The Leading of the Spirit

Rom. 8:14.---' As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.'

One of the ways in which the Holy Spirit influences human life is expressed in the Bible in the word 'guidance.' We are meant to be led by the Spirit. We turn naturally to the Book of the Acts because it is the record of early Christian experience. There is no theology about the book, because it is merely a record of things that actually happened, of the way in which men proved by experiment the reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Book of the Acts is full of the idea of guidance. Take the example of Phillip the Evangelist. He is carrying on his missionary work and he finds himself on the way to Gaza, which is desert. A man passes in his chariot. The Spirit says unto Phillip, 'Go near and join thyself to this chariot.' As we should put it, Phillip feels a great impulse to run to the chariot. He climbs up into it, and has a straight talk with this distinguished person about Jesus Christ. Over and over again you have the same thing.

Take St. Paul himself as in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of the Acts. He was traveling through Asia Minor, and was very anxious to preach the word in the Province of Asia. But he says, 'the Spirit suffered us not.' He turned in another direction, and tried to start a missionary campaign in Bithynia, but the Spirit forbade him again, so he came down to the little town of Troas, having had his plans completely spoiled, as it seemed, by some strange intervention. We think now that it may have been illness that checked the Apostle's plans twice during this campaign and brought him finally to Troas. There for the first time he met Luke, who joined him, probably, as traveling physician. There he had the dream that brought him to Macedonia. So we have plans made after earnest consideration broken by what would appear to be the misfortune of ill health. Yet, looking back over the thing afterwards, Luke sees it was all part of the purpose of the Spirit. Paul was checked there and brought to Troas in order that there might be opened up the larger possibility of mission work that brought him at last to Rome.

In no respect did Paul fall heir to a fortunate combination of circumstances which buoyed him up and carried him forward almost involuntarily in his life of strenuous activity. Throughout his career he was in a state of constant struggle, striving to transcend the limitations which circumstances placed upon him, yet he maintained the struggle with unswerving purpose to the end of his life.

What kept him steadfast? There seems to be only one possible answer. All the while he counted himself to be under the guidance of an authoritative voice, the leading of the Spirit of God. His first question was, what is the will of the Spirit concerning the practical problems of my life? He did not picture the Christian life either for himself or for others as something handed down from heaven ready made. It was to be realized through daily care in ascertaining and following the dictates of the Spirit. Into this struggle to learn and to do the Divine will Paul threw himself most energetically in order that he might at last find approval before God.

The same possibility of spiritual guidance has been the privilege of Christians in every age. But as in Paul's time so today, such a life is not a gift to a favored few, it is an attainment available for the few or for the many who are willing to pay the price of attainment, who are willing to seek after and follow the leading of the Spirit.

Reading the context it is seen that Paul does not here mean being led or guided in the ordinary business of life. He means a quite specific kind of guidance, rather different from that which we have in the Acts. What he means is simply this: that dead formulae become living truths when they are illuminated by the Holy Spirit. What may be a matter of words, may suddenly become a living truth. It may suddenly begin to glow with life when the Holy Spirit makes it real. Just as a colored glass window may be almost meaningless until the sun shines through it, when it glows with life and beauty, so the articles of our creed may suddenly receive a purpose and a meaning they never had before.

This new principle of life reveals itself in our consciousness as a power claiming regulative influence over our actions; leading us, in a word, into holiness.

It is obvious, then, how the text is misconceived when it is looked upon as a peculiar guidance granted by God to His faithful servants in order to insure their worldly safety, comfort, or prosperity. The good man may, by virtue of his very goodness, be saved from many of the sufferings of this life and from many of its failures. How many of the evils and trails of life are rooted in specific sins we can never know. But we must not infer that the Spirit's leading is absent when trials come---sufferings, losses, loneliness. It is specifically given in order to guide men into eternal good; to free them not from care or suffering, but from sin. It is not given to save us from the consequences of our business carelessness or incompetence, to take the place of ordinary prudence in the conduct of our affairs. It is not given us to preserve us from the necessity of strenuous preparation for the tasks before us or from the trouble of rendering decision in the difficult crises of life. It is given to save us from sinning; to lead us in the paths of holiness and truth.

We are not led when we go our own way. It is only when an influence distinct from ourselves determines our movements that we can properly be said to be led. He that is led by the Spirit of God is not led by himself or by any element of his own nature, native or acquired, but is led by the Holy Spirit. He has ceased to what the scriptures call a 'natural man,' and has become what they call a 'spiritual man'; that is, to translate these terms accurately, he has ceased to be a self-led man and had become a Spirit-led man.

But the leading of the Spirit is no substitute for our own activities. The Holy Spirit leads but does not carry God's children to their destined goal of holiness; while the Spirit determines both the end and the way toward it, His will guiding their action, yet it is by their own effort that they make advance.

But we do not climb from height to height without effort. We are not borne by the Spirit out of our sin into holiness with a smooth and easy movement, almost unnoted by us or noted only with the weak pleasure with which a child carried in its mother's arms may note its progress up some rough mountain road. We are led. We are under His control and walk in the path in which He sets our feet.

When Paul therefore declares that the sons of God are led by the Spirit, he is in no way forgetful of the arduous nature of the road over which they are to advance, or of the strenuous exertion on their own part by which alone they may accomplish it. He strengthens and comforts them with the assurance that they are not to tread the path alone; but he does not lull them into inertness. He does not promise them relief from the weariness of the journey, alleviation of the roughness of the road, freedom from difficulty or danger. That they have been placed in the right path, that they will be kept continuously in it, that they will attain the goal---of this he assures them; for this it is to be led of the Spirit of God. But He does not encourage us to relax our own endeavors; for he who is led, even though it be by the Spirit of God, advances by virtue of his own God given powers and his own efforts. In a word, Paul chooses language to express the action of the Spirit on the sons of God which is in perfect harmony with his other exhortation to the children of God---to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling because they know it is God that is working in them both the willing and the doing according to His own good pleasure.

If men could but be convinced that their task in life is to actualize, by creative effort, their own ideals; that these ideals in them are God-given, and therefore part of what IS MEANT TO BE; and that God is always there, at their service, not to replace their efforts with His own, but to supplement them up to any extent, provided the direction of them is towards the ideal which he had given: then surely there would spring up in many lives, at present commonplace because convinced of their own futility, a hope and an expectancy which would issue in inspiration and achievement. And so we should find provided around us the creative workers to build the new age.

It is all a matter of experience, even a matter of experiment. We find the guidance of the Holy Spirit in no other way than by actually running risks in dependence upon His guidance. After all, a man's religion is not much good unless he is prepared to take these risks. When we begin to dare to place our lives under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, life will become both simpler and stronger.

It is not a leading to prosperity, or enjoyment, or luxury, but to God. He has led countless of His servants into suffering, hardship, sorrow, unpopularity, persecution, and disaster. He leads all of us through the accidents of life and the certainty of death into the fullness of the Presence. But His leadership has never been wrong. And the prayer of those whom He leads is not that the will and favor of God may be bent and altered to meet their own wishes and to crown their day with material comfort and pleasure, but that their poor earthly wills may be brought into harmony with the loving and perfect will of God.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha