More than Good Directions (Exodus 13:17–22)

God doesn’t defeat the enemies of His people and redeem them, only to wave goodbye from the steps of His embassy in the defeated nation, giving them good directions to make it the rest of the way home on their own. The God who comes down to His people goes with them.

Modern evangelicals are not allergic to all doctrine. There’re some doctrines they’re fond of. One of them is guidance. Unfortunately, we’re severely misguided concerning guidance. Culpably, we are misguided because we don’t like where Biblical guidance goes.

Where does God lead His people? He leads them to a mountain, and then to the promised land. He leads them to a mountain where they receive His law, that they might know how they are to live in that land unto Him. God leads His people into holiness and He leads them home. Holiness is the path home, for home is a place of holiness.

A young man struggling with pornography asks what God’s will is for his life. What he want’s to know is where to go to school, what career to pursue, and who to marry. He want’s to know how to live in a sweet spot so that he can live Disney ever after. Many evangelicals have tried to baptize prosperity theology and make it clean. Such a pursuit of God’s will is nothing but idolatry. What is God’s will for the young man? Stop looking at pornography. Be holy.

We want to be Christian Jedi Knights, in touch with the Spirit, traversing a mine field of danger with supernatural knowledge. We think we’re guided by the Spirit when we miss a traffic accident. True enough. But you were also guided by the sovereign God when you had a traffic accident. God’s guidance isn’t something passive, but active. He is guiding. He faithfully guides His redeemed people into holiness until they come all the way home.

God guides His people into Egypt where they’re oppressed. He guides Moses back, and heavier loads are laid on them. He delivers them and lead them south away from the promised land. He leads them by the Sea where there is no retreat. He leads them in the wilderness. And He leads them home. God’s guidance comes with cloud and fire. It is omnisciently wise and gloriously peculiar. It is an unfailing, active, consistent guidance. It comes not at a distance, nor quietly. It is near and clear.

If your notion of divine guidance causes you more anxiety than peace, you’re doing it wrong. As is often the case, many sing their theology better than they confess it:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
—John Newton

The Penning Pastor: Pleasure and Duty

From “We Were Once as You Are”

Our pleasure and our duty,
   Though opposite before;
Since we have seen his beauty,
   Are joined to part no more:
It is our highest pleasure,
   No less than duty’s call;
To love him beyond measure,
   And serve him with our all.

—John Newton, Works

The Penning Pastor: Pleasing Grief and Mournful Joy

From “Looking at the Cross

With pleasing grief and mournful joy,
My spirit now is filled;
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by him I killed.

—John Newton, Works

The Penning Pastor: We Praise because We See

From “The Name of Jesus”

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see thee as thou art,
I’ll praise thee as I ought.

—John Newton, Works

The Penning Pastor: The Offense of Small Prayers

From “Ask What I Shall Give Thee”

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and pow’r are such,
None can ever ask too much.

—John Newton, Works

The Penning Pastor: The Lord Will Provide

“The Lord Will Provide”

Though troubles assail
And dangers affright,
Though friends should all fail
And foes all unite;
Yet one thing secures us,
Whatever betide,
The scripture assures us,
The Lord will provide.

The birds without barn
Or storehouse are fed,
From them let us learn
To trust for our bread:
His saints, what is fitting,
Shall ne’er be denied,
So long as ’tis written,
The Lord will provide.

We may, like the ships,
By tempest be tossed
On perilous deeps,
But cannot be lost.
Though Satan enrages
The wind and the tide,
The promise engages,
The Lord will provide.

His call we obey
Like Abram of old,
Not knowing our way,
But faith makes us bold;
For though we are strangers
We have a good Guide,
And trust in all dangers,
The Lord will provide.

When Satan appears
To stop up our path,
And fill us with fears,
We triumph by faith;
He cannot take from us,
Though oft he has tried,
This heart–cheering promise,
The Lord will provide.

He tells us we’re weak,
Our hope is in vain,
The good that we seek
We ne’er shall obtain,
But when such suggestions
Our spirits have plied,
This answers all questions,
The Lord will provide.

No strength of our own,
Or goodness we claim,
Yet since we have known
The Savior’s great name;
In this our strong tower
For safety we hide,
The Lord is our power,
The Lord will provide.

When life sinks apace
And death is in view,
This word of his grace
Shall comfort us through:
No fearing or doubting
With Christ on our side,
We hope to die shouting,
The Lord will provide.

—John Newton, Works

The Penning Pastor: 1 Corinthians 1:25

The natural weakness of man is conspicuous in his most important undertakings: having no fund of sufficiency in himself, he is forced to collect all from without ; and if the greatness of his preparations are not answerable to the extent of his designs, he has little hopes of success. Farther: when he has planned and provided to the utmost of his power, he is still subject to innumerable contingences, which he can neither foresee nor prevent ; and has often the mortification to see his fairest prospects blasted, and the whole apparatus of his labour and care only contribute to make his disappointment more conspicuous and painful.

The reverse of this is the character of the wonder-working God. To his power every thing is easy; he knows how to employ every creature and contingence as a means to accomplish his designs; not a seeming difficulty can intervene but by his permission, and he only permits it to illustrate his own wisdom and agency in making it subservient to his will. Thus, having all hearts and events in his hands, he fulfills his own counsels with the utmost ease and certainty; and, to show that the work is his own, he often proceeds by such methods as vain men account weak and insignificant, producing the most extensive and glorious consequences from small and inconsiderable beginnings. Thus the Lord of hosts hath purposed to stain the pride of human glory. —John Newton, Works

The Penning Pastor: The Clearest Mirror for Seeing Our Flaws

Here, as in a glass, we see the evil of sin, and the misery of man. The greatness of the disorder may be rationally inferred from the greatness of the means necessary to remove it. Would we learn the depth of the fall of man, let us consider the depth of the humiliation of Jesus to restore him. Behold the Beloved of God, perfectly spotless and holy, yet made an example of the severest vengeance; prostrate and agonizing in the garden; enduring the vilest insults from wicked men; torn with whips, and nails, and thorns; suspended, naked, wounded, and bleeding upon the cross, and there heavily complaining, that God had for a season forsaken him. Sin was the cause of all his anguish. He stood in the place of sinners, and therefore was not spared. Not any, or all, the evils which the world has known, afford such proof of the dreadful effects and detestable nature of sin, as the knowledge of Christ crucified. Sin had rendered the case of mankind so utterly desperate, that nothing less than the blood and death of Jesus could retrieve it. If any other expedient could have sufficed, his prayer, that the bitter cup might pass from him, would have been answered. But what his enemies intended as the keenest reproach, his redeemed people will for ever repeat as the expression of his highest praise, “He saved others, himself he cannot save.” Justice would admit no inferior atonement, love would not give up the cause of fallen, ruined man. Being therefore determined to save others, he could not, consistently with this gracious design and undertaking, deliver himself. —John Newton, Works

The Penning Pastor: Strong Sovereignty for Weak Evangelists

The Divine Sovereignty is the best thought we can retreat to for composing and strengthening our minds under the difficulties, discouragements, and disappointments which attend the publication of the Gospel. —John Newton, Works

The Penning Pastor: How to Search the Scriptures

[T]he Scriptures, when properly searched into and compared do clearly and in every part testify of Christ, that he is the end of the Law, the sum of the Prophets, the completion of the promises, the scope of the types and ceremonies, and the great object of the whole Old-Testament dispensation. —John Newton, Works