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"Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory."
Ps. 73 : 23, 24.
TWO weeks ago this morning we considered the question of God's guidance and how to obtain it. We have to-day a closely related subject, How God Guides. There are no promises of God's Word more precious to the man who wishes to do His will, and who realizes the goodness of His will, than the promises of His guidance. What a cheering, gladdening, inspiring thought that contained in the text is, that we may have the guidance of infinite wisdom and love at every turn of life and that we have it to the end of our earthly pilgrimage.
There are few more precious words in the whole book of Psalms, which is one of the most precious of all the books of the Bible, than these: "Thou hast holden my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory." How the thoughtful and believing and obedient heart burns as it reads these wonderful words of the text. I wish we had time to dwell upon the characteristics of God's guidance as they are set forth in so many places in the Word of God, but we must turn at once to consideration of the means God uses in guiding us.
I. GOD GUIDES BY HIS WORD.
First of all God guides by His word. We read in Ps. 119:105, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path," and in the 130th verse of this same Psalm we read, The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple." God's own written word is the chief instrument that God uses in our guidance. God led the children of Israel by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The written Word, the Bible, is our pillar of cloud and fire. As it leads we follow. One of the main purposes of the Bible, the Word of God, is practical guidance in the affairs of everyday life. All other leadings must be tested by the Word. Whatever promptings may come to us from any other source, whether it be by human counsel, or by the prompting of some invisible spirit, or in whatever way it may come, we must test the promptings, or the guidance or the counsel by the sure Word of God, "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20). Whatever spirit or impulse may move us, whatever dream or vision may come to us, or whatever apparently providential opening we may have, all must be tested by the Word of God. If the impulse or leading, or prompting, or vision, or providential opening is not according to the book, it is not of God. "The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my Word, let him speak my Word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD" (Jer. 23:28). If Christians would only study the Word they would not be misled as they so often are by seducing spirits, or by impulses of any kind, that are not of God but of Satan or of their own deceitful hearts. How often people have said to me that the Spirit was leading them to do this or that, when the thing that they were being led to do was in direct contradiction to God's Word. For example, a man once called upon me to consult me about marrying a woman who he said was a beautiful Christian, and that they had deep sympathy in the work of God, and the Spirit of God was leading them to marry one another. "But," I said to the man, "you already have one wife." "Yes," he replied, "but you know we have not gotten on well together." "Yes, I said, "I know that, and furthermore, I have had a conversation with her and believe it is your fault more than hers. But, however that may be, if you should put her away and marry this other woman, Jesus
Christ says that you would be an adulterer." "Oh, but," he replied, "the Spirit of God is leading us to one another." Now whatever spirit may have been leading that man, it certainly was not the Spirit of God, for the Spirit of God cannot lead anyone to do that which is in direct contradiction to the Word of God. I replied to this man: "You are a liar and a blasphemer. How dare you attribute to the Spirit of God action that is directly contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ?" Many, many times Christian people have promptings from various sources which they attribute to the Holy Spirit, but which are in plain and flat contradiction to the clear and definite teachings of God's Word. The truth is, many so neglect the Word that they are all in a maze regarding the impulses and leadings that come to them, as to whence they are ; whereas, if they studied the Word they would at once detect the real character of these
But the Word itself must be used in a right way if we are to find the leading of God from it. We have no right to seek guidance from the Word of God by using it in any fantastic way, as some do. For example, there is no warrant whatever in the Word of God for trying to find out God's will by opening the Bible at random and putting our finger on some text without regard to its real meaning as made clear by the context. There is no warrant whatever in the Bible for any such use of it. The Bible is not a talisman, or a fortune-telling book, it is not in any sense a magic book; it is a revelation from an infinitely wise God made in a reasonable way, to reasonable beings, and we obtain God's guidance from the Bible by taking the verse of Scripture in which the guidance is found, in the connexion in which it is found in the Bible, and interpreting it, led by the Holy Spirit, in its context as found in the Bible. Many have fallen into all kinds of fanaticism by using their Bible in this irrational and fantastic way. Some years ago a prediction was made by a somewhat prominent woman Bible teacher that on a certain date Oakland and Alameda and some other California cities, and I think also Chicago, were to be swallowed up in an earthquake. The definite day was set and many were in anticipation, and many in great dread. A friend of mine living in Chicago was somewhat disturbed over the matter and sought God's guidance by opening her Bible at random, and this was the passage to which she opened: Ezek. 12: 17-28, "Moreover the word of the LORD came to me saying, Son of man, eat thy bread with quaking, and drink thy water with trembling and with carefulness; and say unto the people of the land, Thus saith the Lord GOD of the inhabitants of Jerusalem,, and of the land of Israel: They shall eat their bread with carefulness, and drink their water with astonishment, that her land may be desolate from all that is therein, because of the violence of all them that dwell therein. And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid waste, and the land shall be desolate; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth. Tell them therefore, Thus saith the LORD God; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision. For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel. For I am the LORD: I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass; it shall le no more prolonged: for in your days, rebellious house will I say the word, and will perform it, saith the Lord GOD. Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying, Son of man, behold they of the house of Israel say, The vision that he seeth is for many days to come, and he prophesieth of the times that are far off. Therefore say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; There shall none of my words be prolonged any more, but the word which I have spoken shall le done, saith the Lord GOD." Of course, this seemed like a direct answer, and, if it were a direct answer, it clearly meant that the prophecy of the destruction of Oakland, Alameda, and Chicago would be fulfilled at once, on the day predicted. The woman told me of this that very day, but I was not at all disturbed. As we all know, the prophecy was not fulfilled, and this would-be prophetess sank out of sight, and as far as I know has not been heard from since. Many years afterward an earthquake did come to San Francisco and work great destruction, but San Francisco was not in this woman's prophecy, and Oakland and Alameda were, and they were left practically untouched by the earthquake and certainly did not sink out of sight as the woman predicted. And furthermore, the earthquake that came to an adjoining city was many years after the prophesied date. This is only one illustration among many that might be given of how utterly misleading is any guidance that we get in this fantastic and unwarranted way.
Furthermore, the fact that some text of Scripture comes into your mind at some time when you are trying to discover God's will is not by any means proof positive that it is just the Scripture for you at that time. The devil can suggest Scripture. He did this in tempting our Lord (Matt. 4:6), and he does it to-day. If the text suggested, taken in its real meaning as determined by the language used and by the context, applies to your present position, it is, of course, a message from God for you but the mere fact that a text of Scripture comes to mind at some time, which by a distortion from its proper meaning might apply to our case, is no evidence whatever that it is the guidance of God. May I repeat once more that in getting guidance from God's Word we must take the words as they are found in their connexion, and interpret them according to the proper meaning of the words used and apply them to those to whom it is evident from the context that they were intended to apply. But with this word of warning against seeking God's guidance from the Word of God in fantastic and unwarranted ways, let me repeat that God's principal way of guiding us, and the way by which all other methods must be tested, is by His written Word.
II. GOD LEADS BY HIS SPIRIT.
God also leads us by His Spirit, i.e., by the direct leading of the Spirit in the individual heart. Beyond a question there is such a thing as an "inner light." We read in Acts 8:29, "And the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near and join thyself to this chariot." In a similar way we read in Acts 16 : 6, 7, of the Apostle Paul and his companions: "And they went through the region of Phrygia and the region of Galatia, having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia ; and when they were come over against Mysia they assayed to go into Bithynia ; and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not." In one of these passages we see the Spirit of God by His Holy Spirit giving direct personal guidance to Philip as to what he should do, and in the other passage we see the Spirit restraining Paul and his companions from doing some thing they would otherwise have done. There is no reason why God should not lead us as directly as he led Philip and Paul in their day, and those who walk near God can testify that He does so lead. I was once walking on South Clark Street, Chicago, near the corner of Adams, a very busy corner. I had passed by hundreds of people as I walked. Suddenly I met a man, a perfect stranger, and it seemed to me as if the Spirit of God said to me, "Speak to that man." I stopped a moment and stepped into a doorway and asked God to show me if the guidance was really from Him. It became instantly clear that it was. I turned around and followed the man, who had reached the corner and was crossing from one side of Clark street to the other. I caught up to him in the middle of the street. Providentially, for a moment there was no traffic at that point. Even on that busy street, we were alone in the middle of the street. I laid my hand upon his shoulder as we crossed to the further sidewalk, and said to him, "Are you a Christian?" He replied, "That is a strange thing to ask a perfect stranger on the street." I said, "I know it is, and I do not ask every man that I meet on the street that question, but I believe God told me to ask you." He stopped and hung his head. He said, "This is very strange. I am a graduate of Amherst College, but I am a perfect wreck through drink here in Chicago, and only yesterday my cousin, who is a minister in this city, was speaking to me about my soul, and for you, a perfect stranger, to put this question to me here on this busy street!" I did not succeed in bringing the man to a decision there on the street, but shortly afterward he was led to a definite acceptance of Christ. A friend of mine walking the busy streets of Toronto suddenly had a deep impression that he should go to the hospital and speak to some one out there. He tried to think of anyone he knew at the hospital and he could think of but one man. He took it for granted that he was the man he was to speak to, but when he reached the hospital and came to this man's bedside there was no reason why he should speak to him, and nothing came of the conversation. He was in great perplexity, and standing by his friend's bed he asked God to guide him. He saw a man lying on the bed right across the aisle. This man was a stranger, he had been brought to the hospital for an apparently minor trouble, some difficulty with his knee. His case did not seem at all urgent, but my friend turned and spoke to him and had the joy of leading him to Christ. To everybody's surprise, that man passed into eternity that very night. It was then or never. So God often guides us to-day (if we are near Him and listening for His guidance) leading us to do things that we would not otherwise do, and restraining us from doing things we otherwise would do. But these inward leadings must be always tested by the Word, and we do well when any prompting comes to look up to God and ask Him to make clear to us if this leading is of Him, otherwise we may be led to do things which are absurd and not at all according to the will of God.
But though it is oftentimes our privilege to be thus led by the Spirit of God, there is no warrant whatever in the Word of God for our refusing to act until we are thus led. Remember this is not God's only method of guidance. Oftentimes we do not need this particular kind of guidance. Take the cases of Philip and of Paul to which we have referred. God did not guide Philip and Paul in this way in every step they took. Philip had done many things in coming down through Samaria to the desert where he met the treasurer of Queen Candace, and it was not until the chariot of the treasurer appeared that God led Philip directly by His Spirit. And so with Paul, Paul in the missionary work to which God had called him had followed his own best judgment as God enlightened it until the moment came when he needed the special direct prohibition of the Holy Spirit of his going into a place where God would not have him go at that time. There is no need for our having the Spirit's direction to do that which the Spirit has already told us to do in the Word. For example, many a man who has fanatical and unscriptural notions about the guidance of the Holy Spirit, refuses to work in an after meeting because, as he says, the Holy Spirit does not lead him to speak to anyone, and he is waiting until He does. But as the Word of God plainly teaches him to be a fisher of men (Matt. 4:19; 28:19; Acts. 8:4), if he is to obey God's word then whenever there is opportunity to work with men he should go to work, and there is no need of the Holy Spirit's special guidance. Paul would have gone into these places to preach the gospel if the Holy Spirit had not forbidden him. He would not have waited for some direct command of the Spirit to preach, and when we have an opportunity to speak to lost souls we should speak unless restrained. What we need is not some direct impulse of the Holy Spirit to make us speak, the Word already commands us to do that; what we need, if we are not to speak, is that the Spirit should directly forbid us to speak. Furthermore, let me repeat again that we should bear in mind about the Spirit's guidance, that He will not lead us to do anything that is contrary to the Word of God. The Word of God is the Holy Spirit's book, and He never contradicts His own teaching. Many people do things that are strictly forbidden in the Word of God, and justify themselves in so doing by saying the Spirit of God guides them to do it, but any spirit that guides us to do something that is contrary to the Holy Spirit's own book cannot by any possibility be the Holy Spirit. For example, some time ago in reasoning with one of the leaders of the Tongues Movement about the utterly unscriptural character of their assemblies, I called his attention to the fact that in the 14th chapter of 1st Corinthians we have God's explicit command that not more than two, or at the most three, persons should be allowed to speak "in a tongue" in any one meeting, and that the two or three that did speak must not speak at the same time, but "in turn," and if there were no interpreter present, not even one should be allowed to speak in a tongue, that (while he might speak in private with himself in a tongue, even with no interpreter present) he must "keep silence in the church." I called his attention to the fact that in their assembly they disobeyed every one of these three things that God commanded. He defended himself and his companions by saying, "But we are led by the Spirit of God to do these things, and therefore are not subject to the Word." I called his attention to the fact that Word of God in this passage was given by the Holy Spirit for the specific purpose of guiding the assembly in its conduct, and that any spirit that led them to disobey these explicit commandments of the Holy Spirit Himself, given through His Apostle Paul and recorded in His Word, could not by any possibility be the Holy Spirit. Here again we should always bear in mind that there are other spirits beside the Holy Spirit, and we should "try the spirits whether they be of God," and we should try them by the Word. One of the gravest mistakes that anyone can make in his Christian life is that of being so anxious for spirit guidance that he is willing to open his soul to any spirit who may come along and try to lead him.
Further still, we should always bear in mind that there is absolutely no warrant in the Word of God for supposing that the Holy Spirit leads up in strange and absurd ways, or to do strange and absurd things. For example, some have certain signs by which they discern, as they say, the Holy Spirit's guidance. For example, some look for a peculiar twitching of the face, or for some other physical impulse. With some the test is a shudder, or cold sensation down the back. When this comes they take is as clear evidence that the Holy Spirit is present. In a former day, and to a certain extent to-day, some judge the Spirit's presence by what they call "the jerks," that is, a peculiar jerking that takes possession of a person, which they suppose to be the work of the Holy Spirit. All this is absolutely unwarranted by the Word of God and dishonouring to the Holy Spirit. We are told distinctly and emphatically in 2 Tim. 1:7 that the Holy Spirit is a spirit "of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." The word translated "sound mind" really means sound sense, and, therefore, any spirit that leads us to do ridiculous things, cannot be the Holy Spirit. There are some who defend the most outrageous improprieties and even indecencies in public assemblies, saying that the Holy Spirit prompts them to these things. By this claim they fly directly in the face of God's own Word, which teaches us specifically in 1 Cor. 14: 32, 33, that "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace." And in the 40th verse we are told that "all things" in a Spirit-governed assembly should be "done decently and in order. The word translated "decently" in this passage means "in a becoming (or respectable) way," and this certainly does not permit the disorders and immodesties, and confusions and indecencies and absurdities that occur in many assemblies that claim to be Spirit led, but which, tested by the Word of God, certainly are not led by the Holy Spirit.
III. GOD GUIDES US BY ENLIGHTENING OUR JUDGMENT.
In the third place God guides us by enlightening our judgment. We see an illustration of this in the case of the Apostle Paul in Acts 16 : 10. God had been guiding Paul by a direct impression produced in his heart by the Holy Spirit, keeping him from going to certain places whither he would otherwise have gone. Then God gives to Paul in the night a vision, and, having received the vision, Paul, by his own enlightened judgment, concludes from it what God has called him to do. This is God's ordinary method of guidance when His Word does not specifically tell us what to do. "We go to God for wisdom, we make sure that our wills are completely surrendered to Him, and that we realize our dependence upon Him for guidance, then God clears up our judgment and makes it clear to us what we should do. Here again we should always bear in mind that "God is light and in Him is no darkness at all," and that, therefore, God's guidance is clear guidance, and we should not act until things are made perfectly plain. Many miss God's guidance by doing things too soon. Had they waited until God had enabled them to see clearly, under the illumination of His Holy Spirit, they would have avoided disastrous mistakes. The principle that "he that believeth shall not make haste" (Isa. 28 : 16) applies right here. On the other hand, when any duty is made clear we should do it at once. If we hesitate to act when the way is made clear, then we soon get into doubt and perplexity and are all at sea as to what God would have us do. Many and many a man has seen the path of duty as clear as day before him, and instead of stepping out at once, has hesitated even when the will of God has become perfectly clear, and before long he was plunged into absolute uncertainty as to what God would have him do.
IV. GOD MAY GUIDE BY VISIONS AND DREAMS.
In Acts 16:9, 10, we are told how God guided Paul by a vision, and there are other instances of such guidance not only before Pentecost, but after. God may so guide people to-day. However, that was not God's usual method of guiding men even in Bible times, and it is even less His usual way since the giving of the Word of God and the giving of the Holy Spirit. We do not need that mode of guidance as the Old Testament saints did, for we now have the complete Word and we also have the Spirit in a sense and in a fullness that the Old Testament saints did not. God does lead by dreams to-day. When I was a boy, sleeping in a room in our old home in Geneva, N. Y., I dreamed I was sleeping in that room and that my mother, who I dreamed was dead (though she was really living at the time) came and stood by my bed, with a face like an angel, and besought me to enter the ministry, and in my sleep I promised her that I would. In a few moments I awoke and found it all a dream, but I never could get away from that promise. I never had rest in my soul until I did give up my plans for life and promise God that I would preach. But the matter of dreams is one in which we should exercise the utmost care, and we should be very careful and prayerful and Scriptural in deciding that any dream is from Him. Only the other day a brilliant and highly educated woman called at my office to tell me some wonderful dreams that she had and what these dreams proved. Her interpretation of the dreams was most extraordinary and fantastic. But while dreams are a very uncertain method of guidance, it will not do for us to say that God never so guides, but it is the height of folly to seek God's guidance in that way, and especially to dictate that God shall guide in that way.
HOW GOD GUIDES 167
V. GOD DOES NOT GUIDE BY CASTING LOTS IN THIS DISPENSATION.
In Acts 1:24-26 we learn that the Apostles sought guidance in a choice of one to take the place of Judas, by the lot. This method of finding God's will was common in the Old Testament times, but it belongs entirely to the old dispensation. This is the last case on record. It was never used after Pentecost. We need to-day no such crude way of ascertaining the will of God, as we have the Word and the Spirit at our disposal. Neither should we seek signs. That belongs to the imperfect dispensation that is past, and even then it was a sign of unbelief.
VI. GOD GUIDES BY HIS PROVIDENCE.
God has still another way of guiding us beside those already mentioned, and that is by His providences, i.e., He so shapes the events of our lives that it
becomes clear that He would have us go in a certain direction or do a certain thing. For example, God puts an unsaved man directly in our way so that we are alone with him and thus have an opportunity for conversation with him. In such a case we need no vision to tell us, and we need no mighty impulse of the Holy Spirit to tell us, that we ought to speak to this man about his soul. The very fact that we are alone with him and have an opportunity for conversation is of itself all the Divine guidance we need. We do need, however, to look to God to tell us what to say to him and how to say it, but God will not tell us what to say by some supernatural revelation, but by making clear to our own minds what we should say.
In a similar way if a man needs work to support himself or family, and a position for honest employment opens to him, he needs no inner voice, no direct leading of the Holy Spirit, to tell him to take the work, the opening opportunity is of itself God's guidance by God's providence.
We must, however, be very careful and very prayerful in interpreting "the leadings of providence." What some people call "the leading of providence" means no more than the easiest way. When Jonah was fleeing from God and went down to Joppa he found a ship just ready to start for Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). If he had been like many to-day he would have interpreted that as meaning it was God's will that he should go to Tarshish, as there was a ship just starting for Tarshish, instead of to Nineveh, to which city God had bidden him go. In point of fact, Jonah did take ship to Tarshish but he was under no illusion in the matter, he knew perfectly well that he was not going where God wanted him to go, and he got into trouble for it. Oftentimes people seek guidance by providence by asking God to shut up a certain way that is opening to them, if it is not His will that they should go that way. There is no warrant whatever for doing that. God has given us our judgment and is ready to illuminate our judgment, and we have no right to act the part of children and to ask Him to shut up the way so we cannot possibly go that way if it is not His will. Some fancy that the easy way is necessarily God's way, but oftentimes the hard way is God's way. Our Lord Himself said, as recorded in Matt. 16:24, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." That certainly is not the easy way. There are many who advise us to "follow the path of least resistance," but the path of least resistance is not always God's way by any means.
Some ask God to guide them providentially by removing all difficulties from the path in which He would have them go, but we have no right to offer such a prayer. God wishes us to be men and women of character and to surmount difficulties, and He oftentimes will allow difficulties to pile up in the very way in which we ought to go, and the fact that we see that a path is full of difficulties is no reason for deciding it is not the way God would have us go. Nevertheless, God does guide us by His providence, and we have no right to despise His providential guidance. For example, one may desire to go to China or to Africa as a missionary and God does not give them the health requisite for going to China or to Africa. They should take that as clear providential guidance that they ought not to go, and seek some other opportunity of serving God.
There are many people asking God to open some door of opportunity and God does open a door of opportunity right at hand, but it is not the kind of work they would especially like to do; so they decline to see in it a door of opportunity. The whole difficulty is that they are not wholly surrendered to the will of God.
Before we close this subject let us repeat again what cannot be emphasized too much nor too often, that all leadings, whether they be by the Spirit, by visions, by providences, by our own judgment, or advice of friends, or in any other way, must be tested by the Word of God.
The main point in the whole matter of guidance is the absolute surrender of the will to God, the delighting in His will, and the being willing to do joyfully the very things we would not like to do naturally, the very things in connection with which there may be many disagreeable circumstances, because, for example, of association with, or even subordination to those that we do not altogether like, or difficulties of other kinds, doing them joyfully, simply because it is the will of God, and the willingness to let God lead in any way He pleases, whether it be by His Word, or His Spirit, or by the enlightening of our judgment, or by His providence, or whatever way He will. If we will only completely distrust our own judgment and have absolute confidence in God's judgment and God's willingness to guide us, and are absolutely surrendered to His will, whatever it may be, and are willing to let God choose His way of guidance, and will go on step by step as He does guide us, and if we are daily studying His Word to know His will, and are listening for the still small voice of the Spirit, going step by step as He leads, He will guide us with His eye ; He will guide us with His counsel to the end of our earthly pilgrimage, and afterwards receive us into glory.