Lesson 01: The Voice of God

Ellet J. Waggoner

The Present Truth : July 8, 1897

“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.”

Under this heading it is proposed to call the attention of the readers of the PRESENT TRUTH week by week to a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews and to other portions of Scripture that are naturally suggested by it. The study will be somewhat similar to that which appeared on the Book of Romans two or three years ago, although we do not propose, at present at least, to make a study of the entire Epistle, but only of the first four or five chapters. The design is to fix the words of the text as firmly as possible not simply in the memory but in the mind of the reader, that the Holy Spirit may open them to the understanding. When this is done, the treasures of the Word will be seen, and the possessor will have within him a constant source of joy and strength.

The object of Bible study is to find out what God says; for it is not alone those who never read the Scriptures, who are ignorant in this respect. Many read the Bible regularly, and still have very little idea of what God actually says to them. All the meaning of the words of the Lord does not lie on the surface; the business of the Bible teacher is to make this deeper meaning appear; for the true Bible teacher simply follows the leading of the Spirit of God, “for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” There is all the difference in the world between this kind of Bible study and that (miscalled) study that consists in putting a meaning into the text, and saying dogmatically, “This means so and so.” In this case the individual follows his own mind or fancy, and not the mind of the Spirit. The difference between the two methods of teaching may be seen in this, that where the teacher puts a construction on the text, giving his opinions and ideas, arbitrarily saying that it means thus and so, the student who accepts his guidance must always keep his words in mind; for since the interpreted meaning is not actually in the text, but is put upon it, it is very evident that the reader cannot see it in the words of the text, but must look through the words of the teacher; in the other case, if the teacher is indeed only an instrument of the Holy Spirit, the student sees in the very words of the Bible a meaning that he did not see before, but which he can clearly see is actually there; and he sees it now so plainly that he wonders why he did not see it before. The Spirit of faith may thus be likened to a magnifying glass, or a telescope, that enables us to see realities that are hidden from the unaided sight.

Knowing that this epistle is the Word of the Lord, we shall spend no time trying to prove that it was written by Paul, or speculating over the question whether it might not nave been written by Apollos, or some one else. “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 1 Corinthians 3.5. With prayer to God for the blessing and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, let us devote ourselves to meditation upon the very words of this epistle so wondrously rich in doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.

The Voice of God

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds.” Hebrews 1.1, 2

Let us question the text for a few minutes, to be sure that we know just what it says. We will let it answer in its own words.

•    To whom are we introduced in the very beginning of this epistle?
o    “God.”

•    “What has God done?”
o    God spoke.

•    When did God speak?
o    “God spoke in time past.”

•    To whom did God speak in time past?
o    "God spoke in time past unto the fathers.”

•    Through whom did God speak in time past?
o    “God spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets.”

•    Did God speak more than once?
o    “God spoke at sundry times.”

•    How did He speak?
o    “In divers manners.”

•    Has God spoken in later times?
o    “God hath in these last days spoken.”

•    To whom has God spoken in these last days?
o    “God hath in these last days spoken unto us.”
•    Through whom does He speak to us?
o    “By His Son.”

•    Nevertheless who is it that speaks first and last, by whatever agent and in whatever manner?
o    “God.”

•    What has God done for His Son, by whom He speaks to us?
o    “God hath appointed (Him) heir of all things.”

•    Of how much is the Son heir?
o    “Of all things.”

•    What force is there to the words, which God has spoken to us by His Son?
o    “God has spoken unto us by His Son, by whom also He made the worlds.”

•    What two things are said of God in these two verses?
o    “God spoke,” and “He made the worlds.”

“In the beginning, God.”—Here we may pause. When that has been said, everything has been said and done; “for of Him, and through him, and to Him, are all things; to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” Romans 11.36. It is a striking and significant fact that the first word in this epistle brings us face to face with God, and that the text could not possibly be put into good English without having “God” as the first word. And, moreover, when we read the text, we are forced by the very nature of the construction, to pause after the utterance of that title. It is as though designed to make us see that God is, and that that simple, grand fact comprises everything. We are compelled to stop and think that His name is “I AM.” Exodus 3.14. “I am the Lord (Jehovah); that is My name.” Isaiah 42.8. “Before Me there was no god formed, neither shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside Me there is no Saviour.” Isaiah 43.10, 11

“God Is.”—To believe that God is, sums up all that is necessary to salvation. Enoch pleased God and was translated to heaven, because he believed. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11.6. There are fewer people who believe that God is, than is generally supposed. He is—what?—Life, love, strength, righteousness. He is good. Now many persons believe that God has strength, and life, and love, and goodness; but that is not believing that He is. For to believe that He is, means to believe that He is just what He is. “I AM that I AM.” God is goodness itself, and life, and strength. There is no goodness, no life, no strength that does not come directly from Him. Do you believe this? Do you believe that He is—all that is worth being? If so, then you acknowledge your complete dependence on Him, and allow Him to use His strength in you after His own will, to His own glory. And that is salvation. God is—where?—There is “one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.”  Ephesians 4.6. R.V. “Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.” Psalm 139.7-10. Truly, God is. If this one fact were ever before us, the object of our contemplation, it would completely transform our whole lives. We should then appreciate what power there is in the name.  As we proceed in our study, let us not forget that we stand in the presence of God, and that He is.

Silence!—“The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Habakkuk 2.20. Why keep silent?—Because He speaks, and we need to hear. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord hath spoken.” Isaiah 1.2. “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46.10. There is a good reason why people as a general thing find it so difficult to understand the Word of the Lord, and that is, that they do not keep still long enough to hear what He says. If when a teacher began to speak, all his hearers should at once fall to disputing with one another, and to questioning and contradicting him, no one would wonder at their not understanding him; and none would be warranted in saying that he spoke so indistinctly or in so obscure a manner that he could not be understood. If they should make this complaint, they would merit the retort, “If you would but keep still, and listen, you would have no difficulty in understanding.” 

This is exactly the way it is when the Lord speaks. No sooner is a word uttered, than people begin to clamor; without giving quiet consideration to His Word, or even waiting to hear what He has to say, they begin, “I don’t see how that can be; “yes, but then how about this?” “That doesn’t harmonize with the other statement;” “what do you think of that?” “what’s your opinion about this matter?” “It can’t mean that;” “this is what it means;” and so on without limit. No wonder they don’t understand. If a learned professor should begin to speak upon his special subject, all sensible persons would respectfully and attentively listen, because they would consider that the only wise thing to do is to listen when one wiser than they speaks; and they would strain their ears not to miss a word, so that they might understand. Should we not much more silently listen when the Lord of the universe, “the only wise God,” speaks?

God’s Voice.—God has many ways of speaking. He spoke in old time “in divers manners.” “God thundereth marvelously with His voice; great things doeth He, which we cannot comprehend.” Job 37.5. There is power when He speaks, “For He saith to the snow, Be thou on the earth; likewise to the small rain, and to the great rain of His strength;” and so it is. “When He uttereth His voice there is a multitude of waters in the heavens.” Jeremiah 10.13. “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. The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.” “The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness.” Psalm 29.3-5, 7, 8. Yet the Lord also speaks with “a still, small voice” (1 Kings 19.9), and that voice is just as powerful as when He thunders. It is in this tone that He most commonly speaks to men, because our ears could not endure constant thunder; and therefore it is the more necessary that we keep silent before Him, in order that we may hear.

God Still Speaks.—“The word of God is living and active.” Hebrews 4.12. The word of God “lives and abides forever.” 1 Peter 1.23. The word that was spoken by the Lord six thousand years ago is just as fresh and active and as full of life today as it was then. Therefore every word that God has ever spoken, He still speaks. We have the statement that in these last days God has spoken to us by His Son, which brings the word direct to us; but that is not all, for “whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning” (Romans 15.4), and as the word is living, ever fresh and new, we have it all directly addressed to us. What a wonderful thought! God speaks!  Who speaks? —God speaks. What does God do? —He SPEAKS. What does He say? —Listen, and you will know. “Incline your ear, and come unto Me; hear, and your soul shall live.” Isaiah 55.3. Truly, if men only believed the fact that God speaks, —is still speaking, —they would involuntarily listen; and when they did that, they would see His word and hear His voice in everything that He has made. The mighty power that there is in the thought that God speaks to us must be experienced, for it cannot be described. 

Recognizing the Voice.—Once when Jesus was giving instruction, He uttered a prayer to the Father, which was immediately and audibly answered from heaven. “The people, therefore, that stood by, and heard, said that it thundered; others said, An angel spoke to Him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of Me, but for your sakes.” John 12.29, 30. To Jesus, the voice from heaven conveyed a distinct message,—there were articulate words,—but to the others it was only meaningless thunder. Why?—Because Jesus was acquainted with the voice of the Lord, and the others were not. If they had accustomed themselves to the Lord’s voice, they would have found comfort in the message from heaven. In the eighty-ninth Psalm, where we have the glorious throne of God set before us (verses 1-15),—that throne from which proceed “lightnings and thundering and voices” (Revelation 4.5),—we are told, “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance. In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day, and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted.” If we get acquainted with God we shall rejoice to hear His voice, even though He thunders. When God thundered from Sinai, the people “removed, and stood afar off,” but “Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.” Exodus 20.18-22. The people had no reason to fear, and if they had but believed, they might also have drawn near, and found in those thundered commandments infinite promises. God commands His servants in the last days to proclaim the message of comfort from a high mountain, with a loud voice (Isaiah 40.9); and He Himself set the example.   

The greater the thunder tones of God’s voice, the greater assurance of the power of the promise. The voice that sounded from Sinai was the same that still says, “Come unto Me, all Me that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Matthew 11.28. When God says, “Thou shalt,” knowing as He does that we are utterly powerless, His command is an assurance that He Himself will work in us “both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Therefore when we learn that God’s voice is “a joyful sound” no less when it thunders than when it whispers, we shall find rest and delight and peace in His commandments.

How Do We Know?—It is a question that is often asked, “How do you know that God speaks? How do you know that the Bible is the Word of God?”—In the most natural way possible: by listening. If my friend speaks to me, I shall be unconscious of it if I am so occupied with my own thoughts that I pay no heed; but when I listen, and hear his voice, and distinguish the words, then I need nobody else to tell me that he is speaking to me. We know that the Bible is the Word of God, because we hear Him speaking to us personally. Nobody in the world can prove to another that the Bible is the Word of God, but everybody in the world has the means of knowing for himself. Stop and listen; get apart from men, and even from your own thoughts, alone with the One who speaks, and you will know that it is God who speaks.

In the Prophets; In the Son.—From the Revised Version we see that God spoke to the fathers “in the prophets,” and hath now spoken unto us “in His Son.” “God was in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 5.19. His name is Emanuel, God with us. “Believe Me, that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me.” John 14.11. Wherever the Son is, there is the Father also. Therefore we see that it was God speaking in the prophets, when we read that “the Spirit of Christ which was in them” (1 Peter 1.11) was testifying. “For no prophecy ever came by the will of man; but men spoke from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1.21. Therefore when we read the Bible we may drop every thought of man from our minds, and listen to God alone. It is when we thus listen that we find blessing. “We also thank God without ceasing, that, when ye received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God.” 1 Thessalonians 2.13, R.V.

The Spoken Word.—Do not lose sight of the fact that God speaks. The word is living, and does not consist of mere printed letters arranged in the form of words. This is not said to disparage the Bible, but that we may appreciate it the more, and find the more power in it. The words that we see printed are but the form, the picture of the real words. A word is a living thing, formed of the very breath of life. A man may read the Bible, and read very critically, and derive no real good from it, because he sees only cold, dead print. He sees thoughts, ideas, it is true, but they are crystallized, inanimate. At the best he gets only the empty honeycomb, but none of the honey. The living word is that which the eyes cannot see nor the ears hear, but which is revealed to the heart by the Spirit of God. There cannot be in this any opposition between the letter and the Spirit, although the letter kills and the Spirit gives life; for while the letter alone kills, since it is itself dead, the Spirit that makes alive does not contradict the letter, since it is but the reality of that which the letter presents in form.

“These Last Days.”—In Hebrews 1.2 the Revised Version has, “at the end of these days,” instead of “in these last days.” But a comparison of all the other places in which the same Greek words occur which are found here, shows that we may very well read it as in the common version, “in these last days.” It is thus rendered in many other translations. But that there may be no doubt that it was in the last days when Jesus spoke in Judea and Galilee, we read in both the old and the revised versions in Acts 2.17, that it is “in the last days” that the Spirit is poured out on all flesh, which was fulfilled at Pentecost. No apology is needed, therefore, and no explanation, further than a reference to the Scriptures, for saying most emphatically that we are living “in the last days.”

“Heir of All Things.”—God has appointed the Son heir of all things. But “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,” “and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.” Romans 8.14, 17. “He that overcomes shall inherit all things.” Revelation 21.7. Glorious inheritance! But we must not forget that suffering is a part of this inheritance, for those who suffer with Him are glorified with Him. That, however, need not discourage us: for God does not say that the suffering precedes the glory, but that it precedes the revelation of the glory. Jesus when on earth had “the glory as of the only begotten of the, Father” (John 1.14), but men did not perceive it because it was in the form of “grace and truth,” which they rejected. He says that he has given His disciples the same glory that the Father gave Him. John 17.2. All things are even now in Christ, for “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Colossians 1.17, R.V. Therefore even though we may seem to have all reproach and suffering, we have all the power and glory of heaven given us to enable us to bear it; for “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” Romans 8.32. Here is the assurance: “All things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” 1 Corinthians 3.21-23. What blessed things God speaks.

Guilty Ignorance.—“ If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that ponders the heart consider it? And he that keeps thy soul, doth not he know it? And shall not he render to every man according to his works?”  Proverbs 24.11, 12