I will hear what the Lord God speaks within me
–Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis (1441), Book III, Chap 1
Book III of The Imitation of Christ contains teaching so high and unusually bold, it is easy to imagine that the text was purposely ‘hidden’ after Books I and II – two books full of admonitions and warnings – in order that readers might be ‘screened’ for humility, to be sure they are worthy to behold Book III.
The quote above is actually a paraphrase of Psalm 85:8 – but a’ Kempis trims it down to the pure gold of personal inner experience. The Bible verse is more general; check it out:
“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts.”
(RSV – Ps 84 in some Bibles)
‘The gift of ears,’ is of course not among the spiritual gifts listed by Paul, but I think the New Testament provides grounds for a more general recognition of the authenticity of inspired ‘hearing’. Back to The Imitation:
Blessed is the soul that hears the Lord speaking within her, and receives from his mouth the word of consolation. Blessed the ears that catch the pulse of the divine whisper, and take no notice of the whisperings of this world.
(Book III, Chap 2, trans. Justin McCann, 1954)
But would-be prophets should understand that a gift like this “divine whisper” is for individual admonition and enlightenment only – not a word by which we may ‘lord it over’ neighbor or church. Only the individual Christian is justified in risking such a prayer as this, which the author makes for himself:
Let not Moses, nor any of the prophets, speak to me;
Speak Thou, rather, O Lord God, the inspirer and enlightener of all the prophets;
For Thou alone, without them, can perfectly instruct me; but they, without Thee, will avail me nothing…
They give the letter, but Thou dost disclose the spirit.
They announce mysteries, but Thou dost unlock their secret meaning.
They declare the commandments, but Thou dost enable us to fulfil them.
They point out the way, but Thou givest strength to walk in it.
They work outwardly only, but Thou dost instruct and enlighten the heart.
They water without, but Thou givest the increase.
(Book III, Chap 2)
I think the ‘gift of ears’ – rightly used – is perhaps the master-key to all gifts of the Spirit – yielding to each individual the precious boon of judgment, of righteousness, and conviction of sin.
Do Thou speak, O Lord my God, the eternal Truth, lest I die and prove fruitless, if I be admonished outwardly only, and not enkindled within; lest I be condemned at the Judgment because the word was heard and not fulfilled, known and not loved, believed and not observed.
(Book III, Chap 2)