Providence or Faith?
Providence is the provision of circumstances from the hand of God, the ordering of the course of things in such a way that God’s purpose will be carried out. However, at best providence can only link me indirectly with God through the circumstances that He provides and hence it can never be the rule for faith, for faith is my direct link with God with nothing in between. If I am looking to circumstances to determine my pathway here, then I am not looking directly to God––therefore I am not exercising faith. Indeed I am walking by sight and not by faith. My eye is open to the circumstances that I see rather than my ear being opened to God. When there is just a partial recognition of God in His providential dealings, Satan can very often turn this to his advantage by making the believer indifferent to God’s will as revealed in His Word. The believer is called upon to walk as seeing Him who is invisible. What is unseen, not what is seen, ought to guide the path of the faithful. If circumstances fill my eye, instead of Christ, then I am sure to go astray. It is not that one would ignore the providential dealings of God, but what I am stressing is that all circumstances must be judged in the light of the perfect will of God as revealed in His Word. I believe that while on the one hand, God frequently overrules circumstances despite the lack of faith on our part, on the other He often orders circumstances so as to be a test of our faith in Him alone. A striking and instructive example of this is seen in the history of Moses.
In Heb. 11: 24–26 we read “By faith Moses, when he had become great, refused to be called son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction along with the people of God than to have [the] temporary pleasure of sin; esteeming the reproach of the Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he had respect to the recompense.” Never was a providential dealing more deeply imprinted with the finger of God. It was faith (the faith of his parents) that had put the babe in the bulrushes, but it was providence that brought the daughter of Pharaoh to the river that day (Ex. 2: 1–10). In spite of the royal command, providence ordered that Pharaoh’s daughter take up the outcast Moses and nourish him as her own son. The providence of God placed him in this illustrious position, unsought and unexpected. Providence too gave him to be “instructed in all [the] wisdom of the Egyptians” and thus he became “mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7: 22). Why then not use his wisdom and ability, why not use the influence which his exalted rank would allow him to wield, and his nearness to the princely personages in the realm? Yes, why not use the circumstances in which He had been so evidently placed by God for the service of His people in relieving them of the suffering that they were enduring in Egypt? Why not use Egypt’s sceptre for the advancement and blessing of God’s people? What a multitude of reasons could be advanced in order to persuade Moses to remain where providence had so evidently placed him! How easily it could be argued that the very reason that God had so ordered those circumstances was that Moses might give some relief to the suffering people of God. Yet that would have been leaning on the favour and power of Pharaoh and not on God, and thus would not be faith. It may have resulted in a relief which the world (Egypt) would condescend to give, but it would never have resulted in a complete deliverance from the power of that world. Moses would have been spared much trial and affliction, but would have forfeited his true glory. Pharaoh would have been flattered and his authority over the people of God recognised. Israel would have remained in captivity, leaning on the Egyptian king instead of being brought out of Egypt to God. Yet all human reasoning, all reasoning connected with providential ways, would have persuaded Moses to remain where he was. Faith made him give it all up. In a word, providence carried Moses into Pharaoh’s house; faith led him out.
Had Moses followed providence, he would have sought to help and to relieve, but it was faith that led him to separate himself from the world and identify himself with the people of God. His faith acted through his affections which attached him to God, and consequently to God’s people in their distress. It manifested itself, not in helps and reliefs which his providential position could well have enabled him to give to them, but in inducing him to identify himself with that people simply because it was God’s people. Faith does not patronise from above, as if the world had authority over the people of God or was able to be a blessing to them. The world hates God’s people and while it may be permitted to enslave them, it can never bless them.
On their part the people might well have preferred the patronage of the son of Pharaoh’s daughter to a self-sacrificing Moses, who refused such a place, choosing rather to suffer with them; but it was enough for Moses that the poor captives were God’s people. His single eye judged all that Pharaoh’s daughter could offer to be the pleasures of sin. He deliberately resigned the glittering honours and the worldly influence which providence had placed around him. For him the question was, With whom was God identified? With Pharaoh’s palace, or with Israel’s iron furnace?
Thus providence may place us in a position which God would have us not use, but leave. It then becomes a test for faith which immediately asks, Is it God’s will? What then, governs your walk? Is it providence, or is it faith?