You have now begun, I trust, the life of faith. You have given yourself to the Lord to be His wholly and altogether, and He has taken you and has begun to mould and fashion you into a vessel unto His honour. Your one most earnest desire is to be very pliable in His hands, and to follow Him whithersoever He may lead you, and you are trusting Him to work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure. But you find a great difficulty here. You have not learned yet to know the voice of the Good Shepherd, and are therefore in great doubt and perplexity as to what really is His will concerning you.
Perhaps there are certain paths into which God seems to be calling you, of which your friends utterly disapprove. And these friends, it may be, are older than yourself in the Christian life, and seem to you also to be much further advanced. You can scarcely bear to differ from them or distress them; and you feel also very diffident of yielding to any seeming impressions of duty of which they do not approve. And yet you cannot get rid of these impressions, and you are plunged into great doubt and uneasiness.
There is a way out of all these difficulties to the fully surrendered soul. I would repeat fully surrendered because if there is any reserve of will upon any point, it becomes almost impossible to find out the mind of God in reference to that point; and therefore the first thing is to be sure that you really do purpose to obey the Lord in every respect. If however this is the case, and your soul only needs to know the will of God in order to consent to it, then you surely cannot doubt His willingness to make His will known, and to guide you in the right paths. There are many very clear promises in reference to this. Take, for instance, John x. 3, 4, “He calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when He putteth forth His own sheep He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know his voice.” Or, John xiv. 26: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” Or, James i. 5, 6: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upraideth not; and it shall be given him.” With such passages as these, and many more like them, we must believe that Divine guidance is promised to us, and our faith must confidently look for and expect it. This is essential, for in James 1. 6, 7, we are told, “Let him ask in faith nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. For let not such a man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.”
Settle this point then first of all, that Divine guidance has been promised, and that you are sure to have it, if you ask for it; and let no suggestion of doubt turn you from this.
Next you must remember that our God has all knowledge and all wisdom, and that therefore it is very possible He may guide you into paths wherein He knows great blessings are awaiting you, but which to the short-sighted human eyes around you seem sure to result in confusion and loss. You must recognise the fact that God’s thoughts are not as man’s thoughts, nor His ways as man’s ways; and that He who knows the end of things from the beginning alone can judge of what the results of any course of action may be. You must therefore realize that His very love for you may perhaps lead you to run counter to the loving wishes of even your dearest friends. You must learn from Luke xiv. 26—33, and similar passages, that in order—not, to be saved but—to be a disciple or follower of your Lord, you may perhaps be called upon to forsake all that you have, and to turn your backs on even father and mother, or brother or sister, or husband or wife, or it may be your own life also. Unless the possibility of this is clearly recognized, the soul will be very likely to get into difficulty, because it often happens that the child of God who enters upon this life-obedience is sooner or later led into paths which meet with the disapproval of those he best loves; and unless he is prepared for this, and can trust the Lord through it all, he will scarcely know what to do.
All this it will of course be understood, is perfectly in harmony with those duties of honor and love which we owe to one another in the various relations of life. The nearer we are to Christ, the more shall we be enabled to exemplify the meekness and gentleness of our Lord, and the more tender will be our consideration for those who are our natural guardians and counsellors. The Saviour’s guidance will always manifest itself by the Saviour’s Spirit; and where, in obedience to Christ, we are led to act contrary to the advice or wishes of our friends, we shall prove that this is our motive, by the love and patience which will mark our conduct.
But this point having been settled, we come now to the question as to how God’s guidance is to come to us, and how we shall be able to know His voice.
There are two especial ways in which He reveals Kis will to us—through the Scriptures, and by means of the direct voice of His Holy Spirit, making impressions upon our hearts and our judgments.
The first of these is the guidance to be found in the Bible. Until you have found and obeyed God’s will in reference to any subject as it is there revealed, you need not ask nor expect a separate direct personal revelation. A great many fatal mistakes are made in this matter of guidance, by the overlooking of this simple rule. Where our Father has written out for us a plain direction about anything He will not of course make an especial revelation to us about that thing. And if we fail to search out and obey the Scripture rule, where there is one, and look instead for an inward voice, we shall open ourselves to the deceptions of Satan, and shall almost inevitably get into error. No man, for instance, needs or could expect any direct revelation to tell him not to steal, because God has already in the Scriptures plainly declared His will about it. This seems such an obvious thing that I would not speak of it, but that I have frequently met with Christians who have altogether overlooked it, and have gone off into fanaticism as the result. I know the Bible does not always give a rule for every particular course of action, and in these cases we need and must expect the direct voice of the Spirit.
And yet the Scriptures are far more explicit even about details than most people think. And there are not many important affairs in life for which a clear direction may not be found in God’s book. Take the matter of dress and we have i Pet. iii. 3, 4, and I Tim. ii. g. Take the matter of conversation, and we have Eph. iv. 29, and v. 4. Take the matter of avenging injuries and standing up for your rights, and we have Rom. xii. 19, 20, 21, and Matt. v. 38-48, and 1 Pet. ii. 19-21. Take the matter of forgiving one another, and we have Eph. iv. 32, and Mark xi. 25, 26. Take the matter of conformity to the world, and we have Rom. xii. 2, and 1 John ii. 15-17, and James iv. 4. Take the matter of anxieties of all kinds, and we have Matt. vi. 2534, and Phil. iv. 6, 7.
I only give these as examples to show how very full and practical the Bible guidance is. If, therefore, you find yourself in perplexity, first of all search and see whether the Bible speaks on the point in question, asking God to make plain to you by the power of His Spirit, through the Scriptures, what is His mind. And whatever shall seem to you to be plainly taught there, that you must obey.
When we read and meditate upon this record of God’s mind and will, with our understandings thus illuminated by the inspiring Spirit, our obedience will be as truly an obedience to a present, living word, as though it were afresh spoken to us to-day by our Lord from Heaven. The Bible is not only an ancient message from God sent to us many ages ago, but it is a present message sent to us each time we read it. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life,” and obedience to these words now is a living obedience to a present and personal command.
Especial guidance, therefore, superseding that of the Scriptures on any point upon which the Script tures are explicit, is not to be looked for; and no guidance of the Spirit can ever be contrary to Scripture.
But if, upon searching, you do not find in the Bible any directions upon your point of difficulty, or if the directions given do not reach into all the special details of the case, then you have the right to ask and to expect direct guidance by the voice of the Spirit, speaking in your soul, and making distinct impressions upon your mind as to your duty. He will surely guide you into the right paths, and will make known to you God’s sweet will concerning you: and even you may realize not only your way, but even your very steps to be ordered by Him.
But in giving yourselves up to these impressions “of duty, there are two points very important to guard. If they are from the Spirit they will be in accordance with Scripture and with a sanctified judgment, for God has surely not revealed His will in one place to contradict it in another, and His direct promise is that the “meek He will guide in judgment.” Anything therefore which is contrary to Scripture cr to a sanctified judgment must be rejected as from Satan. For we must never forget that Satan can make impressions upon our minds as well as the blessed Spirit of God, and in this matter of guidance it is especially necessary not to be ignorant of his devices. Sometimes, under a mistaken idea of exalting the Divine Spirit, earnest and honest Christians have ignored and even violated the teachings of Scripture, and have outraged their judgments. God, who sees the sincerity of their hearts, can and does pity and forgive, but the consequences as to this life are often very sad. In nothing therefore do we so much need to realize our own helplessness and to cast ourselves in child-like trust on the Lord, telling Him our danger of being deceived and trusting Him not to permit it. Every peculiarly precious spiritual gift is always necessarily linked with some peculiar danger, and this supreme blessing of direct guidance is no exception to this rule. But with the tests I have mentioned, and with an absolute committing of the whole matter to the Lord, and a perfect confidence in Him, there is nothing to fear.
And now I have guarded the points of danger, do permit me to let myself out for a little to the blessedness and joy of this direct communication of God’s will to us. It seems to me to be the grandest of privileges. In the first place, that God should love me enough to care about the details of my life is perfectly wonderful. And then that He should be willing to tell me all about it, and to let me know just how to live and walk so as to perfectly please Him, seems almost too good to be true. We never care about the little details of people’s lives unless we love them. It is a matter of indifference to us with the majority of people we meet as to what they do or how they spend their time. But as soon as we begin to love any one, we begin at once to care. That God cares, therefore, is just a precious proof of His love; and it is most blessed to have Him speak to us about everything in our lives—about our dress—about our reading—about our friendships—about our occupations—about all that we do, or think, or say. You must know this in your own experience, dear reader, if you would come into the full joy and privilege of this life hid with Christ in God, for it is one of its most precious gifts!
God’s promise is, that He will work in us to will as well as to do of His good pleasure. This of course means that He will take possession of our will and work it for us, and that His suggestions will come to us, not so much commands from the outside, as desires springing up within. They will originate in our will; we shall feel as though we wanted to do so and so, and not as though we must. And this makes it a service of perfect liberty; for it is always easy to do what we desire to do, let the accompanying circumstances be as difficult as they may. Every mother knows that she could secure perfect and easy obedience in her child, if she could only get into that child’s will and work it for him, making him want himself to do the things she willed he should. And this is what our Father does for His children in the new dispensation,—He writes His laws on our hearts and on our minds, and we love them, and are drawn to
our obedience by our affections and judgment, not driven by our fears.
The way in which the Holy Spirit, therefore, usually works in this direct guidance is to impress upon the mind a wish or desire to do or to leave undone certain things.
The soul when engaged, perhaps, in prayer, feels a sudden suggestion made to its inmost consciousness in reference to a certain point of duty. “I would like to do this or the other,” it thinks “I wish I could.” Or perhaps the suggestion may come as a question, “I wonder whether I ought not to do so and so?” Or may be only at first in the way of a conviction that this is the right and best thing to be done.
At once the matter should be committed to the Lord, with an instant consent of the will to obey Him; and if the suggestion is in accordance with the Scriptures and a sanctified judgment, and it continues to seem right, an immediate obedience is the safest and easiest course. At the moment when the spirit speaks, it is always easy to obey: if the soul hesitates and begins to reason, it becomes more and more difficult continually. As a general rule the first impressions are the right ones in a fully-surrendered heart, for God is faithful in His dealings with us, and will cause His voice to be heard before any other voices. Such impressions, therefore, should never be met by reasoning. Prayer and trust are the only safe attitudes of the soul, and even these should be but momentary, as it were, lest the time for action should pass, and the blessing be missed.
If, however, the suggestion does not seem quite clear enough to act upon, and doubt and perplexity ensue, especially if it is something about which one’s friends differ from us, then we may need, perhaps, a time of waiting on the Lord for further light. But we must wait in faith, and in an attitude of entire surrender, saying, “Yes!” continually to the will of our Lord, let it be what it may. If the suggestion is from Him, it will continue and strengthen; if it is not from Him, it will disappear, and we shall forget we ever had it. If it continues,—if every time we are brought into near communion with the Lord it seems to return—if it troubles us in our moments of prayer, and disturbs all our peace, we may then feel sure it is from God, and we must yield to it or suffer an unspeakable loss.
I believe myself the only safe way is always to yield up the doubtful things to God, until we have clear light to take them back.
A dear lady, who had walked in a life of consecration for many years, told me that her invariable rule was to decide every doubtful matter on the self-denying side, and that she had never once had occasion to regret it. It was the secret of a life of wonderful devotedness. The Apostle gives us a rule in reference to doubtful things, which seems to me very explicit. He is speaking about certain kinds of meat-eating which were ceremonially unclean, and, after declaring his own liberty, says,— “I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself. But to him that esteemeth anything unclean, to him it is unclean.” And in summing up the whole subject, he writes:— “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned (condemned) if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” The doubtful things must all be surrendered, dear Christian, until God gives you light to know more clearly His mind concerning them. And as a general thing you will find that the very doubt has been His voice calling upon you to come into a more perfect conformity to His will.
Take all your present perplexities, then, to Jesus. Tell Him you only want to know and obey his voice, and ask Him to make it plain to you. Promise Him that you will obey, whatever it may be. Believe implicitly that He is guiding you, according to His word. Surrender all the doubtful things until you have clearer light. Look and listen for His dear voice continually, and the moment you are sure of it yield an immediate obedience. Trust Him to make you forget the impression if it is not His will, and if it continues, believe that He is faithful and would not let you be deceived.
Above everything else trust Him. Nowhere is faith more needed than here. He has promised to guide. You have asked Him to do it. And now you must believe that He does, and must take what comes as being His guidance. No earthly parent or master could guide his children or servants, if they should refuse to take his commands as being really the expression of his will. And God cannot guide those souls who never trust Him enough to believe that He is doing it.
And oh, do not be afraid of this sweet life, lived hour by hour and day by day under the guidance of thy Lord! If He seeks to bring thee out of the world and into a very close conformity to Himself do not shrink from it. It is thy most blessed privilege. Rejoice in it. Embrace it eagerly. Let everything go that it may be thine.
“Dole not thy duties out to God
But let thy hand be free:
Look long at Jesus; his own blood
How was it dealt to thee?
“The perfect way is hard to flesh;
It is not hard to love:
If thou wert sick for want of God,
How swiftly wouldst thou move!
“Then keep thy conscience sensitive;
No inward token miss,
And go where grace entices thee;—
Perfection lies in this.”