The GOSPEL TRUTH
PRICE and POWER
Let us consider the principles that govern spiritual quickening. I will base my thoughts on Acts 4:29-37.
I suppose it might be considered a truism to say that we live in a world that is rocked in a sea of trouble. Solid foundations that we once built upon are being abandoned and we think of them today as mere shadows belonging to a vanished past. On every hand we see signs of frustration, of barrenness and of defeat, and I suppose we all agree that the stream of vital Christianity runs very low indeed.
Now it seems to me that the all-important question for us to face at this hour is, what have we as a Church to offer a generation that is awake, but a generation that is failing to find the true way of life. I know no question in all the range of thought so vital in its issue, so devastating in its implication as this one question--Is the Church we know today a light that marks the road that leads men to the Cross? Is it not true that too often faintheartedness creeps over us, and accordingly there springs up an unwillingness to make strenuous effort toward revival? Now if any book is fitted to correct that tendency, that book is the Word of God, and here in this portion, that I have just quoted, we have a signal illustration.
Here we have one of the most encouraging, the most stupendous facts in the records of revealed truth. I discover here that a power is placed at the disposal of the Church that can out-maneuver and baffle the very strategy of Hell, and cause death and defeat to vanish before the presence of the Lord of Life. Barrenness is made to feel His fertilizing power. I feel that we would do well today to face honestly and sincerely one or two questions.
How is it that while we make such great claims for the power of the Gospel, we see so little of the supernatural in operation? If Christianity is a religion, not of aspiration alone, but pre-eminently of fulfillment, how is it that revival tarries? Is there any reason why the Church today cannot everywhere equal the Church at Pentecost? I feel that this is a question that we ought to face with an open mind and an honest heart. What did the early Church have that we do not possess today? Nothing but the Holy Ghost, nothing but the power of God. Here I would suggest that one of the main secrets of success in the early Church lay in the fact that the early believers believed in unction from on high, and not entertainment from men.
One of the very sad features that characterizes much that goes under the name of evangelism today is the craze for entertainment. Here is an extract from a letter received from a leader in youth work in one of your great cities, "We are at our wits' end to know what to do with the young people who made a profession of conversion recently. They are demanding all sorts of entertainment, and it seems to us that if we fail to provide the entertainment that they want, we are not going to hold them." Yes, the trend of the time in which we live is toward a Christian experience, (or should I say experience and leave Christian out of it?), an experience that is light and flippant, and fed on entertainment.
Some little time ago I listened to a young man give his testimony. He made a decision quite recently, and in giving his testimony this is what he said, "I have discovered that the Christian way of life can best be described, not as a battle, but as a song mingled with the sound of happy laughter." Far be it from me to move the song or happy laughter from religion, but I want to protest that that young man's conception was entirely wrong, and not in keeping with true New Testament Christianity. "Oh, but," say the advocates of this way of thinking, "how are we to get the people if we do not provide some sort of entertainment?" To that I ask the question how did they get the people at Pentecost? How did the early Church get the people? By publicity projects, by bills, by posters, by parades, by pictures? No! The people were arrested and drawn together and brought into vital relationship with God, not by sounds from men, but by sounds from heaven. We are in need of more sounds from heaven today. It seems to me that heavenly sounds are dying out. I am sure you must have noticed that Pentecost was its own publicity.
I love that passage in the Acts that tells us that "when this was noised abroad the multitude came together." What was noised abroad? What was happening in the midst of men? What was noised abroad? That men and women were coming under deep conviction. What was noised abroad? That men in the community appeared like drunken men because they were drunk by the mighty power of God. That was God's method of publicity, and until the Church of Jesus Christ will re-discover this and act upon it, we shall at our best appear to a mad world as a crowd of common people in a common market babbling about common wares. The early Church cried for unction and not for entertainment because they knew that unction creates interest and real soul-concern.
But you say, yes, that happened in the Acts of the Apostles, but dare we expect that to happen today? Are there sounds from heaven today? Are men moved in this fashion today? Are men arrested by a power that seems to be apart from all human agency today? I say yes, it is happening today! Some of us saw it happen in churches comparatively empty, the youth given to pleasure rather than seeking after God; then suddenly there was a sound from heaven. Three young women were praying in a barn when there was a sound from heaven, and the whole community became saturated with God, and men and women were swept into the Kingdom. We had not organized, we had no publicity program, but heaven's messengers moved in the midst of the people, and in a matter of hours churches became crowded as scores were swept into the Kingdom of God.
Yes, unction, unction, unction is the dire and desperate need of the ministry today. They believed in unction and not in entertainment. Further, the early Church put power before influence. The present state of our country presents a challenge to the Christian Church. Those who have eyes to see and who are truly observant tell us that at this very hour forces are taking the field that are out to defy every known Christian principle. The need is dire, it is desperate, and it is awful. We have got to do something.
In many quarters there is today a growing conviction that unless God moves, unless there is a demonstration of the supernatural in the midst of men, unless we are moved up into the realm of the Divine, we shall soon find ourselves caught up in a counterfeit movement, but a movement that goes under the name of evangelism. There are ominous signs today that the devil is out to side-track us in the realm of evangelism, and we are going to become satisfied with something less than Heaven wills to give us. Nothing but a Holy Ghost revival will meet the desperate need of the hour. The early Church, the men of Pentecost, had something beyond mere human influence and human ingenuity. But what do we mean by influence? The sum total of all the forces in our personality; mental, moral, academic, social and religious.
We can have all these, and we can have them at their highest level, and yet be destitute of power. Power, not influence, was the watchword of the early Church.
While at the Keswick Convention, it was my privilege to spend an afternoon with a leader in foreign mission activity. I was arrested, if not perturbed, by what that man said to me. Here are his words, "Today we have some Bible Schools in our land and they are turning out young men and young women cultured and polished but without power." Was that a true diagnosis? I want to suggest that he was near to the truth. Polished, yes, we may be polished, we may have culture, but the cry of our day is for power, and that from on high.
I could take you to a little cottage in the Hebrides and introduce you to a young woman. She is not educated; one could not say that she was polished in the sense that we use the word, but I have known that young woman to pray heaven into a community, to pray power into a meeting. I have known that young woman to be so caught in the power of the Holy Ghost that men and women around her were made to tremble--not influence, but power. The Apostles were not men of influence, "not many mighty, not many noble." Oh, no, the Master Himself did not choose to be a man of influence. "He made Himself of no reputation," all of which is equal to saying that God chose power rather than influence. I sometimes think of Paul and Silas yonder in Philippi. Why? They had not enough influence to keep them out of prison, but possessed of the power of God in such a manner that their prayers in prison shook the whole prison to its very foundations. Not influence, but power.
Oh, that the Church today, in our congregations and in our pulpits, would re-discover this truth and get back to the place of God realization, to the place of power. I want to say further that we should seek power even at the expense of influence. What do I mean by that? I mean this: never compromise to accommodate the devil. I hear, people say today, these are different days from the days of the 1859 Revival or the Welsh Revival; we must be tolerant and we must try to accommodate. In order to do that it is necessary at times to lower our standard and seek the co-operation of those who do not accept the position that we hold relative to evangelical truth. The secret of power is separation from all that is unclean, for me there is nothing so unclean as the liberal views held by some today. We dare not touch them. I am stating what to me is a deep-seated conviction: "Come out from among them and be ye separate, . . . and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you."
Yes, we must seek power even at the expense of influence. Think again of the great Apostle Paul. What an opportunity he had of gaining influence with Felix, had he but flattered him a little in his sin, he could have made a great impression, and I believe he could have got a handsome donation for his missionary effort by being tolerant, by accommodating the situation. Paul chose power before influence and he reasoned of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Let Felix say what he will, let Drusilla think as she chooses to think, I must be true to my conscience and to my inner convictions and declare the whole counsel of God and take my stand on the solid ground of separation unto God.
Now the person who will take his stand on that ground will not be popular, he will not be popular with some preachers of today who declare that we must soft-pedal in order to capture and captivate. Here I would quote from the saintly Finney, "Away with your milk and water preaching of the love of Christ that has no holiness or moral discrimination in it, away with the preaching a Christ not crucified for sin." Such a collapse of conscience in this land could never have existed if the Puritan element in our preaching had not, in a great measure, fallen out.
Here is the quotation from a Highland minister preaching on this very truth. He cried: "Bring me a God all mercy but not just, bring me a God all love but not righteous, and I will have no scruples in calling Him an idiot of your imagination." Strong words, but I protest, words that I would sound throughout our land today, in this age of desperate apostasy, forsaking all the fundamental truths of Scripture. Here you have the Apostles proclaiming a message that was profoundly disturbing. We are afraid of disturbing people today. You must not have their emotions stirred, you must not have people weeping in a meeting, you must not have people rolling on the floor under conviction of sin; keep things orderly. May God help us, may God have mercy upon us. Who are we to dictate to Almighty God as to how He is going to work? If God chooses to move in that way, if God chooses to so convict men and women of their sin that they will be about to lose their reason, I say, God move on until we can see again what was witnessed in the Edwards Revival, in the Finney Revival, in the Fifty-nine Revival, in the Welsh Revival, and, praise God, today in the Hebrides Revival-God moving in supernatural reality.
Then there are those who say, "but we must not frighten people." I would to God that a wave of real godly fear gripped our land. Let me quote from a sermon delivered by the Rev. Robert Barr, B.D., of the Presbyterian Church of South Africa: "This is what our age needs, not an easy-moving message, the sort of thing that makes the hearer feel all nice inside, but a message profoundly disturbing. We have been far too afraid of disturbing people, but the Holy Spirit will have nothing to do with a message or with a minister who is afraid of disturbing. You might as well expect a surgeon to give place to a quack who claims to be able to do the job with some sweet tasting drug, as expect the Holy Spirit to agree that the tragic plight of human souls today can be met by soft and easy words. Calvary was anything but nice to look at, blood-soaked beams of wood, a bruised and bleeding body, not nice to look upon. But then Jesus was not dealing with a nice thing; He was dealing with the sin of the world, and that is what we are called upon to deal with today. Soft and easy words, soft-pedalling will never meet the need."
Further, they believed in the supernatural. Notice the prayer of verse 29, "And now Lord behold their threatenings, and grant unto Thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak Thy Word, by stretching forth Thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of Thy holy child Jesus." You see, they looked and expected signs and wonders.
Someone has said that at Pentecost God set the Church at Jerusalem on fire and the whole city came out to see it burn. I tell you if that happened in any church today, within three hours the whole of the town would be out to see the burning, and they would be caught in the flames.
It is fire we want, yes, the best advertising campaign any church or any mission can put up is fire in the pulpit and a blaze in the pew. Let us be honest. We say God send revival, but are we prepared for the fire? Think for a moment of that which took place at Carmel, that mighty manifestation of God. When did the fire fall? When the altar was built? No! When the bullock lay dead beneath the altar? No! I see the man of God take his knife and he cuts the bullock in pieces; did the fire fall? No! The pieces are placed on the altar, piece one, piece two, piece three, but the heavens are as brass, the fire has not fallen. The process goes on. There is another piece here; I see the Prophet handle it and it is placed on the altar, but the fire has not fallen. Right there, just at the back of the altar, there is another small piece. I see the Prophet move round and I see him handling that piece. It is the last piece, and now the last piece is placed upon the altar. Then the miracle happens. The heavens are rent and God comes down, the fire falls, and there is a mighty manifestation followed by a mighty revival.
Will you honestly and sincerely face this question? You are interested in revival, you are praying for blessing, you are longing to see your Church revived. Brother ministers, has God handled the last piece? Many pieces have been handled, and I believe that there are men and women whom God has been handling; this piece has gone on the altar and that piece has gone on the altar, but the last piece has not yet been handled. Let us be honest, let us be realistic. I believe we are not going to see the movement we long for, and streams from the river of God, until Christian men and women cry out to God, "Oh, handle the last piece." If the fire is to fall the last piece must be handled. The truth about the Holy Spirit is discoverable and verifiable only by submission to His power. We may talk about Him, we may think about Him, but only when we submit can we know His mighty power. There is a law in the science of dynamics that tells us that all power is measurable at the point of its application. Are we prepared to apply that principle in the spiritual realm, to make this profound discovery that when we come to an end of ourselves, we can reach the beginning of God?
I believe we have only to regard and observe those laws and limits within which the Holy Ghost acts, and we shall find His glorious power at our disposal. In other words obey the law of the Spirit and the Spirit of God will obey you. Surely that was the conviction that gripped an elder in the Isle of Lewis when, in a situation that was difficult and trying, he cried, "You made a promise, and I want to remind You that we believe that You are a covenant-keeping God. Your honour is at stake." That man was at the end of his tether, that man was in the place of travail.
Revival is not going to come merely by attending Conferences or Conventions, though that may contribute to it. When "Zion travailed she brought forth children." Oh, may God bring us there, may God lead us through to the place of absolute surrender. I shall never forget that dear saint of God, Dr. Inwood, cry at the 1924 Keswick Convention, "Christian men and women, self-renunciation is the cardinal ethic of the Christian Church." Is it not true, too often our very best moments of yielding and consecration are mingled with the destructive element of self-preservation? A full and complete surrender is the price of blessing, but that also is the price of revival.