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 th
ough 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[32] 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

our ears.

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."[33] 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."[34]

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.[35]

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?"[36]

Jesus gives the law of knowledge in His famous words, "If any man willeth

to do His will he shall know of the teaching."[37] 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.

Wide Reading.

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

on through.

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:

Abiding ever."[38]