M. Rhodes, D.D.
Sources of Power.
Key Thought: "The men and women of power in the kingdom are those who keep the key of the closet on the inside, and who realize their dependence upon and who know the meaning of communion with the Spirit."
Sources of Power
If I were asked to name the two most important qualifications for all Christian organizations to-day, I should indicate wisdom and power. It might seem superfluous to mention these in such connection, but only the casual observer should note that we are living in a time when these need very special emphasis.
I wish to confine myself to the latter, and to deal with sources of power.
Christian Endeavor has come to be one of the evangelizing forces of the world. If its opportunity is great, so is its responsibility tremendous. If its purpose is noble, so is it awful and thrilling to contemplate. If its success is phenomenal, so must the least peril be serious. What constant need there is that we be not absorbed with those elements of power which we can see and count, and that we keep ourselves in constant and conscious possession of those we cannot see, and without which we shall be helpless as an abundant field before the driving tempest. Mere power may be only weakness or desolation. It is the sources of power we want to know. "Power by itself," says an English writer, "may be the worst kind of weakness, and so mean no more than an opportunity for vindictive tyranny. When moved by love and directed by wisdom, and working for holiness, it is the mightiest thing that exists." It is God's omnipotence and our opportunity, and his glory that it achieves through a vessel of clay.
The Power of Knowledge
The first source of power I mention is a knowledge of Jesus Christ. I mean that profoundest, truest knowledge that ever comes to man. I take it that we agree that there is but one true gospel conception of our Lord as to his person and mission. Into this knowledge we cannot read ourselves, nor will we attain it by any process of logic or learning. It is revealed and communicated by the Holy Ghost, and in its beautiful simplicity is as readily accessible to a child as to a sage. The true character and mission of Jesus Christ — these, in both their limitation and illimitableness, profound as they are, are the source, not only of the beginning, but of the possibility of our power. What is Jesus Christ to you and to me? That is the question to which men's minds must be turned to-day, though it divert them from every other one; for this question correctly answered and applied is the solution of all, and this question rejected or perverted is the failure of all. As we know Christ, as the Son of the living God, as the propitiation for sin, as the exalted, ever-living Lord and King, in that meaning only may we hope to be men and women of power. A superficial knowledge of Christ will make no more impression on the world's need to-day than a winter's sun would make on an iceberg. Here is a subject for our serious meditation to-day. Hundreds feel where one thinks, and are content with the feeling. It is high thinking we need just now. It was not Luther's learning, nor his withering logic, nor his rushing eloquence, that made him more than a master of the formidable host that assailed him; it was his deep-rooted conviction and knowledge of Christ. Hitherto, when he was one with his adversaries, he was as weak as they were; but now, with a new life in him, he was as David with the giant at his feet. I lis enemies knew the Christ of the crucifix and of the imagination. Luther knew him in all the splendid power of the incarnation, of the cross, and of the resurrection — knew him as the one through whose blood we have redemption, even the forgiveness of sins. It was this that made him irresistible as a storm. This is real power. What do I personally know of the passion, love, and grace of Jesus Christ? Do I adore him as Saviour, and serve him as Lord, and joyfully anticipate him as Judge and King? Can I say, as it only should be said, "I know whom I have believed"? When I see him as he is, seated on the throne of his glory, shall I recognize in him one whom I have worshiped, and trusted, and served, and followed, and loved, and wished for? Is this commonplace? Is it this sort of speech the flippant tongue may indulge? True, but for this great organization and its work, this is the supreme source of power, the power the world is demanding now, the only power that will ever aid us in hushing its sobs, regenerating its life, and transforming it into the kingdom of God.
The Power of Love
To this we may add very naturally the power of love. Who knows the power of love? It is the interpreting of God. "He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love." When Paul came to know the Lord as it has never been given to man to know him, he said, "I count all loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." "The love of Christ constraineth us." Then it was that he prayed that "we might be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." That is to say, that we might be girded with power. The life of our Lord was a brief day, often wearied, always worried. Its greatness from first to last was that it was permeated, illuminated, hallowed, immortalized, by love. "Love is the explanation of its sacrifices; love is also the moral of its duty." "Leaving us an example that we should follow in his footsteps." Men scorned his word, but quench this passion in him they never could.
Terrible as is the resistance, slow as seems his conquest, this love of Christ is the mightiest and most effective force in the world to-day. We may have what tools we like, employ what instruments we please, but until the soul is fired with this divine passion our weakness will arouse the contempt of men, and we shall fold no sheaf in our arms. "Nothing conquers like love; and there is no love under the sun so patient, so wonderful, so tender, so beautiful, as the love of the dying Jesus. The whole of God is not in creation, wonderful as it is; but it is there in the love wherewith he hath loved us. If the infinite heart could be exhausted, love would furnish the channel through which it would flow. Who can conceive its power? It is that power, my brethren, which will at once guard and assure the great mission of the society met in this city to-day. I mean, of course, the love manifested in sacrifice, beautified by humility, yearning after holiness, welcoming sorrow or loss or pain, if only it may achieve for God and the race. This, my brethren, is the mind that is to be in us. This is power.
The Power of Enthusiasm and Sacrifice
Then will follow that power of enthusiasm and sacrifice which is so effective and yet needs to be so carefully continued and guarded. A wholesome, well-directed enthusiasm, that is the need. The spirit of indifference and worldliness has well nigh quenched it in the church. It must be recovered. Have the young people come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Surely if enthusiasm would take on the conditions of real power, it must be among you who are young. It belongs to you, as sunlight and singing birds and fragrant blossoms do to spring. The world has grown weary of boasted claims of contention and division. It does long to hear the voice, to feel the touch, and to see the face of the King.
Our weakness is more manifest than our might, our shivering indifference than our fervor. It is high time every soldier in the Lord's army came to conviction; and some one has said, "Enthusiasm is conviction on fire." We have had the logic of the head until we are bewildered; let us have the logic of the heart pulsing under the warmth of the Holy Ghost, and the revelation to us will prove regenerating to others. If religion, if holy duty, is nothing without enthusiasm, so is enthusiasm nothing without sacrifice. This makes it real power. Our Lord was enthusiastic, Paul was enthusiastic, Luther and Swartz and Judson and Wesley and Henry Martyn and Savonarola were enthusiastic, but it cost all sacrifice. In God's kingdom what so weak, so cheap, as enthusiasm without sacrifice? what so potent as enthusiasm with a crown of thorns in its brow?
"The salt of the Christian life," says a discriminating writer, "is sacrifice; and if the spirit of sacrifice die out of it, and the essence of that spirit, which is love, becomes chilled, and its activities and devotions presently decay and disappear, the salt of life is gone, and its growth paralyzed, and its influence killed, and its testimony silenced. The bane of the church of God, the dishonor of Christ, the laughing-stock of the world, is in that far too numerous body of half-alive Christians who choose their own cross, and shape their own standard, and regulate their own sacrifices, and measure their own devotions; whose cross is very unlike the Saviour's, whose sacrifices do not deprive them from one year to another of a single comfort, or even real luxury, and whose devotions never make their hearts burn with real love of Christ." Here is the pitiable weakness of multitudes to-day, the sad symptoms of forfeited discipleship. The men and women of power in the church are those who have kindled their enthusiasm at the cross and at the altar of God, and are expending it in unwearied self-sacrificing effort to bring this lost world to the feet of our conquering Lord.
The Power of Prayer and the Holy Spirit
And now in closing, just a few words on prayer and the Holy Spirit as sources of power. Our familiarity with these is just one reason why they should not be forgotten now. They are inclusive and pre-eminent. All I have mentioned are dependent upon these. We are as helpless to furnish any substitute for these as is the sinner to furnish an adequate righteousness to a holy God.
The men and women of power in the kingdom are those who keep the key of the closet on the inside, and who realize their dependence upon and who know the meaning of communion with the Spirit. When we speak of prayer as a source of power, we do not mean uttering a form of words, however beautiful; prayer is not so much a form of speech as a spirit within us. I mean a burning heart speaking to God, making its earnest, persistent supplication, and rilling all with gratitude and praise. This is God's method, and the duty he enjoins upon us all. The divine word not only insists on the duty, but it illustrates its power. Moses and Nehemiah and Daniel achieved something. We tell the secret when we say they were men of prayer. Luther and the Wesleys, the long line of apostles, prophets, martyrs, and missionaries, how the mention of their names inspires us; they had varied and many gifts, but the power of prayer was preeminent with them. The century has not produced a more remarkable trinity of brothers than John, Horatius, and Andrew Bonar. Who knows anything about them must feel their touch in the lustrous cloud that hangs over us to-night. God knows them best, and they know him best at the throne of grace. Jesus taught his own to pray, and set them the most impressive example of prayer on record. The soul is always at its best in true prayer, and when the soul is at its best the scepter of the King is lifted in its behalf. The history of all successful missionary and evangelizing efforts is but the story of prayer. We mutter a good deal, my friends. Once in a while there is a flash as though the blackened coal was about to kindle to a flame; but of that earnest, trustful pleading which lays the human heart down on the heart of God, there is not much, but this is power. It is said of that humble German Lutheran pastor, Gossner, who sent more than one hundred missionaries into the field, that "he prayed mission stations into being and missionaries into faith; he prayed open the hearts of the rich, and gold from the most distant lands." What a work was that of Pastor Harms! Since the days of Paul there has been nothing like it. The work of that one man and of his congregation of poor people in Hermansburg would blush the evangelizing efforts of the richest denomination in the land. These were lowly men, mighty in prayer, and full of faith and the Holy Ghost. Their work may be written among the miracles of God. Amid the much there is to divert attention to-day, to divide our interest in the clamor of demands that come up from the good work in which you are engaged, keep distinctly before you the call of duty and prayer; and remember that he who knows its power may be feeble in learning or eloquence, but he does more than touch the hem of the garment of his glorified Lord, he lays his hand on the arm that wields the scepter of the kingdom that is to fill the whole earth and to endure forever.
Just a word. This is the dispensation of the Spirit. To blind men to that is one of the successful evils of the times. To realize and appreciate that is to have learned the source of power that includes all others. When our Lord set about the evangelizing of this world after the new order, his first and greatest gift was the gift of power. "Ye shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you." (Acts i. 8.) All our power centers right here. Our praying will only be an empty babble, our numbers will count for nothing, the enthusiasm of youth will be noise in the air, our unity and organization will prove a rope of sand, unless we maintain a conscious dependence on the Holy Ghost, and open our hearts to his indwelling. This is power. Without this we shall have none. Bishop Westcott comprehends the whole case in this short but most truthful sentence, "This is the secret of every failure; we do not believe in the Holy Ghost." Let me urge upon you earnest, believing prayer for the presence and power of the Holy Ghost, then will you know the meaning of the apostle's word, and then only will you be able to exclaim, with an exultant faith, "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 the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, and unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen."
Official Report of the 11th Annual Christian Endeavor Convention, July 7-10, 1892, (Madison Square Garden, NY: United Society of Christian Endeavor, 1892).