A Voice With Four Messages
strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind:
and after the wind, an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake, a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire, a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, thathe wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And,behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What are you doing here, Elijah?“1 Kings 19:11-13.[Another Sermon by Mr. Spurgeon, upon verses 12 and 13, is #1668, Volume 28–THE STILL SMALL VOICE–Read/download the entire sermon, free of charge, at .]
THERE may be a great deal more teaching in what Elijah saw and heard in the cave than I shall be able to bring out this evening. Indeed, I shall not attempt to exhaust the very wonderful practical sermon which was preached to the Prophet on the side of Mount Horeb, but in the still small voice I hear four messages.
- And first, THERE WAS A MESSAGE TO ELIJAH HIMSELF.
He had, apparently, conceived the idea that the whole nation of Israel would be converted from idolatry by one grand display of Divine power. If it could once be indisputably proved that Baal was not God and that Jehovah, alone, was God, then he thought that, surely, the people would be convinced and would loyally return to their old Covenant with the one living and true God. But he found that it was not so. Although the fire of the Lord had fallen from Heaven and had consumed Elijah’s sacrifice, burned up the very stones of the altar and licked up the water in the trench. And although the people had cried out, “Jehovah is God! Jehovah is God!” yet for all that, they forsook not Baal, nor the other idols that had been set up in the groves and on the high places–the sun-god was still worshipped and the God who made the sun was forgotten!
Elijah seems to have also thought that a display of terrible severity was necessary to bring these people back to their allegiance to Jehovah. Hence he took the prophets of Baal and the prophets of the groves and slew them at the brook Kishon, not allowing any of them to escape. It must have been stern work for him to be the executioner of God’s Justice, but he did it with a sacred zest, feeling that he was only slaying those who were the enemies of God–and that every blow he struck at those idolatrous priests was struck for the honor and glory of Jehovah! Yet that stern severity did not succeed as Elijah had expected it would. And one result of it was that Jezebel sent to threaten him with death. I think that possibly Elijah desired that God would inflict upon the people some still severer judgment. Yet I know not what calamities he would have had them suffer, for there had already been dire distress through the three years of drought! But even this had not driven the people from their idolatry. Perhaps Elijah would have had fire and sword sent among them to drive them from their idols and bring them back to the worship of Jehovah.
But God here teaches Elijah that this is not His way of working. He does use the wind, the earthquake and the fire when He pleases, but these are not His most effective instruments. He does not do His mightiest works by them, but in quite another way–by a still small voice! Thus the Lord practically said to Elijah, “Gentler means must be tried with these rebellious people. My Glory will be promoted among them by other methods than you have as yet used, or than I have used by you as My servant. I have let them see that I am Lord and Master of the terrible forces of Nature. I have convinced them that I am a great God who can smite them as much as I please, but I have not thereby won their hearts–there must be other methods used. The still small voice must be tried.”
You have, perhaps, noticed that Elijah’s later ministry–although it still remained one of fire and although his was still the voice that cried in the wilderness as John the Baptist’s was afterwards to do, “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God”–became, on the whole, much more gentle and tender. He seems to have devoted himself to the work of perpetuating the ministry among the people by founding schools for the young men who were called the sons of the Prophets. They evidently recognized him as their master and head, as they recognized Elisha after Elijah had been carried up to Heaven. The still small voice of prophetic teaching was to be tried! Judgments had apparently failed, for the hard hearts of the people had not been softened and subdued. Men had been terrified, but they had not been converted. They had been frightened out of their sins for a time, but they had speedily returned to them as swine that might be washed would soon be again wallowing in the mire! Satan had been dislodged from them for a little while, but he had returned and brought other devils with him–and so made his possession of them the more secure. Now other methods were to be tried–gentler, softer, quieter methods which would prove to be more efficient. I think that was the message of God to Elijah through the still small voice.
II. Secondly, if I understand that voice aright, THERE WAS A MESSAGE IN IT TO ALL GOD’S MINISTERS.
To all of us who preach the Word, or who try to teach it in any way, God seems to say, “Do not trust in great displays of force, in tremendous demonstrations of power–trust rather in the still soft influences of the distilling dew of God’s Spirit and the gentle rain of the Gospel. Preach the Word to the sons and daughters of men.” There is a temptation which assails all of us who preach to want to do some great thing. We fancy that if we could preach such a famous sermon as Jonathan Edwards delivered when he spoke of sinners in the hands of an angry God, when the people felt as though the very seats whereon they sat moved under them–and some of them even stood up and grasped the pillars of the building in their terror–we fancy that if we could but preach in such a style as that, then we should have lived to some purpose. Or we think that if we had the eloquence of Whitefield and could go and stand, as he did, on Kennington Common, and preach to twenty thousand people at a time–then we should have accomplished something worthy of our highest ambition! Or it may be that we have some famous sermons of which we think a good deal. Possibly there is a fine peroration, like the grand finale of the Crystal Palace fireworks–or there may be a great display of oratory all throughthe discourse. Or if we have been wise enough to leave out all that sort of thing, we may have tried to make the sermon one that would convince the judgment of our hearers, or force its way into their understandings by its sheer sledgehammer power–and we have hoped by preaching thus–to see our congregations converted.
Now, if we have been long in the ministry, and if the Lord has given us true spiritual apprehension, we must have discovered how futile are all such hopes and expectations! There may be a great wind blowing while we are preaching such sermons, but the Lord is not in the wind. There may be a great earthquake and the people may shake and quake with terror, but the Lord is not in the earthquake! Our pulpit may be lurid with the fire of coming judgment, but the Lord is not in the fire. It is true that we are to preach the terror of the Lord, but like Paul, because we know the terror of the Lord, we are to “ persuade men.” Persuasiveness is to be one of the dominant notes in our preaching because of the terrible side of the Truth of God. We are not to conceal the threats that we find in the Word of God, for the gentle, loving Savior uttered very terrible words concerning the wrath to come, the worm that never dies and the fire that never can be quenched. At the same time, our main reliance must not be on that style of preaching, and our expectation of blessingmust not depend upon our heaping up words full of alarm and terror and expressions intended to set forth the woes and horrors of impending judgment, for after all, we may alarm our hearers until they can be no longer alarmed! And we may make them weep in terror until they can weep no more! But instead of doing so, they may even scoff at that which once so greatly disturbed them.
But the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified never loses its power! The telling over and over again of–
“The old, old story
Of Jesus and His love”–
never becomes a mere repetition if with warm heart and loving spirit we still cry to our hearers, “Behold the Lamb of God which took away the sin of the world.” There may be no excitement in our congregation, no sensation may be created by our preaching, but the Lord will be in it! He always has been in such preaching as that and He always will be. A preached Savior must mean saved sinners before long, but even where sinners are not saved, if we faithfully, lovingly and earnestly preach the Gospel to them, we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ in them that perish as well as in them that are saved! So let us still be content to go on, and on, and on, and on–preaching Jesus Christ–praying for the Spirit of God to rest upon us while we tell over and over and over again how the Son of God loved us and gave Himself for us, asking the faithful to pray that God will bless the Word, seeking to make our own lives to be more like the life of Him whom we preach and trying by all lawful means to be the instruments that God will bless in saving at least some of our hearers! And we shall succeed in such a ministry as this if we have faith in God and faith in the message we are sent to deliver, for the Lord is still in the ministry of the still small voice! There have been many kinds of ministries in this world, but where has God ever been except in the ministry of the Truth as it is in Jesus? There have been ministries of learning, ministries of eloquence, ministries of philosophy and ministries that have made a fair show in the flesh–but, as a general rule–souls have not been saved by them. The true soul-winning ministries are the ministries of the still small voice, the ministries that proclaim the redeeming Grace and dying love of Jesus! And where those ministries are exercised, seeking souls will recognize the voice of God and give heed to it. So there was a message in the still small voice to every preacher of the Word of God!
III. I think there was also, in that still small voice, A MESSAGE TO THE WHOLE CHURCH OF GOD.
The Lord was not in the wind, nor in the fire, nor in the earthquake–but He was in the still small voice. Let us learn from this fact not to desire to see any great judgments fall upon any country, nor to see any extraordinary displays of Divine power abroad in the world with the idea that thereby God’s Kingdom will come. We sometimes grow dissatisfied because God’s cause is not advancing as fast as we think it ought to advance. Foreign missions are not as successful as we should like to see them and home missions do not prosper as we think they should. Then we remember the times when the cholera was rife in London and, remembering that the people seemed to be more tender in spirit, then, and more willing to listen to the Gospel, we have almost wished that some such visitation as that would come again to awaken the callous inhabitants of this sinful city and nation! Yet we must not cherish such a wish as that, for after all, the good that comes in that way is more apparent than real–and after the apparent softening, there often comes a hardening of the heart against the Truth. We have sometimes looked upon the nations of the earth and as we have seen them besotted with idolatry and given up to gross error, we have wondered, if war broke out, or pestilence, or there was some other form of the rod of God, whether there might not, then, be fresh doors opened for the preaching of the Word, and whether thepeople might not be more willing to listen to it when it was preached. It has, no doubt, been so in certain cases in the past, but let us not, even in our hearts, ever desire such calamities and chastisements to happen! But let us still place our confidence where the confidence of the early Christian Church was placed–in the Spirit of God working through the preaching of the Gospel by earnest, faithful men who had proved its power in their own hearts and lives!
A further lesson to the Lord’s people in the still small voice is this. It appears from what God said to Elijah that there was a work going on in Israel of which the Prophet knew nothing. There were 7,000 people whose knees had never been bent in the worship of the sun-god and whose lips had never kissed the idol. It is doubtless true today that there are thousands of whom we know nothing who are not partakers in the idolatry which causes us such sorrow of heart. What an accursed thing it is that idolatry of various kinds is so rampant today in this and other lands! O God of Elijah, put an end to it right speedily, we implore You! Yet, all the while that vile idolatry was spreading in Israel, the worship of the true God was being retained by 7,000 faithful souls–though Elijah did not know that there was even one beside himself! How were they won to Jehovah? Certainly not by Elijah’s impressive demonstration on the top of Carmel, for they were loyal to the Lord before that. Possibly they were not converted even by the three years drought–what, then, had madethem so different from the bulk of their countrymen? The secret movement of the Spirit of God upon their hearts! Perhaps also the loving teaching of mothers by the fireside, the gracious influence of godly men and women upon their companions and of the worshippers of Jehovah upon men of the world who saw in them what they knew they did not themselves possess–and who so admired it that they enquired how they might also obtain such beauty of character–all these things had helped to range these 7,000 idol-haters on the side of Jehovah. The still small voice had been doing for Israel what Elijah could not do!
Brothers and Sisters, a similar process is going on now! And I want to refresh your memories concerning it. Sometimes as we carefully examine the organized Christianity of the present day, we cannot discover any progress at all. It is a great pity and a cause for great sorrow that there should not be any visible progress. But for all that, let us hope that there is an underground work going on–a secret work of God’s Grace proceeding in the hearts and lives of those by whom we are surrounded, although we can see no signs of it. You who put leaven in your bread know that you do not hear it making a noise during the night, but the leaven is working effectually although it is working silently. There is still an open Bible in our land and in many other lands besides. And so long as that is the case, you need not fear that Protestantism will die out, or that the lamp of the Truth of God will be put out! There is also more than an open Bible in this and other lands–there are many praying people who will take no rest and give God no rest until they see His cause and Kingdom prospering in the earth! [There is a very remarkable Sermon by Mr. Spurgeon upon this subject which ought to be widely circulated in these days of “arrested progress.” See Sermon #2189, Volume 37–A CALL TO PRAYER AND TESTIMONY–Read/download the entire sermon, free of charge, at http://www.spurgeongems.org.] You may not know them and they may not be among the great ones of this world, but there aremany who are crying day and night unto God for the preservation and the spread of His Truth! There are eyes that are weeping over sin and there are hearts that are near unto breaking for the longing that they have for the coming of the Redeemer’s Kingdom. There are persons whose names will never be known to fame–some of the very poorest on the earth who, nevertheless, are speaking softly with their voices for Jesus and who are also speaking very powerfully by their lives for Jesus–as servants in the household, as toilers in the workshop, as poor humble bed-ridden sufferers who patiently endure great pain and privation because the Lord gives them the Grace to bear it for His sake!
I believe in the power of these still small voices and I pray that the Church of God may never get the idea that she is to depend upon certain great orators and distinguished ministers. I fear that many of our friends across the Atlantic have fallen into most serious mistakes with regard to this matter, for when certain of their great preachers are absent, their places of worship are closed just as if God had gone away to the country or the seaside because Mr. So-and-So or Dr. Soand-So had gone there. I pray that you, dear Friends, may never put such confidence in any of us as to think that God could not work just as well by other people if He pleased to do so, or to imagine that we must come to you with most elaborately prepared sermons and always charm your ears with brilliant oratory. As for myself, I abhor all oratory or eloquence except that which comes straight from the heart! The Church of Jesus Christ has been greatly injured by the highly-polished sermons and speeches of famous orators. But let us, Brothers, always speak in the language that our heart prompts us to use. Let our very soul run over at our lips as it pours itself out like the gushing stream from an everflowing spring–for this is the best kind of eloquence with which we can plead with sinners to forsake their sins and turn to the living God! Let us be willing to be accounted weak and to have our speech called contemptible, as Paul’s was, for God may then be pleased to bless us as He will not do in any other way.
The point I want to emphasize is this, that the reliance of the Church, under God, must not be upon the voices that ring out, far and wide, like a peal of bells, nor upon the tongues that give forth the sweet music that pleases the ear! We must rely upon the Gospel, itself–upon the Gospel simply stated, upon the Gospel taught in the Sunday school, the Gospel explained at the family altar, the Gospel lived and loved by holy men and women! It is that which will do the work of God effectually and accomplish His glorious purposes of Grace. And I would have all of you who are thus seeking to serve your Savior, believe that His blessing will rest upon your service even though it may only seem to be as a still small voice! You, my dear Sisters, may not be able to preach a sermon, but you may do what is far better that that! The loving words that you may speak to your children. The helpful hymns that you may teach them as they gather around you. Your evening prayer with them as you lay them down to sleep and your own holy example will all be the still small voice in which God will speak to them! And you servant maids who help in caring for the children and you who teach in the day schools. And you who are anywhere brought into contact with your fellow men, can, by your words and by your actions, bear most important messages for God even though, in the judgment of mankind, you may be only like a still small voice that seems to have but little force in it! I wish the whole Church of Christ would realize that her greatest victories have usually been accomplished by those who did not seem, from a human standpoint, competent for the task and that she may still expect to see the grandest results coming to her by the use of ordinary means, by ordinary persons devoutly exercising, in the name of God, their ordinary functions in an ordinary way–the workers being, however, under the gracious influence of the Divine Spirit from whom all true power must come!
IV. I shall now conclude my discourse by using the text in a fourth way. I believe there was, in that still small voice, A MESSAGE TO SINNERS.
Now, in the scene which is here sketched by the Inspired pen, you have many things that you may well consider. The Prophet saw how the great and strong wind split the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces. He felt the earth reel beneath him and saw the valleys lifted to the hills–and the hills sunk into deep glens by the mighty forces of the earthquake. And he saw the forests on the hillsides all ablaze with fire–but God was not revealed to him in any of those terrible sights. It was only when the still small voice came that God spoke to him! And it is the same in many of those terrors that some seeking souls experience. Human nature is there. The devil is often there. But very frequently God is not there in any saving sense–so you need not, any of you, wish to feel those terrors! It is a great mercy when God brings His people to Himself by a smoother road than that. I know that some are brought to Him by that rough road and if they are, they may be thankful that they are brought to Him in any manner rather than left to perish in their sins. Yet if God, in His great tenderness to others, brings them to Himself gently, why should they regret it? Should they not be perfectly satisfied and even be doubly grateful to be saved without having to endure such trying experiences as many others have had? Beloved Friends, do not crave these experiences for yourselves, otherwise you may thereby provoke God to anger and He may chasten you in His hot displeasure. You are refusing to do what He bids you do, namely, trust His dear Son, Jesus Christ, and you are wanting Him to make you have these horrible feelings, which, if you did have them, you would be only too thankful to lose!
Let me further say to you that if any of you have felt these dreadful terrors, I implore you not to place any reliance upon them! You will make a fatal mistake if you suppose that you are saved simply because you have been driven almost to despair! There can be no more insecure foundation for a hope of Heaven than to think that you are saved because you have realized that you were lost! It would be a very absurd idea for a man to conclude that he was in health because he had felt that he was ill, or for another to fancy that he was rich because he had felt that he was poor. There is a remorse which is near akin to repentance, but it is not the fruit of the Grace of God. There is a sense of sin which arises, not from the work of the Spirit of God, but from a man’s own conscience–from conscience awakened, yet still unenlightened by God the Holy Spirit! There are few things more terrible than the awakened conscience of a man who still remains unbelieving. Yet some have had that dreadful experience and have even ventured to suppose that they were saved because they had passed through such a period of alarm and horror. If any of you have thus suffered, do not place any reliance upon that experience!
When the still small voice, in which God is, really comes to you, do you know how it will come? Probably in the same way that it came to Elijah. It will address you personally so that you will begin to feel the personal bearing of the Truths of God to which you have been listening Sabbath after Sabbath. As the still small voice said to the Prophet, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” so will the Truth begin to question you and you will then hear every sermon for yourself–not for other people. When you read the Bible, you will read it for yourself, to find out what it says to you–and through the Truth recorded there, God will speak to your soul.
But, at first, that still small voice will not comfort you any more than it comforted Elijah. It will put searching questions to you concerning your character and conduct. It will make you look at your past life and cause you to sorrow over it. It will make you look at your present life and cause you to blush as you see how sinful it is. It will also make you remember how many years you have wasted in living for yourself and vanity–and not living unto God. The still small voice will make you realize at what a distance you are from God and what a change must be worked in you before you can be put among His children. It will also make you cast a glance forward to your future life and cause you to tremble at the prospect that lies before you! It will remind you that if you remain unconverted, you will go from bad to worse, you will heap up sin upon sin and your heart will get harder and harder until you are given up to final impenitence!
After this stern message it will be a blessed thing for you if the still small voice gives you some measure of hope. It may be that there is nothing striking about what you are now feeling. It is no alarming sickness that you have had, it is no wonderful dream that has come to you in your sleep, it is no singular Providence that you have experienced–but some way or other, wherever you are, you feel ill at ease–you are troubled in spirit and cannot rest. Oh, what a blessed unrest that is which drives a sinner away from his sins! What a sweet bitter that is which makes a sinful soul sick of the world and makes it hunger and thirst after Christ! I pray the Lord to give this unrest and this hunger and thirst to many of you. I have known some who have had this experience so severely that they could not rest in the workshop–they have done their work, it is true–but it was with many a sigh between. Their very meals have seemed to lose the zest they once possessed. When they slept at night, their sleep was unrestful. And when they woke, their sorrow was still upon them. They felt that they could not endure themselves unless they could get right with God. That is the effect of the still small voice when God is in it!
That voice will, before long, probably change its note in addressing some of you, for it will talk to you about redeeming Grace and dying love. It will speak to you about the sinner’s Savior, the Savior for you–and you will be conscious of a blessed, gentle, persuasive influence inclining you to hear about Jesus, making you attentive to the Word and moving you to wish to believe in Jesus as your own personal Savior. And that voice will check you if you begin even to look back toward sin with any desire to return to it! And it will stir up within you more and more holy aspirations till, at last, it will lead you to really look to Jesus and live! And when you have looked to Him, all your life long you will continue to hear that voice–even when others do not hear it, you will. If you attempt to put out your hand to iniquity, you will draw it back with a start because of the warning that voice will utter. Oftentimes when others are busy only about the world, your mind will be soaring away to Heaven because that voice will be weaning you from the earth and wooing you to be up and away to your Father’s house above!
That still small voice will often tell you what to do. “You shall hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk you in it.’” If you happen to be where you cannot listen to the ministry of the Word, or are not profited by it, that voice will speak to you. As you read the Scriptures, that voice will speak to you with such power as no other voice ever had over your soul, for after all, it is the voice of Jesus! It is the voice of everlasting love! It is the voice that said upon Calvary, “It is finished!” It is the voice that said, “Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” It is the voice that pleads in Heaven, “Father, I will that they, also, whom you have given Me, be with Me where I am, that they may behold My Glory.”
Do not, dear Friends, be listening for any other voices! Do not be expecting to have any other Revelation beside that which is recorded in this blessed Book! You not only have Moses and the Prophets, you also have Jesus and the Apostles, so listen to them! Let the still small voice reveal the Truth to you and ask not for any other message. This is the allsufficient Guide for you with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, so do not seek for any other! If you have been saved by it, I charge you to obey it in every jot and tittle. Alter no ordinance of God and forget none of His precepts, but follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Wherever you see the print of His pierced feet, there put down your own feet. Do as He did. Be as He was. And then, soon, you shall be where He is! May His blessed Spirit and His still small voice be with you till you shall see His face without a veil between you, for His dear name’s sake! Amen.