The Guidance of the Holy Spirit (Murray)

Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol 1: The Claims of Truth Murray, John cover image

Christians sometimes wonder what it means to be led by the Holy Spirit or to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is a big topic for sure! But one thing to note is that God the Holy Spirit always works in, through, and according to his word. That is, the Spirit of God will not lead a Christian to believe, think, or act in a manner that is unbiblical. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). The Holy Spirit helps us understand the things of God – truths of God (1 Cor. 2:12-13). The Spirit helps us put to death sinful deeds and he helps us obey God’s word (Rom. 8:13). He also guides us into God’s truth (John 16:13).

John Murray (a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in the mid-1900s) wrote a helpful article on this topic. Below is a longer selection from Murray’s article, “The Guidance of the Holy Spirit.” It’s worth reading!

It needs to be stressed in this connection that the Word of God is relevant to every situation in which we are placed, and in one way or another bears upon every detail and circumstance of life. This is just saying, in different words, that we are never in a situation in which we are non-moral or which is for us non-moral. The demands of God’s law are all-pervasive, and the revelation God has given to us of his will in the Scriptures applies to us in every situation. It is equally necessary to remember that we must rely upon the Holy Spirit to direct and guide us in the understanding and application of God’s will as revealed in Scripture, and we must be constantly conscious of our need of the Holy Spirit to apply the Word effectively to us in each situation. The function of the Holy Spirit in such matters is that of illumination as to what the will of the Lord is, and of imparting to us the willingness and strength to do that will.

It needs also to be recognized that, as we are the subjects of this illumination and are responsive to it, and as the Holy Spirit is operative in us to the doing of God’s will, we shall have feelings, impressions, convictions, urges, inhibitions, impulses, burdens, resolutions. Illumination and direction by the Spirit through the Word of God will focus themselves in our consciousness in these ways. We are not automata. And we are finite. We must not think, therefore, that a strong, or overwhelming feeling or impression or conviction, which we may not be able at a particular time to explain to ourselves or others, is necessarily irrational or fanatically mystical. Since we are human and not always able to view all the factors or considerations in their relations to one another, the sum total of these factors and considerations bearing upon a particular situation may focus themselves in our consciousness in what we may describe as a strong feeling or impression. In many cases, such a feeling or impression is highly rational and is the only way in which our consciousness, at a particular juncture, can take in or react to a complex manifold of thoroughly proper considerations. In certain instances, it may take us a long time to understand the meaning or implications of that impression.

It is here, however, that careful distinction is necessary. The moment we desire or expect or think that a state of our consciousness is the effect of a direct intimation to us of the Holy Spirit’s will, or consists in such an intimation and is therefore in the category of special direction from him, then we have given way to the notion of special, direct, detached communication from the Holy Spirit. And this, in respect of its nature, belongs to the same category as belief in special revelation. The only way whereby we can avoid this error is to maintain that the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit is through the means which he has provided, and that his work is to enable us rightly to interpret and apply the Scripture in the various situations of life, and to enable us to interpret all the factors which enter into each situation in the light of Scripture.

There are two observations to be made in this connection. The first is that the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit is specific. The guidance which he affords us is in the concrete moments of our daily lives. The Word of God and the illumination of the Spirit in and through the Word are in the truest sense existential. That is inherent in the belief that the Bible is revelation and that the Holy Spirit constantly seals that revelation in our hearts and minds. The second observation is that our dependence upon an infallible rule and our reliance upon the infallible Spirit do not eliminate all errors in judgment or wrong decisions on our part. We are always fallible, imperfect, and sinful. But this doctrine of guidance does eliminate the error of an erroneous criterion. If our criterion or standard of judgment is wrong, then we are deprived of the means whereby our wrong may be corrected. It is one thing to come short in the application of a right rule; it is another to have a wrong rule. It is one thing to limp in the right way; it is another thing to run in the wrong way. In the one case we have a basis for progress; in the other we have not started to make progress.

John Murray, Collected Writings, volume 1, p 187-188.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015