Guarding and proclaiming the unchanging truth in a changing world

Listen to what the Spirit is saying

19th April 2021

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The late British Anglican theologian John Webster once wrote: ‘The gospel’s God is eloquent: He does not remain locked in silence, but speaks.’ This is one of the primary roles of the sevenfold Spirit-to speak eloquently to his world.

The apostle John is in exile on the isle of Patmos far removed from the presence of the ascended Christ who is bodily in heaven. However, he is somehow caught up to heaven by the Holy Spirit. Four times John says he was carried away ‘in the Spirit’. To speak of being ‘in the Spirit’ is a way of saying that John is a receiver of genuine divine revelation, just like the prophets in the Old Testament (Ez.1:24). It is the Holy Spirit who is the giver of revelatory experience.

However, it is not so much the visionary experiences themselves which are of prime importance, but the words written. It is these which constitute the revelation given by God as ‘the revelation of Jesus Christ.’ (1:1). It is these words ‘which are trustworthy and true.’ (22:6). The warning at the end of the Apocalypse refers to the sanctity of the words, ‘I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.’ The conclusion of John Calvin regarding how we are to treat Scripture follows on from this, ‘We owe to the Scriptures the same reverence as we owe to God, since it has its only source in Him and has nothing of human origin mixed with it.’

We see this clearly in the letters to the seven churches. Each letter begins with something like, ‘These are the words of him who is the first and the last’ and  conclude with ‘whoever has ears let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ - present tense. Sometimes in a church gathering you will hear people who want to introduce some innovative off the wall idea with, ‘We need to listen to what the Spirit is saying’, by which they mean that somehow we have to discern the Spirit’s voice outside of Scripture (usually in the world which makes it the voice of the world). John would tell us that if we really want to know what the Spirit is saying, we are to turn to this book because this is what the Spirit is saying to us today. We are not to create a gap between the words of Jesus recorded in Scripture and the speaking of the Holy Spirit to his people today. The Spirit takes the words of Jesus which are inscripturated and enables the church to understand and apply them.

The experience of the church when the Spirit speaks through Scripture is well captured by Bishop Christopher Chavasse: ‘The Bible is the portrait of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospels are the Figure itself in the portrait. The Old Testament is the background leading up to the divine figure, pointing towards it and absolutely necessary to its composition as a whole. The Epistles serve as the dress and accoutrements of the Figure, explaining it and describing it. Then while by our Bible reading we study the portrait as a great whole, the miracle happens, the Figure comes to life, and stepping down from the canvas of the written word the everlasting Christ of the Emmaus story becomes himself our Bible teacher, to interpret to us in all Scripture the things concerning himself.’

May we say ‘Speak Lord, for your servant hears you.’ 


O heavenly father, in whom is the fullness of light and wisdom, enlighten our minds by thy Holy Spirit and give us grace to receive thy Word with reverence and humility, without which no one can understand or speak thy truth; for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Pray with us today's prayer request:

The Diocese of Goma, DR Congo. Rev Joseph Rusangiza is organising a training and evangelism program over the next few months. They have planted a church in Buhene for 250 members. There is no church building and so they meet in the house of one of the intercessor mothers. Seventy attend at a time, repeated four times, one after the other. Thank God for this response to the gospel and pray for a sustainable solution for meeting together.

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