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The Still Small Voice by Robert Weston

Power of

Testing Words and Discernment

To discern means
‘To perceive or recognize clearly.’
Many Christians claim
to be filled with the Holy Spirit,
but how many of us
really exercise such discernment?

The Power of Discernment

Testing Words and Discernment

Discernment needs to be a corporate rather than a purely private affair.[2]

Back in the seventeenth century, the early Quakers greatly loved and respected the Word of God, but many, unfortunately, could not accept that the Word itself should always be considered superior to individual leading. Because they were convinced that it the Spirit Who had inspired the Scriptures was the same One that they possessed, they even suggested that their ‘inner light’ should test the Word instead of the other way round.

The Quakers’ emphasis on being led by the Spirit produced much lasting spiritual fruit, but it unfortunately also left the gate wide open for an ever greater degree of subjectivism. In time, this led to many Quakers entertaining highly unbiblical beliefs and practices. Richard Baxter, the Puritan divine, reacted to some of these extremes by issuing the sternest of warnings:

  All sober Christians should be the more cautious of being deceived by their own imaginations. Experience telleth us that most in an age that have pretended to prophesy, or to inspirations or revelations, have been melancholy, crack-brained persons, near to madness, who have proved deluded in the end.[3]  

Baxter had an important point to make, but whilst the fact that many ‘crack-brained’ and downright immoral things have been undertaken in the name of the Lord should cause us to double check our utterances, and our life-direction, it should by no means hold us back from seeking to listen to the authentic Still Small Voice.

Within fifteen years or so, the Society of Friends realized that trusting the leading of the Light in every Friend was not sufficient. Words and leading were henceforth to be tested by the corporate will of the group – which hopefully included sufficient awareness of Biblical teaching to be up to the task.

For Reflection and Prayer

As we seek to listen to the Still Small Voice today, we face very much the same questions that the early Quakers grappled with. The first question to consider therefore is: ‘with whom do we check and test our hearing?’

The second is, ‘When we pass on to others what we sincerely hope are inspired suggestions, are we sure that we are not merely transferring onto them the things that we have found ‘work’ for us? Analogies are helpful, but we should never dump them indiscriminately on others – it can lead to a ‘hardening of the oughteries!’ (ie making people feel that they ‘ought’ to be doing something, as opposed to feeling genuine led to do it).

Christian tradition – ‘what the Church has always believed’ – is by no means infallible, but neither is it something to throw away lightly. We should certainly not be so eager to embrace the new and novel that we overlook basic questions: ‘Does this word (or manifestation) bring glory to God and Jesus?’ ‘Are they people of sound mind and behavior, who are walking with the Lord?’ ‘Does it promote unity in the Body of Christ – or does it draw people into someone else’s orbit, and incline towards divisiveness?’

2  This is something we shall be exploring in much more detail in the sequel, Led by the Spirit
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