Divine Guidance

Feb 15, 2017
A.W. Pink
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There are few subjects, bearing upon the practical side of the Christian life, that believers are more exercised about than that they may be “led of the Lord” in all their ways; yet when some important decision has to be made, they are often at a stand to know how “the Lord’s mind” is to be obtained. We have read quite a number of tracts and booklets on this subject, but they were so general and vague that we obtained little or no light and help from them. This we find has been the experience of many others, and there certainly exists a real need today for some clear and definite article thereon. For some years past the writer has been convinced that one thing which has contributed not a little unto the shrouding of this subject in mystery in the minds of many, is the loose and misleading terms which are generally employed by those referring thereto. While expressions are used as, “Is this according to God’s will?,” “Do I have the prompting of the Holy Spirit?,” “Were you led of the Lord in that?” Simple minds will continue to be perplexed and never arrive at any certainty. So commonly are these expressions now used in religious circles, that probably quite a number of our readers will be surprised at our challenging of them. Let it be said that we certainly do not condemn such expressions as erroneous, rather do we wish to point out that they are too intangible for most people until they are more definitely defined. What alternative, then, have we to suggest? This: in connection with every decision we make, every plan we form, every action we execute, let the question be put, Is this in harmony with God’s Word? Is it what the Scriptures enjoin? Does it square with the Rule which God has given us to walk by? Is it in accord with the “example” which Christ has left us to follow? If it be in harmony with God’s Word, then it must be “according to God’s will,” for His will is revealed in His Word. If I am doing that which the Scriptures enjoin, then I must be “prompted by the Holy Spirit,” for He never moves any one to act contrary thereto. If my conduct squares with the Rule of Righteousness (the precepts and commands of the Word), then I must be “led of the Lord,” for He leads only into the “paths of righteousness” (Psa. 23:1, 3). A great deal of mystical vagueness and puzzling uncertainty will be removed if the reader substitutes for “Is this according to God’s will?” the simpler and more tangible “Is this according to God’s Word?” A great deal of mystical vagueness and puzzling uncertainty will be removed if the reader substitutes for “Is this according to God’s will?” the simpler and more tangible “Is this according to God’s Word?” God, in His infinite condescension and transcendent grace, has given us His Word for this very purpose: that we need not stumble along blindly, ignorant of what is pleasing or displeasing to Him, but that we might know His “mind.” That Divine Word is given to us not simply for information, but for the regulation of our conduct: to enlighten our minds, to mold our hearts, to direct all our conduct. That Divine Word supplies us with an unerring chart by which to steer through the dangerous sea of life, which if we sincerely and diligently follow, will deliver us from disastrous rocks and submerged reefs, and direct us safely to the Heavenly Harbour. In that Word is all the instructions we can need for every problem, every emergency we may be called upon to face. That Word has been given to us “that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17). O how thankful and joyful we should be that the Triune God has favoured us with such a Word! “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psa. 119:105). The metaphor which is here used is taken from a man walking along a difficult and dangerous road on a dark night, in urgent need of a lantern to show him where to plant his feet, so that he may be able to journey along safely and comfortably, avoiding injury and destruction. The same figure is used again in the New Testament. “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). The “dark place” is this world, and it is only as we take heed to the Word, to the “light” God has given us that we shall be enabled to perceive and avoid the broad road which leadeth to destruction, and discern that narrow way which alone leadeth unto Life. It is to be duly observed that the above verse plainly intimates that God has placed His Word in our hands for an intensely practical purpose, namely, for the directing of our walk, the regulating of our deportment. This at once shows us what is to be the first and principal use we are to make of this Divine gift. It would do a traveler little good to diligently scrutinize the mechanism of a lamp, or stand admiring its beautiful design; rather he is to take it up and make a practical use of the same. Many today are zealous in reading “the letter of Scripture,” and many are charmed with the evidences of its Divine Authorship, but how few appear to realize the primary purpose for which God has given the Scriptures, how few are making a practical use of them–ordering the details of their lives by its rules and regulations. They eulogize the Lamp, but they walk not by its light. Our first need and task as little children was to learn to walk. The milk we received from our mothers was but a means to an end: to nourish the infant’s life, to strengthen its limbs so that they should be put to a practical use. So it is spiritually. When we have been born again and fed by the Spirit on the pure milk of the Word, our first need and task is to learn to walk, to walk as becometh the children of God; and this can be learned only as we ascertain our Father’s will as it is revealed in Holy Writ. by nature we are in total ignorance of His will for us and of what promotes our highest interests. It is a solemn and very humbling fact that man is the only creature born into this world devoid of intelligence as to how to act, and needing to be taught what is evil and what is good for him. All the lower orders of creation are endowed with an instinct which moves them to act discreetly, to avoid that which is harmful, and to follow that which is good. But not so man. Animals and birds require not to be taught which herbs and berries are poisonous and which are not: they need no curb placed upon them not to over eat or over drink–you cannot even force a horse or a cow to gourge and make itself sick. Even plants turn their faces to the light and open their mouths to catch the falling rain. But fallen man has not even the instinct of the brutes, and usually has to learn by painful experience what is harmful and injurious; and, as it has been well said, “Experience keeps an expensive school”–her fees are high. Alas that so many only discover this when it is too late: when they have wrecked their constitutions beyond repair, life’s temporal interest beyond recovery. It may be said in the answer to the above, But man is endowed with a conscience. True, and how far does it serve him till enlightened by the Word and convicted by the Spirit! Man’s understanding has been so darkened by sin, and folly is so bound up in his heart from childhood (Prov. 22:15), that until he is instructed he knows not what God requires of him, nor what makes for his own highest good. That is why God has given us His Word: to make known what He justly demands of us, to inform us of those things which destroy the soul, to reveal the baits which Satan uses to capture and slay so many, to point out the highway of holiness which alone leadeth unto Heaven (Heb. 12:14), to acquaint us with those rules which must be observed if we are to enter and walk that highway. Our first duty, then, and our first aim, must be to take up the Scriptures so as to ascertain what is God’s revealed will for us, what are the paths He forbids us to walk in, what are the ways which are pleasing in His sight. Many things are prohibited in the Word which neither our reason nor our conscience would discover. For example, we learn that “that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15); that “the friendship of the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4); that “he that hasteth with his feet sinneth” (Prov. 19:2). Many things are also there commanded which can only be known by acquainting ourselves with its contents. For example, “Lean not unto thine own understanding” (Prov. 3:5); “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help” (Psa. 146:3); “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). The above are but samples of hundreds of others. Now it is obvious that God’s Word cannot be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path unless we are familiar with its contents, and particularly, until we are informed upon the practical rules which God has given us to walk by. The Holy Scriptures are given us, primarily, not for our intellectual gratification, nor for emotional admiration, but for life’s regulation. Nor are the precepts and commands, the warnings and encouragements contained therein, simply for our information: they are to be reduced to practice, they require unqualified obedience. “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Josh. 1:8). God will be no man’s debtor: in keeping His commands there is “great reward” (Psa. 19:11). Part of that “reward” is a deliverance from being deceived by the false appearances of things, from forming erroneous estimates, from pursuing a foolish policy. Part of that “reward” is the acquiring of wisdom so that we choose that which is good, act prudently, and follow those paths which make for righteousness, peace and joy. He who treasures up in his heart the Divine precepts and diligently seeks to walk by their rule will escape those evils which destroy his fellows. “If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world” (John 11:9). To “walk in the day” means to be in communion with Him who is Light, to conduct ourselves according to His revealed will. Just so far as the Christian walks in the path of duty as it is defined for him in the Word, will he walk surely and comfortably: by the light of that Word the way is plain before him, and he is preserved from falling over the obstacles by which Satan seeks to trip him up. “But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him” (v. 10). Here is the solemn contrast: he who walks according to the dictates of his lusts, following the counsel and example of the ungodly, falls into the snares of the Devil, and perishes. There is “no light” in such an one, for he is not regulated by the Sun of Righteousness. “I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). It is one thing to have “life,” it is another thing to enjoy the “light of life”–that is only obtained by following Christ. Notice carefully the tense of the verb: it is not “he that follows Me,” occasionally and spasmodically: but “he that followeth Me,” which signifies a steady and continuous course of action; and the promise to such a one is, “he shall not walk in darkness.” But what does it mean to “follow” Christ? First and foremost, to be emptied of self-will, for “even Christ pleased not Himself” (Rom. 15:3). This is absolutely essential; self-will and self-pleasing must be mortified if I am to be delivered from walking in darkness. What does it mean to “follow” Christ? First and foremost, to be emptied of self-will, for “even Christ pleased not Himself” (Rom. 15:3). This is absolutely essential; self-will and self-pleasing must be mortified if I am to be delivered from walking in darkness. The unchanging order is made known by Christ in Matthew 16:24, “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Christ cannot be followed until self is denied and the cross accepted as the distinguishing mark of discipleship. What does it mean to “deny self”? It means to repudiate our own goodness, to renounce our own wisdom, to have no confidence in our own strength, to completely set aside our own will and wishes, that we “should not henceforth live unto ourselves, but unto Him which died for us” (2 Cor. 5:15). What does it mean to “take up our cross”? It signifies a readiness to endure the world’s hatred and scorn, to voluntarily surrender our lives unto God, to use all our faculties unto His glory. The “cross” stands for unreserved and loving obedience to the Lord, for of Him it is written that “He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” It is only as self with all its lustings and interests is denied, and as the heart is dominated by the spirit of Calvary, that we are prepared to “follow” Christ. And what is signified by “follow” Christ? This: to take His “yoke” upon us (Matt. 11:29) and live in complete subjection to Him. It is to yield fully to His Lordship, to obey His commands, and thus truly serve Him. It is seeking to do only those things which are pleasing in His sight. It is to emulate the “example” which He has left us, and He was in all things subject to the Scriptures. And as we “follow” Him, we “shall not walk in darkness”: no, we shall be in happy fellowship with Him who is the “true light.” For our encouragement–for they were men of like passions with us–it is recorded of Caleb and Joshua “they have wholly followed the Lord” (Num. 32:12): having put their hand to the plow, they looked not back; consequently, instead of perishing in the wilderness with their disobedient fellows, they entered the promised land. Thus the great business, the life-task of the Christian, is to regulate his life by and conform his conduct to the precepts of the written Word and the example left us by the incarnate Word. As he does so, in proportion as he does so, he is emancipated from the darkness of his natural mind, freed from the follies of his corrupt heart, delivered from the mad course of this world, and escapes the snares of the Devil. “Through knowledge shall the just be delivered” (Prov. 11:9). Yes, great is the “reward” of keeping God’s commandments: “Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path. When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee” (Prov. 2:9-11). “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). It is clear from this verse that it is both the right and the duty of the Christian to have a knowledge of the Lord’s will for him. God can neither be pleased nor glorified by His children walking in ignorance or proceeding blindly. Did not Christ say to His beloved disciples, “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15). If, then, we are in the dark as to how we ought to proceed in any thing, it is clear that we are living far below our privileges. No doubt the majority of our readers will give their hearty assent to these statements, but the question which concerns most of them is, how are we to ascertain the Lord’s will concerning the varied details of our daily lives? First, let it be duly observed this exhortation, that we should be understanding “what the will of the Lord is,” is preceded by “Wherefore be ye not unwise.” That word “unwise” does not here signify bare ignorance or lack of knowledge, otherwise the two halves of the verse would merely express the same thought in its negative and positive forms. No, the word “unwise” there means “lacking in common sense,” or as the R.V. renders it “be not ye foolish.” Nor does the word “foolish” signify no more than it now does in common speech: in Scripture the “fool” is not simply one who is mentally deficient, but is the man who leaves God out of his life, who acts independently of Him. This must be duly borne in mind as we seek to arrive at the meaning of the second half of Ephesians 5:17. Let it also be carefully observed that Ephesians 5:17 opens with the word “Wherefore,” which points us back to what immediately precedes. There we read “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (vv. 15, 16). Unless those exhortations are prayerfully and diligently heeded, it is impossible that we should be “understanding WHAT the will of the Lord is.” Unless our walk be right there can be no spiritual discernment of God’s will for us. And this brings us back to the central thought of the preceding article. Our daily walk is to be ordered by God’s Word, and in proportion as it is so shall we be kept in His will and preserved from folly and sin. “A good understanding have all they that do his commandments” (Psa. 111:10). A “good understanding” may be defined as spiritual instinct. We all know what is meant by that “instinct” with which the Creator has endowed animals and birds: that inward faculty which prompts them to avoid danger and moves them to seek that which makes for their well being. Now man was, originally, endowed with a similar instinct, though of a far superior order to that possessed by the lower creatures. But at the Fall, he, to a large extent, lost it, and, as one generation of depraved beings has followed another, their “instinct” has become more and more weakened, until now we see the vast majority of our fellows conducting themselves with far less intelligence than do the beasts of the field-rushing madly to destruction, which the instinct of the brutes would avoid: acting foolishly, yea, madly, contrary even to “common sense,” conducting their affairs and concerns without discretion. Now at regeneration God gives to His elect “the spirit . . . of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7), but that “spirit” has to be cultivated, it needs training and directing. The necessary instruction for this is found in the Word. From that Word we may learn what are the things which will prove beneficial to us, and what be injurious; what things are to be sought after, and what avoided. As the precepts of Scripture are reduced to practice by us, and as its prohibitions and warnings are heeded, we are enabled to judge things in their true light, we are delivered from being deceived by false appearances, we are kept from making foolish “mistakes.” The closer we walk by the Word, the more fully will this prove to be the case with us: a “good judgment” or spiritual instinct will be formed within us, so that we shall conduct our affairs discreetly and adorn the doctrine we profess. So highly does the saint prize this spiritual instinct or sound mind, that he prays “Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed Thy commandments” (Psa. 119:66). He realizes that it can only be increased as he is Divinely “taught,” that is, by the Spirit applying the Word to his heart, opening to him its meaning, bringing it to his remembrance when needed, and enabling him to make a proper use of the same. But let it be duly noted that in this prayer the petition is backed up with a plea: “for I have believed Thy commandments”: “believed,” not merely by an intellectual assent, but approved with the affections. Only when that be truly the case is such a petition sincere. There is an inseparable connection between the two things: where God’s commandments are loved by us, we can count upon Him teaching us “good judgment.” As we have said above, the “fool” is not the mentally deficient, but the one who leaves God out of his thoughts and plans, who cares not whether his conduct pleases or displeases Him: the “fool” is a Godless person. Contrariwise, the “wise” (in Scripture) are not the highly intellectual or the brilliantly educated, but those who honestly seek to put God first in their hearts and lives. And God “honours” those who honour Him (1 Sam. 2:30): He gives them “good judgment.” True, it is not acquired all in a day: it is “here a little and there a little.” by treasuring up in his mind the doctrines, precepts, promises, exhortations, and warnings of Scripture, and by diligently comparing himself with the Rule by which he is to walk, the Christian grows into a habitual frame of spiritual wisdom, and acquires a gracious “taste” which enables him to judge of right and wrong with a degree of readiness and certainty as a musical ear judges sounds, so that he is rarely mistaken. He who has the Word ruling in his heart is influenced thereby in all his actions, and because the glory of God is the great aim which he has before him, he is not suffered to go far wrong. Moreover, God has promised to show Himself strong on the behalf of the one whose heart is perfect toward Him, and this He does by regulating His providences and causing all things to work together for his good. “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matt. 6:22). This language is of course figurative, yet its meaning is not difficult to ascertain: what the eye is to the body, the heart is to the soul, for out of the heart are “the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). The actions of the body are directed by the light received from the eye: if the eye be “single,” that is, sound and clear, perceiving objects as they really are, then the whole body has light for the directing of its members, and the man moves with safety and comfort. In like manner, if the heart be undivided, set on pleasing God in all things, then the soul has clear vision, discerning the true nature of things, forming a sound judgment of their worth, choosing wisely, and directing itself prudently. While the heart is right with God, the soul is endowed with spiritual wisdom so that there is full light for our path. “But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). Here is the solemn contrast. If the vision of our bodily eye be defective, a cataract dimming it, then nothing is seen clearly, all is confusion, and the man stumbles as if in the dark, being continually liable to lose his way and run into danger. In like manner, where the heart be not right with God, where sin and self dominate, the whole soul is under the reigning power of darkness-native depravity; and in consequence, the judgment is blinded so that it cannot rightly discern between good and evil, cannot see through the gild of Satan’s baits, and so is fatally deceived by them. The very “light” which is in fallen man, namely, his “reason,” is controlled by his lusts, so, great is his “darkness.”

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