The Holy Spirit's Voice
I want to say a word about the Spirit speaking. The Spirit speaks, makes His voice to be heard, and His words are authoritative. When we remember that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are coequal in Person and glory and might and will and power we can understand that the speaking of the Spirit is as authoritative as the speaking of the Lord Jesus and as the speaking of the Father. The passages we have read in different contexts present different features of truth, but they are all the voice of the Holy Spirit and we shall consider each in turn.
"I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. 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: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you." (John 16:12-15)
In John 16 the Lord was instructing His disciples as to what the Spirit would be to them after He (the Lord Jesus) went back to glory. He had many things to say to them but they could not bear them then. It was not that they were lacking in intelligence, but they could not possibly bear or understand the truths that He wanted to tell them because they had not yet received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit could not come down and indwell every believer in Christ until the work of Christ had been accomplished and the Lord Jesus gone back to glory. Only after He had come could every believer then have the power and the potential to understand every truth that was presented to them. No Christian should be ignorant as to the mind of the Lord, it is not a question of natural ability, it is a question of being in a moral condition with a teachable mind and having a desire to learn, then the indwelling Spirit gives the power to understand and learn the truth of God. So when the Lord Jesus said "ye cannot bear them now" it was not because there was anything lacking in them, naturally speaking, in fact they had been very well taught by the Lord Himself, but there were many, many wonderful things He wanted to tell them but spiritually they were not competent to take them in.
In Corinth it was another story, Paul wanted to tell the believers there the most wonderful things that were in his heart but he had to refrain (3:1-2), not because they had not the Holy Spirit (they had, 2:12), nor were they lacking in intelligence (2:16), but rather, their moral condition was bad, there were divisions (2:11-12), there was evil practice (5:1) and evil doctrine (15:12) being tolerated in their midst. These things in the Corinthian assembly prevented the apostle from opening up his heart to unveil to them the great things of God. The same thing is said in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Hebrew Christians ought to have been teachers, instead of that the apostle had to feed them with milk, they were just like babes because they were not following the teaching correctly, they were getting mixed up with Judaistic thoughts and this prevented the apostle unfolding to them the things of God.
These are warnings to us not to depend upon our natural ability to understand the truth of God. We have the Holy Spirit to teach us, He is the power by which every Christian understands the truth of God; there is no other way of understanding. Mental acquisition of the word and spiritual appropriation of the word are two entirely different things (1 Cor.2). We could memorise the Bible from cover to cover and we could understand all the stories and the teachings but if this is done through mental acquisition it would have no power in forming us after Christ, but if we spiritually apprehend, appropriate and obey the word then we find that spiritual formation takes place.
Secondly, we have to pay attention to our moral condition. We cannot go on with sin or things that are dishonouring to the Lord and expect the unqualified power of the Spirit in teaching us, it just does not work. You can go to university and be the most debauched person there, you can apply yourselves to the teaching, listen to the lecturers and study, then you can acquire a good qualification, get your degree with honours, your moral condition does not really matter, but that does not work in divine things. There is no progress if there is any flirting with the world, any sin in the life, anything that is dishonouring to the Lord Jesus, you cannot acquire the truth of God in its formative character unless there is a moral condition befitting you. The characteristic name of the Spirit is the Holy Spirit, and He cannot walk alongside anything that is dishonouring to the Lord Jesus Christ or inconsistent with Himself. We often talk about the causes of declension, and perhaps here is one of them, we fail to recognise the tremendous greatness of the Person of the Holy Spirit and the part that He has in our teaching and the forming of us after Christ.
The Holy Spirit is here described as the Spirit of truth. One likes to think of this description of the Holy Spirit as combating the error that was then, and now has multiplied in many, many forms. What a tremendous amount of error there is in this world. There are sects and parties and man's ideas, with all kinds of traditions, and they are all combating the truth, but the Spirit of truth is the great barrier against that. We should be thankful that the Holy Spirit's presence in the world at the present moment in and with the saints is the great barrier against error overcoming the saints and completely destroying the testimony of Christianity. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit is the divine guarantee that truth will be maintained right to the end. When you come to a position where someone says, 'This is my apprehension of the truth', and another one says, 'Well, this is my apprehension of the truth', and they are diametrically opposed to each other then one or both must be wrong, but you can be sure that if there is a waiting upon the Holy Spirit the truth will eventually be arrived at where there is a teachable, obedient spirit. How thankful we should be that, in spite of the dark ages that the church has gone through, that now nearing the end of the church period there is a tremendous amount of truth available for the saints of God. We owe that to the Holy Spirit, and, of course, to the Lord Jesus Christ who personally is the truth (John 14:6), and we see it exemplified in His Person when He was here below (John 1:17). The Spirit is the truth subjectively, He forms that in us, so that we are consistent with what has been set out perfectly in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Further, the Holy Spirit "will guide you into all truth". There is a danger, and we are all prone to it, that we reach a certain stage and we become content, our sins are gone through belief in Christ, we know a little about justification and some other forms of truth and we are quite content, 'But,' says the Lord, "He will guide you into all truth", there is the possibility of us entering into all truth, the whole tremendous scope of Christian teaching. Now, having said that, that does not mean that it is possible for any one of us to arrive at this in perfection. What a tremendous amount of teaching there is in the New Testament, in the personal teaching of Christ and in the teaching of the apostles. There are fine distinctions of meaning, deep presentations of prophecy, the presentation of the Person of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the greatness of the church, the greatness of the blessings that we have in Christ, all the different names of the Lord Jesus and their meanings, oh what a scope of truth there is! It would be a sad, sad day if we thought that we had arrived at a full knowledge of the truth, it certainly would not be the divine standard of knowledge because that is so extensive and so profound, and yet it is open for us all in the power and service of the Holy Spirit.
I think we should be profoundly thankful for the tremendous amount of knowledge we have circulating in our meetings. We have been reminded recently of people who have been in 'a church' for forty or fifty years and they come along to the little meetings that we have and they have said they were hearing things that they have never heard before. How sad it is that in some companies, professedly gathering to the name of the Lord, Christian companies, the very fundamentals, the very simplest things of Christianity are practically unknown. That is not true everywhere of course, there are many exceptions, and how thankful we should be for these exceptions, yet sometimes how careless and casual and unthankful we can be for the wonderful things that we hear ministered to us, perhaps this is because we have heard them so often that they become commonplace to us. Let us never forget that most, if not all, of these truths were secured by brothers applying and sacrificing themselves to get them for us. Thank God that, in some measure, these precious truths are in circulation in our little meetings. Oh, let us value the whole scope of truth that is available to us.
"He will guide you into all truth for he shall not speak of (or 'from') himself......". It is not that the Spirit is speaking as an individual as separate from the Father and the Son, He gives the truth in accord with the Father and the Son, They are divine, They work together, They have one will and purpose. So, if the Spirit is speaking, He is speaking all that is true of the Father and all that is true of the Son. This is 'the Spirit's day', the Lord is in glory having completed the work of the cross, and what is going on on earth, although coming through the Lord Jesus, is in the power and service of the Holy Spirit.
"He shall not speak of (or 'from') himself but whatsoever he shall hear that shall he speak". The Holy Spirit hears these great distinctive truths that belong to the Christian era, He hears them and, as come to earth with the church and indwelling every believer, He speaks what He has heard, just like the Lord Jesus, of whom it is said, "morning by morning he openeth my ear that I may be able to speak a word to those that are weary", and "the words which I speak to you I do not speak from myself; but the Father who abides in me, he does the works" (John 14:10), He received words from His Father, He spoke them and people were blessed by them. The Spirit takes the same place of service, He hears the words, conveys them to those who are listening and divine formation takes place.
"He will show you things to come". Whether this is the truth of the church and all the great and glorious things connected with it in the Christian realm, or whether we are looking into the future, the unfolding of the great prophetic teachings, I would not be free to say dogmatically, it may involve both. That the Spirit has made known the things that are to come in the future is abundantly clear as we read the New Testament. Men and women of this world are very uneasy at the present moment, what does the future hold for them? The future is very dark and foreboding and uncertain and we can understand the fears of men and women, but the Christian should never be governed by these things because the future is not uncertain for the Christian. Whatever might happen before the church is gone is another matter, indeed that is uncertain, no one knows what a day will bring forth, but the eventual future is plainly stated in the word of God by the Spirit for our understanding. I do not know how long the church will be here, but eventually it will be caught up to be with Christ in glory, after that there will be a comparatively short time when various judgments will take place upon earth and then there will be that glorious reign of a thousand years, after that is completed comes eternity, the day of God. Things are not uncertain for the believer, the Spirit has shown us things to come. If you want an excellent book to read and help you in understanding some of these things there is a helpful book called "Things to Come" by Dwight Pentecost. It is a good investment. There again, as you read such a book you require the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit to make it your own and to make it profitable to your heart and mind.
"He shall glorify me". This is the distinctive service of the Holy Spirit. Oh, how thankful we are for that, the tremendous, deep and rich ministry that we have had for so many years regarding the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. For all the darkness and speculation in the world as to Him we are thankful for at least some clear understanding as to how infinitely great He is, the Creator and Upholder of the universe, Head of the church and all the other glories that belong to Him. We are indebted to the Holy Spirit for making these things known to us.
I remember speaking to a well-known brother about a man well-known in the Christian realm as a textual critic, and this brother said to me, 'I would not have any hesitation in writing to this man to ask him the meaning of some word in the ancient languages because he is thoroughly competent to pass an opinion, but I would not dream of asking him for a spiritual understanding of a passage, that is another matter altogether'. We might know Greek and Hebrew perfectly but that is no guarantee that we would have a spiritual understanding of the word of God, we require the teaching of the Spirit for that. Thank God He has glorified Christ for so many centuries and when we gather together to remember the Lord Jesus it is as One that is known. We have learnt to love Him, to respect Him, and to praise and worship Him, and we do this because the Spirit has made Him precious to every heart, indeed, when we come to this realm of divine Persons we see the unjealous, unenvious character that marks Them. The Father reveals the Son, the Son reveals the Father, the Lord Jesus reveals the Holy Spirit, and so on. In John the Lord Jesus says more about the Holy Spirit than in any other portion in the word of God, He reveals Him in His greatness, in His glory and in His distinctiveness. Here the Holy Spirit's distinctive service is to glorify Christ, and, dear brethren, if we know anything about the Lord Jesus, if we appreciate and love Him, it is because the Spirit has done this, He has revealed Him to our hearts and we can see a clear distinct picture of Him that draws out our hearts towards Him.
"He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you". This makes me think of Abraham's servant who, when he went to find Isaac a wife, took with him articles of silver and gold and he revealed all that his master had given to his son and when the wife eventually came through the wilderness to be with her husband she would enjoy all these wonderful things that were in store for her. I believe this is what we find here, the Spirit is taking of the things of Christ, the things that have been given to Him by the Father and He makes them known to us today, how else could we possibly understand the deep things of God? There is no other way, it is the Holy Spirit who reveals them to us, and we will see in a moment the different ways in which the Holy Spirit speaks, but here the Lord Jesus says clearly that the Holy Spirit is the One by whom divine things are made known to us.
How is this done? The Holy Spirit implants these truths into our minds so that they become part of us. Various things have been handed down through the centuries, but they have not stood the test, they have been adulterated, they have been modified, they have been enlarged or they have been lessened. The trial of centuries produces a change, but it is not so in divine things. Oh, how wonderful that after nearly two thousand years we are still enjoying in simplicity and clearness the things that the apostles themselves learned at the very outset of the Christian age. The moment we step outside the word of God we step into the realm of speculation and imagination and mysticism, it is man's mind, and man's mind is his own controller, whatever he says, that is it, there is no way to check, it governs all, there is no way to understand, but when we are dealing with the Spirit speaking it is mostly connected with the revealed word of God. This is a check against mysticism or speculation or imagination. The Holy Spirit uses the word of God to bring before us in clear, unmistakable terms the truth that the Lord wants us to appropriate.
Before we move on I want to suggest there are three ways in which the Holy Spirit can speak. The first one is, as I have already mentioned, through the word of God. In whatever way the word of God has been inspired, then the Holy Spirit can use that to speak directly to our hearts and consciences. We just need to read 1 Corinthians 2 to find that explained to us. The Holy Spirit communicates the things of God by spiritual means and uses words whereby that knowledge is made known to us. There we have what we call 'verbal inspiration', the Holy Spirit has used very precise words to convey, in concise terms, the truth that God wants us to understand. How thankful we should be for the word of God in our hands by which the Holy Spirit can teach us.
Then, as we find in many passages, the Spirit can speak to us through a servant. We find him speaking in the pages of Scripture through different people, Peter was filled with the Spirit, Stephen, Zacharias, Elizabeth and John the Baptist to mention but a few. They were able to convey the mind of the Lord because they were filled with the Spirit. The Spirit spoke through agents.
Thirdly, as we can see in Acts 8 and 10, He can speak intuitively, that without hearing a voice or using the word of God the Spirit can make His mind known to a believer to do a certain service, to go in a certain direction or to have certain guidance. I want to guard here against any mystical idea. I am not saying that voices are heard through the air or visions seen, I am not in favour of that, I feel that kind of thing opens the door to a great deal of speculation and imagination, but I am thoroughly convinced that the Spirit can impress me with a certain course of action if I am near enough to the Lord to know something about His direction and guidance. In our area there was a fisherman who was a very able gospel preacher, he was fishing with his colleagues when he felt that the Holy Spirit was speaking to him telling him to leave his employment to go to a certain town in Scotland and to preach the gospel there. He had never been there in his life, did not know a soul in the place, but in obedience he told his colleagues that he would not be fishing with them in the future, he came home, his wife packed his bag, and he went by train to this particular town. When he got off the station there was a little boy waiting who said, 'Sir, are you the preacher?' He said, 'Yes, I am a preacher'. The boy took him to a hall where people were gathered together and souls were converted when he preached. This man is long since with the Lord. I do not know how many experiences he had like this, but there was a man who was spoken to in an unmistakable way. There was nothing mystical about it, he knew what he had to do, he knew where to go, he obeyed and the Lord blessed his service. It seems to me we have something like this in Acts 8 and 10.
"Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Isaiah, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth." (Acts 8:29-33)
Philip was very active in Samaria and souls were being converted (Acts 8:5-8) but then he was told to go into the desert, there he was told to join himself to a chariot. There was no intermediary, there was no human voice telling Philip to do this, it was the Spirit's voice, it came clearly and distinctly to him and it is to his credit that he obeyed.
I want to ask you if you experienced anything like this when you felt an urge to do something for the Lord? It may have been just a visitation or to write a letter and you did not do it, and afterwards there was a tremendous regret, an opportunity had been missed. There is nothing mystical about this. One Scripture that appeals to me very much in this respect is Romans 8:16, "The Spirit himself witnesses with our spirit". There is a clear indication that the Holy Spirit and our spirit are in close affinity and whether it is witnessing to the truth or whether it is direction and guidance here is something that is open for every Christian, here is a clear way in which the Spirit speaks to us in order to help us to do something to guide us into the pathway of the will of the Lord. So Philip obeyed, the Ethiopian Eunuch man was converted, went back to Ethiopia, and as far as I am aware, the Christian testimony has continued in Ethiopia right up to the present day because Philip obeyed the voice that he heard, the urging of the Holy Spirit.
"While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Rise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them." (Acts 10:19-20)
Peter was not serving as Philip was, but praying, and that was a good condition to be in for the Spirit's voice to be heard. The Spirit said, 'Go, do not doubt'. How often we find an exercise brought before us and our minds starts to think, to reason, and before we know where we are we have a thousand reasons not to do the thing pressed upon us. The Spirit said to Peter, 'Do not doubt, you go. I have sent the three men'. He sent the three men and then He awakened Peter. The whole thing was synchronised, they went down to the house of Cornelius and there was great blessing for the Gentiles. So here is another clear case of the Spirit speaking without any human intervention or agency, there was obedience and, thank God, blessing was the result.
Now I think we can experience this today, the outpouring of the Spirit is as powerful today as it was in the day of Pentecost in the sense that there is the potentiality there for every believer to be under His power and direct control, that is for you and for me too.
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." (1 Tim.4:1-8)
When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy he was describing the house of God and the things proper to it. The Holy Spirit spoke expressly regarding the latter days of the house. In this context He was not glorifying Christ or instructing the Lord's servants, He was warning the believers of the awful conditions that would prevail on earth even in the Christian testimony. These people that we read of are within the bosom of the Christian testimony. It says, "some shall depart from the faith. The antidote to all these things is seen in the phrase "them who believe and know the truth". If there are such persons there will be no possibility of apostatising or giving heed to seducing spirits or the awful things that are foreign to the Holy Spirit's Person and service. Lies and hypocrisy are not the fruit of the Holy Spirit's service. Here is Satanic influence operating in the last days to destroy the Christian testimony.
Now the Spirit is warning us, and we must not fall into the snare of judging things by the standard that is prevalent in the world, we have to come to the divine standard of judgment, that is the word of God. What we see around us must not be allowed to enter into our minds and reduce the greatness of the truth that has been revealed, when we see evil things around they must be declared to be evil, there must not be any lessening of them in our minds, our consciences must not be seared. A conscience that is seared is a conscience that no longer operates. A tender conscience that is enlightened and governed by the truth is able to form a proper judgment in relation to what is opposed to the Son of God and to the work of the Holy Spirit. I felt it right that we should read this chapter, because it shows there is a continual speaking of the Spirit, reminding us of evil and how to combat it and how to avoid it, so that what is proper to the Son of God should be maintained.
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." (Rev.3:13)
In chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation we have seven letters written to seven churches in Asia Minor, each one is written with a particular object in mind. In itself it provides an excellent example for us of how ministry should be effective. The Lord Jesus did not send John with a message to Ephesus and say, 'The same message will do for the other six also', that might be a danger that some of us who minister the word might fall into as we travel up and down the country, we may have favourite portions of the Bible to minister on, certain portions that we think we can speak effectively on, but that is not the way the Spirit works. Each assembly had different problems, each assembly required specific encouragement, and so the Lord gave seven distinct messages with each message calculated to suit the condition of the particular assembly. Here we find the Spirit's voice is closely connected with the voice of the Lord Jesus, each assembly being addressed by the Lord Jesus personally, and each told to listen to what the Spirit is saying to them. The speaking of the Lord Jesus and the speaking of the Holy Spirit coalesce so that there might be a united impression made upon those who were listening.
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches". Does that mean that we just sit mechanically and listen to what is being said and nothing more? That is not the meaning of the word 'hearing' in Scripture. The word 'hearing' in Scripture means the ear that hears and obeys. This is always so. Let me quote one scripture to prove it. In Matthew 18 if a brother has a fault against another then he has to go and see the brother concerned and, "If he hears thee thou hast gained thy brother". Now surely that does not mean that you go and tell him what the matter is and he hears it and the matter is settled, no, the brother hears, he does not close his ear to what is presented to him, he listens, he sees the truth of it, he obeys it, and then the brother is gained. I believe that is what is involved in the Spirit speaking to the churches, 'He that has an obedient ear, an ear that takes in the truth, that obeys and appropriates the message of the Spirit'. This is the kind of attitude that produces blessing and progress.
I do not know how long you have been sitting listening to ministry over the years, I can look back for over fifty years. There are some here who can say longer than that; we should be wonderful people if we have listened to the word of God for fifty years, but have we obeyed it, have we appropriated it? That is another matter. Sometimes we hear it said, 'Oh give me Samuel's ear', but not only do we need Samuel's ear we need his obedience and his willingness to be instructed. Samuel was formed by what he heard, there was someone older there to instruct him, he obeyed and what rapid progress he made. This is involved, "He that hath an obedient ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches".
Now we have been taught, and rightly so, that these seven churches give a panoramic view of the assembly from its formation in apostolic times right down to the very end, passing through different phases in a historical sense. If that is so the Spirit's voice has always been heard, thank God for that. The Spirit's voice is not quietened today, the Spirit's voice is clear and distinct, and it is connected with the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is a very wonderful thing. There are so many things in Christianity that are wonderful, they might so often appear commonplace to us because we have heard them again and again and again, but oh, never let the wonder of them be lessened in our hearts. Some time ago I was going through Mark's Gospel and I noticed the often repeated statement "amazement", people were amazed by what they saw and heard in connection with Christ. Oh, we desire that something of that amazement might be in our own souls as we consider the greatness of Christian truth.
"I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." (Rev.22:16-17)
We come now to the end, and what a wonderful end, to find the Holy Spirit's voice in proper affinity with the church's voice, or should I put it the other way, that the church's voice is in proper affinity with the Spirit's voice, and such affinity that they both cry "Come". Think of the Spirit crying to the Lord Jesus, "Come", and this voice being heard from the church! What a wonderful moment this will be when it takes place, both crying that the Lord Jesus might return.
I am sure the Lord will pay attention to both these voices, the voice of the Spirit, One who is coequal with Him, One who is deeply involved in the unfolding of divine things, and then to think of persons who form the church, the bride upon earth, that company is also calling, "Come". Oh, would to God that that voice was heard from all our hearts and from all Christians. I am sure it is a voice that will be answered readily, "I come quickly".
These are just a few remarks, dear brethren, as to the greatness of the Spirit's voice. Again I say, we want to guard against anything mystical, anything imaginative, we want to be governed by what the word of God says, this is the safe ground for us. When we read the word of God we can be sure the Spirit of God will use it for our present and eternal blessing. May we be open to the word of God speaking to us more and more, for His name's sake.