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PART III. INWARD DIVINE GUIDANCE


CHAPTER EIGHTH.


On the Inward Utterance, or the Voice of God in the Soul.


"I laid my request before the Lord, and the Lord, answered me." This is a remark, which is frequently made by persons of eminent piety. They cannot doubt that they truly hold communication with God. Addressing him either in silence or the spoken utterance of words, they find that they do not ask without receiving. God speaks to them in return.

It is important to understand the nature of the answers which God gives. In those earlier religious dispensations, of which we have an account in the Old Testament, God answered his people in various ways; by visible signs, by the cloud and the fire, by Urim and Thummim, by miracles, by audible voices. The periods of those dispensations have passed away, and the methods of communication, which were appropriate to them, have passed away also. What are we to understand, then, by the divine utterance, the voice of God, in the soul, of which those persons, who are eminently pious at the present time, have frequent occasion to speak?

We remark in the first place, that one class of those inward utterances, which are frequently regarded as returns or answers from God, appear to be impressions, or rather suggested thoughts or suggestions, which are suddenly but distinctly originated in the mind; and apparently from some cause independent of the mind itself. Sometimes the suggestion consists in suddenly bringing to the mind a particular passage of Scripture, which is received as the divine answer.

Sometimes the suggestion consists in the sudden origination of new ideas or truths in a new form of words; but truths so remarkable, either in their origin or in their application, that we are disposed to regard them as the inward, intimations and the voice of God. Of the frequent existence of such inward and sudden suggestions or impressions, we suppose there can be no reasonable doubt. It is well understood, and. seems to be placed beyond question, that they make a portion of the internal history of many pious persons.

A few remarks may properly be made on this class of inward voices; and one is, that sudden suggestions or impressions may have, and that they do sometimes have a natural origin. The natural man, as well as the religious man, will sometimes tell us, that he has had an unexpected or remarkable suggestion or impression. In the treatises which exist on the subject of disordered mental action, the existence of frequent and sudden impressions, such as have been described, is laid down, and apparently with good reason, because the results have justified it, as one of the marks of an incipient state of insanity. Another remark, which it may be proper to make here, is this. It is a common, and probably a well founded opinion, that sudden inward suggestions, or impressions may have, and that they do sometimes have, a Satanic origin. If Satan is permitted to operate upon the human mind at all, and lead it astray, of which the Scriptures do not permit us to doubt, it is certainly a reasonable supposition, that he sometimes makes his attacks in this manner. And especially may we take this view, when we consider that he is a spiritual being, and would more naturally act upon the spirit or minds of men, than upon the body. A third remark is, that the sudden suggestions or impressions, which we are considering, are undoubtedly, in some instances, from a truly good or divine source. It is hardly reasonable to suppose, that God would forbid himself a method of operation on the human mind, which he allows to Satan; and which, if it may be employed under a bad direction, to a bad purpose, is also susceptible in other hands of a good one. We may reasonably conclude, therefore, that the Holy Spirit sometimes adopts this method of operation.

It remains to be added here, that, if these remarkable suggestions may arise from sources so various and different, they should be received with caution; otherwise we may be led astray by the voice of nature or the voice of Satan; believing it to be the voice of our Heavenly Father. God deals with us as rational beings. And it is a consequence of God's recognition of our rationality, that he does not require us to act upon sudden suggestions or impressions, even if they come from himself, without our first subjecting them to the scrutiny of reason. And it is here that we find the ground of our safety in respect to a method of operation upon us, which otherwise would be likely to be full of danger. Accordingly, when a sudden suggestion is presented to the mind, we ought to delay upon it, although it may seem at first sight to require an immediate action. We should compare it with the will of God, as revealed in the Bible. We should examine it dispassionately and deliberately with the best lights of reason, and with the assistance of prayer. Indeed, if the suggestion comes from God, it is presented with this very object; not to lead us to action without judgment and without reason; but to arouse the judgment from its stupidity, and to put it upon a train of important inquiry. And when this is done in a calm and dispassionate manner, and with sincere desires for divine direction, we hare good reason to believe, that we may avoid the dangers which have been referred to, by detecting those suggestions which are from an evil source, and may realize important benefits.

But we ought not to feel, that in our inward conversation with God, we are limited to such occasions as have been mentioned; and that we have no inward response, except by means of sudden and remarkable impressions, which are liable to the dangers which have been indicated, and which generally exist only at considerable intervals from each other. On the contrary, we have abundant reason for saying, that it is our privilege always to be conversing with God, and always to receive the divine answer. It is a great truth, almost as evident on natural as it undoubtedly is evident on Scriptural grounds, that, when we have given ourselves wholly to God, he will give himself to us in all that is necessary and important for us. And this general principle involves the subordinate idea, that he is willing to communicate knowledge, and to become our TEACHER. We ought not to doubt, that God is ready to speak to us with all the kindness of a Father, and to make known all that is necessary for us. And while in the process of teaching and guiding men, he operates outwardly, even at the present day, by means of his written word; he also operates inwardly by means of interior communications. Sometimes by sudden suggestions, in the manner which has already been mentioned; but much more frequently and satisfactorily, by availing himself of the more ordinary laws of the mind's acting; and by uttering his inward voice through the decisions of a spiritually enlightened judgment. This is a great practical and religious truth, however much it may be unknown in the experience of those who are not holy in heart, that the decision of a truly sanctified judgment is, and of necessity must be, the voice of God speaking in the soul.

But this important doctrine, it must be admitted, requires to be correctly and thoroughly understood. It should be particularly remembered, that God does not, and cannot speak in this way, unless there is SINCERITY. And by sincerity we mean a sincere desire to do his will in all things, as well as a sincere desire to know and do his will in the particular thing which is laid before him. Such sincerity, which may be regarded as but another name for entire consecration, naturally excludes all the secret biasses of self-interest and prejudice, and places the mind in the position most favorable for the admission and discovery of truth. It is in such a mind, and not in a mind which is governed by worldly passions, that the Holy Ghost, whose office it is to guide men into all necessary truth, loves to dwell. We may, therefore, lay down the general principle, that the decision of a spiritually enlightened judgment, made in a state of entire consecration to God's will, and with a sincere desire to know his will, may justly be regarded as a divine answer, or an answer from God, in the particular matter or subject, in relation to which an answer has been sought. The decision of the judgment, which is arrived at in such a state of freedom from self-interest and passion, and under the secret guidance of the Holy Spirit, is oftentimes so clear and so prompt, that it almost seems to be a voice audibly speaking in the soul. It is true, however, in point of fact, that it is only the inward ear, or the ear of faith, and not the outward or bodily ear which is spoken to. In yielding our assent to the decisions of our judgments, we have faith, under all the circumstances of the case, and especially in view of the promise of God to give light to those that sincerely ask him, that we are adopting the decisions to which our Heavenly Father would lead us. So that we may confidently say, that the answer of the judgment, in connection with the spirit of entire consecration on the one hand, and of entire faith in God's promises on the other, is God's answer; that is to say, is the answer, which God, under the existing circumstances, sees fit to give, whether it be more or less full and explicit. And this is all which the truly humble Christian either expects or wishes to receive, viz. such an answer, be it more or less, as God sees fit to give. Even if he is unable to come to a specific determination on the subject before him, he still feels that he is not without an inward voice. He has God's answer even then, viz. that, under the circumstances of the case, God has no specific communication to make; and that He requires him to exercise the humility and faith, appropriate to a state of ignorance. And this response, humbling as it is to the pride of the natural heart, he truly regards as very important, and as entirely satisfactory. It is in this method, a method which appears to be free from dangers, that God ordinarily answers and converses with his people.

In view of what has been said, we come to the conclusion, that it is very proper for pious people, especially for those whose hearts are truly sanctified, to speak not only of laying their requests before God, but of receiving a divine answer. It is not improper for them to speak, if it is done with a suitable degree of reverence, of holding
conversation with Godof talking with God. The expressions correspond with the facts. To talk with God — to go to him familiarly as children to a parent — to speak to him in the secrecy of their spirits, and to receive an inward answer as gracious as it is decisive, is not only a privilege granted them, but a privilege practically realized. When, therefore, we find in the memoirs of very pious persons, as we sometimes do, statements and accounts of their holding internal conversations with God, of the requests they make, and of the answers they receive, we are not necessarily to regard such experiences as fanatical or deceitful. On the contrary., we think it impossible for a person to be truly and wholly the Lord's, without frequently being the subject of this inward and divine intercourse.