Exodus 23: 20-23
John 16: 12-14
Psalm 25: 9
I would like to say a word with divine help as to our heavenly Guide. We were saying in the reading as to the conscience, that we cannot rely upon it as a guide. It is divinely given to us as a guard, as a warning light. Most of us are familiar with those in cars and other vehicles, that when something is wrong the light shines; there is a warning. It is a light that is ignored at the driver’s peril. If he goes on ignoring that light, disaster will strike. The conscience is like that, it is for God in the soul of the believer as a warning light, for something that will, if pursued, lead to disaster. What a provision that is of God. It is not that we should labour under a guilty conscience, but that we might be preserved from what would damage us for the testimony.
The grace of God does not stop there. He has provided a Guide for those that are guidable. For those who want to be led in the divine way, there is a Guide. I think it is set out in this reference in Exodus; God says, “Behold, I send an Angel before thee”. Sometimes when that word is used in the Old Testament, the word “Angel”, with a capital “A”, refers to the Lord Jesus; sometimes it may refer to an angel. I think this reference typically, and maybe actually, refers to the presence of the Holy Spirit. I say that because the prophet Isaiah, speaking of the children of Israel and their passage through the wilderness, says that “they rebelled and grieved his holy Spirit”, Isa 63: 10. The Holy Spirit, as we know, and have no doubt heard many times in the gospel, has come to take up His abode in believers, a very wonderful thing, but He can also be taken account of objectively as a divine Person, taking up His abode, not only in believers individually, but in the assembly, in the house of God, “a habitation of God in the Spirit”, Eph 2: 22.
I would like to focus on that point for a minute, the immensity of it, that God should be here in the Spirit. We have spoken about the blessedness of the days in flesh of the Son of man, what it was to live in close proximity and intimacy with the Lord Jesus. But He has left this scene; He has gone away. He is coming again, but He has gone away, but no less wonderful is the fact that the Holy Spirit of God is here, a divine Person. That is not a doctrine; it is a fact. The Spirit of God has come. He came down at Pentecost and He made His presence felt; though in Person unseen, though His activities to us are mysterious, yet His presence is a known reality. He makes His presence felt when He takes up His abode in the believer individually but how wonderful to think that He has come as a guide for the people of God: “I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way”. How wonderful to think of God providing for that, for the wilderness journey, for the present moment. These people were walking through the wilderness. You might have said if you looked at them naturally that they did not have a guide. You could cross the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan in eleven days, in those days, and these people wandered, or so it seemed, in what was an eleven day journey, for forty years. You may say, they did not have much of a guide, if you looked at it naturally. If you looked at the people of God naturally today you might say that too, all scattered outwardly; what was constituted at the beginning publicly broken down: where is the evidence of the guide?
What the wilderness journey brought out was that God was teaching them about Himself:
In the desert God will teach thee
What the God that thou hast found
Then He was also teaching them about themselves; the journey in the wilderness was to humble them. We all need to be humbled. If we do not humble ourselves, God will humble us for our good. Peter says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God”, 1 Pet 5: 6. You may say that sounds a bit severe, a bit drastic, but it is for our good. The opposite is to be proud, and “God sets himself against the proud”, 1 Pet 5: 5. It is a thing that is intolerable to God, pride in man. But, He was humbling them; with what grace God humbled them, but He was teaching them the character of the God that He was. Provision was made at every step, the manna, morning by morning, the rock that followed them, the cloud by day, and the fire by night, every need was met so that their sandals did not wear out, their clothes did not wear out (Deut 29: 5); God was providing for them. He was able to provide; He was teaching them to trust Him, as He would teach us to trust Him. He says, “I will be to you for a Father” (2 Cor 6: 18) - think of God saying that. It is not, in that scripture, the full height of sonship, but the fact that God will provide, He could be relied upon. The Lord Jesus said, “your Father knows that ye have need of these things”, Luke 12: 30. Those who have been humbled by Him can be rely upon Him to provide. We do not have to take forethought for those things because God knows what we need. He provides what we need, not always what we want, but He provides what we need; God has undertaken to do that. Even though they appeared to be wandering and scattered there was a Guide leading them along that path of learning and humbling to the land of His promise.
That is an interesting way to view the present time. All these things coalesce in the experience of the believer. We are in the wilderness. We have, if we are the Lord’s - and I am speaking to those that are believers - an assurance of being with Him and like Him forever in His own circumstances. The forming, the learning time, is now; and in the trackless desert you can go your own way if you wish, but there is a Guide to keep you, if you are guidable. If there is a Guide available, it raises the question whether I am a person that is content to be guided, or whether I think I know best. The sad fact is that many believers have lost contact with the Guide; they have turned to one path or another because they were not attached to the Guide that God has provided. A whole generation perished in the wilderness, except two faithful men who came through. Paul reminds us, “For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea … all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink … yet God was not pleased with the most of them”, 1 Cor 10: 1-5. They were rebellious by nature, and they perished in the wilderness. God does not want any of us to perish in the wilderness, to perish in the testimony. We may have been saved from our sins, and saved from the wrath to come, but are we practically saved? The wilderness is a terrible place to be without a guide, there are lots of dead bones there, no resource outwardly, but this heavenly Guide was providing all that they needed and required in order that they might not perish in the wilderness, that they might not fall, they might not “be lusters after evil things”, 1 Cor 10: 6. He says, “But these things happened as types of us, that we should not be lusters after evil things, as they also lusted”. The lust is from within, that we might not be idolaters. They became idolaters, though God had brought them out of Egypt. They reared up a calf, the high priest himself did that - surely, you might think, a man like him could be relied upon, but he made a calf for them to worship. Think of how the feelings of God were affected by that, the God who had provided all and delivered them from bondage. Then it says, “The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play” (1 Cor 10: 7); they sported round the idol, and they rebelled against God. These things happened to them and are recorded for us, “for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come”, 1 Cor 10: 11. The Guide points things out like that for us so that we might not make the mistakes that others have made, we might be preserved from perishing in the wilderness. He says, “to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee to the place that I have prepared”. There is no doubt about it. They sang on the banks of the Red Sea anticipatively that -
Thou by thy mercy hast led forth the
people that thou hast redeemed;
Thou hast guided them by thy strength
unto the abode of thy holiness,
Exod 15: 13. You might say that was a spiritual view of the activities of the blessed Spirit of God, “Thou hast guided them by thy strength unto the abode of thy holiness”. Only Caleb and Joshua, as far as we know, of the original men that came out, went through, but the continuity is preserved in them, that God guided them by His strength all those years, “unto the abode of thy holiness”.
The word is “be careful in His presence”. The Holy Spirit of God is here and He can be grieved; they “grieved his holy Spirit”. He can be grieved by us personally, those of us that are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and no doubt we are conscious of times when He has been grieved by what we have said or what we have done, or where we have gone, because He has taken up His abode in the believer. I would have to say for myself that I have taken Him where He would not want to go and He has been grieved by that. The benefit of His guidance and care may, for a time, have been lost as a result. Be careful in His presence. It has been said of the blessed Spirit of God that He does not assert Himself; He is here with divine prerogatives and power but He can be grieved and the operation of His power can be quenched, “quench not the Spirit; do not lightly esteem prophecies”, 1 Thess 5: 19, 20. His guidance may come through a prophet, through a prophetic word; He may be pleased to offer guidance through an obscure source. The Spirit of God may take an obscure source to give guidance. Even the apostle Paul was told by the Spirit from an obscure brother not to go up to Jerusalem, and it would seem that for a time he became detached from the heavenly Guide because such was his mind that he would go up to Jerusalem, Acts 21. I venture to suggest that if a servant of the Lord, a man such as the apostle Paul, could do that, it behoves us to be careful in the Holy Spirit’s presence, our ear attuned for the guidance that He would offer, not despising it because of the instrument that He may use, but recognising the source of it for our good - “Be careful in his presence, and hearken unto his voice: do not provoke him”: the allowance of what I am as a man in the flesh is what provokes the Spirit of God. “Do not provoke him, for he will not forgive your transgressions”. It reminds me of what the Lord said as to the sin against the Holy Spirit, “whosoever shall speak injuriously against the Holy Spirit, to eternity has no forgiveness”, Mark 3: 29. You could not think of any true believer on the Lord Jesus committing that sin, but it brings out how the Spirit of God is to be viewed by us. He says, “he will not forgive your transgressions”; the Lord Jesus said, a sin against the Son of man would be forgiven, but a sin against the Holy Spirit, He says, “to eternity has no forgiveness”. What a solemn thing that is; what care we need in the presence of this heavenly Guide who is guiding the people of God. They are in His charge; the testimony of our Lord is in His charge, and He is guiding the people of God to their inheritance.
He says, “if thou shalt diligently hearken unto his voice, and do all that I shall say, then I will be an enemy to thine enemies”. It is an interesting feature of God’s people of old that when they were faithful to God, as He promised in His word, there was resident power among them to deal with enemies; there was no enemy too great that they could not deal with as they were with God; but when they turned away from God into idolatry they were overrun, sometimes by enemies that were very puny and very small and insignificant. They looked upon Ai as so insignificant that it did not really need all of them to go up and fight it, it could be taken at a stroke, but they departed from God, and the result was embarrassment and being overcome, Josh 7. That is a great lesson for us, that as we are hearkening to the divine Guide, there will be power proved to deal with evil when it arises. There will be power to resist the wicked one, the god of this world. John says, “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world”, 1 John 4: 4. I wonder if we believe that. The enemy of our souls is very powerful and very great, but the One who has taken up His abode in us is greater and does not only give the believer individually the victory over the world, but He will give the people of God, too, the victory over all that that is brought in to distract us and lead us astray from the pathway of the will of God.
The Lord Jesus said of Him, that “he shall guide you into all the truth”. These are remarkable things that are said of the Spirit of God in John’s gospel. He says, “I have yet many things to say to you”; think of all that the Lord brought out in the days of His flesh but there was even more. I wonder if there is an interest in these things, the things that the Lord would like to communicate to us? “I have yet many things to say to you”, as you read it you wonder why they did not ask him about that. He says earlier, “I go to him that has sent me, and none of you demands of me, Where goest thou? But because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart”, v 5, 6. The Lord spoke about the Father, and He spoke about the Father’s house and He was free to do that in this part of the gospel; His life had been spent publicly in ministering to others, healing, comforting, cheering, entering into the circumstances of others. Who was there that was able and willing to enter into His things, into His circumstances? The traitor is exposed, he goes out, and in this inner circle the Lord looks round upon this company, and He is free now, chap 13. The cross is before Him, His life here was coming to an end and there was so much to convey. What little time was left here for the Lord to speak of these things? He says, “I have yet many things to say to you”. You wonder why it did not, at this point, spark an interest, an enquiry with them, but the Lord says, “ye cannot bear them now”. There was much that He brought out that they could not really understand until the Spirit came, but there was much that could not even be brought out until the Spirit of God came. As we sang in our hymn (No 158), He is the searcher of the depths of God. Think of what is within His control to bring out. I wonder whether we have realised the possibilities of the abiding presence of the Spirit of God here. Has He ceased to speak? We can point to distinctive ministries of the past that have been marked by the speaking of the Spirit of God, but has that ceased when those beloved servants passed off the scene? I do not think it has ceased: “when he is come, the Spirit of truth, he shall guide you into all the truth”. He says elsewhere, “he shall teach you all things”, John 14: 26. Nobody else could do that. You could go to school, university, there is nobody else that could teach you all things, but this Guide, as we establish an intimate relationship with Him, He is able to teach us all things. Would you be a pupil in that class? Could I encourage, with my own heart, and with my brethren, a greater interest in the things that He would teach? Not just telling us things for our information, but teaching them: that is, forming the saints, the heavenly company here on earth, forming them in relation to the great things of God; “he shall guide you into all the truth”. The question is, am I guidable? Am I such that the Spirit of God could lead into the knowledge of the truth, or do I prefer my own opinion? Am I an opinionated person: anything that comes up, I have an opinion about it, a view; or am I willing in humility to be led by the Spirit of God, “he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself”? Think of a divine Person taking that position that He would not speak from Himself but He would communicate what He heard. The Lord Jesus said the same thing of Himself, John 7: 16, 17. The words that He spoke were those that He heard; He communicated what He heard from the Father. It says of the Holy Spirit that, “he shall not speak from himself”. I suggest that if that divine Person has taken up that position, it ill behoves any of us to speak from ourselves, but, “if any one speak - as oracles of God”, 1 Pet 4: 11. No other speaking is worth listening to; speaking that originates in the mind and heart of man is of little account when you put it along side speaking as oracles of God. “He shall not speak from himself; but whatsoever he shall hear he shall speak; and he will announce to you what is coming”. Is our interest caught by what is coming? We are often very occupied with what is past, what has happened, and who said what, who did what, who was right, and who was wrong, but what about what is coming? The Spirit of God desires to prepare us for the great eternal scene into which we are going to be ushered so soon. He cries “Come” with the bride, Rev 22: 17. It is the Spirit’s own cry as well as in the Bride, working with such unpromising material, but securing an answer for the heart of Christ in a company of persons that are like the heavenly One; “such as the heavenly one, such also the heavenly ones”, 1 Cor 15: 48. They are persons who do not belong here. The Lord Jesus spoke of them in chapter 17, “they are not of the world, as I am not of the world”, v 14. Think of the Lord saying that to the Father: that little company, the nucleus of the assembly, they did not belong here; they were heavenly men, they were the Father’s men. They were loved by Him because they had been given to Him by the Father, out of the world, and His service had been to guard them and to keep them that their heavenly character might be preserved intact. They are not of the world, and the Holy Spirit will announce to us what is coming that we might be preserved in our heavenly character here even while we are on earth.
I read the last passage because it says, “The meek will he guide in judgment”. Could I be guided in judgment? I find that I am very ready to express a judgment about things and about persons. This verse has weighed with me lately. It is very easy to become critical of others, critical of one another, and self-righteousness enters into that, but, “The meek will he guide in judgment”. How often things come up amongst us and we want to know what somebody else thinks about it, what their view is. But what is the divine view? Am I concerned to get the divine view? God has a view. God is going to “bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing”, Eccl 12: 14. That verse has struck me lately; there is no human organisation or bureaucracy that could cope with it. The court system of this country could never cope with that, but God is going to “bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing”. God has a view - a view of all that I do, all that I say. He has a view of things that may affect me that are outside of my control. God has a view; am I concerned to have that view or do I prefer my own opinion? “The meek will he guide in judgment”. People that can be guided, recognise that they have no resource in themselves. That is a tremendous thing to come to. Not only that your will is broken, but any natural or native wit or intelligence that you may have is of no assistance to you in the things of God; you have no resource outside of this heavenly Guide. He is the exclusive means by which God can communicate His mind to us, and by which we can communicate the mind of God to one another. To receive and to understand and to communicate the things of God is the exclusive province of this heavenly Guide. “The meek will he guide in judgment”. How wonderful to be guided like that. But then it says, “the meek will he teach his way”. God has a way of doing things and it is very different from our ways. He said long ago, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”, Isa 55: 8. The history of the testimony has shown that God’s way is very different from man’s way. How we need to be taught God’s way particularly when insisting upon the truth. You may have a judgment as to what is right and you may be right in that judgment, but in the insistence upon it, it is so easy to be marked by self-righteousness and a “holier than thou” attitude, Isa 65: 5. The Spirit of God will teach God’s way. Many of us would say from experience that that way is marked by infinite patience. God is patient with slow learners. Some of us would have to confess to being very, very slow learners, and have hardly learnt much yet in the school of God, but His way is marked by patience, it is marked by an infinitude of grace; but there is a way by which God operates and He will teach it to those that are meek enough to learn it in preference to their own way, “For the arms of our warfare are not fleshly”, 2 Cor 10: 4. How easy it is to resort to carnal weaponry, to politics and manipulation and all the things that mark the way that man conducts his affairs. They are beneath the heavenly people that are journeying under the guidance of a heavenly Guide to their eternal home. They have a portion that was prepared for them before the foundation of the world, but they are left here in a trackless desert that they might learn God as well as learn about themselves, and in humility come to appreciate what God has provided for their guidance amid the confusion. What confusion there is in the day in which we are, what moral confusion. Has there ever been a day like it? We are in the days that are described as difficult days; you wonder to what extent the moral confusion and chaos in which we are found would ever have been understood by those who have gone before us, but it has been understood by God, understood by the heavenly Guide. Provision has been made for the very conditions in which we are even in this Book, which was inspired by the Spirit of God; provision has been made for the day in which we are. What a Guide He is. One would desire that these few remarks might endear the Person of the blessed Spirit to us, the grace that He should be with us in these conditions in which we are, but with a view to engaging us with what is heavenly and eternal.
May we be such that can be led on under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit to reach the great end that He has before Him.
For God’s Name’s sake.
21st April 2012