“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak;”
I would think, were I a non-Christian, I would have big issues with the implications of this statement of Jesus’. A non-Christian sees this as an assertion of infallibility – as a presumption and an argument unable to be countered by reasoned argument – as a latent hubris and a false promise of all-knowledge made to Christians.
Firstly I want to deal with the ‘all truth’ side of this gospel promise; about how this statement of guiding into all truth stands regardless of secular disquiets and objections raised against it.
I want to say up front that this promise in not in the same league as that of the leading physicists who claim they are near to discovering a ‘theory of everything’; a claim which belongs I believe with the every-so-often claims of impending Apocalypse and End Times. (Were there to be an Apocalypse or End Time soon we would not know of it beforehand “not even were one raised from the dead and sent to us”, and it would probably occur as a result of our folly as a race of over-assured and over-presumptuous human beings.)
The promise of us being led into all-truth is as Jesus explains pretty clearly a contingent one; and will always depend on the context of the situations in which Christians are called by their Lord to speak truth to power etc. ‘Whatsoever he (The Holy Spirit) shall hear; that he shall speak’ Jesus says and thereby modifies this all-truth so that it becomes an extempore and given form of words and reasoning received from the Spirit by a Christian for that Christian to speak and to use in any given situation a Christian finds herself in.
Thus it is akin to those ‘streams of living water’ which allow Christians ‘never’ to ‘thirst again’ in its continuum and flow; excepting always it is sufficient and appropriate to the moment, as opposed to being an ‘overflowing’ abundance of excess; since we know too well to our cost that offering too much information can be worse far worse than falling short with too little. But best and right always is the precise amount required.
“All-truth” then is sufficient be able to stand one’s ground and not be overcome by reasoned arguments counterpoised by objectors to our statements. “All-truth” also is that awareness of ‘the fullness of God’ and of His presence “wherever two or three are gathered together in His name” which supports the morale and courage of a Christian in times of oppression and/or stress in God’s service. “All-knowledge” then is as much a sense of having ‘built on rock’ and of being in the ‘presence of something greater than Moses, Solomon etc”, of something supportive and by its quintessence true, just, merciful, graceful and faithful.
Thus it is a support and a perception of all-truth in general terms; and not in terms of having to hand all the particulars of everything existent in the world; since;
“We don’t want a madhouse and the whole thing here”
The Spirit is not an autocrat; does not command and commandeer one; instead he ‘guides’ one into all-truth; and hereby ‘he shall feed his sheep like a shepherd’ rather than be force-feeding a fatling for it to be ready for a coming festival. Always, ever there is choice for the Christian; at any point a Christian may fail or slip-up; opt-out or put in something extraneous from himself because he is not completely (yet) subsumed in his devotion to Christ, or else maybe he is simply having a bad day?
The statement of promise is at one with the saying that ‘to the pure all things are pure’ in that sense that ‘the mouth speaketh out of the heart’s abundance’ and in regard to that statement ‘where your treasure is; there shall your heart be also’. Very little if anything, so far as I have access to understanding that corpus of teaching and guidance which Jesus proclaims to us and to his gospel listeners , does not fit like a glove, snug and comfortably together on the hand of faith and reason, in the wholeness of truth and in the unity of revelation.
It is interesting to contemplate the conditional “whatsoever he shall hear” which determines those words to be given to Christians to speak when the Spirit requires them to represent by their speech the presence of their Christ. Exactly to whom is the Spirit listening, from whereabouts are the things being heard and on which depend the Spirit’s replies, where and from whom, from what source do they emanate is a moot question? The answer might not be so straightforward as saying ‘from the Almighty Father’ because the Bible is often more open to interpretation than limiting itself to the obvious answer.
Since the situation in which all-knowledge is being offered for a Christian to speak out is always a present and a particular occasion; and since this all-knowledge provided to be spoken is always pertinent and sufficient to the particular situation and occasion; then surely this ‘listening’ done by The Holy Spirit should include at the very least those words uttered in contention by the contenders in the particular situation? How else might the Spirit derive those appropriate and sufficient words of all-truth which are to be spoken by a Christian so as to uphold him and which are assured to, defeat the contentions of his contenders?
Thus, given that this action of The Spirit is actual and authentic every time in the way the promise of it promises it to be – and this is a promise promised from Jesus’ mouth – then something magical, mystic, is going on here; what might be slightly glibly termed a ‘tapping into’ by Christians of a ‘direct line’ to the Spirit of Truth; to The Holy Spirit himself.
The doubter here will no doubt say – yes – but this is all in the mind and as such a mere psychological belief and phenomenon – not real, not verifiable – not credible therefore – and so nothing more than overwrought imagination. There’s a lot of accusation here; a great deal of claims made; a massive amount presumed and thought-understood; and so this abrupt and cursory dismissal of the action of The Spirit needs an amount of examination and unpacking so as to show up its actual and febrile flimsiness.
Descartes the philosopher, – the father of doubt – the sceptic par excellence – who began from what he felt were the basics of knowledge began famously with his words ‘cogito ergo sum’ – ‘I think; therefore I am’,. The very granddaddy of The Enlightenment, of that intellectual movement which eventually was to sing out triumphantly, and very prematurely, of ‘The Death of God’ was thereafter built on a belief that what happens inside one’s head is in fact harder to doubt as being real, than what apparently happens outside one’s head and ‘in real life’! There’s one in the eye for the doubters indeed!
Harry Potter lies dead on Kings Cross Station – in some heaven-like realm above this disaster Harry and Dumbledore converse: ‘What’s really going on?’ asks Harry, ‘I have all this stuff happening inside my head.’ Dumbledore replies: ‘Because it is inside your head do you think it is not real?’ Indeed. Indeed.
Ask oneself, were one to be allowed communication with The Holy Spirit, how else more effectually than via one’s thought processes might such communication occur; how else communication with Spirit than psychologically? How might one disprove, discount, by a belittling of such communication and by rubbishing of its means of conveyance? For this is what the words and arguments, the poor reasonings, of the sceptical doubters are asserting concerning The Spirit’s guidance of Christians into all-knowledge.
‘Imagination’ in such doubters’ eyes is a facility of mind which has been extended to include everything which occurs in one’s experiences in one’s head. Think instead what might happen in one’s mind which might not be susceptible to belittlement by an antagonist terming it mere ‘imagination’. Thus the doubter’s pro forma position is largely propaganda; it does not stand up to straightforward examination.
There is some chemistry going on , in any such situation where The Spirit guides a Christian into what to say in defence of his truth. It is perhaps that ‘lending’ of confidence, of assurance, of presence of mind, and of perspicacity to be able to see into the situation; thus rather perhaps a facility of mind is being loaned to and depended upon by the Christian in these instances? The wording of Christ’s promise supports such a reading: The Spirit does not ‘give’ or ‘offer’ words to speak ; the Spirit ‘guides one’ towards the truth; thus The Spirit might be more a compass or a road sign or a navigational tool; a stage actor’s prompter; an impromptu helped by a crib-list provider.
Indeed in experience of the Spirit a Christian is aware of a special presence of mind, a special outlook and mood and assessment of things is available to him. That there is more to this than a mere strong faith and grounding in scripture, internalised and pondered upon over a course of some years, might be more difficult to show evidence for; yet lack of proof is not proof of a lack. That Jesus speaks of The Spirit as a Person, His ‘He’ is our empirical evidence for The Spirit; and to be taken upon faith in the uttered Word of God.
That Jesus should use a personal ‘He’ and not that customary ‘it’ the scriptures use when talking of Jesus casting out demons; makes Jesus’ choice of word here notable for its particularly. Jesus also speaks with foreknowledge of the descent of The Spirit to happen upon and after his death and his resurrection; a foreknowledge which is attested to as having been accurate and fulfilled in The Book of Acts; a book dealing for the most part with Jesus’ disciples now being without Jesus incarnate in the flesh and at their head. Thus The Spirit, His Person, heads up the band of disciples and believers; who had previously after their dispersal upon Jesus’ death taken refuge and hidden themselves away in fear in an upper room for their presumed a safety. Upon a day, and suddenly, a band of scaredy rabbits emerge ebullient and elated out into the city streets; confident, capable, assured, in touch with composure and with a new sense of soundness and truth about their lives and vocations.
These things do not just happen as a mass hysteria or as a mental aberration.
The letter writers of the New Testament and the Puritan Fathers of English post-Reformation history speak and write using a turn of phrase which in English runs ‘And then God opened to me an enlightenment concerning …..(such-and-such a subject). This form of words ‘opened to me’ seems to me to be implying an idea that God is indeed the ‘Father’ of all our thinking; that One, that Deity, who makes sentient life possible for us all and who sustains our sentience and maintains our social milieu. This is not to say that God places evil thoughts in the heads of evil doers; nor even good thought in the heads of well-doers; it is to say again that the gateway, the facility to think and to frame our thoughts in writing or in speech is God-given and by Him it is maintained as a conduit, and means, an avenue in which our natures as we have nurtured them are allowed to exercise our wills by our putting into action our opinions and wishes. There might be no compromise with our God-given gift of freewill and open choice for good or ill.
I have come to a belief that without doubt our minds are very fragile and that they are susceptible to an unconsidered but deep dependency on our social worlds which illustrate a common sympathetic need and bond. I call it the Robinson Crusoe effect; which presumes Crusoe would have degenerated in mind and body quite quickly were he to have found himself truly and wholly alone; the only sentient mortal on his island. And further, that nearly all of humanity each as an individual in such a situation likewise would face collapse and demise.
This social interdependency is perhaps yet another facility provided by and upheld for us by God and His Spirit? All this might sound strange and entirely speculative to you; yet where stands our knowledge on such points; and what else might it rest on but that if one has faith in God and in His Bible promises to us; that one should suspect him of these glories and charitableness towards us by which He succours us and keeps us well, whole, and wholesome?
We understand from our science that the world ‘out there’ beyond us and perceived there by our senses is not allowed to us as a whole picture of what is actually going on around us. We understand there are molecular and atomic and sub atomic goings-on which we do not normally, or even are unable to, witness sensually. We understand that there are large distances and bodies and other phenomena in the spatial universe which we are likely never to see without the aid of relayed photographic shots and equipment; some which cannot be seen or experienced at first hand altogether; or else which are beyond our senses and scale to grasp in any shape near whole. These ‘facts’ are considered indubitable by science at our present time.
Thus it follows that it has to be considered very likely that there remain many, many phenomena and contingencies, effects and actions, objects and formats, styles and niches of which we presently hold zero knowledge or understanding about; and some indeed which shall never be witnessed or experienced either because of a contingent intervention intervening, or else because of their inherent point-blank inscrutableness by humankind. I have very little doubt this is the case; not quite a priori but there is a very, very strong inductive case for this being so.
And so we humans comprehensively I believe shall never be privvy to all-truth all at once – nor even maybe might we bear that whole shooting match of Biblical and holy truth as Jesus knows it and instead he intends a conditional access to and usage by us via the Person of The Spirit. In his words of Promise which I have set as title to this essay, pssibly we are allow as much and nomore than we are able to bear?.
Yet still we are able to remain assured and comforted, succoured and sound; to be given sufficient truth and care for well-being and nothing extraneous left over; and all received by way of a simple allowance of and submission in regular humility to God’s hopes and desires for us; none of which work out other than to our utmost benefits.
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