Shining some light on the doctrine of Illumination (pt. 4)

Today we are going get back into the our study on the doctrine of illumination.   Here are the links to the previous posts:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The Content of Illumination

In addition to revealing the source of illumination, Psalm 119 also reveals the content of illumination.  Or to put it another way, in this psalm we see what the Spirit uses to empower the child of God.  The Spirit of God uses the Word of God in the life of the child of God.  The psalmist is clear on this.  In verse 18 he prays that God would “open [his] eyes, that [he] may behold Wonderful things from [God’s] law.”  Here the psalmist is praying for illumination, and the content that he desires to understand is God’s word.  Verse 71 reveals that even in the midst of trails the psalmist understood that the end goal was a better understanding of God’s word.  Thus, the truth of God’s word is what the Spirit uses to illumine the minds of God’s children.  On this point Carl Henry’s clarification is very helpful:

The Spirit illumines the truth, not by unveiling some hidden inner mystical content behind the revelation, but by focusing on the truth of revelation as it is. The Spirit illumines and interprets by repeating the grammatical sense of Scripture; in doing so he in no way alters or expands the truth of revelation.[1]

The psalmist echoes this point in verse 130.  There it says,

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.

Again, it is God’s word—not some form of new revelation—that the Spirit of God uses in the lives of the children of God.

With respective to the doctrine of illumination, the psalmist teaches that the Spirit of God uses the word of God.  Thus, the child of God should not be looking for some new form of revelation.  Instead, the child of God should be looking to the word of God, and depending on the Spirit of God to illumine it.

This is an immensely practical point because it means that we as Christians should be looking to the Bible to answer the questions of life.  Thus, when someone says that they feel God leading them in a specific direction we need to be careful.  If they feel that way because it is consistent with God’s word, then great.  If they inexplicably feel this way then it is not the result of the Spirit’s illumination–most likely it is just what they really want to do.

[1] Carl Ferdinand Howard Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, Originally Published: Waco, TX: Word Books, c1976-c1983. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1999), 4:283.



  1. I totally agree that the Spirit of God does play an integral role, moreover the primary role, in our understanding of the scriptures and their true meaning. However, where do we as Christians draw the line between our own ability to interpret the Word of truth through proper hermeneutic and the Spirit’s illuminating power?

  2. Philip,

    Thanks for the comment; good question. In reality there is not a line between these to things. By diligently studying the truth of Scripture with a proper hermeneutic (i.e. grammitco historical interpretation) we are allowing the Spirit to illumine the text for us.

    If we simply plop open the bible and wait for the Spirit to do His thing we are missing the point. By diligently studying we are using God’s resources. Furthermore, the Spirit will help us not just to understand some facts about the text (which is all we would understand if we just studied in our own power). Through the Spirit’s illumination we will understand the spiritual principles of the test, and we will in turn live out those principles. I get into this in a little more detail in today’s post.


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