The Leading of the Spirit

There is a deeply implanted desire in the hearts of believers to know ‘the leading of the Spirit’, a subject clarified only in the Scriptures of truth. Our consideration of the subject turns, first, to the instruction of the Scriptures, and secondly, to some prevalent ideas and practices amongst believers.

1. The Instruction of Scripture

There are only three direct references to the leading of the Spirit in the New Testament. The different aspects presented are best brought out by considering them in the following order.

1.‘ But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law’,GAL. 5. 18

Believers may grasp the meaning and message of the Epistle to the Galatians by noting three simple things. First, the occasion of the Epistle. There were false teachers operating in Galatia, who were teaching that the ministry of the Gospel was but an extension of Judaism. They reasoned that the keeping of the Mosaic law and the practice of circumcision had a place in God’s way of salvation for man. Paul wrote this masterpiece of spiritual logic to counteract this grave error. Secondly, the scope of the Epistle. The first two chapters are taken up with Paul’s defence of his spiritual calling; he is seen to be the apostle of liberty. The next two chapters unfold the doctrine of liberty, and the last two delineate the life of liberty. The flag of spiritual freedom flies over the whole work. Thirdly, the object of the Epistle will be seen if the former items are appreciated. As Paul develops his theme, he gives emphasis to two things. Firstly, he establishes that the cross is the sole and adequate ground of the believer’s justification before God, and secondly, that the Holy Spirit of God is the power for Christian living. In the language of the Old Testament types, Paul is showing the close and vital relationship of the feast of weeks with the passover. It is the powerful and final argument against the doctrine of works for salvation, and all doctrine of an ‘attainment’ character.

The above cited reference occurs in the section dealing with the life of liberty. At once it can be seen that one who is ‘led of the Spirit’ has abandoned ‘works of the law’ as a means of justification. He has responded to the Spirit who directs his attention to the cross, and has leaned in faith upon the Christ of the cross for acceptance before God. Furthermore, he has learned to be dependent upon the Spirit’s power for spirituality. Observance of the law and its obsolete ordinances is no safeguard against the activity of the flesh. Law rather provokes it to sin. The principle of legalism fails to produce holiness of life; hence a new power and directive is required, and this is provided in the gift of the Spirit.

2. ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God’,ROM. 8. 14

The language of this part of the Epistle to the Romans is akin to that of Galatians, but with important differences. In Galatians, Paul contrasts the present age with the superseded past. The apostle writes of the Jews, who prior to the coming of Christ were in the position of minors – they had not the status of sons. Now, however, through faith in Christ, they had been transferred from minorship to sonship. In Romans, Paul contrasts the present condition of the believer with the future ‘liberty of the glory’. The apostle reveals in the context that conduct and character are inseparable. He does not use the word ‘children’ but ‘sons’, for he is not writing of the new birth but of the evidences of relationship with God. This aspect of doctrine forbids one accepting a profession of salvation regardless of the necessary change of conduct. Grace does not encourage licence, but produces obedience of heart and a life of conformity to God’s will. A true believer does not abuse God’s grace, but is exercised toward holiness of life. The power for this is the Spirit of God, for He alone can put to death the flesh (see verse 13).

3. ‘Then was Jesus led up by the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil’,MATT. 4. 1 NEWBERRY

A comparison of the Synoptic Gospels concerning this important event in the ministry of the Lord will repay the reader. Matthew’s record attests the kingship of Christ; the Man Christ Jesus alone has the moral fitness required to fulfil the responsibilities of government. The tempter sought to deflect Him with moral corruptions which had succeeded in Adam’s case. As man’s representative, Christ must meet man’s foe in order to wrest from him his former victory. The perfect Man did so positively and finally. Being ‘led up’ by the Spirit implies, as Luke explicitly states, that He was ‘full of the Holy Ghost’, Luke 4.1. (Note that we do not read that the Lord was filled with the Spirit). His perfect and full surrender to the will of the Father enabled Him to receive, at any moment, commandment from the Father, and to do it. In the Last Adam we see the full response of love to Jehovah as He went into the wilderness, ‘in a land not sown’.

This brief review enables us to gather up the main features of the Spirit’s leading. Firstly, it involves a condition of faith in Christ, and daily dependence on the Spirit for spiritual fruit; secondly, a reproduction of God’s character in the life, and thirdly, as exemplified in our Lord, power through the same Spirit to overcome the Evil one. The implications of these features rebuke and correct some mistaken conceptions of the Spirit’s leading. It is seen at once that the leading of the Spirit is not confined to the gatherings of the saints in the assembly. Daily living and general Christian practice is taught, the principles of which, if expressed properly, will certainly improve the spirituality of the assembly. Life is not departmentalized to a degree that we can live independent of the Spirit’s leading in daily life and hope to be susceptible to the Spirit’s promptings in the assembly. The leading of the Spirit is not some force that operates spasmodically at one’s convenience. Those who live as though it were are manifestly inconsistent in their walk.

Lack of concern for spiritual things causes far too many to treat related matters as secondary. Most of life’s energy is often directed into the pursuit of secular and material interests, and when spiritual need is apparent there is sometimes resort to worthless activity in the guise of the Spirit’s leading. Small wonder that clerisy has permeated the church! Let it be borne in mind by all believers that they will only be usable in spiritual ministries according to the tenor of life in divine things. The more spiritually taught a believer is, the more effective the leading of the Spirit is likely to be in his life. Apprehension of the mind of God as revealed in the Word develops good character and sound judgment. The truth of God, in contrast to the policies of men, does not change. Therefore, the well-taught saint will progress in obedience and faith, irrespective of the seemingly unfavourable appearance of things around, or of the roughness of the way.

2. Some Prevalent Ideas


That emotions are divinely created is indisputable. The distinctions that obtain are beautiful, and afford pleasure to the Creator. Miserable beings those who will endeavour to make all alike! The emotionalism now in mind, however, is of a ‘religious’ nature; it can make a minister of the Word ‘professional’ in style and ‘long-winded’, although his spiritual power has gone, or it can cause the most cantankerous man to weep in religious sentiment. ‘Strange fire’ was forbidden in Israel’s sanctuary of old. Woollen garments which generate heat were not to be worn by the priests in performing their duties before Jehovah. This teaches us that the Spirit is not only hindered by the flesh as the principle of sin, but also by the flesh as it seeks to serve God.


On occasions, one great basic principle behind true spiritual ability in ministry is lost sight of. On the one hand, time spent in preparation for any given project is vital for success, while on the other hand, some may act effectively under conditions of necessity without prior specific preparation. But this cannot be repeated without the intense labour of premeditation. The Spirit does enable such speakers to co-ordinate material quickly, employing the continuous exercises of the individual so used. With others, however, their ministry is a result of much prior preparation. The dangers are that ministry with prior specific preparation can be delivered mechanically, while ministry without such preparation can lack order and substance; each speaker must determine before the Lord how he has been equipped to serve, indeed whether he should be a speaker at all. Another danger is that some speakers who claim to be led of the Spirit form a habit of following others in ministry, basing their own remarks on the previous speaker’s subject. This can be a great success if they indeed are led of the Spirit along this line of ministry, but in other cases this may result in passages of the Word being read with the make-believe air of ability, the true meaning remaining untouched in a multitude of words. This danger arises from a state of mental laziness which will not apply itself to ‘labouring in the word’. The leading of the Spirit never relieves us of this responsibility. The lampstand of the holy place was of ‘beaten work’.


On the other hand, it does not follow that the individual who has made preparation for public ministry must immediately express himself. Restlessness may cause one to act impatiently to the detriment of the well-being of the assembled saints. Forcing an opening by selecting a ‘suitable’ hymn, or over riding another who manifests some exercise about participation in ministry, are forms of assertion that bring the leading of the Spirit into disrepute. Self-abnegation is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and timeliness in activity is His work. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, 1 Cor. 14. 32.


Sometimes there is not sufficient spiritual ability to continue a theme in worship, and that is to be lamented. On the other hand, the development of a theme cannot properly be forced into a meeting, neither is it necessary to follow slavishly something that has been started. Such procedure can easily become ‘artificial’, ‘manufactured’ or ‘automatic’. This conception has been the cause of silence on the part of some who could take part publicly to the profit of all. Again, young believers may take part in worship in a gathering, without waiting for more mature years of greater knowledge and experience necessary to pursue a theme constructively and spiritually. Because the gracious Spirit has been pleased to guide the saints progressively along a given aspect of truth in the past, let us discipline our hearts to discern and follow it in reality when it recurs, and not attempt to imitate it mechanically.


Under the guise of the Spirit’s leading, many a breach of good manners has been committed. Out of a spirit of envy or bigotry individuals prevent others of greater ability participating. The sin of clerisy is certainly to be shunned, but so is ‘every-man ministry’; the New Testament shows the wrong of both extremes. It is unsound and unscriptural to talk of ‘having one’s turn’. Not all are gifted for public ministries. Grief has filled the hearts of many saints who have witnessed individuals suddenly taking part after long periods of silence, particularly because some ‘stranger’ or ‘gifted’ person is present. After the unmannerly demonstration of their ‘unrecognized ability’ they lapse into their silence again. How grieving to the Spirit this must be!


A barren routine that is maintained through a dormant knowledge of the Lord’s commandments is to be deplored. How wearisome is the procedure of natural sentiment which never presents anything fresh and instructive!

In all these items one recognizes that the overruling operations of the Spirit have been seen, and will, doubtless, be seen again. The aim of these remarks is to cause us genuinely to cry, ‘Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits’, Song of Songs, 4. 16.

Conclusion of the series.


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