In plain words, the idea of professedly new revelations, or guidance of the Spirit, beyond what is written in the Bible, tends very much to satisfy all under the influence of the recent spiritual light, that the sacred Scriptures are of little or no value to the world. Moreover, for long observation, we are satisfied that such as look for direct spiritual light, will sooner or later renounce all confidence in the Scriptures of truth.
I’ve never understood this attitude toward works of the Spirit. For example, James tells us to pray for wisdom and God will grant it (James 1:5). Is this promise still true today? Why not just read the Bible and learn wisdom entirely on my own? What does the prayer add if not God’s own work within my mind and heart?
Of course, all true wisdom is built on scripture, but is the promise solely that I can the read the Bible and learn wisdom on my own?
(1Co 10:13 ESV) 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
How does God help me cope with temptation? Solely by reading the Bible? Or does he work within me — in concert with scripture?
(Phi 4:7 ESV) 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
If this peace is beyond understanding, then it obviously doesn’t come about solely by understanding what has been written. God must do something more than inspire the scriptures for this promise to be true.
We teach our children to sing about “the peace that passes understanding down in my heart.” Did the promise expire at the end of the apostolic age? Should we instead sing “the peace that comes from understanding using my mind”?
Many still pray that God “guard, guide, and direct us” and “give the preacher a ready recollection.” We pray that the sermon will touch our hearts and that we will apply it to our lives. Are these vain words? Or do we insist that God does this by some means other than through the Spirit?
We have this bias against the Spirit being active today in our hearts and minds, but we’re willing to let God do what the scriptures often credit to the Spirit. We are delighted to pray to God for wisdom, but we’d damn as apostate someone claiming to have the gift of understanding from the Spirit. We pray for God to direct and shape our hearts and minds and then become apoplectic at the thought that God might do exactly that through the Spirit.
Since you quoted Fanning, I’ll quote his student, David Lipscomb —
Those thus led are already in Christ, and in them the Holy Spirit dwells. The leading is both internal and external. To whatever extent the Holy Spirit by its indwelling strengthens the human spirit to enable it to control the flesh, to that extent the leading is internal; to whatever extent the motives of “the law of the Spirit,” when brought to bear on the heart in the New Testament, enlighten and strengthen, and so enable it to keep the body in subjection, to that extent the leading is external. The leading, then, consists of the whole of the influences of every kind exercised by the Holy Spirit on the human spirit, enabling it to keep the body under. Hence, the exhortation is given: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12,13.)]
David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles: Romans, speaking of Romans 8:11 and 14 in the Gospel Advocate Commentary series (emphasis added). (The comments in the second quoted paragraph could be the words of J. W. Shepherd. His comments are supposed to be in brackets, but there is no open bracket in this paragraph to indicate where they begin.)
I agree with Lipscomb and Shepherd. The Spirit actually dwells within the Christian and that “the Holy Spirit by its indwelling strengthens the human spirit to enable it to control the flesh” by internal operation. That’s my reading, too. After all, to “control the flesh” is to resist our fleshly nature and instead by led by the Spirit — which is a leading to become more like Christ (Rom. 12, especially v. 1).
I suppose the final objection would have to be: If we can agree that God does these things, why does it matter that we don’t agree that God sometimes does these things through the Spirit?
Well, because I’ve seen the fruit of the Spirit-is-retired theory. It cuts chapters and chapters out of the Bible — both testaments — making much of the Bible inscrutable and irrelevant. I mean, if Romans 8 responds to the problem of sin, and the Spirit is on leave of absence, the problem of sin remains unsolved! And this leads to a type of perfectionism that causes many of our fellow church members to doubt their salvation.
And our members, suffering through sermons teaching the absence of the Spirit in today’s life, hear that God himself is absent. After all, every argument that declares the prospect of an active Spirit heretical could just as easily be applied to condemn belief in an active Father. Indeed, there are Church of Christ preachers who insist that God does not answer prayers that require the laws of nature to be violated — because that would be a miracle.
This leads to a sort of near-Deistic determinism — that we must work out our salvation all on our own. And, like Alabama John, I grow weary of talking to the sick and elderly who pray “I hope I’ve done enough.”
What a sad, sad religion Christianity is without the Spirit.