W. W. Prescott
The Power for Christian Living
Key Thoughts: First, all power belongeth unto God, who is the source of power; second, God giveth power unto the faint; third, the assurance that we shall receive the power through the gift of the Holy Spirit; and fourth, the use of this power for witnessing.
Power For Christian Living
There is a science of salvation. There are many phases of this subject, many viewpoints from which it may be considered. I ask you to consider with me one phase this morning, not as an abstract theory, but as a practical concrete subject — the power for Christian living. I ask you to note especially four divisions:
1. The source of this power. We read in the sixty-second psalm, the eleventh verse: '' God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God.” Then God is the source of all power.
2. The assurance that this power will be given. Isa. 40: 28, 29: “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.” “Power belongeth unto God,” and “he giveth power to the faint.”
3. How this power may be secured, how it may come to us. Turn to the book of Acts, the first chapter, and the eighth verse: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me.” “Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you.”
4. The result of receiving this power. Acts fourth chapter and thirty-third verse: “With great power gave the apostles their witness.”
If you forget everything else that may be said, I hope you will cling to these central points: First, all power belongeth unto God, who is the source of power; second, God giveth power unto the faint; third, the assurance that we shall receive the power through the gift of the Holy Spirit; and fourth, the use of this power for witnessing.
The Source of Power
In a certain sense the whole Bible may be spoken of as a story of power. Beginning with creation, in Genesis 1, we read: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The whole first chapter of Genesis is a testimony to God's creative power, a statement to us from the Source of all power of the action of that power. In Rom. 1: 16 we read: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation.” This is the power revealed in the first chapter of Genesis, the power of God unto salvation; and the triumphant declaration is made in the closing book of the New Testament: “After these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying. Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God.” Rev. 19: 1. We are told repeatedly that all power and glory belong to God. The whole Scripture is a study of this power in its application in the gospel of salvation,— how we may receive this power, and how we may be among those who join finally in this wonderful experience, ascribing all glory and power unto God. In the first chapter of Genesis, where we have the first revelation of this power, we note that it is revealed through the Spirit and the Word, not as separate from each other, but as inseparably connected. We read in the second verse: “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
This first chapter of Genesis is but an exposition of the thirty-third psalm, the sixth and ninth verses: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.”
We have this revelation of power expressed in a very concrete way in the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, and this is set before us not as mere history, but as instruction concerning salvation. We read of this in the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy, the thirty-seventh verse: “Because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt.” And in the thirty-second verse of the same chapter we read: “Ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? “This deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt was the second great concrete example of this creative power, and from the time of creation till this deliverance nothing like it had been seen. From that time forth the deliverance of Israel from Egypt stood as the greatest expression of God's power to deliver from bondage, no matter though the bondage be rigorous, the power of the oppressor never so great.
The deliverance from Egypt and the wonderful working of God's power in the crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan also stand as a revelation of redemptive power to deliver us from the bondage of sin. In the song of Moses, as recorded in Ex. 15: 13, this deliverance is spoken of as redemption: “Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed; thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.” This is considered as redemption not only from literal bondage, but from spiritual bondage as well.
This same power is revealed in our redemption. We read of it in the first chapter of the book of Luke, in the prophecy of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, given about the time of John's birth: “His father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people, and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old), salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to show mercy towards our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware unto Abraham our father, to grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies should serve him without fear.” Verses 67-74. The same power that wrought redemption to Israel of old, the same power revealed in those miraculous workings of old, is the power of salvation, the power of redemption, the power of regeneration, unto every believing Christian.
Let us consider briefly what the Scripture says concerning the original creation of man and our experience and hope for the future. We read in this revelation of the power of God in creation, that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.” Gen. 1: 27. God created man in his own image. Further statements, enlarging upon this are found in the eighth psalm. Let us read the fourth and fifth verses: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, and crownest him with glory and honor.”
A crown implies kingship. Man was made in the image of God, but a little lower than God; and crowned. What was the nature of his crown? Not a material crown of gold and jewels,— a crown giving arbitrary authority to a person to reign as king,— but a crown of glory and honor. By the Father's own word he was created king, for he had dominion over the earth and the things on the earth, not because of arbitrary power or position bestowed upon him, but because he was capable of exercising dominion by virtue of his being created in the image of God, but a little lower than God. That means kingship. That implies dominion and authority. But man forfeited all this.
The Need of Power
In Rom. 3:23 we read: “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Man was crowned by the Creator, but through sin he lost his crown. He lost his character of righteousness in which he had been created; so now he is not crowned. He lost his dominion, and as indicated in our own experience and the experience of others, with that loss came inability to control, lack of power, lack of dominion over the earth, lack of power over ourselves, lack of the power with which man was endowed in the beginning. We have lost our crown, because we are fallen in sin; lost the righteousness of God with which our first parents were crowned, because we have sinned.
Now into what position does this bring us? Deprived of our crown, of position, authority, and dominion, we become slaves. By one man's sin all are brought under bondage. Every experience in which we are overcome by sin is a testimony to the fact that we have lost our crown. Instead of occupying that high place for which we were created, we are bondmen. Now what is promised? In John 8:31-36, we read: '“Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him, If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered unto him, We are Abraham's seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man; how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin. And the bondservant abideth not in the house forever: the son abideth forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
This is the restoration of the crown. This is deliverance from that condition of hard, rigorous service. This is the reversion again to the original position. The kingdom lost is restored by the work of Christ. He makes man free from the bondage of sin; he restores man to the position he had originally been created to fill—the position of king. It is for this reason that Christ himself is not spoken of merely as king. We read in the sixteenth verse of the nineteenth chapter of Revelation: “He hath on his garment and on his thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords.” He is not only king, but King of kings; and we are to be kings under the reign of him who loved us with an everlasting love, who redeemed us from the bondage of sin, and made us to be kings and priests unto God. And while he is King of kings, we are to be his cheerful, obedient subjects, rejoicing in the restoration of that crown of glory and honor conferred upon us originally at creation, when we were made in the image of God. This is God's great gift — the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; “for the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.” “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.” This is the power that sets us free. This is the power that delivers us from being bondservants, and brings us into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, to be kings and priests unto God.
We see abundant evidence of this power on every side, and yet this power is not conveyed unto us through nature. It is worthwhile to notice this point and emphasize it. We know that it is by the word of God — the power of God — that the stars are kept in place; that the planets move across space. We see on every side evidences of the working of God's mighty power. We see that mighty power working under conditions of utmost weakness. If you have ever noticed in your garden the tender shoots springing up, you have seen this. Sometimes after a rain the surface becomes somewhat hard, and you wonder if what you have planted will come up through the crust of earth. A little later you see a piece of hard earth moved to one side by a tender green shoot, something you could crush with the slightest effort. This is a manifestation of the mighty power of God in weakness. Have you ever thought how much power is used' in holding up the arms of the trees? Stand with your arms up for a while,, and you will begin to see how much power it takes for the trees to hold up their arms, day and night, year in, year out. That is simply this same power revealed so abundantly. But it cannot be conveyed unto us for salvation through material objects.
We, in a certain sense, as we look out over the created world, behold God in the evidences of his power working in the world; but when we say, Behold your God unto salvation,, we must say. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world; “for that is necessary for the deliverance of the soul and for successful Christian living. This is not accomplished through the law; ''for what the law could not do, in that, it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Rom. 8:3. Law-power is not sufficient for this experience.
Human power is not sufficient for this experience. Let us read in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, verses 24 to 26: “Again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible.”
The first chapter of First Corinthians, the twenty-fourth verse, reads: “Unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God.” Here is revealed the channel of the power of God unto salvation. The power of the law is not sufficient. The power of the flesh is not sufficient. Christ, the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,— this is the revelation of the power that saves; this is the climax of all gospel experience; this is the power to which the apostle Paul referred when he said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
The Reception of Power
This power is a personal power — not an abstract power — revealed to us through a personal Christ; and when we receive the power for salvation, we receive it only as we receive Christ, our Saviour, our Redeemer, our King, and enter into the experience of taking him as our righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption.
I know this subject often appears to be very abstract, removed from our experience, a vague something. Whenever I attempt to deal with the subject, I am impressed with its importance and with the value of thinking upon it and meditating upon it. Its realization comes not merely from hearing a sermon on this subject, or thinking of it once in a while, but it comes by association, by fellowship. It comes through that channel which God has given us for dealing with these things — the mind. When the mind is filled with everything else, we cannot enter into this experience. When our minds are open toward heaven, and when we receive through the channel of his Word and the fellowship of his Spirit that experience of power, then we shall know its reality and be able confidently to claim it as our own.
And let me say a word here about the reception of this power, and how it shall be used. This power is not given us to store up. One is not endowed with this power, then we shall know its reality and it up for tomorrow. He is not endowed with it before the trial in order that he may be prepared to meet the trial when it comes. Before the trial comes, before the hard experiences of tomorrow, we must live today in fellowship with that power; and only in that close fellowship will be found power to meet the trials of tomorrow — in communion with and fellowship with the One who is the source of all power, yea, and the power itself. That power is not imparted to keep in storage, but it is a keeping power, present when needed, gone when not needed, never laid up for the future, and never left in the possession longer 'than the need for it exists.
We cannot tell what this power is; we cannot explain it; but we know its results. We meet this same question every day. We do not stop running the presses because we cannot explain how the motor furnishes power. We cannot tell what the power is, but it works. We turn on the current, and it works. We need not spend our time and energy in an effort to define what this power in the life is. We know it works; it serves. In trial it helps; in sorrow it comforts; in hard places it carries us over. But to have that experience in times of trial and special need, we must know the daily life a fellowship with that power, and must have a connection with him who is himself that power.
This power, as already indicated, is set forth in the Scripture as the power of God. We read in the book of Zechariah, chapter four, verse six: “This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness”; “to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man,”—these expressions convey the same idea to our minds, the practical way in which the power for Christian living may come into the daily life.
There is one illustration of this power that carries with it a very important lesson. In Ephesians, the first chapter, Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, desired them to know “what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.” This is resurrection power. How shall we know resurrection power? — Only by dying; by that death which means a giving up of all that pertains to ourselves as completely as if physical life became extinct; only by this means can the resurrection power enter our experience. It is not because of lack of power, but because we do not appropriate power, that we are not delivered every day from the bondage of sin and made victorious in the Christian life.
Christ instructed his disciples, when he left them, to tarry in Jerusalem until Pentecost; until they were filled with the Holy Spirit and with great power for witnessing. What was this power? “With great power gave they their witness,” because the Spirit of power had rested upon them; because they had received power from on high.
The Purpose of Power
Now what is the purpose of this power? What is the result of receiving this power The Lord sent the message to Pharaoh of old: “Let my people go, that they may serve me.” This indicates deliverance from bondage, and we are delivered from this rigorous service that we may serve the Lord, that power may be revealed in our lives. This was Christ's experience when he was here among men. He made himself as one of us. He put himself in our place absolutely; for he said, “I can of mine own self do nothing.” The Scripture says that after the temptation he returned “in the power of the Spirit.” He returned from that place of trial in the power of the Spirit. So we may return in the power of the Spirit after every severe trial.
We cannot meet temptation in our own power, but by the power of the word, “It is written.” When Satan quoted the word of Christ, saying that he could cast himself down from the temple on the assurance of the promise, “He shall give his angels charge concerning thee,” Christ answered, “It is written again.” Here we have brought out in a very clear way the difference between the use of that powerful word to deliver from sin, and the use of the word of God as an excuse for sin. Satan cited the word as an excuse for sin. Christ, the Son of man, answered him with the word as power to keep from doing something contrary to the will of God.
There is just another view of this matter to which I wish to call your attention. In John 10:27, 28, we read: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” “I give unto them eternal life.” I read this text especially to call attention to that statement. It is for the present time, not for the future. It does not say, I will give unto them eternal life, but “I give unto them eternal life.” That is the eternal Spirit. You cannot separate between them. The indwelling Spirit in the heart is eternal life. That is the power imparted to them that receive Christ; therefore we read in I John 5:11, 12: “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”
That is the living power that works in us,— that power of the Spirit; the indwelling Christ, who is himself the power of God; that power which we must have for successful Christian living. And the purpose of all this is service. The life in the plant builds up the plant. The life in the fruit tree is shown in the fruitage. We may have ever so much power, but it will be revealed only through the channel of service. My arm may be ever so strong, but I cannot show that strength unless I lift; when I lift, the power is revealed. The daily life, gaining victory over every evil besetment, keeping the heart pure, speaking no guile, being able to rule the spirit, keeping the temper under trying circumstances, revealing the spirit of Christ-likeness,— by these manifestations the presence of power in the life is revealed. Or we may be called to some special service, speaking a word in due season, helping the poor, comforting the sorrowing, bearing public testimony; in any of these ways he can reveal through us the power for right action, the power of Christian living.
And whatever else may slip away from you in the lesson this morning, I hope you will remember these four points: —
The source of this power is God. “Power belongeth unto God.”
The assurance that this power will be given. “He giveth power to the faint.”
How this power may be secured. “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.”
And the result of receiving this power: “With great power gave the apostles their witness.”
“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”
Sermon given by Elder W. W. Prescott, at Takoma Park, D.C., Nov. 18, 1916