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I read Andrew Murray’s 31 day devotional Abide In Christ throughout the month of July.  In it, Mr. Murray quotes from different books and, since Andrew Murry has long been a trusted teacher of mine; I figured I could trust his recommendations and acquired the books for myself.  One of their number is The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith.  What an excellent book!  It opens with a poem that put into words exactly how I’ve been feeling and each chapter has spoken to me in a specific way.  This week, I want to share a few things from Chapter 8 of this delightful book.  Chapter 8 is titled “Difficulties Concerning Guidance”.

The Gospel of John chapter 10 is devoted to Jesus being the Good Shepherd, calling His sheep by name, going before them, the sheep knowing His voice, and being guided by Him.  Verse 5 says, “Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him for they do not know the voice of strangers.”  This verse makes it clear there are multiple voices calling to the sheep.  All but one are the voices of strangers.  How do we sheep hear the One Voice, recognize it, and follow it above the din of all the others?  Fortunately, our religious systems present us with lists of Do’s and Don’ts and that makes it easy to discern the voices of strangers because they are the voices of the World and the voice of the Shepherd is found in these systems.  Right?  What if the voice you are hearing is saying something different than what you are hearing within your particular denomination?  Can you trust that voice and be guided by it?  Is it even possible the Voice of the Good Shepherd would say something different than what is being said by various denominations?

Hannah Whitall Smith opens Chapter 8 with, “You have now begun, dear reader, the life of faith.  You have given yourself to the Lord to be His wholly and altogether, and you are now entirely in His hands to be molded and fashioned according to His own divine purpose into a vessel unto His honor.  Your one most earnest desire it to follow Him whithersoever He may lead you, and to be very pliable in His hands; and you are trusting Him to ‘work in you to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ But you find a great difficulty here. You have not learned yet to know the voice of the Good Shepherd, and are therefore in great doubt and perplexity as to what really is His will concerning you.  Perhaps there are certain paths into which God seems to be calling you, of which your friends disapprove.  And these friends, it may be, are older than yourself in the Christian life, and seem to you also to be much farther advanced.  You can scarcely bear to differ from them or to distress them; and you feel also very diffident of yielding to any seeming impressions of duty of which they do not approve.”

This book was written in 1875 and what she wrote then is true today.  It’s been close to eighteen years now since The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the Gospel, the heart of the Father, and the vast inheritance that is mine in Jesus Christ.  I was overjoyed when I first saw and went to share with my Christian friends who were not, to my surprise, overjoyed as well but rather concerned for me.  They had scriptures to back up their concern.  “Satan transforms himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), and “many will fall away from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1).  I did not think I was falling away but rather daring to believe what was written in the New Testament but there was also the possibility my friends were correct and I was not truly hearing the Good Shepherd.  What to do?  How to be sure?

The Holy Spirit brought to mind the fact that it is “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1, Deuteronomy 19:15).  I asked Him to confirm his word by at least three witnesses and He did so.  Hannah Whitall Smith says there are four ways in which He reveals His will to us: through the Scriptures, through providential circumstances, through the conviction of our own higher judgment, and through the inward impression of the Holy Spirit on our minds.

She also warns, “For we must never forget that ‘impressions’ can come from other sources as well as from the Holy Spirit.  The strong personalities of those around us are the source of a great many of our impressions.  Impressions also arise often from our wrong physical conditions, which color things far more than we dream.  And finally, impressions come from those spiritual enemies which seem to lie in wait for every traveler who seeks to enter the higher regions of the spiritual life.”

If we can’t trust our own impressions, what then?  Hannah Whitall Smith says her “rule for distinguishing the voice of God would bring to it the test of this harmony” for “in all true guidance these four voices necessarily harmonize for God cannot say in one voice that which He contradicts in another.”

Great care must be taken in this learning to know the voice of the Good Shepherd.  “It is not enough to have a ‘leading’; we must find out the source of that leading before we give ourselves up to follow it.  It is not enough, either, for the leading to be very ‘remarkable’ or the coincidences to be very striking , to stamp it as being surely from God…It is essential, therefore, that our ‘leadings’ should always be tested by the teachings of Scripture…as well as by our own spiritually enlightened judgment.”  

I wholeheartedly agree.  If the voice I am hearing is that of the Holy Spirit within me, it will not ever contradict Scripture.  It is the Logos and the Rhema: they cannot possible contradict each other.  Now, they might contradict how scripture has been interpreted throughout the centuries.  I never forget it is the Holy Spirit who is my teacher and who guides me into all truth.  I find study to be of incredible importance but ultimately it is He who interprets scripture for me and always, always, His voice and Scripture are in harmony.  Taking scripture as a whole is also important.  I have seen the dangers myself and Hannah Whitall Smith warns against taking isolated texts to sanction things to which the principals of Scripture are totally opposed.  “I believe all fanaticism comes in this way,” she says.

As to our spiritually enlightened judgment or “common sense”, what of this?  Aren’t we told to take care not to lean on our own understanding?  Absolutely, and Hannah Whitall Smith admonishes us to “use the interior ‘eyes of our understanding’ in our interior walk with God”.  We can trust Him to take care of even this.  The prayer in Ephesians 1:17-23 is essential to us as Believers.  And, we can trust that He who has begun a good work in us will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6) and that the precious blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ will “cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). 

Suppose then the Scriptures, the conviction of our higher judgment, and the inward impressions of the Holy Spirit on our minds are all in accord.  God has providentially arranged our circumstances so there is no hindrance to our following His voice and doing the work He has given us to do.  Suppose all our friends and perhaps even our families are still convinced the Voice is not the Good Shepherd at all?  Suppose our loved ones sadly shake their heads and solemnly wash their hands of us?  Suppose that, as Hannah Whitall Smith writes; “His very love for you may perhaps lead you to run counter to the loving wishes of even your dearest friends.  You must learn, from Luke 14: 26-33, and similar passages, that in order to be a disciple and follower of our Lord, you may perhaps be called upon to forsake inwardly all that you have, even father or mother, or brother or sister, or husband or wife, or it may be your own life also.”

I don’t pretend such a choice is easy but, precious fellow Believer, does the Word of the Living God burn in the very marrow of your bones?  Have you found that treasure that is worth selling everything in order to possess?  Do you understand how so many have faced death with praises to God on their lips? Do you hear His voice and know there is no life worth living unless you follow Him?  Then, set your face as flint, fix your eyes on Jesus, and follow the Lamb, wherever He goes.  In the upper room, just before He faces betrayal, abonnement, and death, Jesus says, “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:32). 

It is not possible that we can be alone.  Even if every friend we have and all of our family abandons us, the Father is with us.  Let us go forth in the surety that we are safe in the palm of His hand and that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ.  There is a song I used to sing eons ago in Vacation Bible School: “I have decided to follow Jesus.  No turning back, no turning back.  If you won’t go with me, still I will follow.  No turning back, no turning back.”

So be it.

I wrote a poem about my seeking the Lord. Read it here

Unless noted otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982

All quotes are taken from The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith, New Spire Edition published 2012 by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan, “Difficulties Concerning Guidance”, Chapter 8, Pages 87-100.