JohnSWilson3 Blog

“Spiritual Hearing” by T. Austin Sparks
November 23, 2011, 1:34 am
Filed under: 1E - T. Austin Sparks "Spiritual Hearing"

First published in “A Witness and A Testimony” magazines, 1950;

Chapter 1 – The Ear for the Lord Alone

Reading: Rom. 12:1; Ex. 21:5-6; Deut. 15:12-18; Lev. 8:22-24,30; 14:28; Isa. 1:4-5; Rev. 3:20-22.

You will have noticed that, in all these passages, reference is made to the ear. There is the bored ear of the servant, the consecrated ear of the priest, the anointed ear of the leper, the opened ear for instruction in Isa. 1, and the attentive ear of Rev. 3. It is impressive to realise what a large place the Lord gives to the ear, and how much Scripture is occupied with hearing; and, as we put the various Scriptures together, we come to find that the matter of hearing, or of the ear, goes right to the root of the spiritual life. It was by capturing the ear of Eve that all sin was introduced into the human race. She consented to listen, she lent her ear when the adversary, Satan, said, “Hath God said…?”. That was the beginning of all spiritual evil among men, and since then Satan has ever sought to propagate his kingdom by getting the ear, by securing a consent to listen. It was in exactly the same way that he went to the Lord Jesus in the days of His fast in the wilderness, saying, “If thou be the Son of God…” There is something in that very much akin to “Hath God said…?”, because it was only a short time previously that God had said, “This is my beloved Son”. But the last Adam refused to listen; He closed His ear. He would not consent to entertain the suggestion or the insinuation, and, by His persistent refusal to give ear to the adversary, redemption was accomplished. All the mischief of the first failure in that very respect was overcome.

When we come to the book of the Revelation, we find that it is to the ear that the appeal is made. It is the time of consummations. The first chapters have to do with things that must be listened to as from the Lord; the last chapters see the result of that work of the Spirit-life in fulness; the same principles as in Genesis. It is the question of life in fulness, lost by lending an ear to Satan, gained by listening to what the Spirit saith.

So we are right in saying that there is a sense in which the whole spiritual life and spiritual history hang upon spiritual hearing. Between the two extremes of death and life, between listening to Satan and having an ear only for the Lord, there are many aspects of spiritual hearing, as we have seen in the above passages. We will not touch upon them now in detail, but be content for the moment to emphasize the necessity of having an ear to hear what the Spirit saith, and of using it – “He that hath an ear, let him hear”. We must be sure that we are not only hearing outwardly, but that the thing is going deep inside, that it is making a difference. You can say things again and again to some people, and they know what you say, and will retort, ‘I have heard you say that before’. But it makes no difference – they have not heard with the inward ear. Life depends upon that kind of hearing inside – using the ear that we have for what the Spirit saith. So it is all summed up in “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service (worship, R.V.M)” (Rom. 12:1).

Chapter 2 – The Pierced Ear of the Servant

Reading: Ex. 21:5-6; Deut. 15:12-18.

Here we have the ear of the servant, and right on the surface there lies the connection between love, the ear, and abiding service. Love here is connected with the bored ear, and becomes the basis of this continuous service which is something that is voluntarily entered into and cannot be legally imposed. It is something which is taken up by the servant himself or herself because of a heart attitude and a heart relationship. The love basis leads to the resigning of certain rights and liberties. This servant has the right to go free. He is not a foreigner, he is not a hireling who, under compulsion, is put to bond-service. He is a Hebrew, and as such he has rights, and his rights are in the realm of liberty. He may go out free without violating any law or obligation. Indeed, it is his master who is under obligation to him at the time. But this servant resigns his rights and his liberties because of love. It is something other than constraint by legal obligation. It brings into another realm altogether.

Paul himself, who so often referred to himself as the bondservant of Jesus Christ, in various statements indicates something of the meaning of this resigning of liberties. For instance, he says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient” (1 Cor. 6:12). ‘I have rights, if I followed the line of rights. There is nothing to forbid me or to compel me so far as law is concerned, but I am actuated by something more than that; there are other considerations; the Lord’s interests and my concern for Him lead me to forego certain liberties and rights; I resign them voluntarily for His sake.’ It is the bond-slave recognising that, while there may be nothing against certain things as judged by the ordinary standards of right and wrong, and that on that level certain courses are quite permissible, yet some higher interest may come in where the Lord can be better and more fully served if even those liberties are resigned for His sake. It is a much higher level, this level of the servant who says, ‘I will not go out free; I might, I have perfect right to do so, but I will not. I am not here simply because I must be, because I am compelled; I am here because of love’. That is a fuller and a higher world altogether, and it may touch us at many points. We could… we might… there would be no wrong… but the Lord’s highest interests require that we should on some things deny ourselves and say, ‘Though there is no wrong, no harm, the Lord will be better served if I do not’. That is what is here. “All things are lawful… not all things are expedient”; and when that attitude is taken, a new relationship with the Lord is set up, a relationship of service in perpetuity; but now it is more as one of the household, one of the family. The Spirit of sonship enters in, and “thou art no longer a bond-servant but, a son” (Gal. 4:7). Love lifts and transfers, and, although it is still service, we find a remarkable relatedness in the New Testament, between the bond-slave and, at the same time, the son.

We find that the Lord Jesus becomes the great example. He had rights, very great rights: He could have held to them. He had liberties: He could have stood for them. There was no obligation upon Him legally to do anything but to remain in the eternal glory with the Father. He surrendered all His rights and His liberties. He took upon Himself “the form of a servant (bond-servant)… becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). He said “I will not go out free”; and the Father bored His ear. He is the eternal Son-Servant. In Him the two combine – sonship and servanthood bound together in love for the Father. And what is in its highest and fullest expression in Him is transferred to us in our smaller way. Love requires sometimes that we have to say ‘No’ to some things which in themselves are harmless, and, in a way, desirable, and which would be quite permissible if we were serving only our own interests. To them we say ‘No’ in the interests of the One Who has become to us more than Master; He has become Lord.

Chapter 3 – The Consecrated Ear

Reading: Lev. 8:22-24,30; 14:25-28.

The Blood Touched Ear

In the former of these two passages we read of the consecration of Aaron and his sons, and the placing of the blood upon the tip of their right ears – the ear consecrated by means of the blood. The blood, as you know, was always the means of discrimination and separation; all that upon which the blood was sprinkled was separated unto the Lord, consecrated to Him. The blood – speaking of an end made to a whole regime, and provision made for an entirely new order of things – the blood stood between. You hardly need me to illustrate that from Scripture, for there is so much. Perhaps the outstanding Old Testament illustration would be the blood of the Lamb sprinkled on the door posts and the lintel of the homes of the Hebrews in Egypt. By that sprinkled blood they were marked out as separate from the Egyptians, and as a people with an entirely new future, a new history. The blood separated and the blood laid the foundation for something altogether new – that from that passover they were constituted God’s people in a new way. That is the principle of the blood, that it separates from one system and makes a way for another.

Now here, in the priesthood, we have that very strongly emphasised. There was the blood of the ram of consecration, and placed upon the ear, it meant quite simply that the blood was going to challenge, test and judge every presentation to the mind through the ear. The blood would interrogate everything coming to the inner life through the ear, as to where it came from, as to the nature of it. The blood would judge it and say, ‘That is not of God; that is not according to the mind of the Lord; that belongs to the old creation which is in alliance with sin; that springs from the original source where Satan spoke into the ear.’ The blood thus would judge everything, condemning what was not of God, and keeping the way open for the Lord – a very simple lesson, but a very powerful one. The Lord Jesus said, “Take heed what ye hear” (Mark 4:24). Priesthood here means the spiritual man, the man who is wholly unto the Lord, completely at the Lord’s disposal; and the spiritual man is going to be very careful what he allows himself to hear, what he allows to enter into his mind, into his inner life, and become a part of him inwardly through his ear. He is not going to listen to everything. He is going to judge what he hears and to refuse quite a lot.

Now that may apply to a large number of things which it would be unwise to try to catalogue. We can do unspeakable damage to our own spiritual life, and make it impossible for the Lord to speak to us, if we allow ourselves to listen to that which is not of the Lord, that which is contrary to Him. The enemy has gained great power for his kingdom through the ear of the world; he has a great hold on men along the line of hearing. He uses many things – it may be certain types of music, or ways of speaking. The consecrated servant of the Lord does not allow that sort of thing voluntarily. We are in this world, and we cannot avoid hearing many things that we should not wish to hear; but the important matter is not the sounds around us that strike upon our outward ear, but our reaction thereto, whether we consent to what we hear. Do we judge it and inwardly revolt against it and refuse it, or do we lend an ear to it?

I think this may specially apply to what we allow ourselves to hear about people. Untold damage is done by gossip and by criticism. Now, there is no point in having lips to talk if there are no ears to hear, and sometimes the sealing of unwise and uncontrolled lips may come by a refusal to listen. The priest is called upon to refuse to listen to a whole realm of things, to judge it and say, ‘I do not want to hear that; I am not listening to it, I am not accepting it.’ You can, I am sure, see what a terrible lot of mischief exists today even amongst real children of God, caused by rumours, by talk, by passing on reports, by interpretations given to things; and how susceptible we are to that sort of thing! Well, this blood-touched ear, the consecrated ear, conveys a fundamental lesson. On the one side, it refuses to accept and to allow to pass into the inner life a whole world of things.

The Spirit-Anointed Ear

Then there is the other side – the oil-anointed ear. Both sides are seen in the case of the cleansed leper in Lev. 14. In type he is the man who is freed from the defiling life of the flesh and is walking by the Spirit, in newness of life. He has the blood-touched ear – the token of his refusal to listen to what is not of God; and he has the oil-touched ear – the token of his readiness to hearken to the Lord. What a lot is lost because so many of the Lord’s people have not an ear to listen to Him – the open, sensitive, alive ear quickened by the Holy Spirit, the quiet ear. The enemy has made many of the Lord’s servants too busy to stop to listen to the Lord. Things are all unsatisfactory, they are all going wrong and missing the mark; and the enemy is just carrying the workers on by the sheer momentum of the work. He is seeing to it that they have no time to hear what the Lord would say about things. Those churches at the beginning of the book of the Revelation had many commendable things, and perhaps the greatest surprise that ever came to anybody came to some of them when it was said to them, in effect, ‘You have all this work, labour, patience and all these other quite commendable things, but you have not an ear to hear the Lord. These other things are not wrong, but there are very much more important things, and you are not hearing what the Spirit is saying. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith…’ The need was for an ear open to the Lord for correction, for adjustment, for knowing yet more fully His mind about things.

There is the ear sealed against one world, and there is the ear open to the other world. There is one world closed by the Blood, another world opened by the Spirit; and it all centres in the inner ear, the ear of the heart. It is a very important thing. The Lord give us grace to be very obedient and watchful over this matter, taking heed what we hear, what we allow ourselves to receive, and keeping in that place where, if the Lord is wanting to say something, He has our ear not pre-occupied but alive to listen to His voice.

Chapter 4 – The Opened Ear

Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9

This passage in Isa. 50 needs to be read closely in connection with chapter 49, and indeed recognised as to its setting in the whole of the section of the prophecies. The position is that of Israel’s rebelliously going backward in spite of all the Lord’s speaking to them through His prophets. They refused to open their ear to the Lord. The result? – they were, as this chapter puts it at the beginning, divorced by the Lord. They were cut off and committed to captivity; and then in these chapters up to 53, the Servant of the Lord in His redemptive work is so fully and wonderfully brought into view, and it is concerning Him that these words are spoken. They give to us some little suggestion of how the people are served unto their salvation. We have, first, sin and its consequences, and then the Redeemer-Servant and the cost of redemption. “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, I hid not my face from shame and spitting” – words which were literally fulfilled in the case of the Lord Jesus. Then His vindication is referred to in verses 7-9. “The Lord Jehovah will help me; therefore have I not been confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He is near that justifieth me; who will contend with me…” and so on. It is the Lord Himself speaking in the presence of His Cross, and looking with confidence to the issue of His sufferings, His vindication in resurrection; and because of all that – the confidence that He had in God, and His willingness to pay the price of their salvation – He brings this word of hope: “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him that is weary.” That is the word of hope to a people without hope in a very desperate situation, “to sustain with words him that is weary” – a ministry of hope through the Cross in the resurrection, in the vindication, of the suffering Servant.

Then He simply indicates that that ministry of hope, of re-assurance, that word of life and salvation, that changing of the darkness to light, is because of the opposite attitude on His part to that which brought about the darkness and the death. They turned back rebelliously and closed their ear to the word of the Lord. He turned toward God obediently and opened His ear; that is He listened, He took note, He received the word of the Lord. Pre-eminently this applies to the Lord Jesus, but in principle of course it applies to us, and the whole thing is now brought to rest upon this – a daily life governed by an ear opened to the Lord. “He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught.” It is rather remarkable that the Lord Jesus should be saying that He is as a disciple, as a learner, as one who is taught. It shows how completely, while being out from God and the Creator of all things, He is in the flesh dependent utterly upon God for everything, receiving from the Father His daily direction and instruction. What a picture of self-emptying! How fully His words were true – “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing” (John 5:19) – a daily dependence upon the Father for everything, and a receiving of everything from the Father. Well, of course, we know how true that is of ourselves, but it is very wonderful that His ministry of hope depended upon, and sprang out of, His waiting morning by morning to hear what the Father had to say to Him, to teach Him, to tell Him for His ministry.

It again brings a tremendous emphasis upon the place of the ear. We have seen something of how important the ear is in the life of the child of God, and here it comes back again in this very beautiful passage. If we are going to bring some hope into a hopeless situation, to sustain with words him that is weary, him that is ready to faint, we have to be in very close touch with the Lord: we must get everything from Him, we must have an ear opened. This does not mean simply a readiness to hear what He says, but in this case, as contrary to Israel, it means an eager readiness to do what is heard. And so, with an ear opened and responsive, a ministry of value to others arises. Before you are through that chapter, you come to those wonderful words which exhort those who walk in darkness and have no light to stay themselves upon their God, and if you put that as a part of the prophecy and make it apply to the Lord Jesus, as undoubtedly it does, it is a very wonderful thing – walking in darkness and having no light, and yet day by day in touch with the Lord so that you can help others. Well, that is simply what it amounts to. Others are going to be helped, sustained, given hope, by those who live daily in touch with the Lord, and I think that it does suggest something as to the place of the early morning quiet time, the ear opened morning by morning. I think sometimes we use that quiet time almost exclusively for talking to the Lord. I wonder if there is not also part of it to be used in listening to the Lord. “…morning by morning, he wakeneth my ear”, the result, others helped, a ministry of re-assurance and hope.