Aid in Securing the Guidance
By Thomas Upham
One of the important questions which can occupy the minds of those who wish to experience the reality of the interior spiritual life, is, In what manner can we most certainly secure the ever-present and guiding influences of the Holy Spirit? We learn from the Scriptures, that those who are the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God. And a woe is expressly denounced against those "foolish prophets that follow their own spirit." (Ezek. 13:3) The facts of individual experience, in relation to the subject of a divine guidance, abundantly confirm the truth of the scriptural declarations. "Through this secret direction of the Almighty," says Sir Matthew Hale, who was distinguished as a Christian as well as a scholar and a judge, "is principally seen in matters relating to the good of the soul, yet even in the concerns of this life, a good man, fearing God, and begging his direction, will very often, if not at all times, find it. I can call my own experience to witness, that even in the temporal affairs of my whole life, I have never been disappointed of the best direction when I have , in humility and sincerity, implored it." And I think we may undoubtedly regard it as a great truth, ever to be kept in remembrance, that the true children of God, so far as they live acceptably to him, are guided by the Spirit of God. This great truth, that, as followers of God, it is our privilege and duty to be led by the Spirit of God, may be realized continually in our personal experience, as it seems to us, in connection with few simple but fundamental conditions.
1. In the first place, we cannot reasonably expect to be guided by the Spirit, unless we desire it. And if we expect a continuance of this guidance, the desire must be permanent and strong. It would be extremely absurd to suppose that the Holt Spirit will condescend to dwell with us, if we have no desire for it, or if we have not a permanent and strong desire. But we cannot suppose that those who aim after holiness of heart are without this desire; and therefore we do not consider it necessary to dwell upon this point.
2. In order to realize this great blessing, we must have faith in God, that he will do for us the thing which we ask. To desire of God without having faith in the Giver, is nearly as effectual a way to defeat the object of our request, as to be without desire. But on this point also we will not delay. Who can be ignorant that one of the first elements in the life of holiness is the doctrine of faith? "Without faith it is impossible to please God." How can it be possible, then, without faith, to receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit?
3. Besides those which have been mentioned, there is another condition necessary to be realized, in order to have the guiding influences of the Holy Spirit always with us; namely, we must cease from our natural activity. We do not mean to say that we must be inactive; that we must cease from the activity of nature. In other words, ceasing from self and from its turbulent and deceitful elements, and, as a consequence of this, ceasing to place ourselves and our personal interests foremost, we must keep our own plans, purposes, and aims, in entire subjection. For instance, when we ask God to guide us, we must not at the same time cherish in our hearts a secret determination and hope to guide ourselves; just as some persons foolishly, and almost wickedly, ask the advice of their neighbors, when they have already fully decided in their own minds upon their future course of action. If we would have our desires of being continually guided by the Holy Spirit fully realized, we must not only give up our personal and self-interested plans and purposes, submitting everything into Godís hands with entire childlike simplicity, but it is important also not to give way to uneasy, agitated, and excited feelings. The existence of undo eagerness and excitement of spirit is an evidence that we are, in some degree, afraid to trust God, and that we are still too much under the influence of the life of nature; so that to cease from the activity of nature; when properly understood seems to be nothing more nor less than to cease from the spirit of self-wisdom, self seeking, and self-guidance, and thus to remain in submissive and peaceful simplicity and disengagement of spirit, in order that God may enter in, and may guide us by the wisdom of his own divine inspiration.
It may be proper to add here, that the view which has how been expressed is entirely consistent with the exercise of our own powers of perception and reflection. A cessation from our natural activity, in the sense which has been explained, is not only consistent with, but is evidently favorable to, a just exercise of these powers. They will be found at such times to be free from erroneous and disturbing influences, and to possess a clearer insight into the truth.
4. In order to secure the continual presence of the Holy Spirit, we must not only fulfill the condition of ceasing from the self-interested activity of nature; we must not only believe in Godís truth and faithfulness to his promises, attended with a sincere desire for the blessing under consideration; but when we ask under such circumstances, it is our privilege and duty to believe that we now have the thing which we ask for. If, for instance, in true detachment and simplicity of spirit, and with a sincere desire for the object, we seek the divine wisdom, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit, to guide us in some difficult case of duty, we are bound, on the principles of Scripture, to believe (provided, further, that we exercise all our powers of perception and reasoning applicable to the case) that we do now have all that wisdom which God sees to be necessary for us.
Accordingly, we are not at liberty, in the spirit of distrust towards God, to go about to seek some new natural light to see our spiritual wisdom with. Such wisdom, resting in its origin, upon the immutable promise of God, a promise which is fulfilled in connection with the exercise of faith, is, for the most part, hidden from all forms of sight on the part of the creature, except one. That is to say, as it has its origin in connection with the operations of faith, and cannot exist except in that connection, so it is visible, in general, only to the eye of faith. It seems very evident, under the circumstances, and in the fulfillment of the conditions which have been mentioned, that we should do wrong, we should sin against God, not to believe in the actual possession of the thing which had been interceded for. It would evidently be a case of unbelief; and unbelief can never be accounted otherwise than a great sin. It is in accordance with this view, that we find the following expressions in the First Epistle of John 5:14, 15: "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us; and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desire of him."
In conclusion, we would remark, that in yielding ourselves up to the divine direction under such circumstances as have been mentioned, we not only have the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but I think we are not exposed to the illusions and mistakes which might otherwise be likely to befall us. Indeed, it is hardly too much to say, that we may be sure of being kept in the right path at such times. The state of mind which we have described is not only one of earnest desire and strong faith, but, as it seems to us, of true meekness. And we are told in the Scriptures, "The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way." Ps. 25:9. It is the opinion of Fenelon, who seems to have had a personal experience of the divine operation deeply interior, that in the moments of mental quietness and of recollection in God, in other words when we look to God in a state of cessation from our natural activity, we should not hesitate to follow the interior impulses and attractions of the soul; meaning to be understood, undoubtedly, that if we believingly ask for divine guidance in such a state of mind, the attraction or tendency of the soul which then exists, cannot be safely ascribed to anything but the Spirit of God; and that, consequently, we may consider ourselves under a divine, and not under a human direction. This we believe to be true. Nevertheless, in this case, as in all others, we should never yield to the guidance of any interior attraction, however it may have the appearance of originating with the Holy Spirit, which at the same time we know to be at variance with the written Word of God. God can never contradict himself; and whatever revelation he has made of himself in his Holy Word we must regard as authentic, and as entitled to our supreme confidence. But with the limitation implied in this remark, we have no doubt that God, operating upon the mind in a divine manner, will certainly teach and guide those who, in renouncing the self-interested eagerness of nature, posses true meekness and quietness of spirit, and who believingly and earnestly look to him for such teaching and direction.
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