QUIET TALKS ON POWER
BY S. D. GORDON
NEW AND REVISED EDITION
CHICAGO NEW YORK TORONTO FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY LONDON AND EDINBURGH
COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY
Chicago: 63 Washington Street New York: 158 Fifth Avenue Toronto: 27 Richmond Street, W London: 21 Paternoster Square Edinburgh: 30 St. Mary Street
CHOKED CHANNELS 9
THE OLIVET MESSAGE 33
THE CHANNEL OF POWER 61
THE PRICE OF POWER 87
THE PERSONALITY OF POWER 117
MAKING AND BREAKING CONNECTIONS 147
THE FLOOD-TIDE OF POWER 173
FRESH SUPPLIES OF POWER 199
An Odd Distinction.
A few years ago I was making a brief tour among the colleges of Missouri. I remember one morning in a certain college village going over from the hotel to take breakfast with some of the boys, and coming back with one of the fellows whom I had just met. As we walked along, chatting away, I asked him quietly, "Are you a christian, sir?" He turned quickly and looked at me with an odd, surprised expression in his eye and then turning his face away said: "Well, I'm a member of church, but—I don't believe I'm very much of a christian." Then I looked at him and he frankly volunteered a little information. Not very much. He did not need to say much. You can see a large field through a chink in the fence. And I saw enough to let me know that he was right in the criticism he had made upon himself. We talked a bit and parted. But his remark set me to thinking.
A week later, in another town, speaking one morning to the students of a young ladies' seminary, I said afterwards to one of the teachers as we were talking: "I suppose your young women here are all christians." That same quizzical look came into her eye as she said: "I think they are all members of church, but I do not think they are all christians with real power in their lives." There was that same odd distinction.
A few weeks later, in Kansas City visiting the medical and dental schools, I recall distinctly standing one morning in a disordered room—shavings on the floor, desks disarranged—the institution just moving into new quarters, and not yet settled. I was discussing with a member of the faculty, the dean I think, about how many the room would hold, how soon it would be ready, and so on—just a business talk, nothing more—when he turned to me rather abruptly, looking me full in the face, and said with quiet deliberation: "I'm a member of church; I think I am a deacon in our church"—running his hand through his hair meditatively, as though to refresh his memory—"but I am not very much of a christian, sir." The smile that started to come to my face at the odd frankness of his remark was completely chased away by the distinct touch of pathos in both face and voice that seemed to speak of a hungry, unsatisfied heart within.
Perhaps it was a month or so later, in one of the mining towns down in the zinc belt of southwestern Missouri, I was to speak to a meeting of men. There were probably five or six hundred gathered in a Methodist Church. They were strangers to me. I was in doubt what best to say to them. One dislikes to fire ammunition at people that are absent. So stepping down to a front pew where several ministers were seated, I asked one of them to run his eye over the house and tell me what sort of a congregation it was, so far as he knew them. He did so, and presently replied: "I think fully two-thirds of these men are members of our churches"—and then, with that same quizzical, half-laughing look, he added, "but you know, sir, as well as I do, that not half of them are christians worth counting." "Well," I said to myself, astonished, "this is a mining camp; this certainly is not anything like the condition of affairs in the country generally."
But that series of incidents, coming one after the other in such rapid succession, set me thinking intently about that strange distinction between being members of a church on the one hand, and on the other, living lives that count and tell and weigh for Jesus seven days in the week. I knew that ministers had been recognizing such a distinction, but to find it so freely acknowledged by folks in the pew was new, and surely significant.
And so I thought I would just ask the friends here to-day very frankly, "What kind of Christians are you?" I do not say what kind you are, for I am a stranger, and do not know, and would only think the best things of you. But I ask you frankly, honestly now, as I ask myself anew, what kind are you? Do you know? Because it makes such a difference. The Master's plan—and what a genius of a plan it is—is this, that the world should be won, not by the preachers—though we must have these men of God for teaching and leadership—but by everyone who knows the story of Jesus telling someone, and telling not only with his lips earnestly and tactfully, but even more, telling with his life. That is the Master's plan of campaign for this world. And it makes a great difference to Him and to the world outside whether you and I are living the story of His love and power among men or not.
Do you know what kind of a christian you are? There are at least three others that do. First of all there is Satan. He knows. Many of our church officers are skilled in gathering and compiling statistics, but they cannot hold a tallow-dip to Satan in this matter of exact information. He is the ablest of all statisticians, second only to one other. He keeps careful record of every one of us, and knows just how far we are interfering with his plans. He knows that some of us—good, respectable people, as common reckoning goes—neither help God nor hinder Satan. Does that sound rather hard? But is it not true? He has no objection to such people being counted in as christians. Indeed, he rather prefers to have it so. Their presence inside the church circle helps him mightily. He knows what kind of a christian you are. Do you know?
Then there is the great outer circle of non-christian people—they know. Many of them are poorly informed regarding the christian life; hungry for something they have not, and know not just what it is; with high ideals, though vague, of what a christian life should be. And they look eagerly to us for what they have thought we had, and are so often keenly disappointed that our ideals, our life, is so much like others who profess nothing. And when here and there they meet one whose acts are dominated by a pure, high spirit, whose faces reflect a sweet radiance amid all circumstances, and whose lives send out a rare fragrance of gladness and kindliness and controlling peace, they are quick to recognize that, to them, intangible something that makes such people different. The world—tired, hungry, keen and critical for mere sham, appreciative of the real thing—the world knows what kind of christians we are. Do we know?
There is a third one watching us to-day with intense interest. The Lord Jesus! Sitting up yonder in glory, with the scar-marks of earth on face and form, looking eagerly down upon us who stand for Him in the world that crucified Him—He knows. I imagine Him saying, "There is that one down there whom I died for, who bears my name; if I had the control of that life what power I would gladly breathe in and out of it, but—he is so absorbed in other things." The Master is thinking about you, studying your life, longing to carry out His plan if He could only get permission, and sorely disappointed in many of us. He knows. Do you know?
The Night Visitor.
After that trip I became much interested in discovering in John's Gospel some striking pictorial illustrations of these two kinds of christians, namely, those who have power in their lives for Jesus Christ and those who have not. Let me speak of only a few of these. The first is sketched briefly in the third chapter, with added touches in the seventh and nineteenth chapters. There is a little descriptive phrase used each time—"the man who came to Jesus by night." That comes to be in John's mind the most graphic and sure way of identifying this man. A good deal of criticism, chiefly among the upper classes, had already been aroused by Jesus' acts and words. This man Nicodemus clearly was deeply impressed by the young preacher from up in Galilee. He wants to find out more of him. But he shrank back from exposing himself to criticism by these influential people for his possible friendship with the young radical, as Jesus was regarded. So one day he waits until the friendly shadows will conceal his identity, and slipping quietly along the streets, close up to the houses so as to insure his purpose of not being recognized, he goes up yonder side street where Jesus has lodgings. He knocks timidly. "Does the preacher from up the north way stop here?" "Yes." "Could I see him?" He steps in and spends an evening in earnest conversation. I think we will all readily agree that Nicodemus believed Jesus after that night's interview, however he may have failed to understand all He said. Yes, we can say much more—he loved Him. For after the cruel crucifixion it is this man that brings a box of very precious spices, weighing as much as a hundred pounds, worth, without question, a large sum of money, with which to embalm the dead body of his friend. Ah! he loved Him. No one may question that.
But turn now to the seventh chapter of John. There is being held a special session of the Jewish Senate in Jerusalem for the express purpose of determining how to silence Jesus—to get rid of Him. This man is a member of that body, and is present. Yonder he sits with the others, listening while his friend Jesus is being discussed and His removal—by force if need be—is being plotted. What does he do? What would you expect of a friend of Jesus under such circumstances? I wonder what you and I would have done? I wonder what we do do? Does he say modestly, but plainly, "I spent a whole evening with this man, questioning Him, talking with Him, listening to Him. I feel quite sure that He is our promised Messiah; and I have decided to accept Him as such." Did he say that? That would have been the simple truth. But such a remark plainly would have aroused a storm of criticism, and he dreaded that. Yet he felt that something should be said. So, lawyer-like, he puts the case abstractly. "Hmm—does our law judge a man without giving him a fair hearing?" That sounds fair, though it does seem rather feeble in face of their determined opposition. But near by sits a burly Pharisee, who turns sharply around and, glaring savagely at Nicodemus, says sneeringly: "Who are you? Do you come from Galilee, too? Look and see! No prophet comes out of Galilee"—with intensest contempt in the tone with which he pronounces the word Galilee. And poor Nicodemus seems to shrink back into half his former size, and has not another word to say, though all the facts, easily ascertainable, were upon his side of the case. He loved Jesus without doubt, but he had no power for Him among men because of his timidity. Shall I use a plainer, though uglier, word—his cowardice? That is not a pleasant word to apply to a man. But is it not the true word here? He was so afraid of what they would think and say! Is that the sort of christian you are? Believing Jesus, trusting Him, saved by Him, loving Him, but shrinking back from speaking out for Him, tactfully, plainly, when opportunity presents or can be made. A christian, but without positive power for Him among men because of cowardice!
I can scarcely imagine Nicodemus walking down the street in Jerusalem, arm in arm with another Pharisee-member of the Sanhedrin and saying to him quietly, but earnestly: "Have you had a talk with this young man Jesus?" "No, indeed, I have not!" "Well, do you know, I spent an evening with Him down at His stopping place, and had a long, careful talk with Him. I am quite satisfied that He is our long-looked-for leader; I have decided to give Him my personal allegiance; won't you get personally acquainted with Him? He is a wonderful man." I say I have difficulty in thinking that this man worked for Jesus like that. And yet what more natural and proper, both for him and for us? And what a difference it might have made in many a man's life. Powerless for Jesus because of timidity! Is that the kind you are? Possibly some one thinks that rather hard on this man. Maybe you are thinking of that other member of the Sanhedrin—Joseph of Arimathea—who was also a follower of Jesus, and that quite possibly he may have been influenced by Nicodemus. Let us suppose, for Nicodemus' sake, that this is so, and then mark the brief record of this man Joseph in John's account: "A disciple secretly for fear of the Jews." If we may fairly presume that it was Nicodemus' influence that led his friend Joseph to follow Jesus, yet he had led him no nearer than he himself had gone! He could lead him no higher or nearer than that.
John in his gospel makes plain the fact that Jesus suffered much from these secret, timid, cowardly disciples whose fear of men gripped them as in a vise. Five times he makes special mention of these people who believed Jesus, but cravenly feared to line up with Him. He even says that many of the rulers—the very class that plotted and voted His death—believed Jesus, but that fear of the others shut their lips and drove them into the shadow when they could have helped Him most. These people seem to have left numerous descendants, many of whom continue with us unto this day.
Tightly Tied Up.
Turn now to the eleventh chapter and you will find another pictorial suggestion of this same sort of powerless christian, though in this instance made so by another reason. It is the Bethany Chapter, the Lazarus Chapter. The scene is just out of Bethany village. There is a man lying dead in the cave yonder. Here stands Jesus. There are the disciples, and Martha, and Mary, and the villagers, and a crowd from Jerusalem. The Master is speaking. His voice rings out clear and commanding—"Lazarus, come forth"—speaking to a dead man. And the simple record runs, "He that was dead"—life comes between those two lines of the record—"came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, and his face was bound about with a napkin." Will you please take a look at Lazarus as he steps from the tomb? Do you think his eyes are dull, or his cheeks hollow and pale? I think not! When Jesus, the Lord of life, gives life, either physical or spiritual, He gives abundant life. That face may have been a bit spare. There had been no food for at least four days and likely longer. But there is the flash of health in his eye and the ruddy hue of good blood in his cheek. He has life. But look closer. He is bound hand and foot and face. He can neither walk nor work nor speak.
I have met some christian people who reminded me forcibly of that scene. They are christians. The Master has spoken life, and they have responded to His word. But they are so tied up with the grave-clothes of the old life that there can be none of the power of free action in life or service. May I ask you very kindly, but very plainly, are you like that? Is that the reason you have so little power with God, and for God? Perhaps some one would say, "Just what do you mean?" I mean this: that there may be some personal habit of yours, or perhaps some society custom which you practice, or it may be some business method, or possibly an old friendship which you have carried over into the new life from the old that is seriously hindering your christian life. It may be something that goes into your mouth or comes out of it that prevents those lips speaking for the Master. Perhaps it is some organization you belong to. If there is lack of freedom and power for Christ you may be sure there is something that is blighting your life and dwarfing your usefulness. It may possibly be that practically in your daily life you are exerting no more power for God than a dead man! A christian, indeed, but without power because of compromise with something questionable or outrightly wrong! Is that so with you? I do not say it is, for I do not know. But you know. The hungry, critical world knows. Subtle, keen Satan knows. The Lord Jesus knows. Do you know if that describes you? You may know with certainty within twenty-four hours if you wish to and will to. May we be willing to have the Spirit's searchlight turned in upon us to-night.
The Master's Ideal.
There is another kind of christian, an utterly different kind, spoken of and illustrated in this same Gospel of John, and I doubt not many of them also are here. It is Jesus' ideal of what a christian should be. Have you sometimes wished you could have a few minutes of quiet talk with Jesus? I mean face to face, as two of us might sit and talk together. You have thought you would ask Him to say very simply and plainly just what He expects of you. Well, I believe He would answer in words something like those of this seventh chapter of John. It was at the time of Feast of Tabernacles. There was a vast multitude of Jews there from all parts of the world. It was like an immense convention, but larger than any convention we know. The people were not entertained in the homes, but lived for seven days in leafy booths made of branches of trees. It was the last day of the feast. There was a large concourse of people gathered in one of the temple areas; not women, but men; not sitting, but standing. Up yonder stand the priests, pouring water out of large jars, to symbolize the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the nation of Israel. Just then Jesus speaks, and amid the silence of the intently watching throng His voice rings out: "If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink; he that believeth on Me, as the Scripture saith, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." Mark that significant closing clause. That packs into a sentence Jesus' ideal of what a true christian down in this world should be, and may be. Every word is full of meaning.
The heart of the sentence is in the last word—"water." Water is an essential of life. Absence of water means suffering and sickness, dearth and death. Plenty of good water means life. All the history of the world clusters about the water courses. Study the history of the rivers, the seashores, and lake edges, and you know the history of the earth. Those men who heard Jesus speak would instinctively think of the Jordan. It was their river. Travelers say that no valley exceeded in beauty and fruitfulness that valley of the Jordan, made so by those swift waters. No hillside so fair in their green beauty, nor so wealthy in heavy loads of fruit as those sloping down to the edge of that stream. Now plainly Jesus is talking of something that may, through us, exert as decided an influence upon the lives of those we touch as water has exerted, and still exerts, on the history of the earth, and as this Jordan did in that wonderful, historic Palestine. Mark the quantity of water—"rivers." Not a Jordan merely, that would be wonderful enough, but Jordans—a Jordan, and a Nile, and a Euphrates, a Yang Tse Kiang, and an Olga and a Rhine, a Seine and a Thames, and a Hudson and an Ohio—"rivers." Notice, too, the kind of water. Like this racing, turbulent, muddy Jordan? No, no! "rivers of living water," "water of life, clear as crystal." You remember in Ezekiel's vision which we read together that the waters constantly increased in depth, and that everywhere they went there was healing, and abundant life, and prosperity, and beauty, and food, and a continual harvest the year round, and all because of the waters of the river. They were veritable waters of life.
Now mark that little, but very significant, phrase—"Out of"—not into, but "out of." All the difference in the lives of men lies in the difference between these two expressions. "Into" is the world's preposition. Every stream turns in; and that means a dead sea. Many a man's life is simply the coast line of a dead sea. "Out of" is the Master's word. His thought is of others. The stream must flow in, and must flow through, if it is to flow out, but it is judged by its direction, and Jesus would turn it outward. There must be good connections upward, and a clear channel inward, but the objective point is outward toward a parched earth. But before it can flow out it must fill up. An outflow in this case means an overflow. There must be a flooding inside before there can be a flowing out. And let the fact be carefully marked that it is only the overflow from the fullness within our own lives that brings refreshing to anyone else. A man praying at a conference in England for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit said: "O, Lord, we can't hold much, but we can overflow lots." That is exactly the Master's thought. "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."
Do you remember that phrase in the third chapter of Joshua—"For Jordan overfloweth all its banks all the time of harvest." When there was a flood in the river, there was a harvest in the land. Has there been a harvest in your life? A harvest of the fruit of the spirit—love, joy, peace, long-suffering; a harvest of souls? "No," do you say, "not much of a harvest, I am afraid," or it may be your heart says "none at all." Is it hard to tell why? Has there been a flood-tide in your heart, a filling up from above until the blessed stream had to find an outlet somewhere, and produce a harvest? A harvest outside means a rising of the tide inside. A flooding of the heart always brings a harvest in the life. A few years ago there were great floods in the southern states, and the cotton and corn crops following were unprecedented. Paul reminded his Roman friends that when the Holy Spirit has free swing in the life "the love of God floods our hearts."
Please notice, too, the source of the stream—"out of his belly." Will you observe for a moment the rhetorical figure here? I used to suppose it meant "out of his heart." The ancients, you remember, thought the heart lay down in the abdominal region. But you will find that this book is very exact in its use of words. The blood is the life. The heart pumps the blood, but the stomach makes it. The seat of life is not in the heart, but in the stomach. If you will take down a book of physiology, and find the chart showing the circulation of the blood, you will see a wonderful network of lines spreading out in every direction, but all running, through lighter lines into heavier, and still blacker, until every line converges in the great stomach artery. And everywhere the blood goes there is life. Now turn to a book of physical geography and get a map showing the water system of some great valley like the Mississippi, and you will find a striking reproduction of the other chart. And if you will shut your eyes and imagine the reality back of that chart, you will see hundreds of cool, clear springs flowing successively into runs, brooks, creeks, larger streams, river branches, rivers, and finally into the great river—the reservoir of all. And everywhere the waters go there is life. The only difference between these two streams of life is in the direction. The blood flows from the largest toward the smallest; the water flows from the smallest toward the largest. Both bring life with its accompaniments of beauty and vigor and fruitfulness. There is Jesus' picture of the Christian down in the world. As the red stream flows out from the stomach, and, propelled by the force-pump of the heart, through a marvelous network of minute rivers takes life to every part of the body, so "he that believeth on Me"—that is the vital connecting link with the great origin of this stream of life—out of the very source of life within him shall go a flood-tide of life, bringing refreshing, and cleansing, and beauty, and vigor everywhere within the circle of his life, even though, like the red streams and the water streams, he be unconscious of it.
An Unlikely Channel.
What a marvelous conception of the power of life! How strikingly it describes Jesus' own earthly life! But there is something more marvelous still—He means that ideal to become real in you, my friend, and in me. I doubt not there are some here whose eager hearts are hungry for just such a life, but who are tremblingly conscious of their own weakness. Your thoughts are saying: "I wish I could live such a life, but certainly this is not for me; this man talking doesn't know me—no special talent or opportunity: such strong tides of temptation that sweep me clean off my feet—not for me." Ah, my friend, I verily believe you are the very one the Master had in mind, for He had John put into his gospel a living illustration of this ideal of His that goes down to the very edge of human unlikeliness and inability. He goes down to the lowest so as to include all. What proved true in this case may prove true with you, and much more. The story is in the fourth chapter. It is a sort of advance page of the Book of Acts. A sample of the power of Pentecost before the day of Pentecost. You and I live on the flood-side of Pentecost. This illustration belongs back where the streams had only just commenced trickling. It is a miniature. You and I may furnish the life-size if we will.
It is the story of a woman; not a man, but a woman. One of the weaker sex, so called. She was ignorant, prejudiced, and without social standing. She was a woman of no reputation. Aye, worse than that, of bad reputation. She probably had less moral influence in her town than any one here has in his circle. Could a more unlikely person have been used? But she came in touch with the Lord Jesus. She yielded herself to that touch. There lies the secret of what follows. That contact radically changed her. She went back to her village and commenced speaking about Jesus to those she knew. She could not preach; she simply told plainly and earnestly what she knew and believed about Him. And the result is startling. There are hundreds of ministers who are earnestly longing for what came so easily to her. What modern people call a revival began at once. We are told in the simple language of the Gospel record that "many believed on Him because of the word of the woman." They had not seen Jesus yet. He was up by the well. They were down in the village. She was an ignorant woman, of formerly sinful life. But there is the record of the wonderful result of her simple witnessing—they believed on Jesus because of the word of that woman. There is only one way to account for such results. Only the Holy Spirit speaking through her lips could have produced them. She had commenced drinking of the living water of which Jesus had been talking to her, and now already the rivers were flowing out to others.
What Jesus did with her, He longs to do with you, and far more, if you will let Him; though his plan for using you may be utterly different from the one He had for her, and so the particular results different. Now let me ask very frankly why have we not all such power for our Master as she? The Master's plan is plain. He said "ye shall have power." But so many of us do not have! Why not? Well, possibly some of us are like Nicodemus—there is no power because of timidity, cowardice, fear of what they will think, or say. Possibly some of us are in the same condition spiritually that Lazarus was in physically. We are tied up tight, hands and feet and face. Some sin, some compromise, some hushing of that inner voice, something wrong. Some little thing, you may say. Humph! as though anything could be little that is wrong! Sin is never little!
A Clogged Channel.
Out in Colorado they tell of a little town nestled down at the foot of some hills—a sleepy-hollow village. You remember the rainfall is very slight out there, and they depend much upon irrigation. But some enterprising citizens ran a pipe up the hills to a lake of clear, sweet water. As a result the town enjoyed a bountiful supply of water the year round without being dependent upon the doubtful rainfall. And the population increased and the place had quite a western boom. One morning the housewives turned the water spigots, but no water came. There was some sputtering. There is apt to be noise when there is nothing else. The men climbed the hill. There was the lake full as ever. They examined around the pipes as well as possible, but could find no break. Try as they might, they could find no cause for the stoppage. And as days grew into weeks, people commenced moving away again, the grass grew in the streets, and the prosperous town was going back to its old sleepy condition when one day one of the town officials received a note. It was poorly written, with bad spelling and grammar, but he never cared less about writing or grammar than just then. It said in effect: "Ef you'll jes pull the plug out of the pipe about eight inches from the top you'll get all the water you want." Up they started for the top of the hill, and examining the pipe, found the plug which some vicious tramp had inserted. Not a very big plug—just big enough to fill the pipe. It is surprising how large a reservoir of water can be held back by how small a plug. Out came the plug; down came the water freely; by and by back came prosperity again.
Why is there such a lack of power in our lives? The reservoir up yonder is full to overflowing, with clear, sweet, life-giving water. And here all around us the earth is so dry, so thirsty, cracked open—huge cracks like dumb mouths asking mutely for what we should give. And the connecting pipes between the reservoir above and the parched plain below are there. Why then do not the refreshing waters come rushing down? The answer is very plain. You know why. There is a plug in the pipe. Something in us clogging up the channel and nothing can get through. How shall we have power, abundant, life-giving, sweetening our own lives, and changing those we touch? The answer is easy for me to give—it will be much harder for us all to do—pull out the plug. Get out the thing that you know is hindering.
I am going to ask every one who will, to offer this simple prayer—and I am sure every thoughtful, earnest man and woman here will. Just bow your head and quietly under your breath say to Him: "Lord Jesus, show me what there is in my life that is displeasing to Thee; what there is Thou wouldst change." You may be sure He will. He is faithful. He will put His finger on that tender spot very surely. Then add a second clause to that prayer—"By Thy grace helping me, I will put it out whatever it may cost, or wherever it may cut." Shall we bow our heads and offer that prayer, and hew close to that line, steadily, faithfully? It will open up a life of marvelous blessing undreamed of for you and everyone you touch.
 John 3:1. 7:50. 12:42 with 9:22. 19:38, 39.
 Rom. 5:5.
THE OLIVET MESSAGE.
Coming into Cleveland harbor one evening, just after nightfall, a number of passengers were gathered on the upper deck eagerly watching the colored breakwater lights and the city lights beyond. Suddenly a general curiosity was aroused by a small boat of some sort, on the left, scudding swiftly along in the darkness like a blacker streak on the black waters. A few of us who chanced to be near the captain on the smaller deck above, heard him quietly say, "Turn on the searchlight." Almost instantly an intense white light shone full on the stranger-boat, bringing it to view so distinctly that we could almost count the nail-heads, and the strands in her cordage.
If some of us here to-night have made the prayer suggested in our last talk together—Lord Jesus, show me what there is in my life that is displeasing to Thee, that Thou wouldst change—we will appreciate something of the power of that Lake Erie searchlight. There is a searchlight whiter, intenser, more keenly piercing than any other. Into every heart that desires, and will hold steadily open to it, the Lord Jesus will turn that searching light. Then you will begin to see things as they actually are. And that sight may well lead to discouragement. Many a hidden thing, which you are glad enough to have hidden, will be plainly seen. How is it possible, you will be ready to ask, for me to lead the life the Master's ambition has planned for me, with such mixed motives, selfish ambitions, sinfulness and weakness as I am beginning to get a glimpse of—how is it possible?
There is one answer to that intense heart-question, and only one. We must have power, some supernatural power, something outside of us, and above us, and far greater than we, to come in and win the victory within us and for us.
If that young man whose inner life is passion-swept, one tidal wave of fierce temptation, hot on the heels of the last, until all the moorings are snapped, and he driven rudderless out to sea—if he is to ride masterfully upon that sea he must have power.
If that young woman is to be as attractive, and womanly winsome in the society circle where she moves, as she is meant to be, and yet able to shape her lips into a gently uttered, but rock-ribbed no when certain well-understood questionable matters come up, she must have power. If society young people are to remain in the world, and yet not be swayed by its spirit: on one side not prudish, nor fanatical, nor extreme, but cheery, and radiant, and full-lived, and yet free of those compromising entanglements that are common to society everywhere, they must have a rare pervasive power.
For that business man down in the sharp competition of the world where duty calls him, to resist the sly temptations to overreach, to keep keenly alert not to be overreached; and through all to preserve an uncensorious spirit, unhurt by the selfishness of the crowd—tell me, some of you men—will that not take power? Aye, more power than some of us know about, yet.
For that same man to go through his store and remove from shelf or counter some article which yields a good profit, but which he knows his Master would not have there—Ah! that'll take power.
It takes power to keep the body under control: the mouth clean and sweet, both physically and morally: the eye turned away from the thing that should not be thought about: the ear closed to what should not enter that in-gate of the heart: to allow no picture to hang upon the walls of your imagination that may not hang upon the walls of your home: to keep every organ of the body pure for nature's holy function only—that takes mighty power.
For that young man to be wide-awake, a pusher in business, and yet steadily, determinedly to hold back any crowding of the other side of his life: the inner side, the outer-helpful side, the Bible-reading- and secret-prayer- and quiet personal-work-side of his life, that will take real power.
It will take a power that some of us have not known to let that glass go untouched, and that quieting drug untasted and unhandled. If the rear end of some pharmacies could speak out, many a story would startle our ears of struggles and defeats that tell sadly of utter lack of power.
It takes power for the man of God in the pulpit to speak plainly about particular sins before the faces of those who are living in them; and still more power to do it with the rare tactfulness and tenderness of the Galilean preacher. It takes power to stick to the Gospel story and the old book, when literature and philosophy present such fine opportunities for the essays that are so enjoyable and that bring such flattering notice. It takes power to leave out the finely woven rhetoric that you are disposed to put in for the sake of the compliment it will bring from that literary woman down yonder, or that bright, brainy young lawyer in the fifth pew on the left aisle. It takes power to see that the lips that speak for God are thoroughly clean lips, and the life that stands before that audience a pure life.
It takes power to keep sweet in the home, where, if anywhere, the seamy side is apt to stick out. How many wooden oaths could kicked chairs and slammed doors tell of! After all the home-life comes close to being the real test of power, does it not? It takes power to be gracious and strong, and patient and tender, and cheery, in the commonplace things, and the commonplace places, does it not?
Now, I have something to tell you to-night that to me is very wonderful, and constantly growing in wonder. It is this—the Master has thought of all that! He has thought into your life. Yes, I mean your particular life, and made an arrangement to fully cover all your need of power. He stands anew in our midst to-day, and putting His pierced hand gently upon your arm, His low, loving, clear voice says quietly, but very distinctly, "You—you shall have power." For every subtle, strong temptation, for every cry of need, for every low moan of disappointment, for every locking of the jaws in the resolution of despair, for every disheartened look out into the morrow, for every yearningly ambitious heart there comes to-night that unmistakable ringing promise of His—ye shall have power.
The Olivet Message.
Our needs argue the necessity of power. And the argument is strengthened by the peculiar emphasis of the Master's words. Do you remember that wondrous Olivet scene? In the quiet twilight of a Sabbath evening a group of twelve young men stand yonder on the brow of Olives. The last glowing gleams of the setting sun fill all the western sky, and shed a halo of yellow glory-light over the hilltop, through the trees, in upon that group. You instantly pick out the leader. No mistaking Him. And around Him group the eleven men who have lived with Him these months past, now eagerly gazing into that marvelous face, listening for His words. He is going away. They know that. Coming back soon, they understand. But in His absence the work He has begun is to be entrusted to their hands. And so with ears and eyes they listen intently for the good-bye word—His last message. It will mean so much in the coming days.
Two things the Master says. The first is that ringing "go ye" so familiar to every true heart. The second is a very decisive, distinct "but tarry ye." What, wait still longer! Tarry, now, when your great work is done! Listen again, while His parting words cut the air with their startling distinctness "but tarry ye—until ye be endued with power."
I could readily imagine impulsive Peter quickly saying, "What! shall we tarry when the whole world is dying! Do we not know enough now?" And the Master's answer would come in that clear, quiet voice of His, "yes, tarry: you have knowledge enough, but knowledge is not enough, there must be power."
There is knowledge enough within the christian church of every land—aye, knowledge enough within the walls of this building to-night to convert the world, if knowledge would do it. Into many a life, through home training, and school, and college, has come knowledge, while power lingers without—a stranger. Knowledge—the twin idol with gold to American hearts—is essential, but, let it be plainly said, is not the essential. Knowledge is the fuel piled up in the fireplace. The mantel is of carved oak, and the fenders so highly polished they seem almost to send out warmth, but the thermometer is working down toward zero, and the people are shivering. The spark of living fire is essential. Then how all changes! There must be fire from above to kindle our knowledge and ourselves before any of the needed results will come.
There is no language strong enough to tell how absolutely needful it is that every follower of Jesus Christ from the one most prominent in leadership down to the very humblest disciple, shall receive this promised power.
Look at these men Jesus is talking to. There is Peter, the man of rock, and John and James, the sons of thunder. They were with the Lord on the Transfiguration Mount, and when He raised the dead. They were near by during the awful agony of Gethsemane. They were admitted nearer to the Master's inner life than any others. There is quiet matter-of-fact Andrew, who had a reputation for bringing others to Jesus. There is Nathanael, in whom is no guile. It is to these men that there comes that positive command to tarry. If they needed such a command, do not we?
"Yes," someone says, "I understand that this power you speak of is something the leaders and preachers must have, but you scarcely mean that there is the same necessity for us people down in the ranks, and that we are to expect the same power as these others, do you?" Will you please call to mind that original Pentecost company? There were one hundred and twenty of them. And while there was a Peter being prepared to preach that tremendous sermon, and a John to write five books of the New Testament and probably a James to preside over the affairs of the Jerusalem Church, and possibly a Stephen, and a Philip, yet these are only a few. By far the greater number, both men and women, are unnamed and unknown. Just the common, every-day folk, the filling-in of society; aye, the very foundation of all society. They had no prominent part to play. But they accepted the Master's promise of power, and His command to wait, as made to them. And as a result they, too, were filled with the Holy Spirit, that wonderful morning. I think, very likely, "the good man of the house" whose guest Jesus was that last night was there, and all the Marys, including the Bethany Mary, who simply sat at His feet, and the Magdalene Mary, and housekeeper Martha, and maybe that little lad whose loaves and fishes had been used about a year before. That was the sort of company that prayerfully, with one accord, not only waited but received that never-to-be-forgotten filling of the Holy Spirit.
Certainly, as some of you think, the preacher must have this power peculiarly for his leadership. But just as really he needs it because he is a man for his living, to make him sweet and gentle and patient down in his home: to make him sympathetic and strong in his constant contact with the hungry hearts he must meet. That young mechanic must have this promised power if he is to live an earnest, manly life in that shop. That school girl, whose home duties crowd her time so; that keen-minded student working for honors amid strong competition; these society young people; these all need, above all else, this promised power that in, and through, and around and above all of their lives may be a wholesomely sweet, earnest Christliness, pervading the life even as the odor of flowers pervades a room.
Do you remember Paul's list of the traits of character that mark a christian life—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faithfulness, self-control? Suppose for a moment you think through a list of the opposites of those nine characteristics—bitterness, envy, hate, low-spiritedness, sulkiness, chafing, fretting, worrying, short-suffering, quick-temper, hot-temper, high-spiritedness, unsteadiness, unreliability, lack of control of yourself. May I ask, have you any personal acquaintance with some of these qualities? Is there still some need in your life for the other desirable traits? Well, remember that it is only as the Holy Spirit has control that this fruit of His is found. For notice that it is not we that bear this fruit, but He in us. We furnish the soil. He must have free swing in its cultivation if He is to get this harvest. And notice, too, that it does not say "the fruits of the Spirit," as though you might have one or more, and I have some others. But it is "fruit"—that is, it is all one fruit and all of it is meant to be growing up in each one of us. And let the fact be put down as settled once for all that only as we tarry and receive the Master's promise of power can we live the lives He longs to have us live down here among men for Him.
If that father is so to live at home before those wide-awake, growing boys that he can keep up the family altar, and instead of letting it become a mere irksome form, make it the green, fresh spot in the home life, he must have this promised power, for he cannot do it of himself. I presume some of you fathers know that.
There is that mother, living in what would be reckoned a humble home, one of a thousand like it, but charged with the most sacred trust ever committed to human hands—the molding of precious lives. If there be hallowed ground anywhere surely it is there, in the life of that home. What patience and tirelessness, and love and tact and wisdom and wealth of resource does that woman not need! Ah, mothers! if any one needs to tarry and receive the power promised by the Son of that Mary, who was filled with the Holy Spirit from before His birth for her sacred trust, surely you do.
Here sits one whose life plans seem to have gone all askew. The thing you love to do, and had fondly planned over, removed utterly beyond your reach and you compelled to fit in to something for which you have no taste. It will take nothing less than the power the Master promised for you to go on faithfully, cheerfully just where you have been placed, no repining, no complaining, even in your innermost soul, but, instead, a glad, joyous fitting into the Father's plan with a radiant light in the face. Only His power can accomplish that victory! But His can. And His may be yours for the tarrying and the taking.
Let me repeat then with all the emphasis possible that as certainly as you need to trust Jesus Christ for your soul's salvation, you also need to receive this power of the Holy Spirit to work that salvation out in your present life.
A Double Center.
It has helped me greatly in understanding the Master's insistent emphasis upon the promise of power to keep clearly in mind that the christian system of truth revolves around a double center. It is illustrated best not by a circle with its single center, but by an ellipse with its twin centers. There are two central truths—not one, but two. The first of the two is grained deep down in the common Christian teaching and understanding. If I should ask any group of Sabbath school children in this town, next Sabbath morning, the question: What is the most important thing we christians believe? Amid the great variety in the form of answer would come, in substance, without doubt, this reply: "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." And they would be right. But there is a second truth—very reverently and thoughtfully let me say—of equal importance with that; namely, this: the Holy Spirit empowereth against all sin, and for life and service. These two truths are co-ordinate. They run in parallel lines. They belong together. They are really two halves of the one great truth. But this second half needs emphasis, because it has not always been put into its proper place beside the other.
Jesus died on the cross to make freedom from sin possible. The Holy Spirit dwells within me to make freedom from sin actual. The Holy Spirit does in me what Jesus did for me. The Lord Jesus makes a deposit in the bank on my account. The Spirit checks the money out and puts it into my hands. Jesus does in me now by His Spirit what He did for me centuries ago on the cross, in His person.
Now these two truths, or two parts of the same truth, go together in God's plan, but, with some exceptions, have not gone together in men's experience. That explains why so many christian lives are a failure and a reproach. The Church of Christ has been gazing so intently upon the hill of the cross with its blood-red message of sin and love, that it has largely lost sight of the Ascension Mount with its legacy of power. We have been so enwrapt with that marvelous scene on Calvary—and what wonder!—that we have allowed ourselves to lose the intense significance of Pentecost. That last victorious shout—"It is finished"—has been crowding out in our ears its counterpart—the equally victorious cry of Olivet—"All power hath been given unto Me."
The christian's range of vision must always take in two hill-tops—Calvary and Olivet. Calvary—sin conquered through the blood of Jesus, a matter of history. Olivet—sin conquered through the power of Jesus, a matter of experience. When the subject is spoken of, we are apt to say: "Yes, that is correct. I understand that." But do we understand it in our experience? So certainly as I must trust Jesus as my Saviour so certainly must I constantly yield my life to the control of the Spirit of Jesus if I am to find real the practical power of His salvation.
As surely as men are now urged to accept Jesus as the great step in life, so surely should they be instructed to yield themselves to the Holy Spirit's control that Jesus' plan for their lives may be carried through.
You remember in the olden time the Hebrew men were required to appear before God in the appointed place three times during the year. At the Passover, and at Pentecost, and again at the harvest home feast of Tabernacles. So it is required of every man of us who would fit his life into God's plan that he shall first of all come to the Passover feast, where Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. And then that he shall as certainly come to the great Pentecost feast, or feast of first fruits where a glorified Passover Lamb breathes down His Spirit of power into the life. And then he is sure to have a constant attendance at a first-fruits feast all his days, with a great harvest home festival at the end.
I said there were two central truths. Will you notice that the gospels put it also in this way, that Jesus came to do two things—not one thing, but two things—in working out our salvation. That the first is dependent for its practical power upon the second, and the second is the completing or carrying into effect of the power of the first. That the first—let me say it with great reverence—is valueless without the second.
What was Jesus' mission? Would you not expect His forerunner to understand it? Listen, then, to his words. When questioned specifically by the official deputation sent from the national leaders at Jerusalem, he pointed to Jesus, and declared that He had come for a two-fold purpose. Listen: "Behold the Lamb of God who beareth away the sin of the world"; and then he added, and the word comes to us with the peculiar emphasis of repetition by each of the four gospel scribes—"this is He that baptizeth with the Holy Spirit." That was spoken to them originally without doubt in a national sense. It just as surely applies to every one of us in a personal sense.
Mark also the emphasis of Jesus' own teachings regarding this second part of His mission. At the very beginning He spoke the decided words about the necessity of being born of the Spirit. And we are all impressed with that fact. But observe that several times, in the brief gospel record, He refers the disciples to the overshadowing importance of the Spirit's control in the life. And that He devotes a large part of that last long confidential talk which John records, to this special subject, pointing out the new experiences to come with the coming of the Spirit, and holding out to them as the greatest evidence of His own love the promise of power.
It adds intense emphasis to all this to note that Jesus Himself, very Son of God, was in that wonderful human life of His utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit. At the very outset, before venturing upon a single act or word of His appointed ministry, He waits at the Jordan waters, until the promised anointing of power came. What a picture does that prayerfully waiting Jesus present to powerless men to-day! From that moment every bit and part of His life was under the control of that Holy Spirit. Impelled into the wilderness for that fierce set-to with Satan, coming back to Galilee within the power of the Spirit, He himself clearly stated more than once, that it was through this anointing that He preached, and taught, and healed, and cast out demons. The writer to the Hebrews assures us that it was through the power of the Eternal Spirit that He was enabled to go through the awful experiences of Gethsemane and Calvary. And Luke adds that it was through the same empowering Spirit that He gave commandment to the apostles for the stupendous task of world-wide evangelization. And then at the very last referring them to that life of His, He said: "As the father hath sent Me even so send I you." Let me ask if He, very God of very God, yet in His earthly life intensely human, needed that anointing, do not we? If He waited for that experience before venturing upon any service, shall not you and I?
But we must turn to the book of Acts to get fully within the grip of this truth. For it, with the epistles fitting into it, is peculiarly the Holy Spirit book, even as the Old Testament is the Jehovah book and the gospels with Revelation the Jesus book. The climax of the gospels is in the Acts. What is promised in the gospels is experienced in the Acts.
Jesus is dominant in the gospels; the Spirit of Jesus in the Acts. He is the only continuous personality from first to last. He is the common denominator of the book. The first twelve chapters group about Peter, the remaining sixteen about Paul, but distinctly above both they all group about the Holy Spirit. He is the one dominant factor throughout. The first fourth of the book is fairly aflame with His presence at the center—Jerusalem. Thence out to Samaria, and through the Cornelius door to the whole outer non-Jewish world; at Antioch the new center, and thence through the uttermost parts of the Roman empire into its heart, His is the presence recognized and obeyed. He is ceaselessly guiding, empowering, inspiring, checking, controlling clear to the abrupt end. His is the one mastering personality. And everywhere His presence is a transforming presence. Nothing short of startling is the change in Peter, in the attitude of the Jerusalem thousands, in the persecutor Saul, in the spirit of these disciples, in the unprecedented and unparalleled unselfishness shown. It is revolutionary. Ah! it was meant to be so. This book is the living illustration of what Jesus meant by His teaching regarding His successor. It becomes also an acted illustration of what the personal christian life is meant to be.
The Spirit's presence and the necessity of His control is deep-grained in the consciousness of the leaders in this book. Leaving the stirring scenes at the capital the eighth chapter takes us down to Samaria. Multitudes have been led to believe through the preaching of a man who has been chosen to look after the business matters of the church. Peter and John are sent down to aid the new movement. Note that their very first concern is to spend time in prayer that this great company may receive the Holy Spirit.
The next chapter shifts the scene to Damascus. A man unknown save for this incident is sent as God's messenger to Saul. As he lays his hand upon this chosen man and speaks the light-giving words he instinctively adds, "and be filled with the Holy Spirit." That is not recorded as a part of what he had been told to do. But plainly this humble man of God believes that that is the essential element in Saul's preparation for his great work.
In the tenth chapter the Holy Spirit's action with Cornelius completely upsets the life-long, rock-rooted ideas of these intensely national, and intensely exclusive Jews. Yet it is accepted as final.
With what quaint simplicity does the thirteenth chapter tell of the Holy Spirit's initiation of those great missionary journeys of Paul from the new center of world evangelization? "the Holy Spirit said, etc." And how like it is the language of James in delivering the judgment of the first church council:—"it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us."
Paul's conviction is very plain from numerous references in those wonderful heart-searching and heart-revealing letters of his. But one instance in this Book of Acts will serve as a fair illustration of his teaching and habit. It is in the nineteenth chapter. In his travels he has come as far as to Ephesus, and finds there a small company of earnest disciples. They are strangers to him. He longs to help them, but must first find their need. At once he puts a question to them. A question may be a great revealer. This one reveals his own conception of what must be the pivotal experience of every true follower of Jesus. He asks: "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?"
But they had been poorly instructed, like many others since, and were not clear just what he meant. They had received the baptism of John—a baptism of repentance; but not the baptism of Jesus—a baptism of power. And Paul at once gives himself up to instructing and then praying with them until the promised gift is graciously bestowed. That is the last we hear of those twelve persons. Some of them may have been women. Some may have come to be leaders in that great Ephesian Church. But of that nothing is said. The emphasis remains on the fact that in Paul's mind because they were followers of the Lord Jesus they must have this empowering experience of the Holy Spirit's infilling.
Plainly in this Book of Acts the pivot on which all else rests and turns is the unhindered presence of the Holy Spirit.
If you will stop a while to think into it you will find that a rightly rounded christian life has five essential characteristics. I mean essential in the same sense as that light is an essential to the eye. The eye's seeing depends wholly on light. If it does not see light, by and by, it cannot see light. The ear that hears no sound loses the power to hear sound. Light is essential to the healthful eye: sound to the ear: air to the lungs: blood to the heart. Just as really are these five things essential to a strong healthful christian life.
The second of these is a heart-love for the old Book of God. Not reading it as a duty—taking a chapter at night because you feel you must. I do not mean that just now. But reading it because you love to; as you would a love letter or a letter from home. Thinking about it as the writer of the one hundred and nineteenth psalm did. Listen to him for a moment in that one psalm, talking about this book: "I delight," "I will delight," "My delight"—in all nine times. "I love," "Oh! how I love," "I do love," "Consider how I love," "I love exceedingly," again nine times in all. "I have longed," "My eyes fail," "My soul breaketh," speaking of the intensity of his desire to get alone with the book. "Sweeter than honey," "As great spoil," "As much as all riches," "Better than thousands of gold," "Above gold, yea, above fine gold." And all that packed into less than two leaves. Do you love this Book like that? Would you like to? Wait a moment.
The third essential is right habits of prayer. Living a veritable life of prayer. Making prayer the chief part not alone of your life, but of your service. Having answers to prayer as a constant experience. Being like the young man in a conference in India, who said, "I used to pray three times a day: Now I pray only once a day, and that is all day." Feet busy all the day, hands ceaselessly active, head full of matters of business, but the heart never out of communication with Him. Has prayer become to you like that? Would you have it so? Wait a moment.
The fourth essential is a pure, earnest, unselfish life. Our lives are the strongest part of us—or else the weakest. A man knows the least of the influence of his own life. Life is not mere length of time but the daily web of character we unconsciously weave. Our thoughts, imaginations, purposes, motives, love, will, are the under threads: our words, tone of voice, looks, acts, habits are the upper threads: and the passing moment is the shuttle swiftly, ceaselessly, relentlessly, weaving those threads into a web, and that web is life. It is woven, not by our wishing, or willing, but irresistibly, unavoidably, woven by what we are, moment by moment, hour after hour. What is your life weaving out? Is it attractive because of the power in it of His presence? Would you have it so? Would you know the secret of a life marked by the strange beauty of humility, and fragrant with the odor of His presence? Wait just a moment.
The fifth essential is a passion for winning others one by one to the Lord Jesus. A passion, I say. I may use no weaker word than that. A passion burning with the steady flame of anthracite. A passion for winning: not driving, nor dragging, but drawing men. I am not talking about preachers just now, as preachers, but about every one of us. Do you know the peculiar delight there is in winning the fellow by your side, the girl in your social circle, to Jesus Christ? No? Ah, you have missed half your life! Would you have such an intense passion as that, thrilling your heart, and inspiring your life, and know how to do it skillfully and tactfully?
Let me tell you with my heart that the secret not only of this, but of all four of these essentials I have named lies in the first one which I have not yet named, and grows out of it. Given the first the others will follow as day follows the rising sun.
What is the first great essential? It is this—the unrestrained, unhindered, controlling presence in the heart of the Holy Spirit. It is allowing Jesus' other Self, the Holy Spirit, to take full possession and maintain a loving but absolute monopoly of all your powers.
My friend, have you received this promised power? Is there a growing up of those four things within you by His grace? Does the Holy Spirit have freeness of sway in you? Are you conscious of the fullness of His love and power—conscious enough to know how much there is beyond of which you are not conscious? Does your heart say, "No." Well, things may be moving smoothly in that church of which you are pastor, and in that school over which you preside. Business may be in a satisfactory condition. Your standing in society may be quite pleasing. Your plans working out well. The family may be growing up around you as you had hoped. But let me say to you very kindly but very plainly your life thus far is a failure. You have been succeeding splendidly it may be in a great many important matters, but they are the details and in the main issue you have failed utterly.
And to you to-night I bring one message—the Master's Olivet message—"tarry ye." No need of tarrying, as with these disciples, for God to do something. His part has been done, and splendidly done. And He waits now upon you. But tarry until you are willing to put out of your life what displeases Him, no matter what that may mean to you. Tarry until your eyesight is corrected; until your will is surrendered. Tarry that you may start the habit of tarrying, for those two Olivet words, "Go" and "tarry," will become the even-balancing law of your new life. A constant going to do His will; a continual tarrying to find out His will. Tarry to get your ears cleared and quieted so you can learn to recognize that low voice of His. Tarry earnestly, steadily until that touch of power comes to change, and cleanse, and quiet, and to give you a totally new conception of what power is. Then you can understand the experience of the one who wrote:—
"My hands were filled with many things That I did precious hold, As any treasure of a king's— Silver, or gems, or gold. The Master came and touched my hands, (The scars were in His own) And at His feet my treasures sweet Fell shattered, one by one. 'I must have empty hands,' said He, 'Wherewith to work My works through thee.'
"My hands were stained with marks of toil, Defiled with dust of earth; And I my work did ofttimes soil, And render little worth. The Master came and touched my hands, (And crimson were His own) But when, amazed, on mine I gazed, Lo! every stain was gone. 'I must have cleansed hands,' said He, 'Wherewith to work My works through thee.'
"My hands were growing feverish And cumbered with much care! Trembling with haste and eagerness, Nor folded oft in prayer. The Master came and touched my hands, (With healing in His own) And calm and still to do His will They grew—the fever gone. 'I must have quiet hands,' said He, 'Wherewith to work My works for Me.'
"My hands were strong in fancied strength, But not in power divine, And bold to take up tasks at length, That were not His but mine. The Master came and touched my hands, (And might was in His own!) But mine since then have powerless been, Save His are laid thereon. 'And it is only thus,' said He, 'That I can work My works through thee.'"
 Gal., 5:22.
THE CHANNEL OF POWER.
A Word that Sticks and Stings.
I suppose everyone here can think of three or four persons whom he loves or regards highly, who are not christians. Can you? Perhaps in your own home circle, or in the circle of your close friends. They may be nice people, cultured, lovable, delightful companions, fond of music and good books, and all that; but this is true of them, that they do not trust and confess Jesus as a personal Savior. Can you think of such persons in your own circle? I am going to wait a few moments in silence while you recall them to mind, if you will—Can you see their faces? Are their names clear to your minds?
Now I want to talk with you a little while to-night, not about the whole world, but just about these three or four dear friends of yours. I am going to suppose them lovely people in personal contact, cultured, and kindly, and intelligent, and of good habits even though all that may not be true of all of them. And, I want to ask you a question—God's question—about them. You remember God put His hand upon Cain's arm, and, looking into his face, said: "Where is Abel, thy brother?" I want to ask you that question. Where are these four friends? Not where are they socially, nor financially, nor educationally. These are important questions. But they are less important than this other question: Where are they as touching Him? Where are they as regards the best life here, and the longer life beyond this one?
And I shall not ask you what you think about it. For I am not concerned just now with what you think. Nor shall I tell you what I think. For I am not here to tell you what I think, but to bring a message from the Master as plainly and kindly as I can. So I shall ask you to notice what this old book of God says about these friends of yours. It is full of statements regarding them. I can take time for only a few.
Turn, for instance, to the last chapter of Mark's Gospel, and the sixteenth verse, and you will find these words: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be—." You know the last word of that sentence. It is an ugly word. I dislike intensely to think it, much less repeat it. It is one of those blunt, sharp, Anglo-Saxon words that stick and sting. I wish I had a tenderer tone of voice, in which to repeat it, and then only in a low whisper—it is so awful—"damned."
Let me ask you very gently: Does the first part of that sentence—"he that believeth—trusteth—not," does that describe the four friends you are thinking of now? And please remember that that word "believeth" does not mean the assent of the mind to a form of creed: never that: but the assent of the heart to a person: always that. "Yes," you say "I'm afraid it does: that is just the one thing. He is thoughtful and gentlemanly; she is kind and good; but they do not trust Jesus Christ personally." Then let me add, very kindly, but very plainly, if the first part is an accurate description of your friends, the second part is meant to apply to them, too, would you not say? And that is an awful thing to say.
What a strange book this Bible is! It makes such radical statements, and uses such unpleasant words that grate on the nerves, and startle the ear. No man would have dared of himself to write such statements.
I remember one time visiting a friend in Boston, engaged in christian work there; an earnest man. We were talking one day about this very thing and I recall saying: "Do you really believe that what the Bible says about these people can be true? Because if it is you and I should be tremendously stirred up over it." And I recall distinctly his reply, after a moment's pause, "Well, their condition certainly will be unfortunate." Unfortunate! That is the Bostonese of it. That is a much less disagreeable word. It has a smoother finish—a sort of polish—to it. It does not jar on your feelings so. But this book uses a very different word from that, a word that must grate harshly upon every ear here.
I know very well that some persons have associated that ugly word with a scene something like this: They have imagined a man standing with fist clenched, and eyes flashing fire, and the lines of his face knotted up hard, as he says in a harsh voice, "He that believeth not shall be damned," as though he found pleasure in saying it. If there is one person here to-night who ever had such a conception, will you kindly cut it out of your imagination at once? For it is untrue. And put in its place the true setting of the word.
Have you ever noticed what a difference the manner, and expression of face, and tone of voice, yes, and the character of a person make in the impression his words leave upon your mind? Now mark: It is Jesus talking here. Jesus—the tenderest-hearted, the most mother-hearted man this world ever listened to. Look at Him, standing there on that hilltop, looking out toward the great world He has just died for, with the tears coming into His eyes, and His lips quivering with the awfulness of what He was saying—"he that believeth not shall be damned," as though it just broke his heart to say it. And it did break His heart that it might not be true of us. For He died literally of a broken heart, the walls of that great, throbbing muscle burst asunder by the strain of soul. That is the true setting of that terrific statement.
Please notice it does not say that God damns men. You will find that nowhere within the pages of this book. But it is love talking; love that sees the end of the road and speaks of it. And true love tells the truth at all risks when it must be told. And Jesus because of His dying and undying love seeks to make men acquainted with the fact which He sees so plainly, and they do not.
Now turn for a moment to a second statement. You will find it in Galatians, third chapter, tenth verse. Paul is quoting from the book of Deuteronomy these words: "Cursed"—there is another ugly word—"cursed is everyone who continueth not in all the words of the book of this law to do them." Let me ask: Does that describe your friends? Well, I guess it describes us all, does it not? Who is there here that has continued in all the words of the book of this law to do them? If there is some one I think perhaps you would better withdraw, for I have no message for you to-night. The sole difference between some of us, and these friends you have in your mind is that we are depending upon Another who bore the curse for us. But these friends decline to come into personal touch with Him. Do they not? And this honest spoken book of God tells us plainly of that word "cursed" which has been written, and remains written, over their faces and lives.
The Bible is full of such statements. There is no need of multiplying them. And I am sure I have no heart in repeating any more of them. But I bring you these two for a purpose. This purpose: of asking you one question—whose fault is it? Who is to blame? Some one is at fault. There is blame somewhere. This thing is all wrong. It is no part of God's plan, and when things go wrong, some one is to blame. Now I ask you: Who is to blame?
Well, there are just four persons, or groups of persons concerned. There is God; and Satan; and these friends we are talking about; and, ourselves, who are not a bit better in ourselves than they—not a bit—but who are trusting some One else to see us through. Somewhere within the lines of those four we must find the blame of this awful state of affairs. Well, we can say very promptly that Satan is to blame. He is at the bottom of it all. And that certainly is true, though it is not all of the truth. Then it can be added, and added in a softer voice because the thing is so serious, and these friends are dear to us, that these people themselves are to blame. And that is true, too. Because they choose to remain out of touch with Him who died that it might not be so. For there is no sin charged where there is no choice made. Sin follows choice. Only where one has known the wrong and has chosen it is there sin charged.
But that this awful condition goes on unchanged, that those two ugly words remain true of our dear friends, day after day, while we meet them, and live with them, is there still blame? There are just two left out of the four: God, and ourselves who trust Him. Let me ask very reverently, but very plainly: Is it God's fault? You and I have both heard such a thing hinted at, and sometimes openly said. I believe it is a good thing with reverence to ask, and attempt to find the answer, to such a question as that. And for answer let me first bring to you a picture of the God of the Old Testament whom some people think of as being just, but severe and stern.
Away back in the earliest time, in the first book, Genesis, the sixth chapter, and down in verses five and six are these words: "And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and"—listen to these words—"that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
What an arraignment! "Every imagination," "evil," "only evil;" no mixture of good at all; "only evil continually," no occasional spurts of good even—the whole fabric bad, and bad clear through, and all the time. Is not that a terrific arraignment? But listen further: "And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and"—listen to these last pathetic words—"it grieved Him at His heart."
Will you please remember that "grieve" is always a love word? There can be no grief except where there is love. You may annoy a neighbor, or vex a partner, or anger an acquaintance, but you cannot grieve except where there is love, and you cannot be grieved except wherein you love.
I have sometimes, more often than I could wish, seen a case like this. A young man of good family sent away to college. He gets in with the wrong crowd, for they are not all angels in colleges yet, quite. Gets to smoking and drinking and gambling, improper hours, bad companions, and all that. His real friends try to advise him, but without effect. By and by the college authorities remonstrate with him, and he tries to improve, but without much success after the first pull. And after a while, very reluctantly, he is suspended, and sent home in disgrace. He feels very bad, and makes good resolutions and earnest promises, and when he returns he does do much better for a time. But it does not last long. Soon he is in with the old crowd again, the old round of habits and dissipations, only now it gets worse than before; the pace is faster. And the upshot of it all is that he is called up before the authorities and expelled, sent home in utter disgrace, not to return.
And here is his chum who roomed with him, ate with him, lived with him. He says, "Well, I declare, I am all broken up over Jim. It's too bad! He was "hail-fellow, well met," and now he has gone like that. I'm awfully sorry. It's too bad! too bad!!" And by and by he forgets about it except as an unpleasant memory roused up now and then. And here is one of his professors who knew him best perhaps, and liked him. "Well," he says, "it is too bad about young Collins. Strange, too, he came of good family; good blood in his veins; and yet he seems to have gone right down with the ragtag. It's too bad! too bad!! I am so sorry." And the matter passes from his mind in the press of duties and is remembered only occasionally as one of the disagreeable things to be regretted, and perhaps philosophized over.
And there is the boy's father's partner, down in the home town. "Well," he soliloquizes, "it is too bad about Collins' boy. He is all broken up over it, and no wonder. Doesn't it seem queer? That boy has as good blood as there is: good father, lovely mother, and yet gone clean to the bad, and so young. It is too bad! I am awfully sorry for Collins." And in the busy round of life he forgets, save as a bad dream which will come back now and then.
But down in that boy's home there is a woman—a mother, heart-broken—secretly bleeding her heart out through her eyes. She goes quietly, faithfully about her round of life, but her hair gets thinner, and the gray streaks it plainer, her form bends over more, and the lines become more deeply bitten in her face, as the days come and go. And if you talk with her, and she will talk with you, she will say, "Oh, yes, I know other mothers' boys go wrong; some of them going wrong all the time; but to think of my Jim—that I've nursed, and loved so, and done everything for—to think that my Jim—" and her voice chokes in her throat, and she refuses to be comforted. She grieves at her heart. Ah! that is the picture of God in that Genesis chapter. He saw that the world He had made and lavished all the wealth of His love upon had gone wrong, and it grieved Him at His heart.
This world is God's prodigal son, and He is heartbroken over it. And what has He done about it. Ah! what has He done! Turn to Mark's twelfth chapter, and see there Jesus' own picture of His Father as He knew Him. In the form of a parable He tells how His Father felt about things here. He sent man after man to try and win us back, but without effect, except that things got worse. Then Jesus represents God talking with Himself. "What shall I do next, to win them back?—there is My son—My only boy—Jesus—I believe—yes, I believe I'll send Him—then they'll see how badly I feel, and how much I love them; that'll touch them surely; I'll do it." You remember just how that sixth verse goes, "He had yet one, a beloved Son; He sent Him last unto them, saying, they will reverence my Son." And you know how they treated God's Son, His love gift. And I want to remind you to-night that, speaking in our human way—the only way we can speak—God suffered more in seeing His Son suffer than though He might have suffered Himself. Ask any mother here: Would you not gladly suffer pain in place of your child suffering if you could? And every mother-heart answers quickly, "Aye, ten times over, if the child could be spared pain." Where did you get that marvelous mother-heart and mother-love? Ah, that mother-heart is a bit of the God-heart transferred. That is what God is like. Let me repeat very reverently that God suffered more in giving His Son to suffer than though He had Himself suffered. And that is the God of the Old Testament! Let me ask: Is He to blame? Has He not done His best?
Let it be said as softly as you will, and yet very plainly, that those awful words, "damned" and "cursed," whatever their meaning may be, are true of your friends. Then add: It is not so because of God's will in the matter, but in spite of His will. Remember that God exhausted all the wealth of His resource when He gave His Son. There can come nothing more after that.
Your Personality Needed.
Then there is a second question from God's side to ask about those ugly words: thoughtfully, and yet plainly—Is it the fault of Jesus, the Son of God? And let anyone here listen to Him speaking in that tenth chapter of John. "I lay down My life for the sheep. No man taketh it from Me. I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and power to take it again." And then go out yonder to that scene just outside the Jerusalem wall. There hangs Jesus upon that cross, suspended by nails through hands and feet. He is only thirty-three. He is intensely human. Life was just as sweet to Him that day as it is to you and me to-night. Aye, more sweet: for sin had not taken the edge off his relish of life. Plainly He could have prevented them. For many a time had He held the murderous mob in check by the sheer power of His presence alone. Yet there He hangs from nine until noon and until three—six long hours. And He said He did it for you, for me. Do not ask me to tell how His dying for us saves. I do not know. No one statement seems to tell all the truth. When I study into it I always get clear beyond my depth. In a tremendous way it tells a double story; of the damnable blackness of sin; and of the intensity of love. I do know that He said He did it for us, and for our salvation, and that it had to be done. But as we look to-day on that scene, again the question: does any of the blame of the awful statements this book makes regarding your friends belong to Him, do you think? And I think I hear your hearts say "surely not."
Well, the Father has done His best. No blame surely attaches there. The Son has gone to the utmost limit. No fault can be found there. There is just one other left up yonder, of the divine partnership—the Holy Spirit. What about Him. Listen. Just as soon as the Son went back home with face and form all scarred from His brief stay upon the earth, He and the Father said, "now We will send down the last one of Us, the Holy Spirit, and He will do His best to woo men back," and so it was done. The last supreme effort to win men back was begun. The Holy Spirit came down for the specific purpose of telling the world about Jesus. His work down here is to convict men of their terrible wrong in rejecting Jesus, and of His righteousness, and of the judgment passed upon Satan. Only He can convince men's minds and consciences. A thousand preachers with the logic of a Paul and the eloquence of an Isaiah could not convince one man of sin. Only the Spirit can do that. But listen to me as I say very thoughtfully—and this is the one truth I pray God to burn into our hearts to-night—that to do His work among men He needs to use men. He needs you. "Oh!" you say, "it is hardly possible that you mean that: I am not a minister: I have no special ability for christian work: I am just an obscure, humble christian: I have no gift in that direction." Listen with your heart while I remind you that He needs not your special abilities or gifts, though He will use all you have, and the more the better, but He needs your personality as a human channel through which to touch the men you touch. And I want to say just as kindly and tenderly as I can and yet with great plainness that if you are refusing to let Him use you as He chooses—shall I say the unpleasant truth?—the practical blame for those ugly words, and the uglier truth back of them come straight home to you.
That is a very serious thing to say, and so I must add a few words to make it still more clear and plain. The Spirit of God in working among men seeks embodiment in men, through whom He acts. The amazing truth is that not only is He willing to enter into and fill you with His very presence, but He seeks for, He wants, yes, He needs your personality as a channel or medium, that living in you He may be able to do His work among the men you touch even though you may not be conscious of much that He is doing through you. Is not that startling? He wants to live in your body, and speak through your lips, and look out of your eyes, and use your hands, really, actually. Have you turned your personality over to Him as completely as that?
Remember the law of God's communication with men; namely, He speaks to men through men. Run carefully through the Bible, and you will find that since the Cain disaster, which divided all men into two great groups, whenever God has a message for a man or a nation out in the world He chooses and uses a man in touch with Himself as His messenger.
Listen to Jesus' own words in that last night's long talk in John's Gospel, chapter fourteen, verse seventeen. Speaking about the coming Spirit, He says, "Whom the world cannot receive." That is a strange statement. Though an important part of the Spirit's great mission is to the world yet it cannot receive Him. But chapter sixteen, verses seven and eight gives the explanation: "I will send Him unto you, and He when He is come (unto you) will convince," and so on. That is to say, a message from God to one who has come within the circle of personal relation with Jesus—that message comes along a straight line without break or crook. But a message to one who remains outside that circle comes along an angled line—two lines meeting at an angle—and the point of that angle is in some christian heart. The message He sends out to the outer circle passes through some one within the inner circle. To make it direct and personal: He needs to use you to touch those whom you touch.
Let me bring you a few illustrations of how God uses men, though the fact of His using them is on almost every page of this Bible. Back in the old book of Judges is a peculiar expression which is not brought out as clearly as it might be in our English Bibles. The sixth chapter and thirty-fourth verse might properly read: "the Spirit of Jehovah clothed Himself with Gideon." It was a time of desperate crisis in the nation. God chose this man for leadership among his fellows. If you take his life throughout you will not think him an ideal character. But he seems to be the best available stuff there was. He became the general guiding an army in what, to human eyes, was a perfectly hopeless struggle. Men saw Gideon moving about giving orders. But this strangely significant phrase lets us into the secret of his wise strategy and splendid victory. "The Spirit of Jehovah clothed Himself with Gideon." Gideon's personality was merely a suit of clothes which God wore that day in achieving that tremendous victory for His people. The same expression is used of Amasai, one of David's mighty chieftains, and of Zechariah, one of the priests during Joash's reign.
A New Testament illustration is found in the book of Acts in the account of Philip and the Ethiopian stranger. This devout African official had a copy of the old Hebrew Scriptures, but needed an interpreter to make plain their newly acquired significance. The Holy Spirit, the interpreter of Scripture, longs to help him. For that purpose He seeks out a man, of whom He has control, named Philip. He is directed to go some distance over toward the road where this man is journeying. We are told of Philip that he was "full of the Spirit." And a reading of that eighth chapter makes plain the controlling presence of the Spirit in Philip's personality. In the beginning He gives very explicit direction. "The Spirit (within Philip) said, go near, join thyself to this chariot." And at the close "the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip."
These are a few illustrations of what seems to be a common law of God's intercourse with men. The language of the Bible throughout fits in with this same conception. Strikingly enough the same seems to be true in the opposing camp, among the forces of the Evil One. Repeatedly in the gospels we come across the startling expressions—"possessed with demons," "possessed of demons," evidently speaking of men whom demons had succeeded in getting possession of, and clothing themselves with. It seems to be a law of spirit life that a spirit needs to be embodied in dealing with embodied beings. And God conforms to this law in His dealings with men.
My friend, will you ask your heart, has the Holy Spirit gotten possession of you like that? With reverence I repeat that He is seeking for men in whom He may set up a sort of sub-headquarters, from which He may work out as He pleases. Has He been able to do that with you? Or, have you been holding back from Him, fearing He might make some changes in you or your plans? If that is so, may I say just as kindly as these lips can speak it, but also as plainly, that then the practical blame for those cutting words about your friends comes straight back to you.
Hugh McAllister Beaver, son of the former governor of Pennsylvania, and one of the rarest christian young men that ever lived, felt impelled at a conference of students at Northfield, in '97, to tell this bit of his inner experience, though naturally reluctant to do so. While at college, arrangements were made for a series of meetings every night for a week. "One day going down the hallway of the college building," he said, "I met a boy we all called Dutchy, one of the toughest fellows in school. I said to him, 'Dutch, come to the meeting to-night.'" Instead of laughing or swearing, to Beaver's surprise, he paused a moment as though such a thing was possible, and Beaver said, "I prayed quietly to myself, and urged him to come." And he said, "Well, I guess I will." And that night to every one's surprise Dutch came to the meeting. When Beaver rose to speak, to his surprise this fellow was not simply intensely interested but his eyes were full of tears. And Beaver said "a voice as distinct as an audible voice said to me, 'Speak to Dutchy!' But I did not." Again the next night Dutchy came of his own accord, and one of the boys putting his arm on Beaver's shoulder said, "Speak to Dutchy. We boys never saw him like this before." And he said he would. But he did not. And some time after he had a dream and thought he would not walk this earth any more. It did not trouble him except that his brother was crying. But he thought he met the Master, who looked into his face, and said, "Hugh, do you remember, I asked you to speak to Dutchy?" "Yes." "And you did not." "No." "Would you like to go back the earth and win him?" And he finished the story by saying, "it's hard work, but he's coming now."
I wonder if the Master has ever tried to use your lips like that, and you have refused?
A prominent clergyman in New England tells this experience of his. In the course of his pastoral work he was called to conduct the funeral service of a young woman who had died quite unexpectedly. As he entered the house he met the minister in charge of the mission church, where the family attended, and asked him, "Was Mary a christian?" To his surprise a pained look came into the young man's face as he replied, "Three weeks ago I had a strong impulse to speak to her, but I did not; and I do not know." A moment later he met the girl's Sunday school teacher and asked her the same question. Quickly the tears came, as she said, "Two weeks ago, Doctor, a voice seemed to say to me, 'Speak to Mary,' and I knew what it meant, and I intended to, but I did not, and I do not know." Deeply moved by these unexpected answers, a few minutes later he met the girl's mother, and thinking doubtless to give her an opportunity to speak a word that would bring comfort to her own heart, he said quietly, "Mary was a christian girl?" The tears came quick and hot to the mother's eyes, as she sobbed out, "One week ago a voice came to me saying, 'Speak to Mary,' and I thought of it, but I did not at the time, and you know how unexpectedly she went away and I do not know."
Well, please understand me, I am not saying a word about that girl. I do not know anything to say. I would hope much and can understand that there is ground for hope. But this is what I say: How pathetic, beyond expression, that the Spirit tried to get the use of the lips of three persons, a pastor, a teacher, aye, a mother! to speak the word that evidently He longed to have spoken to her, and He could not!