they went; they every one went straight forward.” And such, it is reasonable to suppose, was the case with Jesus Christ in his humanity. His meat and drink was, not to think about himself and his feelings, but to do the will of his heavenly Father; not to think how holy he was, but to be holy. His heart, his whole being, was consolidated to one object. This is the necessary law of truly holy beings, because the divine moment, considered as not yet called into existence, is always in advance, always before and not behind us; and when in God’s order it rises up to the surface, and reveals itself from the outspread ocean of coming time, it always occupies the whole thought and feeling. God is there: and, therefore, the soul that is given to God is there; and there it finds enough to occupy it, to fill it. Thus, on the principles which have been laid down, it is hardly possible, in the case of a truly holy soul, that there should be any looking back. Such a soul is disburdened alike of the world without and the world within. It is “simplified,” made ready, and girded for action. It looks towards God and God alone, and its movement is upward, onward, and unchangeable.