Divine Guidance

Wouldn’t we all like to know what the future holds for us? How can we find out? Can’t we get everyone some Urim and Thummim so that everyone knows what to do and plan for?

Well, centuries of testimony tells us that there are no quick fixes apart from Christ-centred spiritual maturity. John Newton, one-time slave trader but converted to Christ, wrote to a friend on the question of divine guidance, and after listing what not to do he said this:

But how then may the Lord’s guidance be expected? After what has been premised negatively, the question may be answered in a few words. In general, he guides and directs his people, by affording them, in answer to prayer, the light of his Holy Spirit, which enables them to understand and to love the Scriptures. The word of God is not to be used as a lottery; nor is it designed to instruct us by shreds and scraps, which, detached from their proper places, have no determinate import; but it is to furnish us with just principles, right apprehensions to regulate our judgements and affections, and thereby to influence and direct our conduct.

They who study the Scriptures, in an humble dependence upon divine teaching, are convinced of their own weakness, are taught to make a true estimate of everything around them, are gradually formed into a spirit of submission to the will of God, discover the nature and duties of their several situations and relations in life, and the snares and temptations to which they are exposed. The word of God dwells richly in them, is a preservative from error, a light to their feet, and a spring of strength and consolation. By treasuring up the doctrines, precepts, promises, examples, and exhortations of Scripture, in their minds, and daily comparing themselves with the rule by which they walk, they grow into an habitual frame of spiritual wisdom, and acquire a gracious taste, which enables them to judge of right and wrong with a degree of readiness and certainty, as a musical ear judges of sounds. And they are seldom mistaken, because they are influenced by the love of Christ, which rules in their hearts, and a regard to the glory of God, which is the great object they have in view.

The full letter is found here.

Divine Guidance

6 thoughts on “Divine Guidance

  1. Johnhttp://john.pettigrew.org.uk/blog/ says:

    Nice quotation. Although I’m a little uncomfortable with the place given to Scripture in that view – it seems even higher than God. That is, Scripture is the primary reality, and God only an “influence”. This is nuance, of course, but it’s important to realise the unintended consequences of what we say!

    pax et bonum

  2. Stephen says:

    I take your comment as a subjective reaction rather than a criticism of what Newton said.

    You can’t really have too high a view of scripture, only a low view of God. Such a thing is found, for example, amongst those with a dry orthodoxy or those who are liberal academics. John Newton was not of those sorts.

  3. Johnhttp://john.pettigrew.org.uk/blog/ says:

    Yes, it’s more of a subjective thing – it’s quite possible to understand what he said in orthodox terms. But they do smack of the “Bible-anity” that is around. Of course, without knowing much about what else he wrote, I’m quite comfortable with it; I assume that he placed God higher than the Bible. It was just a nuance that comes through – the sort of thing that is brought out (without any kind of balance) sometimes in an attempt to reduce a discussion to literalistic quotation of the Bible rather than an interation with the living God.

    I’d say that it certainly is possible to have too high a view of the Bible. The Bible is not God and must (really must) be elevated too highly. The Bible is holy because it is the story of God’s self-revelation in history. Relatively little of it is directly quoting God, and it is no part of the Christian witness that the Bible is God’s Word in the sense of being dictated by God.

    The Bible is something that exists purely to reveal God to us. It is not an end in itself. If we start treating it as such, we are guilty of idolatry.

    pax et bonum

  4. Dan B. says:

    I certainly wouldn’t say that we should worship the Bible, but I would take very seriously the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 that Scripture is God-breathed. I would think that this is the basis that (at least I would hold) Scripture is the inerrant Word of God. So, I would say that Scripture is inspired by God, meaning that he gave them the words He wanted them to say–this could mean dictation, in some sense.

  5. Stephen says:

    Scripture is God’s self-revalation in history, as you say. It also says of itself, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16, 17). This verse adds the fact that scripture has use in life transformation. The Westminster Shorter Catechism sums this up nicely:

    Q3: What does the Bible primarily teach?
    A: The Bible primarily teaches what man must believe about God and what God requires of man.

    This encapsulates what Scripture is for. Given this, it is difficult to see how you can think of someone having too high a view of it. Don’t we always want to know better what God has said about himself in it? Don’t we want to know much better how to serve him than we currently do? You cannot have too high a view of Scripture.

    You clearly are concerned about someone apparently holding firmly to scripture but not caring about God very much. I admit that this is possible. However, the point I would make is that this merely indicates that such a person does not have a high view of scripture at all. They need an even higher view, for the simple reason that this is the scripture that speaks of God in his Son. Taking scripture seriously there means taking God’s being, actions and requirements seriously. A high view of scripture means a high view of God. (This was the problem Jesus identified with the pharisees in Jn 5:39,40 – searching the scriptures yet not seeing Christ).

    Dictation: The bible does not teach or exhibit mere dictation. God is its ultimate source, but it comes through men thinking and writing in real historical situations. Therefore it bears the hallmarks of human authorship. Only someone who hasn’t thought very much about what they are reading in the Bible could hold to a strict dictation theory.

  6. Johnhttp://john.pettigrew.org.uk/blog/ says:

    The danger with elevating the Bible too high is that we put its words (actually, our interpretation of them, of course) above anything that God might be trying to say to God’s people. This is seen in those who proof-text, as though simply quoting the “Word of God” absolves us of any responsibility for thinking, or of trying to hear God speaking.

    Also, I think that we might have trouble if we think in terms merely of a scale of “high-low” in terms of holding the Bible. The danger comes not merely in elevating the Bible – it comes from elevating the Bible above relationship with God, and with seeing the Bible as inerrant in the worst sense.

    The danger, then, is (I think) in taking the Bible too seriously while not taking seriously enough the need for intepretation and prayerful contemplation.

    Anyhow, this is slightly off-track from your original post 🙂 And, as I said, I like the quotation, if properly understood.

    pax et bonum

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