Source: Hibbert, Gerald K., ed. Studies in Quaker Thought Thought and Practice, Part II. London: Friends' Home Service Committee, 1936.
This Document is on The Quaker Writings Home Page.
" Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. " In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths."
Few aspects of the Christian life are being more widely canvassed at the present time than the
experiences which belong to divine guidance. To many the possibility of a guided life is becoming
a j oyous realization, accompanied by a perhaps inadequate appreciation of the dangers of
self-deception which may be bound up with expectation of guidance. Onlookers who know the
mistakes, serious or trivial, often made by beginners in the life of surrender to the leadings of
God's spirit, may be fortified in their resolve neither to seek nor to share in such experience. We
had better recognize at the outset that we do entertain a kind of resistance to the very idea of
guidance. Mr. Warde Fowler in his lectures on the Religion of the Romans points out that
Aeneas is not an attractive hero precisely because he is pious or dutiful. His actions are
determined for him, and he is not self-determined. In the same way in the Old Testament an
affectionate interest centers on blundering, self-willed David which is not evoked by the
meekness of Moses. We start life loving to choose and see our path, keen to maintain our
independence, and resolved to be the captains of our own souls and the masters of our fate. Our
wills are ours, and we intend to keep them so. It is only gradually that we learn that our actual
choice in life is a choice of masters, and that only in God's service is there true freedom. When
we become aware that our declarations of independence may land us in real slavery in subjection
to some interest or some authority less than the highest, we reach the point where we may sing,
" Lead, kindly Light", but at this very stage new dangers may easily emerge. We may expect the
right action to be prompted or the right word suggested, from moment to moment. We would be
trustful as a child, and guided where to go, and in that spirit we may seek to shelve all the
responsibility for judgment. But divine inspiration IS meant to enlighten rather than supersede
our powers of rational and moral judgment. As the writer of Green Pastures puts it, "I guess de
Lord means us to figure out a few things for ourselves." If we forget this, and, despising reason,
expect that every detail will be made plain to us in some super-rational manner, we may be
snared either by anxiety or by an excessive quietism. Those who expect definite guidance to be
guaranteed by some sign or some particular psychological character, may be unnecessarily
distressed or remain inactive and quiescent because no sign comes.
The very word " Guidance " is apt to be most closely associated with promptings in relation to
the details of daily life, and we become concerned with the technique or recognizing when such
promptings rise from a heavenly spring, but it may be that in all this we need to begin further
back, since the phrase " the Lord shall direct our paths " has reference to the whole ordering of
our lives rather than to the solution of isolated problems of conduct. The divine influence is
likely to be manifested first and foremost in the awakening of interests that are to shape our lives
as a whole, and not in detailed suggestions to which an adequate response can be made the
moment they arise in our minds. Experiences which awaken to the value and meaning of human
life , or which call for dedication to some great cause are more significant forms of guidance than
any unexpected impulse or prompting to speak to A, or to walk down Street X rather than Street
Moments of insight and vision that should control the general direction of our lives may be given to us without a guarantee that just the same kind of spiritual assurance will accompany every word uttered or deed done in obedience to such vision. Like Moses, we have to play the man as seeing Him who is invisible. We have to be ready to learn that
" Deeds in hours of insight willed May be in hours of gloom fulfilled."
Divine guidance comes supremely in such hours of insight. Take this, for example, from J.W.N. Sullivan's book, But for the Grace of God:
"It is only in exceptional moods that we realize how wonderful are the commonest experiences of life. . .I remember vividly my first experience of the kind when as a boy, I came suddenly upon the quiet miracle of an ivy-clad wall glistening under a London street-lamp. I wanted to weep and I wanted to pray; to weep for the Paradise from which I had been exiled, and to pray that I might yet be made worthy of it. Such moments are rare, in my experience. But their influence is permanent.... There are analogous moments when one suddenly sees the glory of people. On some unforgettable evening one's friend is suddenly seen as the unique, irreplaceable and utterly delightful being that he is.... He exists wholly in his own right; his significance is eternal, and the essential mystery of his being is as fathomless as that of God Himself."
It is in such moments that God reveals Himself to us, and gives us guidance for life. Happy are
those warriors who get their marching orders early, and whose life-work is wrought along the
plan that blessed their boyish thought. Thus the sight of a pauper's funeral determines a Harrow
school boy to devote his life to uplifting the manhood of the poor. A young man with a
companion on holiday works his way down the Mississippi, and on the steamer realizes the ugly
facts of slavery. There is nothing he can do at the moment. The impression is not guidance for
to-day, but for life, and he resolves that if ever the opportunity presents itself he will strike hard
at that institution of slavery. As quite a small boy, Roy Calvert becomes aware of the iniquity of
capital punishment, and thus God guides him to his life-work. In such awakenings we should
look first and foremost for the guiding Hand of God.
From this starting point the quotation from Proverbs at the head of this chapter may suggest the conditions on which guidance depends. The first condition will be loyalty to these moments of insight. We are to trust in the Lord with all our hearts. Among the Communists there is an organization of the young who call themselves " The Wholehearted." But to realize this type of loyalty is not easy, as we all know; but in proportion as we can realize it, we may expect to be guided. The second condition suggested in the passage from Proverbs is a certain self-distrust. " Lean not unto thine own understanding. "Those who have great self-confidence in judgment, who do not believe it possible that they might be mistaken, and who forget that they, like their fellows, may be over-taken in a fault, are the people most likely to mistake their own will for the will of God. It is the humble men at heart who will truly praise and serve God. The third condition is given in the phrase "In all thy ways acknowledge Him". To acknowledge God is to recognize His presence and His mercy. We acknowledge Him by inward acts of recollection, and by outward acts of witness. In our modern world we often let nature and our knowledge of nature come between ourselves and God. We rest in secondary causes, and fail to let our minds travel on to Him on whom all secondary causes depend. We have lost the directness of vision that characterized the Hebrew prophets. We do not trace the skill of the ploughman to divine guidance as Isaiah did. We do not acknowledge, as he did, in relation to the simple agriculture of his time," 'Tis the Eternal who this lore supplies; so great a guide, so wonderfully wise " (Isaiah 28:29). We claim our science for ourselves, instead of acknowledging it as the gift of God. But those who are never lost in wonder, love and praise, here and now, are not likely to be aware of divine guidance, or responsive to it. Those who acknowledge God will find that He directs their paths. It may not be that at the moment of taking this step or that, making this decision or that, we are vividly conscious of God's promptings; but looking back we shall know that we have been guided. If we remember the way the Lord has led us, we shall look with wonder at that which is before us.