4.iii) ‘My sheep hear my voice…’

One verse which is fundamental to an experimental ministry is John 10:27: ‘My sheep hear my voice…’ etc. Rightly expounded in the context of the whole of the gospel this is a wonderful truth which, again, counters the easy-believers who, never having heard the voice of the Son of God, simply take from the scriptures words they apply to themselves to assure themselves of salvation.

It is true that Christ’s sheep hear his voice, they hear it with the inner ear, he speaks into their hearts, and they live, John 5:25. What greater comfort and assurance can there be for a soul than this; when he has, under the weight of his sin (something conspicuous by its absence in the testimony mentioned above) been seeking the Lord, calling upon him for mercy, and giving him no rest until he communicates salvation to his soul? Just read William Huntington’s experience in his Kingdom of Heaven Taken by Prayer. No presumption with that man, even though he received greater revelation and was led much further into truth than any free-willer is, even before he received a sure knowledge of salvation and peace with God through Jesus Christ. But put John 10:27 in the context of a ‘this is what happens to you, and these are the feelings and experiences you must expect, to have any assurance that you are saved’-type message, where Jesus Christ and him crucified is not the sole hope of the sinner, but his receiving some experience based on it, then one is open to all sorts of possible deception, and all in the name of Jesus too!

Just read 2 Corinthians 11:12-15. Do we think that if we are taught to listen for ‘a voice’ speaking within, as though that was meant to be all our experience – based on John 10:27 taken in isolation – that it is only Jesus that can possibly speak? How many people have had a word of scripture ‘laid upon their hearts’ which has given them feelings perhaps of blessing, wonder, and assurance; which seemed to have given light and hope, and even something they imagine to be ‘salvation’; but which has not, at length, brought faith and repentance, and a fleeing from unbelief and doubt; has not brought submission to God and his word, and a taking up of the cross of self-sacrifice and self-denial, daily; has not led to a seeking the will of God to walk therein despite the cost; and has not resulted in a turning from the ways and things of the world, with a wholehearted turning to the Saviour; in short: has not resulted in them following Christ – ‘And they follow me’, nor brought them ‘to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’. Many, is the answer.

Read again the testimony above. Listen to what people are looking for to give them assurance of salvation, and invariably it will be that they want ‘a word come with power’, just like in 1 Thessalonians 1:5 (although conveniently omitting the ‘much assurance’ phrase), and just about only that. Well, I believe Satan can oblige you! You see, he has a voice as well; and he speaks constantly to all those to whom Christ never speaks, for he dwells in them! Eph. 2:2. Look at the language Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 11. Just as false apostles can transform themselves into the apostles of Christ, or as Tyndale has it, can ‘fashion themselves like unto the apostles of Christ’, so Satan is transformed into an angel of light, and his ministers – servants – ‘fashion themselves as though they were ministers of righteousness.’

The context of these words – in verses three and four especially – is that Paul is fearful ‘lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the singleness that is in Christ.’ Thus he has spoken of those who come – obviously in the same deceiving spirit that was in the serpent – preaching ‘another Jesus’ by that spirit, and therefore expounding ‘another gospel’. This they do, not only because the lying spirit in them is set on corrupting their minds and bent on leading them subtly into error, but because they ‘desire occasion’ to make material gain of the saints, and, by implication, to ‘lord it over them’ – the opposite of what Paul was wont to do.

But let us pause while the words of the apostle sink down into our ears. The arch-deceiver, the liar, the one whose natural realm is darkness, in whom is no light or truth; but one who is exceedingly powerful; more powerful than any poor sinner, especially one in unbelief and error; this creature of wickedness can be manifest as an angel of light! He comes, full of light, full of ‘truth’, and whispers the word of God, no less, into a presumptuous and undiscerning heart which is, obviously, easily deceived; which word can come with a certain power, and have an affect! ‘God has spoken to me!’ (In this context, consider again the man on his deathbed mentioned above.) But, again, Satan is a deceiver and a liar, and the deception is to present his poison as the very truth. If Satan quoted, and misquoted, scripture to the Son of God, Matt. 4:6, will he not attempt to do likewise to us? cp. also 2 Thes. 2:7-12. I used to have an old friend who often cautioned me regarding the working of Satan: ‘Remember, Andrew, he is the master of simulation. Beware of simulation!’

Now Satan so often does these things through his ministers, which are obviously thought to be ‘ministers of righteousness’. They come to us and seem to be preachers of righteousness! – in other words, we look at them in the pulpits and think that Christ has sent[1] them, when he has not. Therefore before the careless and unwary these great ones that arise in the church are viewed as those who seem – obviously – to have their calling from heaven itself, showing themselves to be messengers of God! And if one of these comes among us, we say, But surely the preacher is preaching the truth! He has the Tyndale/AV open in front of him, he preaches ‘the gospel’, and quotes many of the dearly beloved saints of years gone by! But he is a minister of Satan! cp. Matt. 7:15, 1 John 4:1, John 9:39-41, Acts 8:9,10.

So how can we find them out? Well, just look at the fruit of their ministry; for Jesus said, ‘Ye shall know false prophets by their fruits’, Matt. 7:15-20. Their fruit is the people that hear them and follow their teaching; and although these may profess to be Christians, who believe the word, and have had some experience of ‘faith’ or ‘salvation’, yet, fundamentally, they have remained unchanged in themselves; there being no real sign of regeneracy in them; showing none of that fruit of actually having heard the voice of the Son of God. Nevertheless, how often have we heard of people who fit this description being ‘called’ into some aspect of the Christian ministry; who, along the way, have prayed for and received ‘guidance’; found apparent ‘confirmations’ from the word of God, and gone forth with the blessing and support of the church; but are still in reality aliens to the truth of the gospel, and of the salvation which it is designed to announce? Please don’t forget what the ‘many’ will plead in astonishment on that day! Matt. 7:21-13; after all, they were not only deceived, but many of them were actual deceivers as well, 2 Tim. 3:13.

‘But this kind of deception would never happen among us, would it?’ Not obviously, perhaps; but as we have seen, deception, by definition, is not obvious. Why have I never heard this passage on Satan being manifested as an angel of light, etc. preached in possible relation to the ministry within the denomination? Because like all who think ‘we are the ones’, the warnings to beware of false prophets can never apply to them! I ask the reader to consider: as the word translated ‘beware’ carries the meaning, ‘to hold the mind steady; to concentrate its working towards something’, then when you sit down in your pew on a Sunday morning, what discernment do you exercise to examine whether the man at the front is a false prophet or a minister of Satan? For the false prophets that Jesus warned his disciples of in the Sermon on the Mount are not so much the JWs and Mormons which knock on your door – although they are false prophets – but are those which ‘come to you’; which come to where you are gathered together; and they come to you ‘in sheep’s clothing’: in other words, they’re among those who come and stand in your pulpits, which look, sound, preach, and even pray as you would expect a sheep to look, sound, preach and pray; but they are actually false, and are come to ‘raven’ your souls, Matt. 7:15. Why else do you think Jesus would say ‘beware’, if the false prophets he is warning of were immediately obvious?

Furthermore, do you ever entertain the possibility of something I hinted at earlier; that there could therefore be unregeneracy in your pulpit? There is certainly an abundance of unregeneracy in pulpits the length and breadth of this land, so why not in yours? A false prophet must, of necessity, be unregenerate, mustn’t he? – being inwardly a ravening wolf? Jesus doesn’t warn us to beware of brethren who have the mistaken idea that they are called to the ministry; but of out-and-out deceivers devoid even of the Spirit of God. Just follow the scriptural principle and teaching and come to the obvious conclusion; obey the exhortations; ‘hear these sayings of mine and do them’, said Jesus, to beware of false prophets, to discern, to try the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world; and at least credit the word of God as possibly applying to some in your own connection: Matthew 7:21-23, at least, should make you do so.[2]

Before we come to affirming what it is to hear Jesus’ voice, there are one or two more points to make regarding what it does not mean to hear his voice; for these also carry great deception, and are widely accepted to be the true interpretation of Jesus’ words. I was thinking of Cain, and how that after he slew his brother, the LORD, that is, Jehovah, came and spoke with him, Gen. 4:9-16. Here is an incident of one hearing the voice of the Lord – of actually having verbal communication with him – but he, Cain, evidently not being one of his sheep and, ultimately, not following him, verse 16. Again the warning here is that although we actually do ‘hear the voice of the Lord’, it does not mean that we are one of his sheep, or that we will go on to follow him, cp. Heb. 3:16 with context.

We may be sitting in church or chapel – cp. Luke 13:26,27 – or at home reading the Bible, and something we read or hear quoted from the word of God might strike us forcibly: well, we say, I’ve never noticed that before; and we perhaps think that the Lord has spoken to us, or that the Spirit has revealed something to us. But, as we shall prove, nothing spiritual has actually happened at all. Again, there were multitudes, as recorded in the gospels, that heard Jesus’ voice in abundance, but the vast majority ‘turned back and walked no more with him’, because they did not understand his speech, and could not hear his word, John 6:60-66, 8:43. And the reason? Because they were neither spiritual hearers, nor did they believe on him – so they just heard his words with a carnal, though religious, ear, but rejected them.

So, there are many people who think they hear the voice of the Lord speaking to them when they read his words as recorded on the pages of scripture, while in reality he has not spoken to them at all. How can we say this? Because it is simply true! To read what Jesus said to one or another two thousand years ago does not mean that he has spoken that word to us, now, today. It may be that we are just reading an historical account of what Jesus said, but that he has remained silent as regards speaking to us.

We have already alluded to 1 Thessalonians 1:5, where Paul said that ‘our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance’; but what I have been trying to describe here is that when we simply read Jesus’ words on the page, it can be nothing more than the gospel coming to us ‘in word only’; it may be a word which we think suitable to our present condition – perhaps we read it as a promise, or a word of comfort (and how many people treat passages like Psalm 23 in this way) – but if it is only we who are applying it to ourselves, even if we seem to gain ‘much assurance’ by it, we are deluded, because unbeknown to us, it has not come ‘in power, and in the Holy Ghost.’ We think it must have done because we feel assured by it, but in reality we have remained dead to Christ – even though we’ve read his words – just as Cain remained dead to God; and in the long run – as I have said before – this word supposedly spoken to us has not wrought in us repentance toward God, true saving faith in the Lord Jesus, or a humble following of him in obedience and submission to his revealed will.

Read carefully John 10:27 again: Jesus does not say, ‘My sheep read my words, and they follow me’; neither does he say, ‘My sheep hear my words, and they believe on me’; but, ‘My sheep hear my voice, and they follow me’, and there is a great difference. Yes, and when those who read his words only, but never ‘hear his voice’, begin to lose their ability to retain what they have read, they are left with nothing but frustration; for they find that they know nothing, as they have always employed their natural minds to the scriptures, that is, ‘works’, but have now nothing to feed upon and sustain them because, in fact, they never received anything of the Lord’s mouth by revelation! Please remember that many people, Matt. 7:21-23, live their whole lives based on the words of Jesus, which they read in their Bibles and apply to themselves, but this is not sufficient for salvation in the end; for in reality they have never been his sheep, they’ve never heard his voice, he never knew them, and, so, unbeknown to them, they never actually followed him.

But in Hebrews 12 we are told of Jesus ‘now speaking’, and that we are not to refuse him who thus speaks, verse 25. Jesus is now speaking ‘from heaven’ with power and in the Holy Ghost into the hearts of his people, who are not refusing[3] him, but are falling under the word and are following him. I use the phrase ‘now speaking’ deliberately, for that is the meaning of the word ‘speaketh’ – ‘see that ye refuse not him that speaketh’ – ‘speaketh’ being the present ongoing tense of the verb. It does not say, ‘see that ye refuse not him that spoke on earth two thousand years ago’, but who is now speaking. (So much for all those who, as well as desiring to discard all the thees and thous, want to do away with all the -eth and -est word endings as well. You see, it is just not good enough to translate the word ‘speaks’ (as the New King James does) because ‘speaks’ is not necessarily a vital ongoing communication; it could mean that the Lord merely speaks from time to time, while ‘speaketh’ can never mean that.[4]) Now, when we understand this how it transforms our understanding of scripture and what it is actually saying; and, if the Lord applies this word in power and in the Holy Ghost to our hearts, how it will begin to strip us of a false profession.

Here in Hebrews 12 we are told that Christ is actually speaking today, from heaven, into the hearts of his people, with the fruit that they are following him; and that that is what is meant by hearing his voice – all else being presumption. Indeed, this presumption is bred because of the false understanding of many who think that all authority rests in the scriptures – the written word – when actually the Lord Jesus, as risen from the dead, said that ‘All [lit.] authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth’, Matt. 28:18, cp. Rev. 5. This is simply proved by the fact that many unbelievers read and know the scriptures but they don’t have the slightest saving effect upon them. Just ask arch-atheist Richard Dawkins! He calls those ‘barbarians’ who have never read the King James Bible; but has he heard the voice of the Son of God? As yet there is no reason to believe that he has. So what authority does the written word have over him? None whatsoever. But if the risen, ascended King of all the earth once speaks his word into that poor man’s heart then he’ll know what authority is; if not now, then on the day of judgment, when he hears the spoken words, ‘Depart from me…’

Now this same Jesus is that Prophet of whom Moses wrote: saith the LORD, ‘I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him’, Deut. 18:18,19. This is why we need to hear his voice, his speaking voice. Stephen confirmed Deuteronomy 18:15 to his detractors when he said, ‘Him shall ye hear’ – not, ‘Him shall ye read’. In the light of this compare Romans 10:17, where Paul says that ‘faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’; which the context proves to be the spoken word of God. So again it is ‘by hearing’ and not by reading; for ‘how shall they hear without a preacher’: that is, by someone who speaks. Christ then not only speaks directly himself, but has also ordained to speak by sent ministers.

The children of God, therefore, need constant and continual vital communication with, and from their living Lord: ‘it is the voice of my beloved’, a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ they crave: this is one of the reasons they feel the need to cry unto him daily, and often are found pleading – and not vainly – ‘be not silent to me’, Psalm 86:3, 28:1. Jesus didn’t just speak while he was here on earth, he is still speaking today – if he wasn’t, there’d be no hope for anybody. This is proved earlier in Hebrews, where we read more than once, ‘To day if ye will hear his voice…’ cp. chapters 3 and 4 in context. But beware; those verses go on to say, ‘…harden not your hearts’; thus if he comes and ‘teaches in our streets’, and we don’t fall under that word, or if we contend against it, it is because we are hardening our foolish hearts. But to hear, receive and obey his voice is proof of a regenerate, submissive, and wise heart, cp. Matt. 7:24-27.

Some might say here, ‘But hold on, what you are propounding is additional revelation, above and beyond the ‘all scripture’ which has been given us.’ Well, I would draw your attention again to Matt. 28:18 and comment that you would never say such a thing if the living Son of God had spoken his word into your hearts, as we shall see. For when Jesus does speak into the heart it is never contrary to the written word, but is a speaking of that word. That is why elsewhere I have voiced concerns about lines and phrases from man-written hymns being cited as words by which the Lord has supposedly spoken to us.

Also it would be understandable if some were to ask here, ‘Well what is the point of reading the Bible, then?’ In one sense the blunt answer is that it doesn’t matter whether you read it or not, if the Son of God himself isn’t communicating to you by it. Obviously all those mentioned in Matthew 7:21-23 were lifelong readers of the Bible; but it never did them any good – except to give them pleasing thoughts of how spiritual they were; of how much knowledge of the Book they’d amassed; or of how much they thought they’d followed what it said. Well, how many reading this have to admit that much of the time when you read the Bible it is nothing but a sealed book to you; that your eyes seem to be as blind to the message of the book as it is hidden from you? And, again, if all authority lay in the written word alone, wouldn’t you fall under its power every time you read even a few verses? You certainly would.

Likewise, there are many who pray to the Lord, who then imagine that he has answered them as they think on some verse of scripture which comes into their mind; when all that has happened is that their knowledge of the written word has furnished them with a suitable text which has brought comfort. The result is that they thank God for ‘hearing them and answering their prayers’, and go on their way happily deluded that they are in the right way. But don’t forget that ‘angel of light’, who can manufacture answers to the prayers of the deceived by changing circumstances – working in and using others of his deluded people in the process – thus giving ‘peace of mind’; who, through it all, will quite happily listen in while the poor ignorant child ‘thanks the Lord’ for his grace and help; for he knows that the real Jesus has not been involved at all. Shocking, isn’t it?

Again, reading the Bible is of no benefit in and of itself if our eyes remain blind, and we are yet dead in trespasses and in sins. Remember that the Bible is an interesting book in and of itself; it is good literature; and many people – especially if they have a naturally religious or spiritual bent – may expend a great deal of time and effort reading and studying it, while remaining dead to the Author. If the Lord is not speaking his word into our hearts then all the Bible reading in the world is ultimately useless. This is again proved by Jesus in his conversation with the Jews in John chapter 5. Here the Saviour is speaking of the dead hearing his voice and living, verse 25; and during his discourse he speaks of his Father whom he says has sent him, and borne witness of him, verse 37. But, says Jesus, ‘Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not’, verse 38. But Jesus doesn’t say that they are ignorant of the scriptures, for he goes on to say that ‘in them’ – which they obviously search, read and study – they think they have eternal life; and although the scriptures testify of Christ, because they have never heard the Father’s voice they remain dead to him; which is proved by the fact that they will not come to Christ, nor believe on him, verses 39,40.

So there it is; one can search the scriptures; gain a wonderful head knowledge of the written word of God; and, if you like, store numerous memory verses in the brain (perhaps to win a Bible), and still be dead to God, and have no saving faith in Christ at all. Yea, and put such a one in the pulpit, listen in amazement while he preaches sermon after sermon using this great head knowledge of scripture, and you are in just about the ultimate state of deception.

The apostle Paul says the same thing in 2 Corinthians chapter 3. Here he is writing that the saints are ‘the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart’, verse 3. What is he saying? When Paul preached the gospel at Corinth, and later wrote to them, the word spoken was not merely ‘of the letter’ of the new testament, but was ‘of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life’, verse 6. The Corinthians heard in Paul’s preaching the life-giving voice of the Son of God, which had wrought its power to such a degree that the people around could see that their lives had been changed; and changed so markedly that Paul could say that they were his epistle. Others could see the truth of God’s word written in their lives; it wasn’t as if they had just imbibed the scriptures; could quote them knowledgeably and powerfully so that others would be impressed; but that that very word had been spoken within, had distilled into their very being, causing them to be born again by the Spirit using that word; and that people could see that they knew the Lord. Paul then goes on to give the example of the then present-day Israel, whose minds were blinded as a veil remained upon their heart. Even though many read the scriptures, yet they saw nothing; for, although they didn’t know it, they were blind, deaf, and dead. Because of these things, then, we can say that reading the Bible can be pointless.

But surely a prime example of this was Paul himself. As Saul of Tarsus he was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; and to be such was to be a member of ‘the most straitest sect’ of the Jewish religion. He was brought up ‘at the feet of Gamaliel’, a doctor of the law, and one ‘had in reputation among all the people’. Of him Saul was ‘taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God’. Indeed touching the righteousness which is in that law, Saul was well known to have been blameless. Could there have been found another as steeped in the holy scriptures as Saul was – saving perhaps the scribes? And yet what good did it do him? With all this head knowledge of scripture Saul persecuted – often mercilessly and with violence – the followers of the One of whom those scriptures spoke! For in all his years of study Saul had never heard the voice of the Son of God, or of the Father; he had latterly heard preaching by one ‘full of the Holy Ghost’, namely Stephen – Acts 7 – but that had only enraged him all the more, and Saul became the instigator of ‘the persecution that arose about Stephen’, Acts 11:19.

But then what happened? Was Saul one day reading Isaiah 53 in a quiet moment, wondering of whom the prophet was speaking? And did he then turn to his extensive knowledge of scripture, and, putting it together with ‘recent events in Jerusalem’, come to the reasoned conclusion that the prophet must have been speaking of Jesus of Nazareth? No, far from it. Saul’s blindness prevented him from seeing such truth, and his carnal mind – that is, his actual enmity toward the God he thought he served – and his hatred of ‘this way’, made it absolutely impossible ever to come to such a conclusion. No, it needed nothing less than the sounding of a voice from heaven, the voice of the Son of God to call him by name, with almighty, powerful, authoritative, vital communication, past his natural ears right into his heart, to arrest the Pharisee, and to throw him into the dust, there to lie trembling, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ Paul later called this, together with his subsequent sojourn in Arabia, ‘when it pleased God, who… called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me’, Gal. 1:15,16. So much then for all those reverenced scrolls! Paul was now a follower of the Lord Jesus, hearing his voice often; by his Spirit was being taught of him, having the Lord open the scriptures, and open the eyes of his understanding – and all by revelation from heaven. And that, in principle, if not perhaps in like measure – for Paul was unique in many of his experiences because of his calling – must be the experience of all Christ’s sheep; as he said, ‘My sheep hear my voice… and they follow me.’

Now, even in the light of all this, I would never actually discourage anyone from reading the word of God; but would say, far from just getting out a daily reading scheme and running your eyes over the words on the page, read the word of God prayerfully, searchingly, humbly; desirous of the Lord to speak to you by it; and give him no rest until he does. And I am definitely not saying that a child of God should obey the written word only when the Lord thus speaks it directly from heaven into his heart. Even though simply reading his words is not necessarily hearing his voice, still, none will ever get away with reading a clear commandment, or revelation of the will of God in a certain context and, almost with disdain, say, ‘Ah, yes, I know the Bible says that, but I must have the Lord speak that word with power before I will obey it.’ Although they may never consciously have formed that sentence, I believe there are many who do actually treat the word of God just like that: I know I used to.

But these words of the Lord Jesus should be sufficient to counter this mistaken attitude: ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments’, John 14:15. Thus the obedience of the child of God to his Saviour is that which he renders out of love, as one redeemed and set at liberty by Christ to serve him aright: although this obedience does not add to his standing before God, for the redeemed soul stands complete and is fully accepted in the Saviour alone – without works.

All of this leads to a final warning. Although it is the case that in many circumstances reading the word of God can be without profit – as we have seen – yet the written word is still God’s revelation to mankind in sin, and it behoves them to read it and fall under the truth of it. No one who has had access to the written word of God in their own language will be without excuse on the day of judgment. The whole point of writing this treatise is to point out that the traditions of men which so many love to follow are countered by the word of God itself. All you who love your denominations and the traditions of your elders have an open Bible to read, and you are accountable for not falling under the plain teaching of holy scripture which condemns your traditions. And if you don’t and won’t believe it, well, on your own head be it; but remember, John 12:44-50 still stands.

Thus we come, at last, to the question: What then is it to hear the voice of the Son of God, and what is the fruit of hearing? The first thing to say is that, for the child of God, the voice of the Son of God is not the first ‘voice’ they hear. There is another voice which sounds in the gospel prior to hearing the Saviour’s voice, and that is what Isaiah describes as ‘the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness’; a vital voice to hear because it prepares the way of the LORD, Isa. 40:3. This the LORD confirmed by the prophet Malachi, saying that he would send his messenger to ‘prepare the way before me’, Mal. 3:1, Luke 7:27, and by what the angel revealed to Zechariah, ‘to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’, Luke 1:17.

Thus, when this messenger appeared and the voice started to sound, the Lord’s watching and waiting people had a sure sign that the Saviour himself was about to appear. In the gospels this voice was the voice of John the Baptist, who came with a certain message; which message was heard in a specific place – in the wilderness. Matt. 3:1-3. The sheep of Christ therefore need to find themselves in a spiritual wilderness to hear this voice which cries therein, before ever they are in a position rightly to hear the voice and experience the coming of the Saviour.

So who is John the Baptist? And what does he do? Why, he is the one that comes ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’, who arises and prays that it might not rain… for years! What rain is this? The rain of the satisfaction, fulfilment, pleasure, and comfort of this world. Everything this world has to offer for the ‘betterment’ of man in the flesh is ‘rain’. It falls continually sustaining all those dreams and ambitions which men have for ‘a long and happy life’. But when this voice begins to cry the rain stops and things begin to dry up. Thus a wilderness starts forming within; a growing feeling of barrenness emerges, and the world is increasingly perceived as a place devoid of life-giving moisture, and therefore of those things which exist to sustain life. At length this wilderness is found to be an alien environment, a place not conducive to comfortable living: Bunyan’s, ‘the wilderness of this world’. The great discovery now is the vanity, shallowness, and emptiness of everything that pertains to this life, along with the ultimate disappointment which it all brings. This is why, when pondering this and looking back over my own experience of it, these words came into my mind, which seem to sum up the whole of John the Baptist’s message as found in Isaiah 40:6-8: ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’, Ecclesiastes.

Go back in your mind to your childhood. There you are, filled with expectation and promise regarding your life ahead – when you ‘grow up’: what you are going to do; what you are going to be; the ambitions you hope to realise; the achievements you hope to gain. Now whatever these things might be – be they apparently small or great – the aim really is to be settled, and the expectation is to be comfortable and to find ‘happiness’ in this present world; that is, when you ‘gain the whole world’, Mark 8:36.

But in those who are destined to be manifest as the children of God; who are to be called by the grace of God in his appointed time; who are to hear the voice of the Saviour; gradually these hopes, goals and ambitions – whether actually realised or soon to be – will begin to lose their sense of promised fulfilment, contentment and expected security, and will prove at length to be insufficient to provide that ‘something’ which they thought to attain by having achieved them. For as I said, one word which describes a wilderness is ‘barrenness’; and to the awakened child of God being led into this wilderness, this barrenness may not necessarily be manifest outwardly – for he may have become quite successful – but inwardly, in his soul. Whereas at one time these things he had worked for, dreamed of and hoped to attain, consumed all his energies, focussed all his natural powers, and occupied all his resources; now he has begun to see through them, as having been duped by them. After all wildernesses, or deserts, tend also to produce mirages: illusions of reality or of truth; delusions of satisfaction and fulfilment, which turn out to be nothing but vanity and lies, because they don’t deliver that promise of life which was so expected of them. And why? Because a wilderness has started to appear within; because a voice has started to sound in this place where sustenance has begun to dry up: a voice has begun to cry in the wilderness.

And what does it cry? First it cries, ‘All flesh is as grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:’ – that’s your life, and all your achievements. But very soon ‘the grass withereth, the flower fadeth’; why? ‘because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it’, to dry it all up, and to remove the pleasure, satisfaction and certainty that, for a time, was thought to be found in it all. All of which is designed to show us how transient life is, just as the scriptures testify! For there ‘life’ is likened to grass, which grows up quickly in the springtime, and then is mown down; a flower, which opens its petals for a few days of beauty in summertime, before it fades and the petals fall; a vapour, a mist, which appeareth for a little time – but with no real body, solidity or substance – and then, when the Lord merely bloweth upon it, vanisheth away; a handbreadth; as nothing; but vanity, nay, as altogether vanity; and that ‘at its best state’, Psalm 39:5.

Many in the world feel these things too, but they never hear this voice which cries – this voice which is ultimately designed to point to Christ. They do hear a voice, but it is another, malign, voice which speaks when these feelings of barrenness arise: ‘Never mind, try something else; lo, here is some new thing! Everybody’s going after it! It’s fun; ‘just do it’; it’s the answer! Pursue it; absorb yourself in it; look what pleasure and fulfilment it brings! Keep going; keep living; don’t give up on life; after all, you only have one; so live it!’

But for the elect, as well as that voice crying within, this other voice cries; a voice which begins to point to eternity and to the big questions of why we’re here: What is it all about? Who is God? Is there a God? What about my soul? What will happen when I die? Is there really a day of judgment? And although the malign voice will attempt to quench these thoughts and shout them down, it will not finally be able to succeed, because the soul believes the other voice, because it feels the barrenness indeed, and cannot shake it off. Now it is this voice which cries in the increasing, and at last fully realised, wilderness, which is the voice that prepares the way for the coming of the Lord – the voice of the good shepherd which is to speak in ‘My sheep hear my voice…’

But this is not all that the voice cries; for as well as exposing the vanity of everything which pertains to this world, it, secondly, begins to reveal the very nature of the soul that finds himself in this wilderness. Eternal questions are addressed, and the soul’s state ‘in sin’ is described. Exposed to his awakened realisation are the valleys – the depths – of sin, and the mountains and hills – the heights – of sin; the crooked ways of sin are revealed, and the rough places into which sin has carried the sinner are felt. Yea, in all this the voice continually cries, ‘Sinner, sinner.’

But at length there sounds the ultimate message of the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: ‘Again the next day after, John stood, and two of his disciples;’ – disciples of the first voice – ‘and looking upon Jesus as he walked,’ – John stood, Jesus walked; all the movement is now with him who is about to speak – ‘he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak,’ – for the last time – ‘and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them…’ Now they are hearing his voice! The voice of the Lamb which God has sent into the world to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself; as saith the first voice, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.’ Thus, the voice which cried in the wilderness has done its work. Ordained and sent of the Lord to prepare his way, and to point toward him, they for whom this voice was sent are now, from the wilderness, hearing the voice and following the Lord of glory, who begins to speak to them words of eternal life, John 1:35-39.

This is the gospel order. This is how the Lord works in part as preparation for his sheep to hear his voice. Then how presumptuous it is to suppose that people can just wander, relatively unconcerned, into chapel week by week in the hope that the Lord might ‘drop a word in’, when they have had no preparation for that word to be received, never having been in the wilderness. Oh, reader, in the light of these truths, where do you really stand?

It is so vitally important then to hear this preparation voice, and to hear it in a wilderness, for if we do not, then we will never hear Christ’s voice. But as prepared aright we will at length hear the Saviour’s voice. The scriptures speak of ‘the speech’ of the Lord – and we have before used this word – ‘distilling as the dew’, Deut. 32:2; that is, when his voice is heard it enters into the inner man, into his very heart, infusing every part of his mind and thinking; giving him a revelation of the truth to such a degree that it causes an irreversible and long term change in him; ministering to him in such a way as to cause him to be different than he was before and, therefore, never the same again.

Now this change may be fairly instant – as it was with Saul when the Lord met him on the road just outside Damascus – or it may work its sanctifying effect more slowly – though no less fundamentally; but changed the man will be. What was it about hearing Jesus’ voice which caused ‘unlearned and ignorant’ Peter to say, ‘Thou hast the words of eternal life!’ John 6:68,69. Many heard the words Jesus spoke, but few concluded thus. The reason Peter confessed as he did was because Jesus’ words had entered into the very depths of his soul and had caused the fisherman to ‘forsake all and follow him.’

Has this happened to the reader? This is no ‘happening upon’ some interesting verse of scripture which excites our curiosity into spiritual things; nor is it a taking up of the Bible to educate ourselves in the fundamentals of the Christian religion, so that we can improve our minds, and perhaps stir ourselves up to seek to live better lives in the light of what we have learned. No, this is revelation! Peter wasn’t listening to Jesus’ words with notepad and pen in his hands, making notes and comparing what he heard with what the doctors of the law taught ‘at synagogue’, or even with what he’d learned from his father Jonas. For on another occasion when he had received similar light, confessing Jesus again to be ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’, the Saviour said to him, ‘Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven’, Matt. 16:17. Heavenly revelation, you see. How immeasurably different this is from merely absorbing denominational slant, tradition and phraseology from an early age. No, unless we hear and learn of the Father, John 6:45; unless he reveals his Son in us, Gal. 1:15,16, then we are blind and lost, regardless of all our ‘religion’.

The psalmist declared out of his own experience, ‘The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple’, Psalm 119:130; the entrance of thy words, you see; not just the reading or the knowledge of them. Therefore to hear the voice of the Son of God is to experience the receiving of light into our dark souls, and of spiritual wisdom and understanding into our minds (see Proverbs chapters 1-9), which before were ignorant of the things of God, of eternity, of Christ, and of our own corrupt nature. Indeed, the entrance of the word of the Lord is designed for, and issues in regeneration: ‘being born again by the word of God’, and obviously by the word of God as spoken within; if it was by reading only then every one who read the Book would be regenerated. The psalmist again said that the blessed man was he whose delight was in the law of the Lord, in which law he meditated day and night, Psalm 1:1-3. How so? Well, the Lord had spoken that law – his word – into his heart; it had come with life-giving and life-changing power and now abode in him, cp. 1 John 2:14; it had arrested the psalmist who could not help but meditate, ponder over, and feed upon what was distilling into his very being.

How often in natural things are we struck by something another has said; so much so that we cannot get it out of our minds. Whereas in time that word will fade, not so when the voice of the Lord is heard. When he speaks that word will often pursue us – especially if it is a word of conviction, correction, or a revelation of his will, which is so against ours – and we will not be able to forget it, shake it off, or reason it away. Why? Because this word is ‘quick’, that is, alive, and powerful, being sharper than any twoedged sword; and, as such, it pierces even to the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit of a man.

And yet it penetrates even deeper than that. When the Lord speaks his word it does not cause one merely to raise an eyebrow in heightened but relatively detached interest; neither does it ‘scratch the surface’ of a momentarily awakened conscience; but lances, pierces, punctures and penetrates into the very depths of one’s being, and shines a light within so bright and pure, that it cries aloud within, exposing, uncovering and laying bare everything, even to the thoughts of the heart and, deeper still, to the natural intentions and inclinations of the heart: those things which work in us at such a fundamental level that it is they which give birth to our thoughts; thus they exist in our inmost being even before a thought or imagination is formed! So when we begin to hear the voice of the Lord even they are exposed – the ‘intents of the heart’, Heb 4:12,13.

The LORD in Zephaniah 1:12 says that he will ‘search Jerusalem with candles’; meaning that he will go through the whole city searching out every hidden corner with his small but pure light. Likewise, God, with the light of his word, will plummet the depths of the hearts of his people, exposing the darkest recesses of their very nature, unearthing all therein which is foul, unclean, deceitful, and rotten – in other words, everything that is there! Have we been searched by God in such a way? But when, at length, the word spoken within is a word of salvation, then we will not be able to doubt it, question it, disbelieve it, or fail to rejoice over it. Again, I just do not believe that the Lord gives mere hints or hopes of salvation, but actually brings it, and seals it to the heart and conscience with his almighty powerful voice, and by it, brings forth the fruit of true and lasting repentance, faith and good works, Titus 3:11-14.

What a voice the Son of God has! This is the voice of the risen, ascended, all powerful, giver of life, speaking directly into the heart of a poor, dead, lost sinner, imparting life, raising from the dead, speaking with irresistible authority, and, potter-like, Rom. 9, moulding and fashioning the clay into his own image. And again, this happens today! It must happen today. Oh, there is no doubting this voice! Just read Psalm 29: ‘The voice of the LORD is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD is upon many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty’ – lit. ‘in power : in majesty’, etc. How then can such a voice be mistaken when it is spoken within ‘in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance’? – and how far this is from, ‘I believe the Lord has spoken to me, but I want it confirmed.’

As to the fruit of hearing the voice of the Son of God; Paul says that ‘Faith [not doubt] cometh by hearing’, Rom. 10:17. And what is faith? Faith is believing, and believing is faith. Faith is ‘believing God’.[5] It is hearing his voice, and believing it in the heart; it is believing on Christ and his blood constantly as the only means of our justification before God; and in the light of that, it is always looking away from works – when the temptation arises – as supposedly adding to that work, with an immediate looking again to the cross for all our salvation. Faith is a justifying of God in his speech, cp. Psalm 51:4, and falling ‘under the hearing’ of that speech – which is what ‘obeying’ means; it is submitting to him, despite the cost to self, and following him. Abram, the pagan, from the first hearing of the voice of the LORD from heaven calling him and commanding him, believed, had faith, in what he heard; and obeying that voice, and walking in accordance with it, we read, ‘and it was accounted to him for righteousness’. Why? Because ‘Abraham believed God’; and that was God’s judgment. And, by the way, Abraham had no scriptures!

So the fruit of this hearing of faith is obedience; and lasting obedience at that. We can be sure, based on our own experience of hearing the voice of the Lord, that when he spoke ‘no condemnation’ to the woman taken in adultery, and commanded her to ‘go and sin no more’, that she went and sinned no more; cp. 1 John 3:9, in context. When the Lord speaks we do hear, and we do obey. There are times when the Lord has stirred us up to seek him – whether we are aware that this stirring is of him or not – and has drawn out of us such a searching after him, and a pleading of him, that when the answer comes we know it is he that has spoken; for in this pleading we will have been brought to a point where we’ve had to yield our will in the matter, and have had to resign ourselves only to ‘hear what God the LORD will speak’, Psalm 85:8; so, again, when he does speak we can be sure that it is his voice we hear and not just the desires of our deceitful imagination.

So often we would have the Lord say what we want to hear, while more often than not he comes and says the opposite. ‘Lord, tell me this is the way I should take’, we ask, hoping that he might confirm our desires; but no, when humbled before him, and finally devoid of these lusts (as Tyndale bluntly calls them), and made willing to yield to his will despite the cost to self, he then comes with a revelation of his will which so opposes our own that we know it cannot be anything other than the voice of the Lord. And in such cases we will never be able to forget what the Lord has spoken because, again, we have been given grace to fall under it, light has entered, and an incomprehensible peace and liberty has ensued, for the will of the Lord has been made plain. The testimony of scripture, too, will confirm that we are being led in the right way, for the Spirit will there show us characters under similar circumstances who passed through the same exercises and received, in principle, the same replies.

So this fruit of obedience is, again, ‘the obedience of faith’, Rom. 16:25,26, cp. also Acts 6:7. Faith in God; faith in his word; faith in his will; faith in his commandment; faith in his very Person; faith and trust in him to commit all into his hands; for his will is perfect; his word is sure; his gospel is true; his salvation is real; his Fatherhood is secure (and that’s what any child craves the most, isn’t it? security in its parent’s arms?); his power is total, and all he is is immutable; therefore we can rest in him. Wonderful!

Another fruit of hearing his voice is repentance. Indeed, a true work of repentance has led to this saving faith. For a God-wrought repentance is a change of mind; it is a work which he has performed in changing the way we think, reason about, and view everything; which alone has made us sensitive and receptive to the leading of the Spirit, and to the words and will of God. Therefore this work of repentance which God has wrought within us has caused that outward repentance – that complete turning from the old ways in sin, to the new and living way in Christ, as in 1 Thessalonians 1:9.

Another thing to point out here is that it is always the Lord who is the initiator of this. It is he who speaks with his voice. Lazarus was dead in the grave, and it was the Lord who came to him and spoke, commanding his life to be restored to him: ‘And he that was dead came forth’, John 11:44. What power attended those two words of Jesus to Matthew at the receipt of custom: ‘Follow me.’ This was not a request, a suggestion, or a pleading – and it certainly was no ‘offer’; but an all powerful command! And the Lord did not have to shout it in his ear, so as to make Matthew cower and follow out of an overwhelming fear, but was a command given with such arresting purity and authority that the command, yea, the voice itself, was all the ‘persuasion’ that was needed, for he that was formerly ‘seated’, immediately abandoned all his worldly profit, ‘arose and followed him’, just as the voice commanded! This shows that it is not always a thunderous voice which the Lord employs to arrest his people and distil his word into their hearts. He does speak like that at times, e.g. Job 38:1, but often it is a ‘still small voice’ spoken within; but whichever it is, there is never a mistaking the power of it, the authority of it, and the irresistibility of it: one cannot help but hear it, fall under it, obey it, and be changed by it.

Finally I would say that the fruit of hearing the voice of the Son of God is a love of, and a pursuit after, the truth; we therefore believe the truth, and are not led into false doctrine and lies – ‘cunningly devised fables’. This may seem obvious, but it is a fact that many who say they ‘love the word’, and ‘believe in Jesus’ – who thus call him ‘Lord’ – actually happily imbibe error – especially the error of ‘free will’ and a religion of works – therefore showing that the Spirit of truth is not in them or teaching them.

What enmity there is in many professed followers of Jesus to the great doctrines of the gospel: especially to predestination, election, the total and absolute sovereignty of God in all things, and the total and absolute depravity of man in sin: of his complete inability to incline himself to God-ward, unless God first begins a ‘good work’ in him.

What enmity there is to the truth of an eternal conscious state of torment in the lake of fire for all those that obey not the gospel of God; and to the fact that Jesus himself will dismiss multitudes who now call him Lord into that fiery place! Matt. 7:21-23, 25:44-46. What loathing there is to the idea that God actually ‘hates’ people and doesn’t in fact ‘love everybody’; and yet this truth is testified to by the psalmist, the prophet and the apostle – Psalm 5:4-6, Mal. 1:1-3, Rom. 9:6-24.

There is also much enmity to the truth that ‘the just shall live by faith’ alone, that they are not sent back to Moses to live by after they have come to Christ. What a terrible denial of the all-sufficiency of the work of the cross that is, cp. 1 Tim. 1:9-11, Gal. 6:12-16, etc. Also, what ignorance this betrays to the truth that Moses himself lived by faith and that for years before he arrived at Sinai, Heb. 11:23-29. And are we supposed to believe that he then threw faith aside for two tables of stone? Not according to the account of the rest of his life; Exodus 33 comes to mind as an example. No, the Spirit-taught children of God who walk by faith and not by sight – which is natural reason, or the commandments and traditions of men, which naturally tend to legalism – are not led into falsehood, but are taught and walk in the truth; because they have heard the voice of the Son of God, are indwelt of the Spirit of truth, and have not been deceived by the father of lies – the manifest ‘angel of light’. And they continue in this way until the end, as kept by the Saviour. Oh, nothing is ever the same again when the Lord’s voice begins to speak into the hearts of his people.

But if we return for a moment to the denomination, to the word ‘speaketh’, and to the professed experiences of many, we find that they hardly match up to the scriptural revelation at all. Supposedly having had a word when we were twenty, and another when we were thirty-five, then a melting at forty and a manifestation at sixty-two, with precious little in between, can hardly be described as the Lord speaking in a constant and vital way.[6] For notice again in John 10:27 that Christ says that his sheep hear his voice, not that they ‘have heard’ his voice at some time in the past. How many people – and this is perhaps more especially true in a wider professing Christian context – place their hope of eternal security on the belief that the Lord perhaps spoke to them at one time in their youth; but when asked about their lifelong Christian experience – or about their time in the ‘wilderness’ – will not be able to relate much at all – apart from all their ‘believing’ and ‘doing’. But I believe such to be in a very precarious position – regardless of how much they say they believe, and how much peace and assurance they gain by it.

There are many people, especially those who have been ‘Christians’ a long time, who, with the above testimony, would be highly offended with the suggestion that they might be included in the number of the deceived foolish virgins found crying on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us’, Matt. 25:1-13; but when you ask them about their long and continued ‘assurance’ – despite the fact that they have received next to no communication from the Lord – will betray the fact that they never doubt; and yet if they do, they will just call it a temptation of the devil, will quickly quote some portion of scripture to themselves – like the last few verses of Romans 8 – and will rapidly, and easily, regain their full assurance. But they are never really troubled in their souls about their ‘salvation’; never go through periods of darkness and trial – especially feeling this world to be a barren place – feeling in themselves still to be poor sinful creatures in need of, and crying for constant mercy and keeping; never look within with astonishment and dismay to think that one professing Christ could still have such perverse thoughts as they often have; find such abominable filth well up within; or suffer from such vain imaginations as they do, which cause them severely to question whether the Spirit of God could actually dwell in them! No, they never feel that bad, nor are ever that troubled; just more or less constantly assured; and thus they show that they have never really experienced – had the need to experience – the wonders of true ‘amazing grace’, or free and distinguishing redeeming love and mercy. No, never troubled. Alas, in this, they witness to the truth of Psalm 73:4,5; but would never see themselves therein.[7]

But the church is the bride of Christ, he is her husband; and surely the communication between those who love one another is more regular and life-giving than what most say they experience. How can anyone be satisfied with a distant and mostly silent lover, who only supposedly ‘appears’ perhaps not much more than once a decade! As we have seen, ‘going to chapel’ and sitting hoping for a word with no real exercise isn’t the way Christ communicates with his bride; no, she is an impatient seeker, longing to hear his voice, for he is her life, and she must have him speak into her heart. As already stated, I fear that many go to chapel relatively unconcerned, with some vague wish that Christ might drop a word, to give them some hope that it will be well with them when they come to die, but in the living reality of daily existence – outside of chapel – they have little felt need of him at all. What a poor dead state to be in; how dishonouring to the Lord of glory; and what a misrepresentation of the glorious gospel of the blessed Son of God.

Let us seek of the Lord and pray to be found in a position from where we can cry the words which Eli taught Samuel, ‘Speak, LORD, for thy servant is hearing’, 1 Sam. 3:9.

 

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[1] The word ‘apostle’ means ‘sent forth’, as all preachers claim to be.

[2] What I have written here is only really the logical conclusion to my argument in this regard: if the man in the pulpit has been born and brought up in the denomination, and has experienced and received his fair share of the expected ‘blessings’ and ‘words’, which have brought him first, to join the church, and then, to be sent out to preach; and if these have very subtly not been according to the truth of the gospel, but merely in the way of the denominational tradition, can he not yet remain unregenerate himself? He certainly can.

[3] The word ‘refuse’ here means ‘to treat disparagingly’; to have dim views of Christ and his voice.

[4] Likewise it is not good enough to change ‘believeth’ to ‘believes’ in John 3:16, etc., for ‘whosoever believeth’ means literally, ‘every one who is believing’, while ‘whoever believes’ can describe a mainly passive believer; one who perhaps just believes certain facts about Jesus and the gospel, but who is not necessarily ‘living and believing’ in Christ, John 11:26. Thus, far from John 3:16 being a text which is ‘trying to get people saved’ (to use a horribly vulgar modern phrase), it is a wonderful statement of fact which is of great encouragement to the living believer!

[5] Believing God in this context is vastly different from believing in God; for the devils do that and tremble, but never have salvation.

[6] This is not to say that the Lord doesn’t sometimes speaks a word to his people in which they go ‘in the strength of’ for ‘forty days and forty nights’, 1 Kings 19:4-8. Likewise we can safely assume that Matthew didn’t need ‘Follow me’ to be repeated, nor the woman taken in adultery ‘neither do I condemn thee’; surely they lived the rest of their lives in the light and comfort of them.

[7] This is not to say that of necessity the child of God is bound to experience the opposite on his deathbed, as seems to be the dread expectation of some. Compare Paul’s testimony in 2 Timothy 4:6-8: there’s glory in that ‘henceforth’!

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