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NIPPER THE TERRIER became a world icon in the early part of the 20th century. Looking into the horn of a phonograph, his head cocked, listening attentively for the voice of his beloved owner, he epitomised the patient loyalty of the breed and the supposed fidelity of the sound. His picture appeared on the labels of shellacked cylinders and gramophone discs around the world with the caption, ‘His Master’s Voice’.[fn1]
On the Road
It has become fashionable in Britain to ridicule Christian beliefs. ‘How can you possibly’, cynics may ask, ‘believe such incredible things?’ It shouldn’t surprise us that many of the Biblical accounts, including the death of Christ or the Resurrection, are derided as childish fables by those who consider themselves more enlightened. This is not a new phenomenon.
Ordinary life would be extra-ordinarily difficult were we unwilling to exercise trust. If you didn’t know how to get from Manchester to Harrogate you might be inclined to use a map or a GPS device. But of what value would either one be if you didn’t think you could depend on it? Odds are, you would. But why? Certainly not because you have accompanied the original surveyors or sat beside the cartographers as they traced the route in their computers. Your trust flows from a generalised presumption of confidence in the goodwill and integrity of strangers. How much more true this is with those whom you know and love.
On the day of His resurrection Jesus accompanied two disciples, as they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35). They were commiserating in the failure of their expectations: their anticipated Messiah, the one they had hoped would deliver Israel, had been arrested and killed, and their hopes shattered. For reasons not explained to us in the text, they did not recognise Him. As they walked He addressed their perplexity and we can imagine that they thrilled as each element of His exposition unfolded and struck them as authentic.[fn2]
‘I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice. . . . The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10: 1-5, 10, 11).
The sound of our Master’s voice has nothing to do with creed, for there are many who disagree on theological details but who agree on Christ as Saviour. His spirit permeates what He taught. Although the Gospels implicitly teach deep truths, Jesus kept His language simple enough so that the common people could follow what He had to say. He emphasised the Father’s love and forgiveness and the Kingdom of God. We can see how the Sermon on the Mount would have been well received by many in His audience. Attending to it now in written form and having the leisure to devote to a study of it, we can find truths buried in it which probably would have escaped those who were there. Such is the value of Scripture, in that it transcends time and place and, as a sacred conduit, carries the living words of the Master to us here at the end of the ages.
We recognise the Master’s call because it synchronises with our need. If we are conscious of our sin we will know the antidote when we see it. Christ fits the requirements of the contrite heart. ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11: 28).
The notion that Christians are gullible and believe everything they are told is, of course, preposterous. Christianity is not an exercise in wishful thinking or anti-intellectualism, but rather confronts the doubts head on. Indeed, the hard rock of Faith is formed from the steady erosion of Doubt.
The world is a lively place enough, in which we must accommodate ourselves to circumstances, sail with the stream as glibly as we can, be content to take froth for substance, the surface for the depth, the counterfeit for the real coin. I wonder no philosopher has ever established that our globe is hollow. It should be, if Nature is consistent in her works.
This cynical speech, put into the mouth of Sir John Chester, a character in the novel, ‘Barnaby Rudge’, by his creator, Charles Dickens, neatly sums up the sentiments of many, for whom life is a matter of muddling through and making do. Even the well-meaning Christian, seduced by the philosophy of adaptation and materialism, will often demur when confronted with the need to stand strong in faith.
Jesus warned those who wished to ‘follow’ Him that to do so they must carry their cross (Matthew 16: 24, 25). An action as serious as this ought not to be underestimated by any who might consider embarking upon it. Of course, it is easier for us today than it would have been in our Lord’s day or, say, three or four hundred years ago, when physical mistreatment faced those who would not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy. In modern Britain we are not likely to be thrown to the lions or stretched on the rack. We are, however, increasingly likely to be mocked or marginalised for our stand on Christian belief and doctrine, ethics and behaviour, and on our general reluctance to conform to the dictates of this big, brash, noisy carnival of a world.
Can we still track the Master’s voice through all the hullabaloo? We can, if we pay attention. Once we have made Christ the Master of our life we learn to regulate our mental hearing to catch His voice, to pick it out from the competing sounds. It does not mean that we will have infallible wisdom or judgement. It does mean that we will more closely adjust our thinking and our conduct to mirror His example, to discern what He might do were He in our situation. We need to begin at the Scriptures, buttress this message by daily immersion in the spirit of Christ, and daily consort with Him in prayer.
We must not gauge the Lord’s love for us by our experiences. He does not blow hot and cold, though we may go through troubling and difficult times. He engages with us at the most intimate level of mind and heart and undertakes in His promise to build us in grace and character.
Context is Everything
Because we come to trust those whom we love, we believe them. There is a sympathetic oneness between the Saviour and those who have become His through consecration. In the daily renewing of this relationship we gain increasing confidence in Him and His Word, thus laying the ground of an informed and intelligent assurance, internally consistent with our profession of faith. Not that our faith will never waver. There may be times of crisis in this regard. But the friendship cultivated between us and the Lord becomes the basis of the type of faith which will trust where it cannot trace. The believing heart will eventually overcome the opposing forces.
No voice could ever be so pure,
No words near half so sweet
As when my Saviour bid me lay
My burden at his feet.
– A. Prentice
fn1] English artist, Francis Barraud (1856-1924), painted his brother’s dog in the mid- to late-1890’s. (‘Nipper’ was apparently so called due to his habit of biting visitors.) The black and white picture shown here features the Edison-Bell cylinder machine (which recorded and played back), but the image was later revised to include the more modern disc machine (which had no recording facility). The British-based Gramophone Company (later known as EMI) used the picture as its trademark, the image subsequently being registered in Canada and adopted by the U.S. firm the Victor Talking Machine Company (later acquired by the Radio Corporation of America). (The picture is in the public domain:
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Copyright April 2009, UK Bible Students. You may reproduce this article in whole or in part, but please let us know if you do, and link to our site, if possible.