C.H. Spurgeon

“And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire A STILL SMALL VOICE.” [1kings 19:12]

The lightning flamed over the whole Heaven, attended by peals of thunder such as the man of God had never heard before. From crag to crag leaped the live lightning till the whole firmament blazed with the fire of God! Yet we do not find that the Prophet was in the least cowed or dismayed. His was a brave spirit—calm amid the storm. As the eagle mounts in the centre of the lightning and rises on the wings of the storm, so did it seem with Elijah’s spirit—he was awakened by the fury of the elements, but he was not afraid. And now the thunder ceased and the lightning was gone. The earth was still, the wind was hushed and there was a dead calm.

And out of the midst of the still air there came what the Hebrew calls, “A VOICE OF GENTLE SILENCE,” as if silence had become audible! There is nothing more amazing than an awful stillness after a dread uproar. Even the noise of the wind and of the storm which could not cow Elijah were not so terrible as the still small voice by which Jehovah called His servant near. Then the Prophet covered his face and went to the mouth of the cave and stood to listen, for the still small voice had won the solemn attention of his soul. It had done for him what all the rest could not do—for this reason that the Lord was not in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire—but the Lord was in the still small voice and Elijah knew it and was awed and prepared himself to hear what God, the Lord, would speak.

What is the lesson of this? May God the Holy Spirit help us this morning to learn it and to teach it.

First, I call your attention to THE CHOSEN AGENCY.

Notice at the outset what it was not. It was not the terrible, it was not the tremendous, it was not the overwhelming, but something the reverse of all these. It was not a grand display of power, for God was in none of those great things which Elijah saw and heard. That which conquered Elijah’s brave heart was not whirlwind, was not earthquake, was not fire—it was the still small voice! That which effectually wins human hearts to God and to His Christ is not an extraordinary display of power. Men can be made to tremble when God sends pestilence, famine, fire and others of His terrible judgments—but these things usually end in the hardening of men’s hearts, not in the winning of them.

The still small voice succeeds where “terrible things in righteousness” are of no avail. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.” [Zech 4:6] Crash after crash the orator’s passages succeed each other! What a tremendous passage! The hearers must surely be impressed. Wind! And the Lord is not in it! And now everything seems to shake, while, like a second John the Baptist, the minister proclaims woe and terror and pronounces the curse of God upon a generation of vipers! Will not this break hard hearts? No! Nothing is accomplished. It is an earthquake, but the Lord is not in the earthquake. Another form of force remains. Here comes one who pleads with vehemence! All on fire, he flashes and flames! Look at the brightness of his sensational metaphors and anecdotes! Yes, fire! Might we not say fireworks? And yet the Lord does not work by such fire. The Lord is not in the fire!

The furious energy of unbridled fanaticism, the Lord does not use. He may employ great and terrible things as preliminaries to His soul-saving work, but they are only preliminaries—the work, itself, is done in the secret silence of the heart. As they were in Elijah’s case, so are these things in the cases of others—they startle and arouse, but they cannot convince and convert. That which is to quicken, enlighten, sanctify and really bless is the still small voice of gentle silence! This sounds like a paradox, but the sense is clear to him who knows the Truth of God by experience. The voice which is not heard outside is Omnipotent within.

We have sufficiently shown the negative side of it—God’s work stands not in the power of the creature. What, then, does God use to touch the heart? Our heavenly Father generally uses that which is soft, tender, gentle, quiet, calm, peaceful—A STILL SMALL VOICE. In the work of real conversion—of bringing the soul to decision and complete obedience to God—the calling voice is often so gentle that it is quite unperceived by others except in its results. Yes, frequently so gentle that it is almost unperceived by the man who is the subject of it! He may not even be able to tell exactly when the voice came and when it went. The gentle zephyr refreshes the fevered brow, but the sufferer scarcely knows that it has passed through the sick chamber and is gone, so soft is its Heaven-given breath.

In reconciliation there are no blows, nor beats of drums, nor bolts of tempests—love is the captain of this bloodless war! There is little display of physical or mental force and yet there is more real power than if force had been used! We observe that where there was a display of power, as in wind, earthquake and fire, we read afterwards, “God was not in it,” but here, in this still small voice in which there was no display of power, God was at work! Here, then, we see THE WEAKNESS OF POWER, but we learn also THE POWER OF WEAKNESS and how God often makes that which seems most resistible to be irresistible—and that which we would suppose to be easily waved away, weaves about a man fetters from which he never can escape!

Softly and gently works the Holy Spirit, even as the breath of spring which dissolves the iceberg and melts the glacier. When frost has taken every rivulet by its throat and held it fast, spring sets all free. No noise of hammer or of file is heard at the loosening of the fetters, but the soft south wind blows and all is life and liberty. So is it with the work of the Spirit of God in the soul when He actually comes to set the sinner free! He works effectually, but no voice is heard.

Now, whatever the soft and gentle instrumentality may be, it is, in every case, if it saves the soul, worked by the Holy Spirit’s Presence. And the Holy Spirit, though He can be “a rushing, mighty wind” when He wills for He comes ac-cording to His own Sovereign pleasure. Yet, usually, when He comes to bring to man the peace of God, descends as the dove, or as the dew from Heaven—all peace, gentleness and quiet. Satan can set the soul on fire with agony! Doubts and fears and terrors rend it like an awful earthquake! The whole man is in trouble and confusion, as the whirlwind of the Law sweeps through his soul! But the Spirit comes in tender love, revealing Christ, the Gentle One, setting up the Cross of the Savior before the sinner’s tearful eyes and speaking peace, pardon and salvation.

Brothers and Sisters, this is what we need—the work of the Spirit of God in His own manner of living love! I have said that He works usually to the salvation of the soul by revealing the love of Christ and it is so, not only at our first conversion, but afterwards. All along, His operations are after the same quiet and effectual kind. As we grow in sanctification, it is by tender revelations of the Father’s love. What has such influence over any of us as the infinite, overflowing Grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ?

Thus, like the silent morning light, Grace works upon the man. Its processes are carried on by love. There is not a touch of terror or bondage in the great reconciling deed within. The Gospel, with its glad tidings, leaps out of the heart of God and enters into the heart of men—and rest and sacred gratitude follow. God may devour His enemies with lions, but His friends He wins with love! Those that are obdurate He will break as with a rod of iron, dashing them in pieces like potters’ vessels—but for His own—when He comes to save them, He touches them with the silver sceptre of mercy! Grace works with the oiled feather. Love is the chariot of Omnipotence when it comes into the world of mind. This, my dear Friends (to close this first head), coming quietly home to us, to each one of us individually, without animal excitement—this it is which unites us to Jesus by faith!

Elijah was calm and quiet when he heard that still small voice of God! He neither fell down in horror, nor danced for joy, yet his whole nature was touched, his inmost heart was convulsed. The silence which God had caused to be heard within him, thawed his soul. THIS is how conversions are worked. When the Truth of God comes right home to the heart; when the man perceives that the message of Grace belongs to him—when he grips and grapples with that Truth and that Truth with him—then without help from the outside, he seeks and finds eternal life! The still small voice within the conscience is God’s chosen instrumentality to effectually convert and comfort the souls of men!

The Kingdom of God comes not with observation (Lk 17:20)—but in the secret chamber, man is brought near to God.

Notice THE CHOICE EFFECTS of this chosen mode of working. The first effect of it upon Elijah was that the man was subdued. I have gone over this before. He who could confront the raging wind. He who was not terrified by the lightning, nor made to tremble at the earthquake the moment he was in that in that stillness and heard that gentle voice—wrapped his face in his sheepskin robe and went outside the cave like a child obedient to the call of his heavenly Father. And when the Spirit of God comes in His gentle power upon any of you, then you will resist no longer—you will be subdued and conquered by His soft and tender touch.

The first thing Elijah did, I said, was to wrap his face in his mantle, therein imitating the angels who cannot stand unveiled in that awful Presence. He did his best to hide his face, like one ashamed—ashamed of having doubted his God, of having played the coward—ashamed of being found away from the place of his service. When the Holy Spirit deals with men and women, this is an early effect upon their minds—shamefacedness and humiliation cover their faces— They cannot speak in the same bold tones as they were known to do! All boasting is excluded. For some time, at any rate, they have to learn how to behave themselves in the Divine Presence—for walking in the Light as God is in the Light is not easy for newly-converted sinners—their eyes are weak and tender and, therefore, they have to cover them from the blaze of the eternal light. Love is the triumphant power! Where mere power and thunder fail, it leads the heart in glad captivity.

Those who hear the voice of the Lord are sure to cry, “Lord, show me what you would have me to do.” When that voice wins the willing ear, it creates a ready foot to go where God bids us. Our desire is to know the Lord’s will and promptly to fulfil it, for the heavenly whisper has for its burden—“Follow Me.” And now that Elijah has come out into the clear air, the next effect upon him is that he has personal dealings with God. The voice says to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” It is a home enquiry, made to himself, alone. He knows that God is speaking with him and, there-fore, he feels the force of every word which searches him. Then he pours out the bitterness of his grief and tells the Lord what ails him.

The Spirit is surely at work with you when your converse is with the Lord alone. When you want nobody to hear what you have to say, but are glad to enter into your closet and shut the door and pray to your Father, who sees in secret, this is real work, the work of God! When you feel every line of the Word of God as you read it as if it were written for you, and you, alone—when you think that nobody else in the world can enter so fully into it, in your judgment, as you now do, for the sentences seem shaped for you and there are little words dropped into the threat and the promise exactly adapted for you—then it is that the still small voice is executing its sacred office! This is a main point, this contact of the soul with God—this breaking down of the barriers of things visible, this closing in with God, the Unseen.

Oh, it is a sight such as angels delight to behold when a man bows before the Most High and listens to his great Father’s voice and then tells out to Him all his heart without attempting to hide anything from Him! This is never produced by whirlwind, fire, or earthquake—it is the effect of the voice of gentle silence, for God is in it! Vain are eloquence, argument, music and sensationalism—the Spirit works all holy things and He, alone—and this He works in the solemn silence of a soul subdued by love!

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