How God Speaks to Us
December 27th, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
HOW GOD SPEAKS TO US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-27-70 10:50 a.m.
And all of you who are rejoicing with us on television and on radio, this is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message. I could also ask the prayers of our people and friends and yoke fellows in this intercessory ministry, wherever you are listening to the service today here and so extended and far-flung because the television service is on cable through many, many of the cities in west Texas, east Texas, north Texas, and south Texas that you remember us in prayer as we begin our Bible Institute. It will open Tuesday, the twelfth day of January, in about two or three weeks. It’s to be one of the most meaningful and significant of all of the dedications we have ever offered unto God. It will be taught in the evening by professors who have doctor’s degrees in their special fields, and it will offer to us, anyone who will enroll, an opportunity to learn of the things of God that enrich life and soul beyond what otherwise we could ever know. If you have opportunity to attend you are invited to enroll in our Bible Institute that will open Tuesday, the twelfth day of January this coming month.
Now the title of the sermon is How God Speaks to Us. The reading of the text, and it is just a text for a background, is in the first chapter of Hebrews and the first and second verses. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son" [Hebrews 1:1-2].
The fact that God speaks is not only reiterated here in the Scriptures but it is an experience that all of us have known in our lives. God, at sundry times, in different times, and in divers manners, in many, many ways spake in times past unto the forefathers by the prophets and we would add by the apostles.
God has spoken plainly, audibly, knowingly, and statedly. God speaks. Sometimes as we look at that text and turn back to the days of the fathers and the prophets, God at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto our fathers.
When we turn back to those days and those manners, sometimes God would speak in a very unique and unusual way. For example, on the breast of the high priest was Urim and Thummin. Maybe were Urim and Thummin. We do not know. Nobody knows. They were so familiar to Israel that the Scripture writers did not take time to describe what they were. But when the high priest entered into the presence of the Lord to inquire God’s will for the nation, He did so by or with Urim and Thummin. They might have been stones on the breastplate of the high priest and God spoke His message through lights in the stone or through casting the stones in their arrangement. We do not know, nobody knows. That was a unique and an unusual way for God to speak.
Again in the 2 Kings we are told that when Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, came to Elisha the prophet of Israel, to ask for help in a drought that was overwhelming his army, we are told in the word that Elisha asked for a minstrel. And while the minstrel played, the Spirit of prophecy came upon Elisha and he delivered to the king God’s word.
Another time in the Bible God spoke to Balaam through a donkey. Instead of thinking of that as being so unique and unusual, as I go to these conferences and hear some of our preachers and as I listen on the radio to some of our preachers, I must remind myself not to be too critical or caustic because God speaks through donkeys.
But that is unusual and unique. Most of the times, especially these that are so impressive, God will speak in a time of crisis, such as to Abraham. In obedience to the word of God he lifted up the knife to plunge it in the heart of his son, Isaac, on Mount Mariah and the Angel of the Lord spoke to him, stayed his hand. God spoke to Abraham.
On the backside of the desert, where Moses was keeping the sheep of Jethro, his father in law, Moses saw a bush that burned unconsumed. And out of that bush God spoke to Moses. From the top of Mount Sinai, that flamed and burned and smoked, God spoke in trumpet tones to the people of Israel. In the middle of the night while the lad was asleep, God called the name of little Samuel when he was but a small small lad. God spoke to Daniel in visions and in dreams.
The beginning of the Christmas story in the first chapter of the Book of Luke there is a messenger from the presence of God who introduces himself as Gabriel. Standing on the right side of the golden altar of incense before the veil that separated the holy from the holy of holies, as Zacharias the priest ministered at the time of prayer offering incense to God, suddenly the messenger from heaven, Gabriel, stood on the right side of the golden altar and delivered to Zacharias the word of the Lord. God spake through His messenger, the angel Gabriel.
In the passage that you just read from the twenty-second chapter of the book of Acts, Saul of Tarsus there recounts how on the way to Damascus, breathing and threatening slaughter against the people of God, he was met in the way by the Lord Jesus, and the Lord called him by name and commissioned him through Ananias to be a prophet and an apostle to the Gentiles.
In the last book in the Bible, in the Apocalypse, the apostle John says that he was on the isle of Patmos for the word and testimony of Jesus. And while he was there he heard a great voice as of a trumpet behind him. And when he turned to see the voice that spake unto him, he saw the glorified Lord Jesus standing in the midst, walking in the midst of the seven lamp stands, His churches, the presence of Christ in His churches. So through the Bible, all through the Word of the Lord, God has spoken and sometimes in these most unusual and glorious ways.
Now, I can remember so pointedly in the years of my beginning ministry how I used to pray God to speak to me like that. Lord, let me see an angel or a light from heaven or some audible voice. I used to earnestly and reverently and longingly to pray like that, that God would give me an open vision and speak audibly and visibly by an angel messenger. I used to do that.
I do not know whether that was foolishness or idiocy or presumption. It was certainly adolescent and youthful. But as I have grown in grace and in the experience of the years and years of ministering to our people I have come to see that God speaks to us in several very pointed and poignant ways. God speaks to us.
How does God speak to us? By a vision of an angel or by fire or by tempest or by some great phenomenal intervention? How does God speak to us? I have chosen this morning five ways that are very, very reflective of the truth of God in how God speaks to us.
First, and foremost, God speaks to us in His Word. This is the Word of God spoken and revealed to me. This Book that I hold in my hand. God speaks to me in the Word. When I talk to God, when I speak to God, that’s what we call prayer. When we talk to God. As it says Abraham tarried before the Lord and Abraham said, "Behold I have taken upon myself to speak unto Thee the great God, I who am but dust and ashes." When I take upon myself, when I am bold and dane to enter the presence of the great King, that is prayer when I talk to God.
But God talks to me first and foremost in His Word. As the story of the Lord Jesus, when He went back to Nazareth after His baptism in water, there was delivered to Him in the synagogue the roll of the Book, the Holy Scriptures. And He found the place and read out of God’s Book and said, "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your presence." You who listen, you who are here, this day God says the Scripture is fulfilled in your sight.
God speaks to us in the Book. And all of my religious and emotional and spiritual experiences are to be judged and guided by the Book, by the revealed Word of God. I can see a profound reason for that. For without the judgment and the guidance of the Book, if I follow my own personal experiences, I will inevitably fall into error and excess and mistake.
For my faculties are fallen. Not just this human body that is judged for death and dust, but my whole personality is fallen. My mind is not perfect. My heart is not perfect. My will is not perfect. My soul is not perfect and I must judge all of the experience that I have in my life by the holy Word of God. And if I do not do that you will find me falling away into tangents and extremities and excess and error and mistake. Every experience that I have, emotional, spiritual, religious, mental, every experience that I have I must judge it by the revealed Word of God.
Now, we are not alone in that. For all through the ages, the centuries and the millenniums the prophets and the apostles studied the Word of God. As the Psalmist said, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." [Psalm 119:105] It was while Daniel was studying the word of God, Jeremiah, the prophet Jeremiah, that he learned that God said Israel should be in captivity seventy years. And the seventy years were drawing to a close. Daniel studied the Word of God.
In the return to Jerusalem and to Judea, Ezra the scribe set himself to study the Word of the Lord. And he taught it to the people. And when the people were gathered together they made for Ezra a high pulpit. And Ezra stood on that pulpit and expounded the Word of God to the people. And when Ezra opened the Book the Scriptures say all the people stood up. The prophets and the apostles studied the Word of God.
Time would fail me to speak of our Lord who did this and He did that in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. That is He made His life conform to the Word of the Lord. Nor would time avail if I were to take the apostles and in their epistles point out how they quoted and taught their doctrine by the Word of God. Some of those epistles such as that to the Hebrew is almost a collection a pericope of the holy Word of God. Almost the same thing is in the Apocalypse. The apostles and the prophets studied God’s Word and it was God speaking to them as they in turn delivered God’s message to the people.
There is not a more moving sentence in the Bible than the pathetic appeal of the apostle Paul in the Mamertine dungeon in Rome awaiting execution, cold and damp, a thing hollowed out in solid rock where the prisoner was let down in a hole at the top. And he writes to Timothy at Ephesus, "When you come, stop by Troas and the cloak that I left with Carpus, bring with you. It’s cold and damp in this dungeon." Then he adds, "And bring also the books." Then he adds, "And especially the parchments." [2 Timothy 4:13] That is the Word of God.
Facing death, execution, because he was a Roman citizen to be beheaded, in the last note that he wrote, "Timothy, bring me my Bible, the Word of God."
God speaks to us in the Book.
Second, how does God speak to us? God speaks to us inwardly with a guided and trained Christian sensitivity. The Holy Spirit speaking to us in what we commonly call conscience.
I haven’t time to expound how Paul would use that word in his first letter to Timothy. Conscience. He says, for example, "Now the end of the commandment that I am telling you, the whole substance of the charge that I am giving you is this. Love out of a pure heart and out of a good conscience." Then he speaks of that in the nineteenth verse. Then when I turn the pages he speaks of it to the deacon: "Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" [1 Timothy 3:9].
Then I turn the page and he will speak here of people who are rejecters and blasphemers, having their consciences seared with a hot iron. A Christian, a child of God whose conscience is sensitive to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, his conscience speaks to him. That’s the great judge enthroned in our hearts. It’s the moral likeness and image of God. And He excuses or accuses us. That’s God speaking to us when we do right inwardly God will encourage us. When we do wrong inwardly God will condemn us. The Lord speaks to us inwardly in our conscience.
Third, God speaks to us in quietness and in rest and in assurance. Ah, I can so easily see that king of Judah when the bitter and ruthless and merciless Assyrian came down from the north, and in fear and consternation the king of Judah went down into Egypt and there sought help and strength from the horses and the chariots and the armies of Pharaoh. And Isaiah, God’s prophet and prime minister, stood in the presence of the king and said, "In returning and in rest shall ye be saved. In quietness and in confidence be your strength" [Isaiah 30:15].
Oh how does a man ever get to the place in his life when he learns that the answers to the floodtides of evil and wrong and violence and iniquity are not found in our busyness and in our over stimulated activities but it is found in the presence and the power of Almighty God. "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. In returning and rest shall ye be saved" [Isaiah 30:15]. Waiting upon the Lord. Asking God to fight our battles for us and trusting Him that He will. God speaks to us in rest, in quietness.
Could you think of a better illustration of that than that of the prophet Elijah? Oh, how he was a champion for the Lord. On Mount Carmel the fire came down and with his own hands slaying the 400 prophets of Baal. Can you imagine a man as thirty miles from the top of Mount Carmel down to the palace in Jezreel, running before the chariot of Ahab. There is not anything in the world that will wear out the saints like running before the chariot of Ahab.
And when Jezebel heard about it, he began to flee from the presence of the queen. Went down there to Mount Sinai, fled all the way to Mount Sinai and hid himself in a cave. And while Elijah, God’s busy prophet, was in the cave behold there was a great wind and it shook the mountains and the rocks. Second, there was a tremendous earthquake and it moved the foundations of the earth. Then there was a burning, furious fire. And God wasn’t in the wind and God wasn’t in the earthquake and God wasn’t in the flaming fire.
Then there was, in the King James translated, and there was "a still, small voice" [1 Kings 19:12]. The Hebrew is a great stillness. A quietness that could be felt and touched. A great stillness. And Elijah, the prophet, covered his face with his mantle and God spoke to him in the quiet stillness. How does God speak to us? Most of us are so getting about and so busy and so going and coming that God couldn’t catch our ear if He thundered at us. How does God speak to us?
He speaks to us in our quietness, in the stillness.
As you know, I’ve been going so long and so hard between Sundays for weeks and weeks that I finally got down. I had a fever with a very sore throat. And while I was out there in bed, asking the Lord to make me well with the medicines the good doctor prescribed, somebody sent me this little poem. And I read it to you.
I needed the quiet so He drew me aside,
Into the shadows where we could confide.
Away from the bustle where all the day long
I hurried and worried when active and strong.
I needed the quiet though at first I rebelled
But gently so gently my cross He upheld
And whispered so sweetly of spiritual things
Though weakened in body my spirit took wings
To heights never dreamed of when active and gay.
He loved me so gently He drew me away.
I needed the quiet, no prison my bed,
But a beautiful valley of blessings instead –
A place to grow richer in Jesus to hide
I needed the quiet, so He drew me aside.
["I Needed The Quiet," by Alice Hansche Mortenson]
A precious thing for somebody to send when you are there in bed, and lying there you think, oh Lord, I need to do this. Lying there, oh Lord I need to do that. Oh Lord, I’ve got to do this. Dear Lord, the thing is going to fall to pieces if I don’t do that. Nothing of the kind. God has His own strengths, and He has His own times, and He has His own ways, and He has His own elective purposes, and His own sovereign will. And my assignment is not in my strength. I’ve got to get this done and I’ve got to get that done and I’ve got to change this. No. My assignment is to lean upon the strong arm of the Almighty, to trust in God and to give myself to the will and way of the Lord. Then He will bring it to pass. Doesn’t the Book say that? And He will bring it to pass. "Trust in the Lord and lean not on thine own understanding" [Proverbs 3:5]. He will bring it to pass.
To lean, to trust, to rest, to be quiet, to pray, to believe, to live in assurance. Oh Lord, why can I not do that? After the years and the years and the years, why am I still frustrated, perturbed and filled with anxieties and forebodings? Why, Lord, why can I not just lean on Thy gracious arm, trust in Thy great goodness, believe in Thy sovereign purposes, and just give myself to the great ableness of Almighty God?
Here I am having been in this ministry for forty and four years and I still haven’t arrived yet. I still haven’t got it yet. Maybe I ought to be preaching on the text of the apostle Paul. "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended. I haven’t got it yet but I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." [Philippians 3:14] I guess I ought to be preaching on that now.
How does God speak to us? Not only in the Word, not only in the inward direction of the Holy Spirit, our conscience, and not only in quietness and in stillness, in rest and in confidence. But God speaks to us in need. It’s a call, it’s a call. A need is a call.
Dr. Reed, one of these young men with whom we went to class in the seminary, is a missionary on a foreign field. He came back to the seminary one day and he was telling the preachers in school there of his call to be a missionary. And he said it like this. "When I was approaching the completion of my theological education here the question did not come to me, ‘Should I be a missionary’ but the question came to me, ‘Why should I not be a missionary.’ And I had no answer before God why should I not go. The need is so great and the superstition and ignorance and heathenism so dark and dense and I have the light of the gospel in my hand and heart. Why shouldn’t I go?" and the call was the need and he went.
That made an impression upon me. The call is the need. Is there a class of little boys who need a teacher and you could teach them? That’s the call. That’s God speaking to you. Is there a ministry here in the multi-faceted life of this church and it needs you? That’s God speaking to you. You are called. The need is the call.
Here I am Lord, such as I am. Hands, Lord, if you can use them, bless them. Feet, Lord, a mouth, a tongue, Lord, a mind, a heart to love, here I am, Lord. If there is aught,use me. I offer it, dedicate it, unto Thee.
We must hasten. Last, how does God speak to us? God speaks to us in these family relationships in which God has placed us. His voice is there and there God speaks to us. There is no man that lives to himself or dies to himself. As the Scriptures say God has placed the solitary in families. And God speaks to us in those family groups. That’s His voice.
One of the most stringent, strident, sentorian sentences in the Bible is this word that the apostle wrote to Timothy: "He that provides not for his own and especially they of his own house has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel" [1 Timothy 5:8]. However man may be pious or holy or prayerful if he is not a man who does his best by his family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel. God speaks in the circle of that family in which He has placed us.
I want to show that to you. The first week in December I went to St. Louis. And we had a revival meeting there Sunday night through Friday night with a friend with whom I went to school. One of the dearest, sweetest boys in the earth, pastor of a little church in St. Louis, Missouri.
And after years and years, he has been pastor there for 27 years, he built a church house. A little church but a beautiful church house. And when I was preaching this fall through the state convention in Missouri he said to me, "I’d ask you" and he had for thirty years, "to come and hold a meeting with me." He said, "If you’re ever coming you ought to come now as a part of the dedication of this new church".
I said, "Well, write it down" and I went up there the first Sunday, the first week in December. On Wednesday night of that week I had a service of dedication and commitment. I preached a sermon entitled Dad, Look Behind You. Dad, turn around and look behind you, look at your church. Dad, turn around look behind you look at your home . Dad, turn around and look behind you, look at your son, look at your boy.
And the appeal that I made at the end of that service was for every father there to take his boy and come down there and dedicate his life and the life of the boy to God. Oh, what a moving service it is. The father there with his boy or his boys dedicating his own life and the life of his boys to the Lord.
Right there, right there sat a father and his wife and his two boys. So when we stood up for the appeal and the people came and the choir sang and we pressed the appeal. Finally the wife walked in front of her husband as he pressed himself to the back of the pew to give him room to pass by. And his wife passed by in front of him. Then his older boy passed by in front of him. Then his younger boy passed by in front of him. And the mother and the two sons came down to the front and the mother, being father now to those two sons, knelt with them and dedicated her life and the life of those two boys to God.
When the service was over the sweet, God-blessed pastor of the church went to that man and said to him, "Sir, when I saw your wife take your place and come down with those two boys, how could you stand there and do that? Why did you not come yourself?"
And the man replied, he said, "I was waiting for God to speak to me on the inside to tell me to do it."
And the pastor replied, "My brother, if God does not speak to you in those boys and in your home and in your family then God does not speak at all."
And in that I deeply and prayerfully and reverently concur. If God does not speak to a man in his children and in his family, God does not speak at all. The heavenly lips are sealed and there is no communication between us and the divine and holy, heavenly Father. God speaks to us in these relationships, in the life of our home and especially in the lives of our children.
As God speaks it is mine to listen and to answer. "Lord, Lord, I hear Thy voice in the busy, busy, busyness of life. Lord, I hear Thy voice. Lord, I feel Thy will for me. Lord, I am answering and here I come." Would you do that today? Would you?
In a moment we shall stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, in the balcony round you on this lower floor you, to give your heart to God, to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church, to answer God’s call, would you come and stand by me? "Pastor, God has spoken to me and I am coming today." Down one of these stairwells on either side; in the aisle and here to the front, "I hear God’s voice. He speaks to me and I am coming." Somebody, give his heart to Jesus. Somebody, following the Lord in baptism just like God commands in His Word. Somebody putting his life in the fellowship of this dear church, somebody answering God’s call as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, come now. Make that decision now. Right where you are seated make that decision now, and in a moment when we stand up, stand up coming. Down that stairway or into this aisle, stand up coming. And may the angels attend you in the way as you come. While we stand and while we sing.