The Spirit Leading
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). This verse presents to us another aspect of the varied work of the blessed Holy Spirit. In addition to all His other functions, He performs the office of Guide unto the godly. Nor is this peculiar to the present dispensation: He so ministered during the Old Testament times. This is brought out clearly in Isaiah 63, "Where is He that brought them up out of the Sea with the shepherd of His flock? where is He that put His holy Spirit within him? That led them by the right hand of Moses with His glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make Himself an everlasting name? That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble? As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORDcaused him to rest: so didst Thou lead Thy people, to make Thyself a glorious name" (vv. 11-14). Moses was no more able, by his own power, to induce the Hebrews to pass between the divided waters of the Red Sea and to cross the trackless desert, than by the mere extending of the rod he could divide those waters. Moses was simply the human instrument: the Holy Spirit was the efficient Agent.
In the above passage we have more than a hint of how the Holy Spirit "leads": it is by means of an inward impulse, as well as by external directions. Among his comments upon Romans 8:14 Matthew Henry says, "Led by the Spirit as a scholar in his learning is led by his tutor, as a traveler in his journey is led by his guide, as a soldier in his engagements is led by his captain." But such analogies are inadequate, for they present only the external side, leaving out of account the internal operations of the Spirit, which are even more essential. "O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). By nature we are not only ignorant of God’s way, but reluctant to walk therein even when it is shown us, and therefore we find the Church praying "Draw me, we will run after Thee" (Song. 1:4). Ah, we never seek unto God, still less "run after Him," till we are Divinely drawn.
This humbling truth was well understood by David of old. First, he prayed, "Teach me, O LORD, the way of Thy statutes . . . Give me understanding" (Ps. 119:33, 34). But second, he realized that something more than Divine illumination was needed by him: therefore did he add, "Make me to go in the path of Thy commandments . . . Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies," (vv. 35, 36). By nature our hearts are averse from God and holiness. We can be worldly of ourselves, but we cannot be heavenly of ourselves. The power of sin lies in the love of it, and it is only as our affections are Divinely drawn unto things above that we are delivered from sin’s dominion. Moreover, our wills are perverse, and only as supernatural grace is brought to bear upon them are they "inclined" Godwards. Thus, to be "led by the Spirit of God" is to be governed by Him from within, to be subject unto His secret but real impulses or strivings.
Not only are our hearts inclined by nature unto temporal, material, worldly, and evil things, rather than unto eternal, spiritual, heavenly and holy things, but they are by inveterate customtoo. As soon as we are born we follow the bent of our natural appetites, and the first few years of our life are governed merely by sense; and the pleasures begotten by gratifying our senses become deeply ingrained in us. Moreover, by constant living in the world and long contact with material things, the tendency increases upon us and we become more strongly settled in a worldly frame. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil" (Jer. 13:23). Custom becomes a "second nature" to us: the more we follow a certain course of life, the more we delight in it, and we are only weaned from it with very great difficulty.
Natural lusts and appetites being born and bred in us from infancy, continue to cry out for indulgence and satisfaction. The will has become bent to a carnal course and the heart craves material pleasures. Hence, when the claims of God are presented to us, when the interests of our souls and the things of eternity are brought before us, when the "beauty ofholiness" is presented to our view, they find our wills already biased in the contrary direction and our heart prepossessed with other inclinations, which by reason of long indulgence bind us to them. The heart being deeply engaged with and delighting in temporal and worldly things, is quite unable to respond to the dictates of reason and set itself upon that which is heavenly and Divine; and even the voice of conscience is unheeded by the soul, which prefers the insidious lullaby of Satan. Nothing but the Almighty power of the Holy Spirit can turn ("lead") the heart in a contrary direction.
Now the heart is inclined toward God when the habitual bent of our affections is more to holiness than to worldly things. As the power of sin lies in the love of it, so it is with indwelling grace. Grace prevails over us when we so love the things of God that the bent of the will and the strength of our affections is carried after them. When the course of our desires and endeavors, and the strength and stream of our souls runs out after holiness, then the heart is "inclined" Godwards. And how is this brought to pass, how does God reduce our rebellious hearts and mold them to the obedience of His will? The answer is, by His Word and by His Spirit; or putting it another way, by moral persuasion and by gracious power.
"And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes" (Ezek. 36:27). God does this by combining together invincible might and gentle inducements. God works upon us morally, not physically, because He will preserve our nature and the principles thereof. He does not force us against our wills, but sweetly draws us. He presents weighty reasons, casting into the mind one after another, till the scales be turned and then all is made efficacious by His Spirit. Yet this is not a work which He does in the soul once and for all, but is often renewed and repeated; and that because the "flesh" or sinful nature remains in us, unchanged, even after regeneration. Therefore do we need to ask God to continue inclining our hearts toward Himself.
This brings us to notice the intimate connection which exists between our present text and the verse immediately preceding it. "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Rom. 8:13):—if we yield ourselves to the Spirit’s impulses to restrain our evil propensities and our proneness to indulge them, then Heaven will be our portion, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (v. 14). Thus Romans 8:14 is said in confirmation and amplification of verse 13: only those who are ruled by the Spirit give evidence that they are the "sons of God." To be "led by the Spirit," then, means, as the whole context clearly shows, to "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (v. 4), to "mind the things of the Spirit" (v. 5), to "through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body" (v. 13). Suitably did Calvin remark on Romans 8:14, "Thus the empty boasting of hypocrites is taken away, who without any reason assume the title of sons of God."
Thus we are "led by the Spirit" both actively and passively: actively, with respect to His prompting; passively on our part, as we submit to those promptings; actively, by His pressing upon us the holy requirements of the Scriptures; passively, as we yield ourselves unto those requirements. The Spirit is our Guide, but we must obey His motions. In the immediate context it is His restraining motives which are in view, moving us to the mortifying of sin. But His "leading" is not to be restricted to that: He exercises inviting motives, encouraging us unto the perfecting of holiness. And this being guided and governed by the Holy Spirit is an infallible proof that we are living members of God’s family.
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