The Attributes of God
by Arthur Pink, 1935
The GUIDANCE of God
There is a need to amplify the positive aspect of divine guidance. There are few subjects which bear on the practical side of the Christian life, and that believers are more exercised about, than that they may be "led by the Lord" in all their ways. Yet when some important decision has to be made, they are often puzzled to know how "the Lord's mind" is obtained. Great numbers of tracts and booklets on this subject have been written, but they are so vague that they offer little help. There certainly exists a real need today for some clear, definitive treatment of the subject.
For some years I have been convinced that one thing which contributes much to shrouding this subject in mystery is the loose, misleading terms generally employed by those who refer to it. While such expressions are used,
"Is this according to God's will?"
"Do I have the prompting of the Holy Spirit?"
"Were you led by the Lord in that?"
—sincere minds will continue to be perplexed and never arrive at any certainty. These expressions are so commonly used in religious circles that probably quite a few readers will be surprised at our challenging them. We certainly do not condemn these expressions as erroneous, but rather 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? In connection with every decision we make, every plan we form, every action we execute, let the question be,
"Is this in harmony with God's Word?
Is it what the Scriptures enjoin?
Does it square with the rule God has given us to walk by?
Is it in accord with the example which Christ left us to follow?"
If it is 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 do what the Scriptures enjoin, then I must be "prompted by the Holy Spirit," for He never moves anyone 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 by the Lord," for He leads only into the "paths of righteousness" (Psalm 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?" with the simpler and more tangible question, "Is this according to God's Word?"
God, in His infinite condescension and transcendent grace, has given us His Word for this very purpose, so that we need not stumble along blindly, ignorant of what pleases or displeases Him—but that we might know His mind. That divine Word is given to us not simply for information, but . . .
to regulate our conduct,
to enlighten our minds,
and to mold our hearts.
The Word supplies us with an unerring chart by which to steer through the dangerous sea of life. If we sincerely and diligently follow, it will deliver us from disastrous rocks and submerged reefs, and direct us safely to the heavenly harbor. That Word has all the instructions we 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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:17). How thankful we should be that the Triune God has favored us with such a Word.
"Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105). The metaphor used here is taken from a man walking along a dangerous road on a dark night, in urgent need of a lantern to show him where to walk safely and comfortably, to avoid injury and destruction.
The same figure is used again in the New Testament. "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto you do well that you take heed, as unto a light that shines 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 able to perceive and avoid "the broad road which leads to destruction," and discern the narrow way which alone "leads unto Life."
It should be observed that this verse plainly intimates God has placed His Word in our hands for an intensely practical purpose, namely, to direct our walk and to regulate our deportment. At once this shows us what is 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 to admire its beautiful design. Rather he is to take it up and make a practical use of it.
Many are zealous in reading "the letter of Scripture," and many are charmed with the evidences of its divine Authorship. But how few realize the primary purpose for which God gave the Scriptures, how few make a practical use of them—ordering the details of their lives by its rules and regulations. They eulogize the lamp, but they do not walk by its light.
Our first need as little children was to learn to walk. The mother's milk was only 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 is to learn to walk, to walk as the children of God. This can be learned only as we ascertain our Father's will as revealed in Holy Writ. By nature we are totally ignorant of His will for us and of what promotes our highest interests. It is solemn and humbling that man is the only creature born into this world devoid of intelligence as to how to act, and who needs 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 what is harmful, and to follow what is good. But not so man. Animals and birds do not have to be taught which herbs and berries are poisonous; they need no curbs upon them not to overeat or over-drink—you cannot even force a horse or a cow to gorge 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! Usually he 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. Too bad that so many only discover this when it is too late, when they have wrecked their constitutions beyond repair.
Some may answer to this, "But man is endowed with a conscience." True, but how well does it serve him until he is 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 (Proverbs 22:15), that until he is instructed he does not know what God requires of him, nor what is for his highest good. That is why God gave 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 leads to Heaven (Hebrews 12:14); and to acquaint us with the rules which must be observed if we are to walk that highway.
Our first duty, and our first aim, must be to take up the Scriptures to ascertain what is God's revealed will for us, what are the paths He forbids us to walk, 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 which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15); "the friendship of the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4); "he who hastens with his feet sins" (Proverbs 19:2).
Many things are also commanded which can only be known if we acquaint ourselves with its contents. For example, "Lean not unto your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5); "Put not your trust in princes, nor in man, in whom there is no help" (Psalm 146:3); "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
The above are but samples of hundreds of others. 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, particularly until we are informed on the practical rules God has given us to walk by. Hence it should be obvious that the first need of the Christian is not to delve into the intricacies and mysteries of Scripture, study the prophecies, nor entertain himself with the wonderful types therein. Rather he needs to concentrate on what will instruct him as to the kind of conduct which will be pleasing to the Lord. The 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.
"Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful" (Joshua 1:8). God will be no man's debtor. In keeping His commands there is "great reward" (Psalm 19:11). Part of that reward is deliverance from being deceived by the false appearances of things, from forming erroneous estimates, from pursuing a foolish policy. Part of that reward is acquiring wisdom so that we choose what is good, act prudently, and follow those paths which lead to righteousness, peace, and joy. He who treasures the divine precepts in his heart, and diligently seeks to walk by their rule, will escape those evils which destroy his fellows.
"If any man walks in the day, he stumbles not, because he sees the light of this world" (John 11:9). To walk in the day means to be in communion with One who is Light, to conduct ourselves according to His revealed will. Just so far as the Christian walks in the path of duty, as defined for him in the Word, will he walk surely and comfortably. The light of that Word makes the way plain before him, and he is preserved from falling over the obstacles with which Satan seeks to trip him.
"But if a man walks in the night, he stumbles, because there is no light in him" (verse 10). Here is the solemn contrast: he who walks according to the dictates of his lusts and follows 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 who follows 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 to enjoy the "light of life"; that is only obtained by following Christ. Notice the tense of the verb: it is "he who follows me," which signifies a steady, continuous course of action. 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" (Romans 15:3). It is absolutely essential that self-will and self-pleasing be mortified, if we are to be delivered from walking in darkness.
The unchanging order is made known by Christ, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). 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 hence forth live unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us (2 Corinthians 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 to God, to use all our faculties for 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 "following" Christ? It means to take His yoke upon us (Matthew 11:29), and live in complete subjection to Him; 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; to emulate the example which He left us—and He was subject to the Scriptures in all things. As we follow Him, we "shall not walk in darkness." We will be in happy fellowship with Him who is the true light. For our encouragement, for they were men of like passions—it is recorded of Caleb and Joshua, "they have wholly followed the Lord" (Numbers 32:12). Having put their hand to the plow, they did not look back. Consequently, instead of perishing in the wilderness with their disobedient fellows, they entered the promised land.
Thus the great business, the crucial 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, and 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 he escapes the snares of the devil.
"Through knowledge shall the just be delivered" (Proverbs 11:9). Yes, great is the reward of keeping God's commandments. "Then shall you understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yes, every good path. When wisdom enters into your heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto your soul; discretion shall preserve you, understanding shall keep you" (Proverbs 2:9-11).
It is well for those who are sensitive to both their own weakness and fallibility, and the difficulties with which they are surrounded in life, that the Lord has promised to guide His people with His eye, to cause them to hear, "This is the way—walk in it," when they are in danger of turning aside.
For this purpose He has given to us the written Word as a lamp to our feet, and encourages us to pray for the teaching of His Holy Spirit so that we may rightly understand and apply it.
However, too often many widely deviate from the path of duty and commit gross, perplexing mistakes—while they profess a sincere desire to know the will of God, and think they have His warrant and authority. This must certainly be due to misapplication of the rule by which they judge, since the rule itself is infallible. The Scriptures cannot deceive us, if rightly understood; but they may, if perverted, confirm us in a mistake. The Holy Spirit cannot mislead those under His influence; but we may suppose that we are so, when we are not.
Many have been deceived as to what they ought to do, or into forming a judgment beforehand of events in which they are closely concerned, by expecting direction in ways which the Lord has not warranted. Here are some of the principal ones:
Some, when two or more things were in view, and they could not immediately determine which to prefer, committed their case to the Lord in prayer. Then they have proceeded to cast lots, taking it for granted, after such a solemn appeal, that the turning up of the lot might be safely rested on as an answer from God. It is true, the Scripture (and right reason) assures us that the Lord disposes the lot. Several cases are recorded in the Old Testament where lots were used by divine appointment. But I think neither these, nor the choosing of Matthias to the apostleship by lot, are proper precedents for our conduct. In the division of the land of Canaan, in the affair of Achan, and in the nomination of Saul to the kingdom, recourse to lots was by God's express command. The instance of Matthias likewise was singular, since it can never happen again (namely, the choice of an apostle).
All these were before the canon of Scripture was completed, and before the full descent and communication of the Holy Spirit, who was promised to dwell with the Church to the end of time. Under the New Testament dispensation, we are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace, to make our request known to the Lord, and to cast our cares upon Him. But we have neither precept nor promise respecting the use of lots. To have recourse to them without His appointment seems to be tempting Him, rather than honoring Him, and it savors more of presumption than dependence. Effects of this expedient have often been unhappy and hurtful—this is a sufficient proof of how little it is to be trusted as a guide of our conduct.
Others, when in doubt, have opened the Bible and expected to find something to direct them to the first verse they should cast their eye upon. It is no small discredit to this practice that the heathens used some of their favorite books in the same way. They based their persuasions of what they ought to do, or what would befall them, according to the passage they happened upon. Among the Romans, the writings of Virgil were frequently consulted on these occasions. Indeed, Virgil is as well adapted to satisfy inquiries in this way, as the Bible itself. For if people will be governed by the occurrence of a single text of Scripture without regarding the context, or comparing it with the general tenor of the Word and with their own circumstances, they may commit the greatest extravagances. They may expect the greatest impossibilities, and contradict the plainest dictates of common sense, and all the while they think they have the Word of God on their side.
Can opening to 2 Samuel 7:3, when Nathan said unto David, "Do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you," be sufficient to determine the lawfulness or expediency of actions?
Or can a glance of the eye upon our Lord's words to the woman of Canaan, "Be it unto you even as you will" (Matthew 15:28), amount to proof that the present earnest desire of the mind (whatever it may be) shall be surely accomplished? Yet it is certain that big matters with important consequences have been engaged in, and the most optimistic expectations formed, upon no better warrant than dipping (as it is called) upon a text of Scripture.
A sudden strong impression of a textthat seems to have some resemblance to the concern on the mind has been accepted by many as an infallible token that they were right, and that things would go just as they would have them. Or, on the other hand, if the passage bore a threatening aspect—it has filled them with fears which they have found afterwards were groundless. These impressions have been more generally regarded and trusted to, but have frequently proved no less delusive.
It is true that such impressions of a precept or a promise that humble, animate, or comfort the soul, by giving it a lively sense of the truth contained in the words—are both profitable and pleasant. Many of the Lord's people have been instructed and supported (especially in a time of trouble) by some seasonable word of grace applied and sealed by His Spirit to their hearts.
But if impressions or impulses are received as a voice from Heaven, directing to particular actions that could not be proved to be duties without them—then a person may be inwardly misled into great evils and gross delusions. Many have been so. There is no doubt that the enemy of our souls, if permitted, can furnish us with Scriptures in abundance for these purposes.
Some people judge of the nature and event of their designs by the freedom they find in prayer. They say that they commit their ways to God, seek His direction, and are favored with much enlargement of spirit. Therefore they cannot doubt but what they have in view is acceptable in the Lord's sight.
I would not absolutely reject every plea of this kind—yet without other corroborating evidence I could not admit it as proof.
It is not always easy to determine when we have spiritual freedom in prayer. Self is deceitful. When our hearts are much fixed upon a thing, this may put words and earnestness into our mouths. Too often we first determine secretly for ourselves, and then ask counsel of God. In such a disposition we are ready to grasp at everything that may seem to favor our darling scheme. And the Lord, for the detecting and chastisement of our hypocrisy (for hypocrisy it is, though perhaps hardly perceptible to ourselves), may answer us according to our idols (see Ezekiel 14:3-4).
Besides, the grace of prayer may be in exercise when the subject matter of the prayer may be founded upon a mistake, from the intervention of circumstances with which we are unacquainted. Thus, I may have a friend in a distant country. I hope he is alive, I pray for him, and it is my duty to do so. The Lord, by His Spirit, assists His people in their present duty. If I can pray with much liberty for my distant friend, it may be a proof that the Spirit is pleased to assist my infirmities, but it is no proof my friend is alive at the time I pray for him. If the next time I pray for him I should find my spirit straitened, I am not to conclude that my friend is dead, and therefore the Lord will not assist me in praying for him any longer.
Once more, a remarkable dream has often been thought as decisive as any of these methods of knowing the will of God. True, many wholesome and seasonable admonitions have been received in dreams. But to pay great attention to dreams, or especially to be guided by them, to form our sentiments, conduct our expectations upon them—is superstitious and dangerous. The promises are not made to those who dream, but to those who watch.
The Lord may give to some upon occasion, a hint or encouragement out of the common way. But to seek His direction in such things as just mentioned is unscriptural and ensnaring. Some presumed they were doing God's service while acting in contradiction to His express commands. Others were infatuated to believe a lie, declaring themselves assured beyond the shadow of a doubt of things, which never came to pass. When they were disappointed, Satan improved the occasion to make them doubt the plainest and most important truths, and to count their whole former experience as a delusion. These things have caused weak believers to stumble, offenses against the Gospel have multiplied, and evil spoken of the way of truth.
After all these negative premises, the question may be answered in a few words. In general, He directs His people by affording them, in answer to prayer, the light of His Holy Spirit, which enables them to understand and love the Scriptures. The Word of God is not to be used as a lottery, nor is it designed to instruct us by shreds and scraps, which detached from their proper places have no determined import. But it is to furnish us with just principles, right apprehensions—to regulate our judgments and affections, thereby to influence and regulate our conduct.
How, then, may the Lord's guidance be expected?
Those who study the Scriptures in humble dependence upon divine teaching are convinced of their own weakness. They are taught to make a true estimate of everything around them and are gradually formed into a spirit of submission to the will of God. They discover the nature and duties of their situations and relations in life, and the snares and temptations to which they are exposed. The Word of God dwelling in them is . . .
a preservative from error,
a light to their feet, and
a spring of strength and consolation.
By treasuring up the doctrines, precepts, promises, examples, and exhortations of Scripture in their minds—and daily comparing them with the rule by which they walk—they grow into a habitual frame of spiritual wisdom. They acquire a gracious taste which enables them to judge right and wrong with a degree of certainty, as a musical ear judges sounds. They are seldom mistaken, because they are influenced by the love of Christ which rules in their hearts, and a regard for the glory of God.
In particular cases, the Lord opens and shuts for them, breaks down walls of difficulty which obstruct their path; or hedges up their way with thorns when they are in danger of going wrong. They know their concerns are in His hands; they are willing to follow where and when He leads but are afraid of running before Him. They are not impatient. Because they believe, they will not be hasty, but wait daily upon Him in prayer, especially when they find their hearts engaged in any pursuit. They are jealous of being deceived by appearances, and dare not move farther or faster than they can see His light shining upon their paths. I express at least their desire, if not their attainment.
Though there are seasons when faith languishes, and self prevails too much, this is their general disposition. And the Lord does not disappoint their expectations. He leads them on a right way, preserves them from a thousand snares, and satisfies them that He is and will be their Guide even unto death.
The positive side of the subject probably needs some amplification. The general rule may be stated thus: if we are daily concerned in seeking to please God in all the details, great and small, of our lives—then He will not leave us in ignorance of His will concerning us. But if we are accustomed to gratify self and only turn up to God for help in times of difficulty and emergency, then we must not be surprised if He mocks us and allows us to reap the fruits of our folly.
Our business is to walk in obedient subjection to Christ, and His sure promise is, "he who follows me shall not walk in darkness" (John 8:12).
Make sure you sincerely endeavor to follow the example Christ left us, and He will not leave you in uncertainty as to which step you should take when you come to the place of decision.
"Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the Lord's will is." (Ephesians 5:17). From this verse it is clear that it is both the right and the duty of the Christian to know 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 knows not what His Lord does. But I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15).
If we are in the dark as to how we ought to proceed in anything, it is clear that we are living far below our privileges. No doubt the majority of our readers will give 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 lives?
First, notice this exhortation, that we should be understanding "what the will of the Lord is," is preceded by "Therefore do not be foolish." 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 borne in mind as we arrive at the meaning of the second half of Ephesians 5:17.
Observe that Ephesians 5:17 opens with the word "Therefore," which points back to what immediately precedes: "See then that you walk carefully, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (verses 15-16). Unless those exhortations are prayerfully and diligently heeded, it is impossible that we "understand what the will of the Lord is." Unless our walk is right, there can be no spiritual discernment of God's will for us. This brings us back to a central thought. Our daily walk is to be ordered by God's Word. In proportion as it is so, we will be kept in His will and preserved from folly and sin.
"A good understanding have all those who keep His commandments" (Psalm 111:10). A good understanding may be defined as spiritual instinct. We all know what is meant by the instinct with which the Creator has endowed animals and birds. It is an inward faculty which prompts them to avoid danger and moves them to seek what is for their well-being.
Man was endowed originally with a similar instinct, though of a far superior order to that of lower creatures. But at the fall, he, to a large extent, lost it. As one generation of depraved beings followed another, their instinct has become more and more weakened, until now we see many conducting themselves with far less intelligence than the beasts of the field. They rush madly to destruction, which the instinct of the brutes would avoid. They act foolishly, yes, madly, contrary even to common sense, in conducting their affairs and concerns without discretion.
At regeneration, God gives His elect "the spirit . . . of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7), but that spirit has to be cultivated. It needs training and direction. The necessary instruction is found in the Word. From that Word we learn . . .
what things will prove beneficial to us,
and what will be injurious to us;
what things to seek after,
and what things to avoid.
As the precepts of Scripture are reduced to practice by us, and as its prohibitions and warnings are heeded, we are able 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 this will prove to be the case with us: a good judgment or spiritual instinct will form in us, so that we 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 your commandments" (Psalm 119:66). He realizes it can only be increased as he is divinely taught 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 it.
But note that in this prayer the petition is backed up with a plea, "for I have believed in Your commandments." "Believed" is not merely an intellectual assent, but approved with the affections. Only when that is the case, is such a petition sincere. There is an inseparable connection between these two things. Where God's commandments are loved by us, we can count upon Him to teach us good judgment.
As we said, 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 lives. God "honors" those who honor Him (1 Samuel 2:30). He gives them "good judgment."
True, it is not acquired all in a day, but "here a little and there a little." Yet the more completely we surrender to God, the more the principles of His Word regulate our conduct—the swifter will be our growth in spiritual wisdom. In saying that this good judgment is not acquired all at once, we do not mean that a whole lifetime has to be lived before it becomes ours, though this is often the case with many. Some who have been converted but a few years are often more spiritual, godly, and possess more spiritual wisdom—than those who were converted years before.
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. He 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 by it in all his actions. Because the glory of God is the great aim before him, he is not permitted to go far wrong. Moreover, God has promised to show Himself strong on behalf of the one whose heart is perfect toward Him. He does this by regulating His providences and causing all things to work together for his good.
"The light of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is single, your whole body shall be full of light" (Matthew 6:22). The language is 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" (Proverbs 4:23). The actions of the body are directed by the light received from the eye. If the eye is single, that is, sound and clear, perceiving objects as they really are—then the whole body has light to direct its members, and the man moves with safety and comfort.
In like manner, if the heart is 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. When the heart is right with God, the soul is endowed with spiritual wisdom, so that there is full light for our path.
"But if your eye is evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness"! (Matthew 6:23). Here is the solemn contrast. If the vision of our bodily eye is defective, a cataract dimming it—then nothing is seen clearly. All is confusion, the man stumbles as if in the dark, as if continually liable to lose his way and run into danger.
In like manner, where the heart is not right with God, where sin and self dominate—the whole soul is under the reign of darkness. In consequence, the judgment is blinded so that it cannot rightly discern between good and evil, and cannot see through the gild of Satan's baits, and thus 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.
The verses we have just considered were spoken by Christ immediately after what He had been saying about the right laying up of treasures (Matthew 6:19-21). It was as though He both anticipated and answered a question from His disciples. If it is so important for us not to lay up treasures in earth, but rather treasures in Heaven—then why is it that the men commonly regarded as the shrewdest, and considered to be the most successful, seek after earthly treasures, rather than heavenly ones? To this Christ replied: marvel not at this—they cannot see what they are doing; they are like blind men gathering pebbles—and supposing that they are valuable diamonds.
Christ casts much light on what we now see on every side. Those who have set their hearts on things of time and sense, are but spending their energies for that which will stand them in no stead with God when they come to their deathbeds. They labor for that which satisfies not (Isaiah 55:2). The reason they conduct themselves so insanely—pursuing so eagerly the pleasures of this world, which will bear nothing but bitter regrets in the world to come—is because their hearts are evil. God has no real place in their thoughts, and so He gives them up to the spirit of madness.
There must be the single eye—the heart set upon pleasing God—if the soul is to be filled with heavenly wisdom, which loves, seeks, and lays up heavenly things. That wisdom is something which no university can impart. It is "from above" (James 3:17).
It should be noted that our Lord's teaching upon the "single eye," with the whole body "full of light," and the "evil eye" with the whole body "full of darkness," is immediately followed with, "No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24).
This at once establishes the meaning of the preceding verses. Christ had been speaking (in a figure) of setting the Lord supremely before the heart, which necessarily involves casting out worldly things and fleshly considerations. Men think that they can have both God and their lusts, both God and mammon, both God and worldly pleasures. No! says Christ. God will have all, or nothing. He who serves Him, must serve Him singly and supremely. Are you willing to pay the price to have divine light on your path?
We have not attempted to enter into specific details and state how a person is to act when some difficult or sudden emergency confronts him. Rather we have sought to treat of basic principles and thoroughly establish them. Though it might satisfy curiosity, it would serve no good purpose for a teacher to explain an intricate problem in higher mathematics to a student who had not already mastered the elementary rules of arithmetic. So it would be out of place to explain how particular cases or circumstances are to be handled, before we have presented those rules which must guide our general walk.
Thus far we have dealt with two main things:
1. The absolute necessity of being controlled by the Word of God in our outward walk.
2. The having a heart within which is single to God's glory and set upon pleasing Him—if we are to have the light of Heaven on our earthly path.
3. A third consideration must now engage our attention: the help of the Holy Spirit. But at this point we most need to be on our guard, lest we lapse into a vague mysticism on the one hand, or become guilty of wild fanaticism on the other. Many have plunged into the most foolish and evil courses under the plea they were "prompted by the Spirit." No doubt they were prompted by some spirit, but most certainly not by the Holy Spirit! HE never prompts anything contrary to the Word. Our only safety is to impartially bring our inward impulses to the test of Holy Writ.
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14). This divine Guide is perfectly acquainted with the path God has ordained for each celestial traveler. He is fully conversant with all its windings and narrowness, its intricacies and dangers. To be led by the Spirit, is to be under His government. He . . .
perceives our temptations and weakness,
knows our aspirations,
hears our groans, and
marks our strugglings after holiness.
He knows when . . .
to supply a check,
to administer a rebuke,
to apply a promise,
to sympathize with a sorrow,
to strengthen a wavering purpose,
to confirm a fluctuating hope.
The sure promise is, "He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). He does so by regulating our thoughts, affections and conduct; by opening our understandings to perceive the meaning of Scripture, applying it in power to the heart, enabling us to appropriate and reduce it to practice. Each time we open the sacred volume, let us humbly and earnestly seek the aid of Him who inspired it.
Note that Romans 8:14 opens with "for." The apostle introduces a confirmation of what he had affirmed in the previous verses. Those who "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (verse 4); those who mind "the things of the Spirit" (verse 5); those who "through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body" (verse 13)—are the ones who are "led by the Spirit." As the Spirit of holiness, His aim is to deepen the imprint of the restored image of God in the soul, to increase our happiness by making us more holy. Thus He leads to nothing but what is sanctifying. The Spirit guides . . .
by subduing the power of indwelling sin,
by weaning us from the world,
by maintaining a tender conscience in us,
by drawing out the heart to Christ, by causing us to live for eternity.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6). Note the order: the promise at the close of the passage, is conditional upon our meeting three requirements.
First, we are to have full confidence in the Lord. The Hebrew verb for "trust" here literally means "to lean upon." It conveys the idea of one who is conscious of feebleness, turning unto and resting upon a stronger one for support.
To "trust in the Lord" signifies to count upon Him in every emergency, to look to Him for the supply of every need, to say with the psalmist, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not lack" (Psalm 23:1).
To "trust in the Lord" means that we cast all our cares upon Him, draw from Him strength hour by hour and thus prove the sufficiency of His grace.
To "trust in the Lord" means for the Christian to continue as he began. When we first cast ourselves upon Him as lost sinners, we abandoned all our own doings and relied upon His abounding mercy.
But what is meant by "trust in the Lord with all your heart?"
First, the giving to God our undivided confidence, not looking to any other for help and relief.
Second, turning to Him with childlike simplicity. When a little one trusts, there is no reasoning, but a simple taking of the parent's words at face value, fully assured that he will make good what he said. The child does not dwell on the difficulties in the way, but expects a fulfillment of what is promised. So it should be with us and our heavenly Father's words.
Third, it means with our affections going out to Him, "love believes all things, hopes all things," (1 Corinthians 13:7).
Thus, to trust in the Lord "with all our heart" is love's reliance in believing dependence and expectation.
The second requirement is, "and do not lean on your own understanding,'' which means we are not to trust in our own wisdom or rely upon the dictates of human reason. The highest act of human reason is to disown its sufficiency and bow before the wisdom of God. To lean on our own understanding is to rest upon a broken reed, for it has been deranged by sin. Yet many find it harder to repudiate their own wisdom, than they do to abandon their own righteousness. Many of God's ways are "past finding out." To seek to solve the mysteries of Providence is the finite attempting to comprehend the Infinite. Philosophizing about our lot, or reasoning about our circumstances, is fatal to rest of soul and peace of heart.
Third, "in all your ways acknowledge Him."
This means, first, we must ask God's permission for all that we do, and not act without His permission. Only then do we conduct ourselves as dutiful children and respectful servants.
It means, second, that we seek God's guidance in every undertaking, acknowledging our ignorance and owning our complete dependence upon Him. "In everything by prayer and supplication" (Philippians 4:6). Only so is God's lordship over us owned in a practical way.
It means, third, seeking God's glory in all our ways, "Whatever you do—do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). If we only did so, how very different many of our ways would be! If more frequently we paused and inquired—Will this be for God's glory? we would be withheld from much sinning and folly, with all its painful consequences.
It means, fourth, to seek God's blessing upon everything. Here is another simple and sufficient rule: anything on which I cannot ask God's blessing, is wrong.
"And He shall direct your paths." Meet the three conditions just mentioned, and this is the sure consequence. The need to be directed by God is real and pressing. Left to ourselves we are no better off than a rudderless ship, or an automobile without a steering wheel. It is not without reason that the Lord's people are so often termed "sheep," for no other creature is so apt to stray or has such a propensity to wander.
The Hebrew word for "direct" means "to make straight." We live in a world where everything is crooked. Sin has thrown everything out of joint, and in consequence confusion abounds all around us. A deceitful heart, a wicked world, and a subtle devil—ever seek to lead us astray and compass our destruction. How necessary it is, then, for God to "direct my paths."
What is meant by "He shall direct your paths?" It means, He will make clear to me the course of duty. God's "will" always lies in the path of duty, and never runs counter to it. Much needless uncertainty would be spared, if only this principle were recognized. When you feel a strong desire or prompting to shirk a plain duty—you may be assured it is a temptation from Satan, and not the leading of the Holy Spirit.
For example, it is contrary to God's revealed will for a woman to be constantly attending meetings, to the neglect of her children and home. It is shirking his responsibility for a husband to get off alone in the evenings, even in religious exercises, and leave his tired wife to wash the dishes and put the children to bed. It is a sin for a Christian employee to read the Scriptures or "speak to people about their souls" during business hours.
The difficulty arises when it appears we have to choose between two or more duties, or when some important change has to be made in our circumstances.
There are many people who think they need to be guided by God when some crisis arrives or some important decision has to be made. But few of them are prepared to meet the requirements intimated in the Scriptures. The fact is, that God was rarely in their thoughts before the emergency arose. Pleasing Him did not exercise them while things were going smoothly. But when difficulty confronts them, when they are at their wits end on how to act, they suddenly become very pious, turn to the Lord, earnestly ask Him to direct them and make His way plain.
But God cannot be imposed upon in any such manner. Usually such people make a rash decision and bring themselves into still greater difficulties. Then they attempt to console themselves with, "Well, I sought God's guidance."
God is not to be mocked like that. If we ignore His claims on us when the sailing is pleasant, we cannot count upon Him to deliver us when the storm comes. The One we have to do with is holy, and He will not set a premium upon godlessness (called by many "carelessness"), even though we howl like beasts when in anguish (Hosea 7:14). On the other hand, if we diligently seek grace to walk with God day by day, regulating our ways by His commandments; then we may rightfully count upon His aid in every emergency that arises.
But how is the conscientious Christian to act when some emergency confronts him? Suppose he stands at the dividing of the ways. Two paths, two alternatives, are before him—and he does not know which to choose. What must he do?
First, let him heed that most necessary word, which as a rule of general application is ever binding upon us, "he who believes shall not make haste" (Isaiah 28:16). To act from a sudden impulse never befits a child of God; and to rush ahead of the Lord is sure to involve us in painful consequences. "The Lord is good unto those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that a man should both hope, and quietly wait for the salvation [deliverance] of the Lord" (Lamentations 3:25-26).
To act in haste generally means that afterward we repent at leisure. How much each of us needs to beg the Lord to daily lay His quieting hand upon our feverish flesh!
Second, ask the Lord for Him to empty your heart of every wish of your own. It is impossible for us to sincerely pray, "May Your will be done"—until our own will has, by the power of the Holy Spirit, been brought into complete subjection to God. Just so long as there is a secret (but real) preference in my heart—my judgment will be biased. While my heart is really set upon the attainment of a certain object—then I only mock God when I ask Him to make His way plain; and I am sure to misinterpret all His providences, twisting them to fit my own desire. If an obstacle is in my path, I then regard it as a "testing of faith". If a barrier is removed, I at once jump to the conclusion that God is undertaking for me, when instead He may be testing me, on the eve of giving me up to my own "heart's lust" (Psalm 81:12).
This point is of supreme importance for those who desire their steps to be truly ordered by the Lord. We cannot discern His best for us, while the heart has its own preference. Thus it is imperative to ask God to empty our hearts of all personal preferences, to remove any secret, set desire of our own. But often it is not easy to take this attitude before God, the more so if we are not in the habit of seeking grace to mortify the flesh. By nature each of us wants his own way, and chafes against every curb placed upon us. Just as a photographic plate must be blank if it is to receive a picture upon it, so our hearts must be free from personal bias if God is to work in us "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).
If you find that as you continue to wait upon God, the inward struggle between the flesh and the spirit continues, and you have not reached the point where you can honestly say, "Have Your own way, Lord," then a season of fasting is in order. Ezra 8:21 reads, "Then I proclaimed a fast . . . that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones."
This is written for our instruction, and even a glance at it shows it is pertinent. Nor is fasting a religious exercise peculiar to Old Testament times. Acts 13:3 records that before Barnabas and Saul were sent forth on their missionary journey by the church at Antioch, "When they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away." There is nothing meritorious in fasting—but it expresses humility of soul and earnestness of heart.
The next thing is to humbly and sincerely acknowledge to God our ignorance—and request Him not to leave us to ourselves. Tell Him frankly you are perplexed and do not know what to do. But plead before Him His own promise, and ask Him for Christ's sake to make it good to you. "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." (James 1:5-6). Ask Him to grant the wisdom you need so much, that you may judge rightly, that you may discern clearly what will promote your spiritual welfare, and therefore be most for His glory.
"Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass" (Psalm 37:5). In the interval if you go to fellow-Christians for advice, most probably no two will agree, and their discordant counsel will only confuse you. Instead of looking to man for help, "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2).
Be on the lookout for God's answer. Mark attentively each movement of His providence, for as a straw in the air indicates which way the wind is blowing so the hand of God may often be discerned by a spiritual eye in what are trifling incidents to others. "And let it be, when you hear the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then you shall bestir yourself: for then shall the Lord go out before you" (2 Samuel 5:24).
Finally, remember that we need not only light from the Lord to discover our duty in particular cases—but when that has been obtained, we need His presence to accompany us, so that we may be enabled to rightly follow the path He bids us go. Moses realized this when he said to the Lord, "If your presence does not go with me, carry us not up hence" (Exodus 33:15). If we do not have the presence of God with us in an undertaking—His approval upon it, His assistance in it, His blessing upon it—then we find it a snare, if not a curse to us.
As a general rule it is better for us to trouble our minds very little about guidance. That is God's work. Our business is to walk in obedience to Him day by day. As we do so, there works within us a prudence which will preserve us from all serious mistakes.
"I understand more than the ancients, because I keep your precepts" (Psalm 119:100). The man who keeps God's precepts is endowed with a wisdom which far surpasses that possessed by the sages or the learned philosophers.
"Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness" (Psalm 112:4). The upright man may experience his days of darkness, but when the hour of emergency arrives, light will be given him by God. Serve God with all your might today, and you may calmly and safely leave the future with Him. A duteous conformity to what is right—will be followed by luminous discernment of what would be wrong.
Seek earnestly to get the fear of God fixed in your heart so that you tremble at His Word (Isaiah 66:2) and are really afraid to displease Him. "Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him" (Psalm 25:12). "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding" (Job 28:28). "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord" (Hosea 6:3). The more we grow in grace—the fuller our knowledge will be of God's revealed will. The more we cultivate the practice of seeking to please God in all things—the more light we will have for our path. "The pure in heart shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). If our motive is right—our vision will be clear.
"The integrity of the upright guides them, but the perversity of the treacherous destroys them" (Proverbs 11:3). The upright man will not willingly and knowingly go aside into crooked paths. The honest heart is not bewildered by domineering lusts nor blinded by corrupt motives. Having a tender conscience, he possesses keen spiritual discernment; but the crooked policy of the wicked involves them in increasing trouble and ends in their eternal ruin.
"The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness." (Proverbs 11:5). An eye single to God's glory delivers from those snares in which the ungodly are taken. Unbridled passions becloud the understanding and pervert the judgment, until men call good "evil" and evil "good" (Isaiah 5:20); but he who seeks to be subject to the Lord, shall be given discretion.
"The Lord shall direct your paths."
First, by His Word: not in some magical way so as to encourage laziness, nor like consulting a cookbook full of recipes for all occasions—but by warning us of the byways of sin and making known the paths of righteousness and blessing.
Second, by his Spirit: giving us strength to obey the precepts of God, causing us to wait patiently on the Lord for directions, enabling us to apply the rules of Holy Writ to the varied duties of our lives, bringing to our remembrance a word in due season.
Third, by His providences: causing friends to fail us so that we are delivered from leaning upon the arm of flesh, thwarting our carnal plans so that we are preserved from shipwreck, shutting doors which it would not be good for us to enter—and opening doors before us which none can shut.