The Power of Christ.
A message delivered at the Keswick Convention on July 23, 1947.
ONE of the most gracious of all the notable men of God who have occupied the Keswick platform, was the late Dr. F. B. Meyer. Somebody asked him on one occasion what method he adopted in the preparation of his sermons. "Well," he replied, "during the week I seek to fill the waterpot with water, and then trust the Lord when I enter the pulpit on Sunday, to turn the water into wine." That is what some of us have been doing in anticipation of this Convention. May the Lord graciously turn the water into wine this morning.
Turn now to 2 Corinthians 12: 9, "And he said unto me, my grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
The glory of the Gospel is first and foremost its power. That is why Paul had no reason to be ashamed of it, but rather gloried in it; because no man is ashamed of power, and the Gospel is "the power of God unto salvation." It is a new dynamic introduced into a world of powerless men. For the most manifest thing about men is that they are without strength. They have the consciousness of the desirability of truth, purity, goodness and virtue; all these things in any civilized country are held up as desirable things, yet men are utterly powerless to achieve them. They deplore vice and lawlessness and cruelty, especially the cruelty of war on the earth, and yet are wholly without power to prevent such things, and they even take part in them.
Into such a world the Gospel came, and everywhere it "came not in word only but also in power," and it was preached "not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." Thus men had at last discovered a solid ground for their faith, not in the disappointing wisdom of men, but in the power of God. It was a new and overwhelming power that worked through men who in themselves had no outstanding ability or force. Yet there was something miraculous about them that arrested universal attention wherever they went. The promise of Christ had been, "Ye shall receive power," and the promise had been abundantly fulfilled beyond their dreams. It was something infinitely beyond the miracle-working that they had known when Jesus had sent them forth in His lifetime, that had effected little more than the curing of individual bodies for a time, each of those bodies at last to succumb and sink into the grave; but now the whole world was turned upside down wherever they preached. The Jewish authorities became alarmed, as a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. Heathen cities where aroused; thousands were blessed; the great Diana tottered in her Temple at Ephesus; and Caesar trembled on his throne in Rome, as "with great power gave the apostles witness." The Gospel proved itself "mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds." And this new power at once manifested itself in the lives of everyone who received the message. They at once became power-filled people.
Whence was this power? It was certainly not inherent in themselves; it was not, as Peter told the Sanhedrin, by their "own power or holiness." It was a power imparted to them. It was the power of Christ resting upon them. It was so manifestly from Christ that the rulers recognized it, and "took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus." It was a tremendous discovery they had made, a secret that had been revealed to them, that weak men could be strong in spite of their weakness, nay even by reason of it. For Paul said, "When I am weak then am I strong." In fact, the weaker they were, the stronger they were. For God had chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.
That manifestation of power has, alas! largely departed from the Church to-day. Indeed, the outstanding mark of modern Christianity is not its power, but its weakness, so that the crying need of a troubled world is faced by a Church utterly powerless and ineffective to meet it. It is as weak as water; as spineless as a jellyfish. The result is that the Church is disregarded by the world of the twentieth century as it certainly was not disregarded in the first century. The ordinary public, speaking generally, do not enter its doors nor attend its services. It is the object of complete indifference, if not of quiet contempt. It does not attract enough attention to provoke opposition. It is not considered worth persecuting.
Why is the Church without power to-day? It is no sufficient answer to blame the Church. The Church is weak because we are weak. The Church is weak because its individual members are weak. It is the powerlessness of the individual that explains the powerlessness of the mass. There is the root of the trouble. The average professing Christian to-day displays little indication that he knows anything of the power of God in his life; he professes much, he possesses little; he employs expressions in religious worship altogether beyond his range of spiritual experience; the hymns he sings express sentiments altogether foreign to his attainments, and knowing this, his Christian profession impresses him and those about him as unreal and artificial. The truth is, the power of Christ does not rest upon him as it certainly did upon the believers in the early days. What is the reason for this? The Gospel is the same Gospel; why does it not manifest the same power? Why are believers to-day so weak and ineffective in life and witness in the world, while having that same Gospel? It is not the fault of the power of Christ; that has not waned or become exhausted; it has not diminished in potency down the ages. His power has been demonstrated in Pentecostal degree from time to time in history, and not least in periods of acute spiritual barrenness. We cannot blame the times; the faith of God was almost perished from the earth when Luther rose to proclaim it; and England had gone almost infidel and morally decadent when God raised up Wesley; and these and many others displayed the power of Christ resting on them in just the same manner as it rested on Paul. And the power of Christ may rest upon me. God has no favourites, He is no respecter of persons. Not only is He willing that the power of Christ should rest upon us, but He intends and expects that it should, and it grieves Him at His heart when it does not.
This should be the normal condition of every believer. It should be our one vindication of our claim to be believers. When people stand in the open air and proclaim themselves "saved," surely the onlookers are entitled to say, "So you say, we shall see." The vindication of your profession to be a Christian should be that the power of Christ rests upon you.
Two questions of the first importance call for consideration by all who desire that the power of Christ should rest upon them; (1) What will happen if it does? And (2) What hinders that it doesn't? The first question, then, is this: WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ME IF THE POWER OF CHRIST DOES, IN FACT, REST UPON ME? How will it manifest its presence in my life?
First, it will impart a permanent sense of the forgiveness of sins. Nothing but the power of Christ can bring this to pass. "The Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins," and the assurance of this is dependent for its continuance on the power of Christ resting upon us. "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ is cleansing us from all sin," i.e., manifestly, consciously, as an enjoyed continuous experience. This is directly contingent on my walking in the light. Otherwise I may become like the man in Peter's second Epistle, who has "forgotten that he was purged from his old sins." He who used once to give his witness so boldly, no longer does so. He no longer has anything to talk about; all the joy and assurance of his salvation has been frittered away, because the power of Christ is not resting upon him.
Secondly, it will effect practical deliverance from the domination of sin. "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed," not in doctrine merely, not in imagination, but "free indeed"—"Sin shall not have dominion over you." Said a Crusader boy to his leader, "You know, sir, we sing that chorus, 'Sin shall not have dominion over you,' but of course it is not really true, is it? "Well, it is not, except in so far as the power of Christ rests upon you. The bondage of sin can be broken in no other way.” My dear friend, your deliverance from sinning is not a once for-all freedom. The Christ who makes us free alone can keep us free, and it is only as the power of Christ is resting upon us that immunity from the power of sin can be maintained. If you want to be delivered, then the power of Christ must rest upon you. There is no other power sufficient for the purpose.
Thirdly, it will produce effective witness for Christ—"Ye shall receive power," said Jesus, "and ye shall be witnesses unto me." This witness will be vital, even in the weakest believer. You yourself will be a witness. You cannot help it, not only with your tongue, but with everything about you; people will take note of you. That is what reputation is. Reputation is the judgment that people automatically form about one another—and people will automatically form a judgment concerning you, and if the power of Christ rests upon you, it will be manifest in you, and your life and your lips will bear a consistent witness to it. The Lord saved you and put you where you are, because He wanted a vital witness there; but it can only be in measure as the power of Christ is resting upon you. Let me add that this is also an essential condition to soul saving. It must be "the Lord working with them, and confirming the Word with signs following." Every preacher should prove himself to be a minister of God "by the word of truth, by the power of God," as Paul said. Whether men hear or forbear when you preach, they should recognize the fact that God has spoken; and they will know that because the power of Christ is resting upon you.
Fourthly, the power of Christ resting upon you will enable Christ to dwell in your heart----"that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ might dwell in your hearts by faith." There is something more here than victory and witness and effective preaching; when the power of Christ rests upon a believer, it strengthens him to an appreciation of the preciousness of Christ which is quite beyond his natural apprehension. Christ dwells in his heart; he sanctifies Him as Lord in his heart; he makes Him very sacred in the most sacred part of him, and he does that because he is strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. To him who believes, He becomes precious; He comes and makes His abode with him. All these things are foreign to the experience, not only of unsaved people, but also of every carnal believer. Are you a carnal believer? Oh, break down under it, if it is true. Is God showing you that you are nothing but a poor, spineless, carnal believer knowing nothing of the power of Christ, so that Christ is not precious to you in reality?
Fifthly, it will make you strong to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height of Christ's indwelling. Its wide and long and deep and high significance, is beyond the reach of all human understanding. It needs the power of Christ to reveal the love of Christ that passes knowledge; thus only can we know the unknowable.
Sixthly, it enables the believer not only thus to know Christ, but also to know the power of His resurrection. That is the climax of power that Paul set before him as his great ambition—"That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection." The power of Christ that rests upon us is the power that raised Him from the dead, and that enables you and me to walk in newness of life. It is a new kind of existence, risen with Christ, with Christ living out His life as an actual fact in us. Young people, I am more concerned for you than I am over the grey-heads—God bless the grey-heads, I am one myself; but listen, young people, won't you let the power of Christ rest on you? It may happen. It is within your reach, and that not as a passing experience, but as a permanent, maintained condition.
I want in my closing minutes to answer the second question: WHAT IS IT THAT HINDERS? Why does not the power of Christ rest on so many of us? Why is it that these things are so little discerned in the average believer to-day? Why is the standard of experience of Christ so deplorably low? We are orthodox in our belief, correct in our conduct, regular in our religious duties, earnest in our prayers; yes, you have been all that, and some of you older men and women in twenty, thirty years have never advanced an inch in spiritual attainment. And some of you have never expected to say, I am an established Christian, I am a supporter of my church, my life is moral and upright, and I am thoroughly religious, and I am very earnest, and when I hear a good sermon I approve of it; and yet you have not advanced an inch in spiritual things. And you never will, unless the power of Christ rests on you.
How did it come about with Paul? The answer is quite plain when you look at the story of his life. He was a man of God afflicted with a thorn in the flesh, buffeted by a messenger of Satan, suffering infirmities, anxieties, persecution and distresses for Christ's sake, and glorying and taking pleasure in them, not merely a martyr to them. To what end? "That the power of Christ might rest upon me." Of course, he could have avoided most of those painful things, he could have chosen an easier course, but he would not have had the power of Christ resting upon him. He could have compromised his life and settled down with his neighbours, as perhaps some of you have settled down with your unsaved neighbours. He could have made concessions, as you and I are prone to make concessions, but the power of Christ would not have rested upon him. The fact is, he was a hundred percent for Christ, and so he had a hundred percent. experience of Christ. We get very much what we pay for. It is the old case of "guns or butter," and most of us, alas, choose the butter.
It is because the Church prefers the easy course that it is a waning Church. The devil does not waste time in buffeting a fifty percent Christian—he can afford to ignore a powerless believer; indeed, he encourages him, he is such a bad advertisement for Christ. If the power of Christ rests upon us, we shall attract his venom, and we shall run the gauntlet of all his devices; but then we shall prove with Paul that when we are weak, then we are strong, for the exceeding greatness of the power of Christ will rest upon us.