Article of the Month
by Philip Bennett Power
THE men of the world are steeped in ignorance as regards all things belonging to God, and the spiritual life. The world lies in darkness; it loves darkness; it cannot comprehend any other conditions save that of darkness; and it will not come to the light because its deeds are evil. Nor was the condition of the world changed by the coming of our Lord; it rolls on in darkness now, just as it did when He was upon the earth; and so it will roll, until He appear again in light and glory, when the light shall overcome the darkness, and that, when it is thicker and denser than ever it was before.
It is true, we have daily displayed before us the increasing knowledge of man: but knowledge is one thing, and true wisdom is another, and the world by its wisdom knows not God.
With all man’s increase in knowledge, it is really wonderful how little he has increased in practical wisdom. The pages of history seem to have taught him but little; the experiences of others seem to be thrown away on him; and in kingdoms, societies, and the individual circles of men’s daily life, we see the same old faults and follies renewed again and again. If we strip these of the adventitious circumstances connected with them, we shall find how little variety there is in sin. If the people of the world continue thus ignorant in those things which come so easily within their comprehension, which come so frequently under their observation, and in which their own visible interests are concerned, is it any wonder that they are ignorant of the things of God, of His ways, of His laws, of His mind, of the fact that God seeth not as man seeth, that His ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts?
The wonder is, not that we were ignorant, but that we were ever made wise; and the wonder is dispelled, only by our seeing that this was done by the immediate working of the Spirit.
There is no point on which the world is more dark than that of its own ignorance — we might truly say, “it is ignorant of its ignorance” — it knows enough when it learns by rote a few first principles of religion; it comforts itself that it is not atheistical because it believes that there is a God; but as to knowing His ways, laws, mind, or any such things, with them it has nothing at all to do.
The people of the world do not care for enlightenment; they feel no pressing need for it; in all probability they have an instinctive feeling that if enlightened they would know a little more than they wish to know; that their newly acquired knowledge would interfere with their old habits and ways, and this is one reason why all spiritual teaching which goes beneath the surface is distasteful to the majority of men. They cannot bear to be brought into contact with God, in anything but a general way; the particulars of His character may not agree over well with the particulars of their lives!
It is the fashion in the present day to talk of man’s enlightenment, and to represent human nature as upheaving under its load, as straining towards a knowledge of truth; such is not in reality the case, and wherever there is an effort in the mind untaught of the Spirit, it is directed towards God as the great moral, and not as the great spiritual Being. A man untaught of the Holy Ghost may long to know a moral, he never can desire to know a spiritual Being.
Dear reader, cease to wonder that spiritual truth has made so little progress in the world, rather wonder that it has made so much; marvel not that so few know anything of God, rather marvel that even so many are found, who say, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord.”
The idea, then, of those whom we are accustomed to call “good people” in the world, is that when they recognise the existence of God, they do enough; when they acknowledge His moral government, no more can be required; the ideas of God’s people on these points are, however, very different. In the first place, they feel that they can neither know nor desire God’s way by themselves. This they have been taught by the Holy Ghost. The Spirit has made them feel that the natural bent of their minds was away from God; they have even detected their minds in the very act of loathing divine things; they have felt themselves vile and wicked, in their distaste to all that is spiritual; but with all this knowledge they could make no advance, the truth being, that they had still the carnal heart, which, no matter what it knows or feels, is, and must be, “enmity against God.”
Dear reader, your own experience may doubtless be appealed to on this subject. “Was there not a time when you felt no desire to know more of God, of His laws, and ways, than you had learned in the ordinary teaching, which you received perhaps as a child? That sufficed for you; and if from time to time you saw some glimmering of light, it was just enough to make your darkness visible, but you did not care to come to the light, nor that that light should grow stronger, revealing more and more of God. The retrospect of such a season as this makes the believer see distinctly how completely he is a debtor to grace; he says, “had I been left to myself, I should never have sought the Lord; never could I have had a yearning of heart for spiritual views of God; I remember my distaste to divine things too well, to deceive myself by supposing that I have grown into spiritual desires, or that I have struggled into them, or worked myself up to them, or have had the smallest part in procuring them for myself.” Every man that is born of the Spirit knows that he was ignorant, and that he loved to continue ignorant, and that he felt a natural aversion to be taken out of his ignorance, and that he struggled against the workings and strivings of the Spirit be it more or less, when that Spirit came into his heart, to enlighten him about the ways of God.
Such, then, were the thoughts of God’s people in former times; very different are they now. They say with the Psalmist, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord.” The Spirit of God has taught them that “there is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death;” and that there is another way of which it is written, “in the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death.”
Now, it sometimes happens that the process of discovery is going on for a considerable time, before the process of desire is wrought out in the heart. Many a man is having the excellence of God’s ways set before him, and conviction of their excellence forced upon his conscience, before his heart is being wrought upon to respond to his judgment. While a man is in this condition, he must be very unsettled, in all probability he is very unhappy; he is losing, if he have not already lost, the measure of satisfaction which he experienced in the old ways, he has not attained to that which is to be found in “the more excellent way;” the old food is nauseous; the new he has not power to eat. And here we see how a true work upon the soul must be begun, continued, and ended in the Spirit; He must not only give the power of leaving the old way, but also that of entering on the new; and when He is carrying on this latter part of the work, He teaches the soul to cry in earnest, such words as those before us now, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord, I will walk in Thy truth.”
The ideas, then, of those who are under the teaching of the Spirit, are, in this matter of “the ways of God,” entirely distinct from those of such as remain in ignorance of divine things; let us further enquire, with what sentiments of mind do such persons desire to be taught? The answer to this question will entirely depend upon what their exact state is, when the question is asked.
Some, who are under the early stages of the Spirit’s work, simply desire to have an end put to their perplexity and discomfort; they do not know as yet, that no matter what they learn, they will be ever prompted, under the living influences of the Spirit, to desire to learn yet more and more; they think that they can get some one teaching, which will put them in the same road as that which is being travelled by the children of God. There is ignorance in their wish; yet would to God, that such as it is, it were shared by more. “When they have attained their desire, and feel that they are indeed upon the heavenly road, they will surely pass on to a higher stage of spiritual life, and desire to know more of God’s way, because they want to know more of Himself. Progression is the law of life.
Those, however, who are advanced beyond this low point, say, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord,” with a higher aim. They desire entire conformity of mind with God, and as a consequent, entire conformity of life. They know that their own ways, even when most clear, and apparently unblameable, may be very far from the ways of God; and they would no more grieve Him by an ignorant, than by a wilful act. A wilful act of sin is far more wicked than an ignorant one; it will be visited with far severer punishment; he who knew his Lord’s will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes, while he who knew it not shall be beaten with but few; but the difference in the amount of guilt does not set the mind of the child of God at ease. No! the Spirit-taught man has spiritual sensibilities; he feels a wound if he feel that he has broken God’s law, or departed from His way, or left a portion of that way untrodden through ignorance, or if he have come short of the glory of God. Sensitiveness on these points is the consequent of the new life, and it makes men not only quick to do what they know should be done, but further, desirous of being taught wherever they are ignorant. The child of God aims at nothing short of perfect conformity to the mind of God; he wants not only that his life should be brought into exact obedience to all declared laws, but that his mind should by God’s Spirit be brought into harmony with God’s rules of action. He knows that God seeth and judgeth, not as man seeth and judgeth, that He has principles of action of a standard infinitely higher than any which exists in man’s highest code of morality, and so he says, “Teach me Thy way.”
Dear reader, what do you know of this in your own practical experience? Have you been content with your own way, or with the laws of morality, or with what you could pick up for yourself out of the recorded laws of God; or have you gone further, and feeling that much more could be attained to, asked God by the Spirit to teach you, “His own way?”
It will, doubtless, be one of the delights of heaven, that there the saint shall have his mind in perfect conformity with the mind of God, but need we wait for heaven to have at least a longing for this? Oh surely not; we may say, “O teach me Thy way,” now while we are upon earth. This request is ever according to the mind of God; it is one, we may rest assured, that He will be pleased to grant.
It may be practically useful to enquire, for a few moments, What it is that God’s people desire to know, when they say, “Teach me Thy way.” We may make the prayer in the passage before us either generally or particularly; no doubt the people of God do both continually.
There are seasons when we feel ourselves peculiarly drawn out in desires after holiness and conformity to God, seasons of high aspirations, and would to God that Me had them oftener and that they lasted longer. At such times no special difficulty is before the mind, we are simply absorbed in the longing to be like God, and our thoughts are expressed in the Psalmist’s words, “Teach me Thy way.” The meaning of the prayer under such circumstances is this, “O Lord, I want to be like Thee; I want to know all that will be pleasing to Thee for me to do; I would understand Thy principles of action; I would see more plainly the boundary lines of the path which Thou markest out for Thy people; yea, 1 would see the lines of the path on which Thou walkest Thine own self; I have no spiritual eyesight of mine own with which to discern all this, Thy way must be revealed by Thyself, oh, teach it now to me.”
We may rest well assured, that whenever we feel within us a spiritual aspiration, it is capable of being productive of a spiritual result, and moreover it is intended so to be. Spiritual aspirations come from the Holy Ghost, and He bestows no gift which is not capable of putting forth vital energy, and producing its own peculiar fruits. The aspiration of which we have now been speaking is no exception to the rule; longing for more knowledge of God, and conformity to Him in His mind and ways, will be sure to make us cry to Him to reveal Himself to us, for how can we know Him unless He manifest Himself to us? “No man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him.” If, under such feelings as these, we cry, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord.” we shall be sure to have an answer. God will, in all probability, reveal Himself more and more to us in His holy character; He will honour us by letting us more and more into the secrets of His mind; and when He reveals to us His mind, we shall the more easily trace His way. When we say, “Teach me Thy way,” not under the pressure of any present doubt or difficulty, we may be sure that God will recognise the desire to know Himself.
But who is there that does not know, only, alas! too well, the need of being taught what is God’s way when placed in difficult circumstances, and when difficult questions arise? It is very true, that if our principles of action are taught us of God, they will carry us through innumerable difficulties, solving hard questions, pointing out the one right way where many roads appear to meet, but there are occasions when such principles of action do not carry us through our need. The fault may be in ourselves, but at such a time we need teaching as to which is the way of God. We are now so circumstanced that we must act one way or another; we are pressed upon from without, so that we must decide, and that perhaps at once; we may fail to trace any external indications of the Divine will; what remains for us but the Psalmist’s prayer, “Teach me Thy way?” We may confidently assert that wherever this prayer is made in an earnest and honest mind, it will be respected and answered by God; none can seek His glory in carrying out His mind and will without being helped to act for it by Him. We may be prepared for action; to do whatever is to be done, or to do the very reverse may be easy; the question is, “what, or which is to be done?” God will shew, if we say in truth “Teach me Thy way.”
God has many ways of giving guidance in action, when the direction is thus left to Him. Sometimes He wall close up all avenues except the right one; at times He will so strongly impress the mind, that there can be no doubt but that He is speaking to it; or He will, perhaps, give a wonderful unanimity of judgment to those who are consulted about the matter, so that looking at the question even from different points of view they still come to the same conclusion; it may be that He will not use any of these means, but will so order incidental circumstances, that they may gently and almost imperceptibly put us into such a position, that we can act in but one way; he who says “what or which is the way of God?” shall never be left unguided.
If we turn to Psalm xxxii, 8, we have a beautiful promise of guidance, which is well worth our consideration, from the way in which that guidance is to be given; “I will guide thee with mine eye.” What is the promise here? That of guidance. How is this guidance to be given? By the eye.
By some no doubt it will be said, “Guidance! well, after all that is not much; we have sufficient sense to guide ourselves; we have the Scripture, that is guide enough; we do not want a religion that deals in specialities; we understand no such peculiarities as ‘guidance with the eye.’” This is no uncommon language from the world, and very often when men shrink from saying this, they by no means shrink from acting it out. But God’s people recognise in the promise of guidance a most valuable blessing. They know their position here, that they are strangers and pilgrims; they know how many roads cross, or for a time run parallel with, the way of life; they are not ignorant of the existence of myriads of evil spirits, whose sole aim is to seduce them from the narrow path, who spend every energy in trying to ruin their souls; all this they know; and they know moreover that if left to themselves they must be seduced and finally fall away. The people of God know their need of continual guidance, and that, in every day life, as well as in their purely spiritual things, in little matters as well as great. But this is not always known at once. Some of the Lord’s dear people have thought that they could guide themselves; they were well-intentioned; they really wished to do what was right; they were possessed of excellent natural abilities, but with all these advantages they have gone deplorably wrong. God let them go their own way for a while, just to teach them that their way was not His, and that it was only so far as they were under guidance that they were safe.
There are some who it seems must be taught in this manner, or else they will not learn at all, no doubt such are saved, but no doubt also such are sorely bruised.
In what position are you, dear reader, standing now; have you learned your need of guidance; does this appeal to your experience; are these matters well known to you; or do you think they are things with which ordinary people have nothing at all to do? The Lord’s people know well that this guidance is a matter of positive necessity. It is not more necessary that a little child of two or three years of age should be guided in the crowded street, than that they should. It does not matter how old or how wise we are, or how good our natural abilities, or how often we have guided others, and advised them well in their temporal affairs; we need guidance in everything, in every place, and every day.
Let us enquire what is our present standing? Have we entered God’s family, and learned to look into the Father’s face; have we been espoused to Christ, and learned to read His looks; do we feel that we cannot do what is right, unless we be specifically taught of God?
The phrase “doing what is right,” must not now be taken in the low sense which is generally given to it by many in the world. They mean by it, coming to church, and giving subscriptions (generally the stereotyped “guinea”) to charities, and having family prayers, and paying their debts, and keeping good company, and being in the ordinary acceptation of the words “good living people.” But God’s guidance leads a man far beyond all these. All these can be done without any guidance from heaven at all. What is now meant by “doing right,” is acting consistently as a member of the family of God. When we are placed in delicate and difficult circumstances, when all ordinary landmarks are removed, when our usual counsellors are silent, when even outward providential circumstances are withheld, are there such communications passing between God’s mind and ours, that we can feel that we are under His guidance? Can we hear God speaking to us when there is not a sound? can we see Him when there is not a sign? can we read where nothing is written? have we the intelligence of love?
Say, in what does the perfection of home relationship consist? is it in the fact that meals are spread at proper hours, that cleanliness is the characteristic of the house, that there is no open jarring or quarrelling, no gross violation of well known rules, and such like things? All these have their value in the happiness of home; but the perfection of happiness requires something more. The gross, or to use a gentler term, the unrefined mind will be content with such things as are catalogued above; but there are other minds too highly polished, too finely strung for this; their estimate of what the happiness of home should be, is pitched too high to be reached by what might be called the common decencies and civilities of life.
No! the perfection of home relationship consists in the intuitive understanding of each other’s heart, in the mutual possession of that secret, which makes one look stand for many words, yea, for feelings, which the great Creator never intended to be expressed in words at all; such an instrumentality as this, stands in the place of a thousand rules; and gives guidance, and direction, in countless emergencies, and difficulties, and apparently little things. This is what makes brethren dwell together in unity; what anoints the wheels of life, so that they never creak and jar; no, not when they have to bear the heaviest load, or have to go over the roughest road; this is like the ointment which flowed down upon the skirts of the High Priest’s robe; who can tell what springs up beneath it, for it is as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion? And now, come back from all earthly homes, to the matter which they have been illustrating, and remember that us in them, so also in the family of God, much is required, for which there is no rule, no guide, but the intuition of love; no remembrancer but (not the declaration, but) the expression of God’s mind; and is it not au inestimable blessing to all who wish to be one with God, that they have given to them the promise which we have been considering now? Oh, that we so continually fixed our minds upon our Father’s face, that we so daily gazed upon His looks, and that we were filled, yea, so fully, with His love, that we needed neither bit nor bridle, neither goad nor rod, nothing but a look, nothing but the fulfilment of the promise, “I will guide thee with mine eye.”
May God give to all who read these lines, that delicate organization of heart, by which they shall have intuitive understanding of His look, and mind, and will. Oh may He separate us more and more from the grossness of mind, which requires the bridle or the goad; oh may He refine us by the mysterious processes of His unearthly love; then, in the midst of all perplexity, we shall not be confused; in the midst of all failure we shall not be cast down; but calmly and peacefully shall we pass onward to our rest, as safe in the darkness as in the light, by the precipice as in the plain, in the crowd as when alone; each child of God a traveller through a strange land to his own bright home, wayfaring, it is true, yet wayfaring in the security of a promise from above, hearing at every hard pass of his onward path, the promise we have here, a promise from the eternal God Himself, “I will guide thee with mine eye.”
Thus, then, the people of the Lord desire teaching, and that from Him, preparatory to action. They want to know God’s will, in order that they may do it, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord, I will walk in Thy truth.”
Honesty of mind is a characteristic of every man really born again of the Holy Ghost. The Spirit-taught man is led to say, without any reserve or limitation, “I will walk.” There are many who are prepared to go so far, but no further. They will carry out God’s teaching, provided it does not make too great demands upon them. Perhaps such persons are not themselves conscious of the state of mind in which they are. They think that they are prepared for everything; and so they are “for everything they know;” but what if God set before them something much harder than anything that had ever entered even into their imagination? We have such a case as this brought before us in Matthew xix, 16. A young man comes to Jesus and says, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Jesus puts forth the moral law, as a simple answer to his question, for no doubt if he kept that, without a single flaw, he could be saved by it; “if he did,” but who ever did? who ever could, save Jesus? and then proceeding yet further, He says to Him, “if thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow Me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.”
Here was indeed a hard trial, an opening up of a path far more difficult than had ever entered into this young man’s mind; and the hard trial discovers limitations, and reservations, which otherwise might never have been perceived. Would a like trial discover like imperfections in ourselves?
If indeed we know ourselves, we shall almost tremble at this thought; we shall feel the awful solemnity of saying such words as these, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord, I will walk in Thy truth;” and yet we shall not dare to hold back from making them our own.
How can we be true-hearted, and yet hold back! What then shall we do? Let us prepare to pray the Psalmist’s words, from the bottom of our hearts; let us also prepare to make his determination, in deep reality ill’ soul. True! there is something awful in this; but if we know our weakness, and simply rely upon Divine strength, we shall be carried through; God Himself will undergird us for the storm-tossed waters, through which we may be called upon to sail; by Him shall we be shod for the rough road on which we may be called upon to tread; and we shall be enabled to carry out, as well as make the determination of the Psalmist, which is before us now. Who can tell whither such a walk will lead him upon earth; whither, when he has done with earth for ever?
Philip Bennett Power (1822-1899) entered the ministry of the Church of England in 1846. He served congregations in Leicester, Holloway (in London), and Worthing until 1865. During the last 34 years of his life he was an invalid. His writings include The ‘I Wills’ of Christ and A Book of Comfort, both of which have been re-issued by the Banner of Truth Trust.
This article is taken from his book The ‘I Wills’ of Christ, chapter VII.
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