Extracts From Letters of J.N.D.: "God Will Not Be a Mere Director"; Purpose to Do

Acts 19:21  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 7
He had been asked what was meant by the sentence in a tract of his own," God will not be a mere director."
As a general truth we may surely look for guidance, and to be filled with the knowledge of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. What I said as to this, was not that God should not direct us, but that, as the general principle, it was not independent of spiritual understanding; that if I were directed right, even in every act as a Roman Catholic by his confessor, called their " director," I should lose by it; it would save me being in a spiritual state myself -though, surely, a more spiritual person might help me because he was so; that God did not mean our perception of His will to be independent of our spiritual state, though He can, of course, lead any at any given time. Psa. 32 speaks of this also. If our eye be single, our whole body shall be full of light. But this is always true: He makes everything work together for good to them that love Him. He overrules as well as rules.
I will suppose for a moment you were not led of Him in going to' England, which I do not the least say, as I know nothing of it or your motives, but suppose the case. He makes you know what the world's giving you up is; He overrules it. Supposing you had had a tide of blessing, you would not have felt this in the same way, you would have tided it over the shoals at flood. I remember saying to dear Captain -, that our giving up the world, and the world giving us up, were two very different things. It is the latter tries all the elements of self-importance, which lie much deeper rooted than we are aware. There may be some little sacrifice in giving it up, but we have a sufficient motive; but what motive for being despised? It is really our glory, for Christ was, but then He must be all, and that is saying a good deal. We are poor feeble creatures without a stable center; what would be so has to be broken, and Christ takes its place. I do not speak of failure, but what we go through. He was the despised and rejected of men. Nor does He seek insensibility to it, but superiority over it, by His being all-and that is blessed, that only lasts. It is the production in us of what is eternal joy, and capacity for it. And now to your special inquiry more in detail. There are many points to consider.
First, I believe this casting on-dependent seeking His will spiritually-a privilege, though connected with the ruined state of the church. He cannot cease to guide us, or where should we be? But He may not, and does not, manifest His action with a fallen as with a fresh and nascent church. He never does so. " We see not our signs there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long." Yet Haggai says, " My Spirit remaineth among you." I believe faithfulness in such a time, special privilege. " Hast not denied my name" does not say much, but when this happens all around it is a great deal, and great grace to be kept. It cannot be expected, the " according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that by them thou mightest war a good warfare." You came out with a true heart to One who loved you, and seek souls for Him -all right, and great grace given to us; but there was no, "Separate me Barnabas and Paul," which, though present grace must, after all, sustain, still was a source of strength " by them." I do not believe it is any loss, but it is different, and he that has the secret of Christ, while he will not limit His power, yet will know the difference, and enter into it. " Thou hast a little strength," and such would be pillars when God built His temple. We find they were forbidden to go into Bithynia; sought to go into Mysia, but the Spirit suffered them not; they were forbidden to preach the word in Asia, and then, by a vision in a dream, were led into Macedonia. Now I would not the least deny that God can by His Holy Spirit suggest to us a special place of service. I do not doubt He may; but it is not an open manifestation as that which we here read of.
I repeat, I believe it is a privilege to be thus cast on the Lord's heart, if we only trust it; but it is a different thing we are cast on it; that there is imperfection in us, which affects this question, even an apostle had to learn this. A great door was opened at Troas, " but I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother," he leaves it.... In Macedonia " Our flesh had no rest, without were sightings, within were fears." He was sorry even he had written an inspired epistle, which really wrought as such with power in producing its effect, as in blessing to this day, but here there was trust. It is quite the contrary to the English translation, "causeth us to triumph;" the word means, "leads us in triumph," and the savor of Christ for life or death spread by him, whether at Troas or Macedonia. He trusted in Him who led him where He pleased, and that by his anxieties, as by His Spirit. He could not say he was right to leave Troas, and all was distress in Macedonia. It was love to the Corinthians, and God comforts them that are cast down; that is His way. And this is the picture I get of this great and noble heart, sent as he was openly by the Lord Himself and the Holy Ghost. He was a man, and must learn it, and that the power was of God; and so must dear -, perhaps as cast down, but any way as led about in triumph, for it is as true of you; God is as faithful as to you as He was to Paul.
But there is another point, we are such little ignorant things, that though we may have the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind, not of bondage and fear, still, as I said, things have to be overruled as well as ourselves guided. In the case you suppose (I supposed I was led after prayer to purpose visiting a certain person or persons, and on the way came across an anxious soul, and was much perplexed whether to stay with that one, or go on with my purposed visit to the other. Again, that if I go, and find the person away. am I to think I was not guided?) You do not find the man at home. This may have been just the right thing that you should have shown the purpose and desire, and yet not have seen him, nor he received the visit, it was not the ripe moment for that. It was for seeking him. I admit were we perfect this would not be so. Again, He might have sent you on that road on purpose to meet the person on the way, and another day as good, or better, for the visit; perhaps he was not at home. I grant this shows imperfection, but not that there is no guidance. We should like to go always with a full, favorable wind, but this does not make a good sailor. It does tell us of weakness and imperfection, but that is something to learn, and dependence too. We cannot make a visit right without His hand.
But now take an example of where power was. Paul, apostle as he was, cannot succeed in persuading the church at Antioch to leave the Gentiles free. Where was his apostolic power? What a defeat! What a failure! He must go to Jerusalem. Now suppose he had succeeded: humanly speaking, two churches were started-one at Antioch, free; the other at Jerusalem, Jewish and circumcising Gentiles: but Jerusalem is forced by God to pronounce the Gentile free, and all goes right for the time. No doubt it was connected with imperfection and wretched ignorance of heart and prejudice, but it was divine grace and wisdom, God working in this imperfection and prejudice, and overruling it, and Paul must take his place under this, like others.
We are not aware what poor creatures we are, and the wonderful grace which watches over, deals with, and uses such; and we have the treasure in an earthen vessel, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. (2 Cor. 4:77But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. (2 Corinthians 4:7).)
Thus the service we have to perform becomes also a process in ourselves, by which we have to learn ourselves and that all is of God, and our dependence on Him. This does not hinder our seeking to grow up into increased spiritual understanding, so as to be filled with the knowledge of His will; nor does it hinder the truth that the Spirit may guide us in details as to what we should do, and where we should go. Only, while God is Sovereign to do so in grace when He pleases, it does not separate this, as a general thing, from our spiritual state and singleness of eye, nor from a process in which we learn our own hearts; are weaned from self and the spirit of the world, and learn more complete dependence on God, and His gracious, tender faithfulness; only, that, after all, we are men, and feeble creatures, and He Sovereign, and the One who is to teach us. But surely, beloved brother, we may ever look to be guided by His eye, led by His Spirit suggesting the right thing to do, and place to go to, only that our state has a great deal to do with our ascertaining it. " The spiritual man discerneth all things."
And God is full of grace; Paul, if he could not succeed at Antioch, had a revelation to go up to Jerusalem. I know not that at this moment I have more to say to you, only that Paul (Acts 19) was not, I believe, bound in the Spirit, but in spirit, his own. It was the overruling hand of God upon him, not the actual guidance of the Spirit of God. God so ordered it for His own divine purposes. Moreover, Paul was not going for testimony, but with collections for the saints. J. N. D.
BELOVED BROTHER, I was very glad to get your letter, and though I have let a long time slip without answering it, it was not want of interest in its contents, nor failure in thinking of you, but I have had a train of work which makes some letters, letters of leisure, where it is not necessity of answering, but just, on the contrary, interest in the work and in the laborer.
We go on through the toil of service, whereas good in Christ has to make its way, and make itself effectual by divine strength in the midst of evil and alienation from God, and, as to testimony, adapt itself to it. That was what was so beautiful in Christ. In heaven all is good. God is there, and only goodness and holiness, and nothing inconsistent with it. We cannot be simple, or want simplicity, there, for God fills everything, and we and all are what He would have us. It is an infinite "I am" of good. But Christ was something else. He was divine good, and infinite, but good adapting itself, sheaving itself infinite in being always itself, and yet adapting itself to all the wants, sorrows, miseries, sins, that were in this poor world. We get to God, get to the Father by it, because He has got to us. What a wonderful thought it is, to see Godhead emptying itself, thereby to prove itself love, as no angel could have known it-coming down as man even unto death, and to be made sin, that I might learn what God is in death, where sin had brought me; and absolute obedience in man, in what disobedience had brought us into; death, the way of life; the extreme of man in weakness, where (as to this world) it ended, the place where God is revealed and triumphant, and the power of Satan destroyed.
But the Christian redeemed by this, and according to this, has to be this good, express, walking in holiness, divine love in this world, by manifesting the life of Christ, and seeking the deliverance of souls. What a calling! and what a privilege! But, oh, how we do shrink into self-judgment if we compare ourselves with Him!! We have to do it sometimes. God (as you speak in your letter) passes us through it when needed. We know there is no good thing in us, but to know the working of evil, which we always need at the beginning, and sometimes by the way, is another thing, overwhelming sometimes; I do not mean as to doubting His love, but as occupying us with self-vileness, instead of with His blessed love and Himself. But it is really put away in Christ, and hence, when we have, in a certain sense (that is, as to the need of real uprightness of heart) adequately judged ourselves, all the flood of His grace flows in again, and we can think of Him, and not of ourselves. There are no shallows then, but they are there, and there is still the danger (until long and deeply exercised) of having to go through it again. And it is a terrible thing to think of turning the eye off Christ, and on to what is vile, for self is vile. It is this that marks the "Fathers" in Christ. John has much additional to say to the "children" and " young men" when he repeats his warnings, but to the "fathers" he only says they have known Him that is from the beginning. That was their characteristic existence. How blessed it is! Oh, that we could walk so as to keep ourselves in the love of God! It is not knowing the Father, that was the children's place, the place of all, but Him that was from the beginning-Christ as manifested here.
I find the constant tendency even of work for the Lord, and an active mind, ever is to take us out of the presence of God, and nature is instantly up. I do not mean evil in the common sense, but what is not God, and the condition of my soul when God. is there. There is a will and a right the heart claims (not willfully), instead of adoring recipiency and lowliness, with confidence and trust of heart. For God present puts us in our place, and Himself in His place in our hearts; and what confidence that gives, and how self is gone in joy! Our great affair is to keep in His presence; and the diligent soul shall be made fat. He that seeks, finds.
May the Lord give you and myself to labor on undistractedly.
It is not, through grace, in vain in the Lord. He does not give me as (I am thankful to say) you, present encouragement-I have no doubt my fault, and His wisdom-but I am content to be anything in His hand, and thankful to be anything. A servant is to serve where he is set, and I have been a good deal (and content to be it, though my heart might desire more direct work sometimes) a "hewer of wood" and " drawer of water" to the saints, but thankful to be allowed to be anything. The Lord be abundantly with you.
Affectionately yours in Christ, &c.,
J. N. D.