“The voice of the Lord is powerful”, the Psalmist sang; “the voice of the Lord is full of majesty” (Ps 29:4). How powerful that voice was when the whole universe was brought into existence according to the Lord’s purpose! Then the Lord said, “Let there be light”. And there was light. So it was at each stage in the creation of the universe. Each day, God spoke, and His will was done. It was a voice of power that brought everything into existence, a voice of majesty indeed. Nothing could resist it.
At the flood, it was clearly seen that “the voice of the Lord is upon the waters. . . . The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever” (Ps 29:3,10). It was the voice of God coming in judgement against an ungodly generation and, however determined their rebellion, none of them could resist the power of the waters which flowed over the earth at God’s command. So it will be when the Lord Jesus Christ will come the second time to call all, believers and unbelievers, from their graves. As He Himself declared, “the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28f). Such will be the power and authority of that voice that no one will be able to resist it. The righteous will come willingly; it will be the day of their final deliverance from the effects of sin. Although their souls were already made perfect at the time of their death, this is the day when their bodies will become glorious bodies. And in these spiritual, celestial bodies they will go boldly to judgement. There can be no condemnation for those whose sins were laid on Christ. His words seemed glorious to them in this life, but how wonderfully glorious will His words seem when they will hear Him publicly pronounce sentence in their favour: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25:34).
But it will be otherwise for the wicked. They are condemned already. During their lifetime, many of them were called to come to Him who was revealed as a Saviour of even the chief of sinners. But they refused; they displayed a persistent unwillingness to come. And now on the day of judgement they must come, however unwillingly, before Him to hear their final condemnation. And how majestically powerful will be the words of the great King when He finally addresses the wicked standing on His left side: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41). They cannot resist the authority of that voice; they must depart, leaving behind every possibility of ever again receiving the least blessing, even one drop of cold water.
In this world God speaks by His Word. He sends the Scriptures out in all directions so that sinners might receive the truth and be saved. Likewise He sends out ambassadors to speak in His name. But how often their message is rejected! Then the ambassadors have to complain: “Who hath believed our report?” But it is not always so. Let the Lord accompany His Word by the Holy Spirit and His voice becomes irresistibly powerful.
Gods voice in the Garden of Eden uttering the words, “Where art thou?” (Gen 3:9) seriously disturbed Adam and Eve. They tried to get away from it, but they could not. And many sinners since then have been arrested in their waywardness by the same question. The power of that voice, to which they had been so long unresponsive, penetrated their souls and now they could not get away from it. However determined they were to continue along the broad road, and however determined to deny to themselves that they were heading towards eternal destruction, the voice of God stopped them in their tracks. They now realised that God knew all about them. They saw something of His majesty as the Lord of heaven and earth. They had to acknowledge: “Thou God seest me”.
For too long, they had resisted the testimony of God against sin. They may not have denied that they were sinners and, in any case, there were many sinners far worse than they were – or so they believed. But sin becomes something seriously personal when God speaks powerfully to the sinner in conviction of sin, as He did to David through Nathan: “Thou art the man” (2 Sam 12:7). The conscience is at last aroused, and the sinner sees that every sin is an offence against the majesty of God. He has to confess for himself: “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Is 64:6).
In that state sinners must perish, just as Abraham would have perished if he had continued in his native city of Ur. But he heard the powerful voice of the Most High calling him out. “The God of glory appeared unto . . . Abraham . . . and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee” (Acts 7:2f) and, in spite of every difficulty, he obeyed. Were it not for the power which accompanied that command – the power of the Holy Spirit applying it to his soul – Abraham would have stayed where he was. He would have considered the riches and pleasures of Ur far better than the uncertainties of the land which God was promising to show him. So with many sinners today, even among those who are hearing the gospel regularly. Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit accompanying the call to repentance, sinners will consider the things of this life much more desirable and much more secure than heavenly treasure.
But when divine power accompanies the call, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Is 45:22), the heart of the sinner is made willing to look to Christ for salvation. He is now willing to leave his worldly pleasures, his desires become spiritual and his great ambition is to “be found in [Christ], not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil 3:9). Sinners may many times have heard the call of the gospel, demanding a believing response on the part of every hearer. But until that call to look to Christ is made effective – until it becomes powerful through being applied by the Holy Spirit to the soul – no one will obey it. How necessary then is that work of the Holy Spirit if sinners are to be turned from their own ways!
It is not by turning to methods which may be attractive to the natural heart that sinners will be prepared for eternity. Drama and song may bring in the crowds for a time, but they are not means authorised by the God of heaven to convey the message of the gospel to lost souls. Sinners may be influenced towards religion for a longer or shorter period by these and other unscriptural methods – perhaps even until death – but only the powerful voice of God in effectual calling will rescue a soul from a lost eternity. Only through the message of salvation by Jesus Christ, as made known in the Scriptures and applied by supernatural power, can sinners be saved. This is the method which the Lord has been using throughout the ages to rescue sinners from eternal destruction. When he speaks powerfully in this way, sinners must listen; they cannot shut their ears any longer; they are brought to sit in safety at the feet of Emmanuel, there to learn more of His glorious teachings.
So it was in Thessalonica, when Paul and his fellow preachers came proclaiming the truth concerning Jesus. Because a goodly number of sinners in that city had heard, not merely the voice of Paul and Silas and Timothy, gifted preachers though they were, but also the all-powerful voice of God speaking through them as His ambassadors, Paul could say, “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance” (1 Thess 1:5). Many were absolutely assured of the truth of God’s Word in a way that would have been impossible if merely human resources were involved. Not Paul with all the force of his great intellect or Apollos with all his marvellous eloquence could have had the least spiritual influence over one soul anywhere if it had not pleased God to accompany His Word with power. Yet when Paul planted and Apollos watered, God did give the increase (1 Cor 3:6). And it must be the hope and prayer of God’s ambassadors today that, when they go out to plant and to water in His vineyard, it will please Him to give the increase.
There have been remarkable instances also in post-biblical times when it pleased God to speak powerfully in the hearts of a multitude of sinners. One such occasion was recalled by John Livingstone, who was only a young probationer at the time he describes: “The only day in all my life when I found most of the presence of God in preaching was on a Monday after the Communion, preaching in the churchyard of Shotts, 21 June 1630. The night before, I had been with some Christians who spent the night in prayer and conference. When I was alone in the fields about eight or nine of the clock in the morning, before we were to go to sermon, there came such a misgiving of spirit upon me, considering my unworthiness and weakness and the multitude and expectation of the people, that I was consulting with myself to have stolen away somewhere and declined the day’s preaching but that I thought I durst not so far distrust God, and so went to sermon and got good assistance about an hour and a half upon the point which I had meditated on: ‘Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh’ (Ezek 36:25f). And in the end, offering to close with some words of exhortation, I was led on about an hour’s time, in a strain of exhortation and warning, with such liberty and melting of heart as I never had the like in public all my lifetime.” (1)
That final hour of exhortation and warning was the result of a sudden heavy shower of rain. Livingstone noticed the people putting on their cloaks and addressed them: “If a few drops of rain so discompose you, how discomposed would you be, how full of horror and despair, if God should deal with you as you deserve? And thus He will deal with all the finally impenitent. God might justly rain fire and brimstone upon you as He did upon Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities of the plain. But for ever blessed be His name! The door of mercy still stands open for such as you are. The Lord Jesus Christ, by tabernacling in our nature and obeying the law which we have wickedly and wilfully broken and suffering that punishment we have so richly deserved, is now become a refuge from the storm and a covert from the tempest of divine wrath due to us for sin. His merits and mediation are the alone defence from that storm, and none but those who come to Christ just as they are, empty of everything, and take the offered mercy at His hand will have the benefit of this shelter.” (2)
On that memorable morning at the Kirk of Shotts, around 500 heard the voice of God speaking powerfully in their souls. Robert Fleming recorded the outcome, fully confident of the accuracy of what he had to report. He felt able to “speak on sure ground”, he tells us. “Near 500 had at that time a discernible change wrought in them, of whom most proved lively Christians afterwards. It was the sowing of a seed through Clydesdale, so as many of the most eminent Christians in that country could date either their conversion or some remarkable confirmation in their case from that day.” (3)
Livingstone’s voice has long since fallen silent, but the powerful voice of God, which was the real cause of such remarkable effects, remains unchanged. There is no doubt that there is great resistance to the proclamation of the truth today. The Western world, at least, seems determined to close its ears to the voice of God. And what we so often see is the Lord in judgement leaving sinners to their own will. They do not want to listen to His voice, and He gives them their desire. The consequence can only be further deterioration in the moral and spiritual condition of society – apart from God in infinite mercy making sinners willing to hear His voice. When He thus makes sinners willing, they are made new creatures in Christ Jesus; they are renewed through and through. That is what happened in heathen Thessalonica, and that is what the Lord can do today in near-heathen Britain, and in other countries also.
In a time when the spiritual outlook seems so dismal, our only comfort is that “the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Is 59:1); and it is worth noting that the great outpouring of the spirit at the Kirk of Shotts followed a night when the people of God gave themselves to earnest prayer. Nothing can oppose His purposes when He makes His voice powerful. We are not to despise the day of small things, when ones and twos find the Lord’s voice powerful in their experience. But the time may yet come when the great work at the Kirk of Shotts under John Livingstone will appear perfectly normal – such will be the frequency with which multitudes of sinners will be brought into Christ’s kingdom – for “the voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty”.
1. The Story of the Scottish Church, Thomas M’Crie, Free Presbyterian Publications, page 133. Obtainable from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom.
2. The Restoration of the Church, p 55.
3. The Fulfilling the Scripture, vol 2, page 96.