A Trained Ear
A Trained Ear.
In prayer the ear is an organ of first importance. It is of equal
importance with the tongue, but must be named first. For the ear leads the
way to the tongue. The child hears a word before it speaks it. Through the
ear comes the use of the tongue. Where the faculties are normal the tongue
is trained only through the ear. This is nature's method. The mind is
moulded largely through the ear and eye. It reveals itself, and asserts
itself largely through the tongue. What the ear lets in, the mind works
over, and the tongue gives out.
This is the order in Isaiah's fiftieth chapter in those words,
prophetic of Jesus. "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of them that
are taught.... He wakeneth my ear to hear as they that are taught." Here
the taught tongue came through the awakened ear. One reason why so many of
us do not have taught tongues is because we give God so little chance at
It is a striking fact that the men who have been mightiest in prayer have
known God well. They have seemed peculiarly sensitive to Him, and to be
overawed with the sense of His love and His greatness. There are three of
the Old Testament characters who are particularly mentioned as being
mighty in prayer. Jeremiah tells that when God spoke to him about the deep
perversity of that nation He exclaimed, "Though Moses and Samuel stood
before Me My heart could not be towards this people." When James wants
an illustration of a man of prayer for the scattered Jews, he speaks of
Elijah, and of one particular crisis in his life, the praying on Carmel's
tip-top. These three men are Israel's great men in the great crises of its
history. Moses was the maker and moulder of the nation. Samuel was the
patient teacher who introduced a new order of things in the national life.
Elijah was the rugged leader when the national worship of Jehovah was
about to be officially overthrown. These three men, the maker, the
teacher, the emergency leader are singled out in the record as peculiarly
men of prayer.
Now regarding these men it is most interesting to observe what _listeners_
they were to God's voice. Their ears were trained early and trained long,
until great acuteness and sensitiveness to God's voice was the result.
Special pains seem to have been taken with the first man, the nation's
greatest giant, and history's greatest jurist. There were two distinct
stages in the training of his ears. First there were the forty years of
solitude in the desert sands, alone with the sheep, and the stars,
and--God. His ears were being trained by silence. The bustle and confusion
of Egypt's busy life were being taken out of his ears. How silent are
God's voices. How few men are strong enough to be able to endure silence.
For in silence God is speaking to the inner ear.
"Let us then labour for an inward stillness--
An inward stillness and an inward healing;
That perfect silence where the lips and heart
Are still, and we no longer entertain
Our own imperfect thoughts and vain opinions,
But God alone speaks in us, and we wait
In singleness of heart, that we may know
His will, and in the silence of our spirits,
That we may do His will, and do that only."
A gentleman was asked by an artist friend of some note to come to his
home, and see a painting just finished. He went at the time appointed, was
shown by the attendant into a room which was quite dark, and left there.
He was much surprised, but quietly waited developments. After perhaps
fifteen minutes his friend came into the room with a cordial greeting, and
took him up to the studio to see the painting, which was greatly admired.
Before he left the artist said laughingly, "I suppose you thought it queer
to be left in that dark room so long." "Yes," the visitor said. "I did."
"Well," his friend replied, "I knew that if you came into my studio with
the glare of the street in your eyes you could not appreciate the fine
colouring of the picture. So I left you in the dark room till the glare
had worn out of your eyes."
The first stage of Moses' prayer-training was wearing the noise of Egypt
out of his ears so he could hear the quiet fine tones of God's voice. He
who would become skilled in prayer must take a silence course in the
University of Arabia. Then came the second stage. Forty years were
followed by forty days, twice over, of listening to God's speaking voice
up in the mount. Such an ear-course as that made a skilled famous
Samuel had an earlier course than Moses. While yet a child before his ears
had been dulled by earth sounds they were tuned to the hearing of God's
voice. The child heart and ear naturally open upward. They hear easily and
believe readily. The roadway of the ear has not been beaten down hard by
much travel. God's rains and dews have made it soft, and impressionable.
This child's ear was quickly trained to recognize God's voice. And the
tented Hebrew nation soon came to know that there was a man in their midst
to whom God was talking. O, to keep the heart and inner ear of a child as
mature years come!
Of the third of these famous intercessors little is known except of the
few striking events in which he figured. Of these, the scene that finds
its climax in the opening on Carmel's top of the rain-windows, occupies by
far the greater space. And it is notable that the beginning of that long
eighteenth chapter of first Kings which tells of the Carmel conflict
begins with a message to Elijah from God: "The word of the Lord came to
Elijah: ... I will send rain upon the earth." That was the foundation of
that persistent praying and sevenfold watching on the mountaintop. First
the ear heard, then the voice persistently claimed, and the eye
expectantly looked. First the voice of God, then the voice of man. That is
the true order. Tremendous results always follow that combination.
Through the Book to God.
With us the training is of the _inner_ ear. And its first training, after
the early childhood stage is passed, must usually be through the eye. What
God has spoken to others has been written down for us. We hear through our
eyes. The eye opens the way to the inner ear. God spoke in His word. He is
still speaking in it and through it. The whole thought here is to get _to
know God._ He reveals Himself in the word that comes from His own lips,
and through His messengers' lips. He reveals Himself in His dealings with
men. Every incident and experience of these pages is a mirror held up to
God's face. In them we may come to see Him.
This is studying the Bible not for the Bible's sake but for the purpose of
knowing God. The object aimed at is not the Book but the God revealed in
the Book. A man may go to college and take lectures on the English Bible,
and increase his knowledge, and enrich his vocabulary, and go away with
utterly erroneous ideas of God. He may go to a law school and study the
codes of the first great jurist, and get a clear understanding and firm
grasp of the Mosaic enactments, as he must do to lay the foundation of
legal training, yet he may remain ignorant of God.
He may even go to a Bible school, and be able to analyze and synthesize,
give outlines of books, and contents of chapters and much else of that
invaluable and indispensable sort of knowledge and yet fail to understand
God and His marvellous love-will. It is not the Book with which we are
concerned here but the God through the Book. Not to learn truth but
through truth to know Him who is Himself the Truth.
There is a fascinating bit of story told of one of David's mighty men.
One day there was a sudden attack upon the camp by the Philistines when
the fighting men were all away. This man alone was there. The Philistines
were the traditional enemy. The very word "Philistines" was one to strike
terror to the Hebrew heart. But this man was reckoned one of the first
three of David's mighty men because of his conduct that day. He quietly,
quickly gripped his sword and fought the enemy single-handed. Up and down,
left and right, hip and thigh he smote with such terrific earnestness and
drive that the enemy turned and fled. And we are told that the muscles of
his hand became so rigid around the handle of his sword that he could not
tell by the feeling where his hand stopped, and the sword began. Man and
sword were one that day in the action of service against the nation's
enemy. When we so absorb this Book, and the Spirit of Him who is its life
that people cannot tell the line of division between the man, and the God
within the man, then shall we have mightiest power as God's intercessors
in defeating the foe. God and man will be as one in the action of service
against the enemy.
A Spirit Illumined Mind.
I want to make some simple suggestions for studying this Book so as to get
to God through it. There will be the emphasis of doubling back on one's
tracks here. For some of the things that should be said have already been
said with a different setting. First there must be the _time_ element.
One must get at least a half hour daily when the mind is fresh. A tired
mind does not readily _absorb_. This should be persisted in until there is
a habitual spending of at least that much time daily over the Book, with a
spirit at leisure from all else, so it can take in. Then the time should
be given to _the Book itself_. If other books are consulted and read as
they will be let that be _after_ the reading of this Book. Let God talk to
you direct, rather than through somebody else. Give Him first chance at
your ears. This Book in the central place of your table, the others
grouped about it. First time given to it.
A third suggestion brings out the circle of this work. _Read prayerfully._
We learn how to pray by reading prayerfully. This Book does not reveal its
sweets and strength to the keen mind merely, but to the Spirit enlightened
mind. All the mental keenness possible, _with the bright light of the
Spirit's illumination_--that is the open sesame. I have sometimes sought
the meaning of some passage from a keen scholar who could explain the
orientalisms, the fine philological distinctions, the most accurate
translations, and all of that, who yet did not seem to know the simple
spiritual meaning of the words being discussed. And I have asked the same
question of some old saint of God, who did not know Hebrew from a hen's
tracks, but who seemed to sense at once the deep spiritual truth taught.
The more knowledge, the keener the mind, the better _if_ illumined by the
Spirit that inspired these writings.
There is a fourth word to put in here. We must read _thoughtfully_.
Thoughtfulness is in danger of being a lost art. Newspapers are so
numerous, and literature so abundant, that we are becoming a bright, but a
_not thoughtful_ people. Often the stream is very wide but has no depth.
Fight shallowness. Insist on reading thoughtfully. A very suggestive word
in the Bible for this is "_meditate_." Run through and pick out this word
with its variations. The word underneath that English word means to
mutter, as though a man were repeating something over and over again, as
he turned it over in his mind. We have another word, with the same
meaning, not much used now--ruminate. We call the cow a ruminant because
she chews the cud. She will spend hours chewing the cud, and then give us
the rich milk and cream and butter which she has extracted from her food.
That is the word here--ruminate. Chew the cud, if you would get the
richest cream and butter here.
And it is remarkable how much chewing this Book of God will stand, in
comparison with other books. You chew a while on Tennyson, or Browning, or
Longfellow. And I am not belittling these noble writings. I have my own
favourite among these men. But they do not yield the richest and yet
richer cream found here. This Book of God has stood more of that sort of
thing than any other, yet it is the freshest book to be found to-day. You
read a passage over the two hundredth time and some new fine bit of
meaning comes that you had not suspected to be there.
There is a fifth suggestion, that is easier to make than to follow. _Read
obediently._ As the truth appeals to your conscience _let it change your
habit and life_.
"Light obeyed, increased light:
Light resisted, bringeth night
Who shall give us power to choose
If the love of light we lose?"
Jesus gives the law of knowledge in His famous words, "If any man willeth
to do His will he shall know of the teaching." If we do what we know
to do, we will know more. If we know to do, and hesitate and hold back,
and do not obey, the inner eye will surely go blind, and the sense of
right be dulled and lost. Obedience to truth is the eye of the mind.
Then one needs to have a _plan_ of reading. A consecutive plan gathers up
the fragments of time into a strong whole. Get a good plan, and stick to
it. Better a fairly good plan faithfully followed, than the best plan if
used brokenly or only occasionally. Probably all the numerous methods of
study may be grouped under three general heads, wide reading, topical
study, and textual. We all do some textual study in a more or less small
way. Digging into a sentence or verse to get at its true and deep meaning.
We all do some topical study probably. Gathering up statements on some one
subject, studying a character. The more pretentious name is Biblical
Theology, finding and arranging all that is taught in the whole range of
the Bible on any one theme.
But I want especially to urge _wide reading_, as being the basis of all
study. It is the simple, the natural, the scientific method. It is adapted
to all classes of persons. I used to suppose it was suited best to college
students, and such; but I was mistaken. It is _the_ method of all for all.
It underlies all methods of getting a grasp of this wonderful Book, and so
coming to as full and rounded an understanding of God as is possible to
men down here.
By wide reading is meant a _rapid reading through_ regardless of verse,
chapter, or book divisions. Reading it as _a narrative_, a story. As you
would read any book, "The Siege of Pekin," "The Story of an Untold Love,"
to find out the story told, and be able to tell to another. There will be
a reverence of spirit with this book that no other inspires, but with the
same intellectual method of running through to see what is here. No book
is so fascinating as the Bible when read this way. The revised version is
greatly to be preferred here simply because it is a _paragraph_ version.
It is printed more like other books. Some day its printed form will be yet
more modernized, and so made easier to read.
To illustrate, begin at the first of Genesis, and read rapidly through _by
the page_. Do not try to understand all. You will not. Never mind that
now. Just push on. Do not try to remember all. Do not think about that.
Let stick to you what will. You will be surprised to find how much will.
You may read ten or twelve pages in your first half hour. Next time start
in where you left off. You may get through Genesis in three or four times,
or less or more, depending on your mood, and how fast your habit of
reading may be. You will find a whole Bible in Genesis. A wonderfully
fascinating book this Genesis. For love stories, plotting, swift action,
beautiful language it more than matches the popular novel.
But do not stop at the close of Genesis. Push on into Exodus. The
connection is immediate. It is the same book. And so on into Leviticus.
Now do not try to understand Leviticus the first time. You will not the
hundredth time perhaps. But you can easily group its contents: these
chapters tell of the offerings: these of the law of offerings: here is an
incident put in: here sanitary regulations: get the drift of the book. And
in it all be getting the picture of God--_that is the one point_. And so
A second stage of this wide reading is fitting together the parts. You
know the arrangement of our Bible is not chronological wholly, but
topical. The Western mind is almost a slave to chronological order. But
the Oriental was not so disturbed. For example, open your Bible to the
close of Esther, and again at the close of Malachi. This from Genesis to
Esther we all know is the historical section: and this second section the
poetical and prophetical section. There is some history in the prophecy,
and some prophecy and poetry in the historical part. But in the main this
first is historical, and this second poetry and prophecy. These two parts
belong together. This first section was not written, and then this second.
The second belongs in between the leaves of the first. It was taken out
and put by itself because the arrangement of the whole Book is topical
rather than chronological.
Now the second stage of wide reading is this: fit these parts together.
Fit the poetry and the prophecy into the history. Do it on your own
account, as though it had never been done. It has been done much better
than you will do it. And you will make some mistakes. You can check those
up afterwards by some of the scholarly books. And you cannot tell where
some parts belong. But meanwhile the thing to note is this: you are
absorbing the Book. It is becoming a part of you, bone of your bone, and
flesh of your flesh, mentally, and spiritually. You are drinking in its
spirit in huge draughts. There is coming a new vision of God, which will
transform radically the reverent student. In it all seek to acquire _the
historical sense_. That is, put yourself back and see what this thing, or
this, meant to these men, as it was first spoken, under these immediate
And so push on into the New Testament. Do not try so much to fit the four
gospels into one connected story, dovetailing all the parts; but try
rather to get a clear grasp of Jesus' movements those few years as told by
these four men. Fit Paul's letters into the book of Acts, the best you
can. The best book to help in checking up here is Conybeare and Howson's
"Life and Letters of St. Paul." That may well be one of the books in your
You see at once that this is a method not for a month, nor for a year, but
for years. The topical and textual study grow naturally out of it. And
meanwhile you are getting an intelligent grasp of this wondrous classic,
you are absorbing the finest literature in the English tongue, and
infinitely better yet, you are breathing into your very being a new, deep,
broad, tender conception of _God_.
A Mirror Held up to God's Face.
It is simply fascinating too, to find what light floods these pages as
they are read back in their historical setting, so far as that is
possible. For example turn to the third Psalm, fifth verse,
"I laid me down and slept;
I awaked; for the Lord sustaineth me."
I was brought up in an old-fashioned church where that was sung. I knew it
by heart. As a boy I supposed it meant that night-time had come, and David
was sleepy; he had his devotions, and went to bed, and had a good night's
sleep. That was all it had suggested to me.
But on my first swing through of the wide reading, my eye was caught, as
doubtless yours has often been, by the inscription at the beginning of the
psalm: "A psalm of David, _when he fled from Absalom his son_." Quickly I
turned back to Second Samuel to find that story. And I got this picture.
David, an old white-haired man, hurrying one day, barefooted, out of his
palace, and his capital city, with a few faithful friends, fleeing for his
life, because Absalom his favourite son was coming with the strength of
the national army to take the kingdom, and his own father's life. And that
night as the king lay down to try to catch some sleep, it was upon the
bare earth, with only heaven's blue dome for a roof. And as he lay he
could almost hear the steady tramp, tramp of the army, over the hills,
seeking his throne and his life. Let me ask you, honestly now; do you
think you would have slept much that night? I fear I would have been
tempted sorely to lie awake thinking: "here I am, an old man, driven from
my kingdom, and my home, by my own boy, that I have loved better than my
own life." Do you think _you_ would have slept much? Tell me.
But David speaking of that night afterwards wrote this down:--"I laid me
down, and _slept; I awaked_; (the thought is, I awaked _refreshed_) for
the Lord sustaineth me." And I thought, as first that came to me, "I never
will have insomnia again: I'll trust." And so you see a lesson of trust in
God came, in my wide reading, out of the historical setting, that greatly
refreshed and strengthened, and that I have never forgotten. What a God,
to give sleep under such circumstances!
A fine illustration of this same thing is found in the New Testament in
Paul's letter to the Philippians. At one end of that epistle is this
scene: Paul, lying in the inner damp cell of a prison, its small creeping
denizens familiarly examining this newcomer, in the darkness of midnight,
his back bleeding from the stripes, his bones aching, and his feet fast in
the stocks. That is one half of the historical setting of this book. And
here is the other half: Paul, a prisoner in Rome. If he tries to ease his
body by changing his position, swinging one limb over the other, a chain
dangling at his ankle reminds him of the soldier by his side. As he picks
up a quill to put a last loving word out of his tender heart for these old
friends, a chain pulls at his wrist. That is Philippians, the prison
epistle, resounding with clanking chain.
What is the keyword of the book, occurring oftener than any other?
Patience? Surely that would be appropriate. Long-suffering? Still more
fitting would that seem. But, no, the keyword stands in sharpest contrast
to these surroundings. Paul used clouds to make the sun's shining more
beautiful. Joy, rejoice, rejoicing, is the music singing all the way
through these four chapters. What a wondrous Master, this Jesus, so to
inspire His friend doing His will!
Every incident and occurrence of these pages becomes a mirror held up to
God's face that we may see how wondrous He is.
"Upon Thy Word I rest
Each pilgrim day.
This golden staff is best
For all the way.
What Jesus Christ hath spoken,
Cannot be broken!
"Upon Thy Word I rest;
So strong, so sure,
So full of comfort blest,
So sweet, so pure:
The charter of salvation:
Faith's broad foundation.
"Upon Thy Word I stand:
That cannot die.
Christ seals it in my hand.
He cannot lie.
Thy Word that faileth never:
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