THE GUIDANCE OF THE SPIRIT
* Taken from ‘No Condemnation in Christ Jesus’, first published in 1853 and re-published by the Banner of Truth in 1991.
‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.’ Romans 8.14.
We are here presented with another and a beautiful view of the Spirit as the Leader of His people. Man is a traveller to the eternal world. Left to self-guidance, as a fallen creature, he possesses vast and uncontrollable powers of self-destruction. What is he without a guide in the wilderness? what is he without a pilot on the ocean? Some recognize no other spirit – invoke no other spirit – and arc guided by no other
spirit, than the spirit of the world. And what is the spirit of the world but the all-pervading and controlling power of the spirit of darkness, who is emphatically denominated the ‘god of this world?’ Others are more manifestly guided by their own spirit, their unsanctified, unsubdued spirit, and thus, ‘like a city that is broken and without walls,’ they are exposed to the perpetual invasion of every prowling evil. How evident is it then, that threading his way to eternity along a path of difficulty and peril, man needs a Divine guide!
Such is the Guide of the saints. They are ‘led by the Spirit.’ It is the office of JEHOVAH the Spirit in the covenant of redemption, after He has
called a people out of the world, to place Himself at their head, and undertake their future guidance. He knows the path to heaven. With all its intricacies and dangers He is acquainted; – with the sunken rock, and the treacherous quicksand, and the concealed pit, and the subtle snare He is familiar. He knows, too, the individual and ordained path of each celestial traveller. All that God has appointed in the everlasting covenant – all the windings, and intricacy, and straitness of the way He knows All the future of our history is infinitely more vivid and transparent to His mind than is the past, already trodden, to our eye. It is utterly impossible, then, that He should mislead. And what is equally as essential to Him as a guide, He knows His own work in the soul. All its
light and shade, its depressions and its revivings, its assaults and victories, are vivid to His eye. Dwelling in that heart – His sacred temple – His chosen abode – He reads his own writing inscribed there understands the meaning of every groan, interprets the language of every sigh, and marks the struggling of every holy desire; He knows where wisely to supply a check, or gently to administer a rebuke, or tenderly to whisper a promise, or sympathetically to soothe a sorrow, or effectually to aid an incipient resolve, or strengthen a wavering purpose or confirm a fluctuating hope. But, in less general terms – what is it to be led by the Spirit?
The existence of spiritual life in those He leads is an essential point assumed. He does not undertake to lead a spiritual corpse, a soul dead in sins. Many are moved by the Spirit, who are not led by the Spirit. Was
not Saul, the king of Israel, a solemn instance of this? And when it is
said, ‘the Spirit of God departed from him,’ we see how, in an ordinary way, the Spirit may strive with a man’s natural conscience, and powerfully work upon his feelings through the word, and even employ him as an agent in the accomplishment of His will, and yet never lead him one step effcctually and savingly to Christ, and to heaven. There is as in Ezekiel’s vision of the bones, ‘a voice, and behold a shaking, and the bones come together, bone to his bone, but there is no breath ii them.’ But there is spiritual life in those whom the Spirit leads. They thus become in a sense voluntary in the movement. They are not forced it is not by compulsion they follow; they are led – persuasively, gentlywillingly led. The leading of the Spirit, then, is His acting upon His own life in the soul.
It supposes, too, entire inability to lead themselves in those who are led by the Spirit: ‘I will lead the blind by a way they know not.’ And such are we. Unable to discern a single step before us, and incapable of taking that step even when discerned, we need the guidance of the Holy Ghost. What can we see of truth – what of providence – what of God’s mind and will, of ourselves? Absolutely nothing. Oh, what unfoldings of ignorance, what exhibitions of weakness, have marked some of the wisest and mightiest of God’s saints, when left to self-teaching and to self-guidance! Thus there is a strong and absolute necessity that wisdom, and strength, and grace, infinitely transcending our own, should go before us in our homeward journey.
The first step the Spirit takes in this great work is, to lead us from ourselves – from all reliance on our own righteousness, and from all dependence upon our native strength. But let us not suppose that this divorce from the principle of self entirely takes place when we are ‘married to another, even to Christ.’ It is the work of a life. Alas! Christ has at best but a portion of our affections. Our heart is divided. It is true there are moments – bright and blissful – when we sincerely and ardently desire the full, unreserved surrender. But the ensnaring power of some rival object soon discovers to us how partial and imperfect that surrender has been. This severing from ourselves – from all our idols -is a perpetual, unceasing work of the Spirit. And who but this Divine Spirit could so lead us away from self, in all its forms, as to constrain us to trample all our own glory in the dust, and acknowledge with Paul that we are ‘less than the least of all saints?’ But more than this.
He leads from an opposite extreme of self – from a despairing view of our personal sinfulness. How often, when the eye has been intently bent within, gazing as it were upon the gloom and confusion of a moral chaos, the Spirit has gently and graciously led us from ourselves to an object, the sight of which has at once raised us from the region of despair! How many walk in painful and humiliating bondage from not having thus been sufficiently led out of themselves! Always contemplating their imperfect repentance, or their weak faith, or their little fruitfulness, they seem ever to be moving in a circle, and to know nothing of what it is to walk in a large place. Thus from sinful self, as from righteous self, the Spirit of God leads us. To what does He lead?
He leads us to Christ. To whom else would we, in our deep necessity, wish to be led? Now that we know something experimentally of Jesus, to whom would we go but to Him? Having severed us in some degree from ourselves, He would bring us into a closer realization of our union with the Saviour. ‘He shall glorify me, for he shall take of mine and show it unto you.’ And this promise is fulfilled when, in all our need, He leads us to Christ. Are we guilty? – the Spirit leads us to the blood of
Jesus. Are we weary? – the Spirit leads us to abide in Jesus. Are we sorrowful? – the Spirit leads us to the sympathy of Jesus. Are we tempted? – the Spirit leads us to the protection of Jesus. Are we sad and desolate? – the Spirit leads us to the tender love of Jesus. Are we poor empty, and helpless? – the Spirit leads us to the fulness of Jesus. And still it is to the Saviour he conducts us. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter but the holy Jesus is our comfort. And to Jesus – to His person, to His offices, and to His work, in life and in death, the Divine Guide ever leads us.
He leads us to truth. The promise of the Saviour is, ‘He shall guide you into all truth.’ When professing Christians have been led into error nothing is more certain than that they have not been led by the Spirit. Though many claim Him as their Teacher, He disowns them as His disciples. As the ‘Spirit of truth’ He can reveal nothing but truth; can teach nothing but truth; can lead to nothing but truth. All who have received the truth – who are walking in the truth – and who are growing in the truth – are brought under the guidance of the Spirit of truth Tossed from opinion to opinion, agitated and perplexed by the conflicting views of men and the antagonist creeds of churches, are you anxiously inquiring, ‘What is truth?’ – Commit yourself to the guidance of the Spirit. Cast yourself in faith upon the promise, and plead it at the feet of your Divine Teacher – ‘He shall guide you into all truth.’ He can harmonize apparent contradictions, He can reconcile alleged discrepancies, He can clear away overshadowing mists, and place each essential doctrine, and each enjoined precept, and each divine institution before your mind, clear, transparent, and effulgent as a noontide sunbeam. Oh, betake yourself, in your anxious, perilous search for the truth, to the simple guidance of the Spirit, and what the Greek philosopher, in transport at his discovery, shouted, you, with infinitely greater joy of heart and emphasis of meaning, shall echo, I have found it! I have found it!’
He leads to all holiness. As the ‘Spirit of holiness,’ it is His aim to deepen the impress of the restored image of God in the soul, to increase our happiness by making us more holy, and to advance our holiness by making us more like God. Thus He leads to nothing but what is sanctifying. All the unfoldings He makes of Christ, all the views He unveils of God, all the deeper insight to truth which He imparts, all the rebukes He faithfully yet gently whispers, all the chambers of imagery in our hearts which He opens, and all the joy which He inspires, have this for their single object – the perfection of us in holiness. Christ is the source, the truth is the instrument, and the Spirit is the agent of our sanctification.
He leads to all comfort. Hence He is emphatically denominated, ‘the Comforter,’ There is no sorrow of the believing heart of which life is ignorant, to which He is indifferent, or which His sympathy does notembrace, and His power cannot alleviate. The church in which He dwells, and whose journeyings He guides, is a tried church. Chosen in the furnace of affliction, allied to a suffering Head, its course on earth is traced by tears, and often by blood. Deeply it needs a Comforter. And who can compute the individual sorrows which may crowd the path of a single traveller to his sorrowless home? What a world of trial, and how varied, may be comprised within the history of a single saint! But if sorrows abound, consolation much more abounds, since the Comforter of the Church is the Holy Ghost. What a mighty provision, how infinite the gifts, the God of all consolation has made in the covenant of grace for the sorrows of His people, in the appointment of the Third Person of the blessed Trinity to this office! What an importance it attaches to, and with what dignity it invests, and with what sanctity it hallows our every sorrow! If our heavenly Father sees proper in His unerring wisdom and goodness to send affliction, who would not welcome the message as a sacred and precious thing, thus to be soothed and sanctified? Yes, the Spirit leads the sorrowful to all comfort. He comforts by applying the promises -.by leading to Christ – by bending the will in deep submission to God – and by unveiling to faith’s far-seeing eye the glories of a sorrowless, tearless, sinless world. And oh, who can portray His exquisite character as a Comforter? With what promptness and tenderness He applies himself to the soothing of each grief – how patiently He instructs the ignorant – how gently He leads the burdened – how skilfully He heals the wounded – how timely He meets the necessitous – how soothingly He speaks to the mourner! When our heart is overwhelmed within us, through the depth and foam of the angry waters, He leads us to the Rock that is higher than we.
He leads to glory. There He matures the kingdom, and perfects the building, and completes the temple He commenced and occupied on earth. No power shall oppose, no difficulty shall obstruct, no contingency shall thwart the consummation of this His glorious purpose and design. Every soul graced by His presence, every heart touched by His love, every body sanctified as His temple, He will lead to heaven. Of that heaven He is the pledge and the earnest. While Jesus is in heaven, preparing a place for His people, the Spirit is on earth, preparing His people for that place. The one is maturing glory for the Church, the other is maturing the Church for glory.
‘They are the sons of God.’ Such are they who are led by the Spirit. All who are conscious of this Divine guidance have an indubitable evidence of their Divine sonship. It is a dignified and holy relationship. It implies an assimilation of nature with God. The Apostle speaks of some whom he denominates the ‘children of the devil,’ because of their Satanic nature. The regenerate are denominated the ‘sons of God,’ because they are ‘partakers of the Divine nature.’ Thus does one of the beatitudes express it – ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be
called the children (Greek, sons) of God,’ because their nature assimilates with Him who is the ‘God of peace.’ Again; ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children (sons) of God;’ – like Him who maketh His sun to shine upon the evil and the good. Now, are we sensible that in any measure we are under the guidance of the Spirit’ Has He led us from ourselves to Christ – through Christ to God? Hear we His ‘still small voice?’ feel we His gentle constraints, His gracious drawings, His soothing love? Then are we the sons of God. ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit, they are the sons of God.’
In conclusion, receive, my beloved reader, a word of tender caution Beware of being guided by any other than by the Spirit of God. The temptation is strong, and the tendency to yield to it equally so, of being biased in forming our theological views, and in modelling our Christian practice, by the profound research, the distinguished talents, the exalted piety, and admired example of men. But this must not be. It is inconsistent with the honour that belongs, and with the love that we owe to the Spirit. A human must necessarily be a fallible guide; against the influence of whose doctrinal error, and practical mistakes, no extent of learning, or depth of spirituality, or eminence of position on their part can ensure us. We are only safe, as we constantly and strictly follow our Divine and heavenly Guide. Blessed and Eternal Spirit! to Thy teaching would I bow my mind. To Thy love would I yield my heart. To Thy consolation would I carry my sorrows. To Thy government would resign my entire soul. ‘Thou shall guide me by thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.’
As soon as the Spirit is separated from the word of Christ, the door is
open to all kinds of delusions and impostures.
God does not bestow the Spirit on his people, in order to set aside the use of his word, but rather to render it fruitful. Syn.
The gift of the Spirit was a fruit of the resurrection of Christ.
What God demands from us by his word he likewise bestows by his
Spirit, so that we are strengthened in the grace which he has given to us