THE OVERFLOWING LIFE OF CHRIST
(Part III, Chapter II)
Every Member Evangelism
J. E. Conant
THE divine power is not only the life of Christ crucified, dwelling in us, it is also the love of Christ risen, working through us.
Among the wonderful things about our salvation, none is more wonderful than the fact that God not only does it all when he saves us, but that he even gives us the faith with which to receive his salvation. "For by grace are ye saved through faith"; he says, "and that [even the faith] not of yourselves: it is the gift of God."1 He leaves us nothing to do but consent. He does it all.
Now if the faith with which we receive salvation is a gift, and if everything that salvation itself contains is a gift, this means that Christ is the source of all our Christian activity, the center and substance of which is love.
Christ gave some intimations of this before he went away. He said to his disciples, "My peace I give unto you."2 Not a prescription for peace, but his peace. He himself was to be their peace, just as he was on the stormy lake, except that he was to be within them instead of simply externally present with them. And so with every other grace. Ours, no matter how capable they may seem, always break down under any real test. A Sabbath-school Superintendent stood on the platform in an East End Sabbath-school in London and saw his teachers practically helpless to keep order as conditions in some classes approached pandemonium. He was just on the point of ringing the bell sharply and saying, "The Sunday-school is dismissed; and don't come back again until you can behave yourselves!" But just before the impulse was yielded to, he suddenly lifted his heart, hardly knowing why he did so, and cried, "Thy patience, Lord; I need it quick!" And immediately a wonderful calm possessed him that gave him perfect patience and poise in the presence of the distracting disorder, and from that moment nothing that happened caused him the slightest feeling of impatience. His patience broke down under pressure; the Lord's never does.
THE SOURCE OF LOVE FOR THE LOST
The same thing is true of love, which lies at the heart of every Christian grace. The Lord said, not, "Continue ye loving me," but, "Continue ye in my love."3 Peter tried three times to tell the Lord he loved him, and made a miserable failure of it. But John had no trouble telling us that God loves us, and Paul tells us that he sheds his love all abroad in our hearts. It is impossible to manufacture sunshine, but it is perfectly easy to get out and bask in God's sunshine. We love him because he first loved us. Our love for him is simply his love rising to its source and taking our hearts in on the way.
All those nine graces beginning with love, joy, peace, are after all but love in its various phases. That is why it is called "fruit," not "fruits." for it is one fruit, not nine.
And then love—what is it? Is it a feeling, or an emotion, or a sentiment?
It is none of these things, nor all of them put together. It is infinitely more. It is that deliberate and fixed attitude of the whole being which puts the best interests of the one we love above our own, no matter at what cost to ourselves. And so it is entirely independent of sentiment and emotion, for it lies altogether back of them. Sometimes our emotion may be in perfect harmony with our love, as when a parent gives his child a present, and sometimes it may be utterly against it, as when a parent gives his child a punishment.
HOW TO LOVE OUR ENEMIES
Now the divine love has no respect either for person or character. This is why Christ told us, as Christians, to love our enemies. For when we do that, our love will then reach all those between our worst enemies and our best friends.
But can we do it? Do we love the uncouth and the disgusting? Do we love those who slander us and deliberately seek to injure us? Do we love our enemies who go about to slay us? Is there a Christian anywhere who is doing it?
Think carefully for a moment what it was that Christ commanded us to do for our enemies. He said, "Love your enemies,"4 but he did not tell us we must like them. To like them would imply approval of their character, and that would be impossible with all whose characters were wrong. He himself does not like the sinner, though he loves him so much that he gave all he had to save him. For love puts the best interests of the one we love above our own, no matter at what cost to ourselves, and this is what Christ did for his enemies, and what we are to do for ours.
But we cannot do even that, reasonable and simple as it sounds. No human being can love his enemy, even on that basis. When Christ commanded a thing like that, he commanded an absolute human impossibility. But he who prayed, "Father, forgive them”5 while they were driving the nails through hands and feet can do it, and by his in- dwelling life we can do it, because he is able to do it through us.
And we never can know the joy of loving until we love our enemies in the power of his love. There is infinitely more joy in loving our worst enemies with the love of Christ, than there ever can be in loving our best friends with our own love. That medieval saint had experienced this joy when he said, "It is so sweet to love my enemies that if it were a sin to do so, I fear I should be tempted to commit that sin."
Now the love of Christ going out through us for the lost cannot leave us in a state of inactivity nor the lost in a state of indifference. We must act under its impulse, and they must respond to it, even if it is to reject it. And so when the love of Christ has possession of us, it will both impel us and compel the lost to action.
I. The Love of Christ Impels the Christian
After all that has been said about how Christ lives his own life within the yielded disciple through the Holy Spirit, we can now understand how Christ's love will impel us to go after the lost precisely as it impelled him. We are also prepared to see that if we are not doing this, it is because his life is being suppressed within us by our un- willingness to yield to it.
Now we can go on to the further truth that such an active outgoing of our lives for the lost as his love impels is the life risen with Christ. When Joseph of Arimathea put a grave into his garden in which he who went to the cross for the lost was buried, he very soon had a resurrection there. And when a grave goes into the garden of our hearts in which self is buried and all that belongs to it, we will also share the resurrection life and fruitful activity of our Lord.
We shall study what the risen life is and what it does within us.
1. Christ’s Risen Life Overcomes
When Christ spoke of the death of the grain of wheat, he went on immediately to speak of its resurrection and fruitage. Death was not the goal; it was simply the pathway to the goal.
This is a truth many miss. They are deterred from surrender to the cross because they do not see what is beyond it. They see only the seeming loss involved in crucifixion, and do not see the resurrection life and fruitage on the other side. The cross seems to them not the beginning but the end of all that is worthwhile.
But when Christ was on his way to the cross he saw through to the other side, and seeing "the joy that was set before him" on the resurrection side, he "endured the cross" willingly, looking down upon the shame as a thing not to be reckoned with, and is now "set down at the right hand of the throne of God."6 And what he saw on the resurrection side he will cause us to see, if we will let him touch our eyes into spiritual vision. Right here is the secret of getting joy out of sacrifice. We need to see the cross principle, but that is only half of it. It takes the resurrection principle to complete the truth.
This twofoldness of Christ's salvation is seen everywhere in Scripture. He saves us both out of, and into. By his cross he saves us out of self; by his resurrection he saves us into service. By his cross we die to fruitlessness; by his resurrection we rise to fruitage. By his cross is ended that spirit of lovelessness that lets the lost all around us go into eternity without a direct effort to save them; by his resurrection is begun that active operation of the divine love within us that impels us to spend our lives in rescuing the lost. Salvation is twofold; not so much a first and second blessing as a twofold blessing; not so much a first and second work of grace as a twofold work of grace. The cross and the resurrection are always associated in New Testament doctrine, and they cannot be separated in the Christian's experience. It is impossible for the power of the cross to enter the life without the power of the resurrection to be manifest also. While we are discussing the crucified and risen life separately, this does not imply separate experiences. They are the two sides of one great truth.
It is quite true that one may receive the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection for him when he believes unto salvation, and may not receive the power of Christ's death and resurrection within him until a later day in his experience, though this does not need to be so. But when the power of the cross becomes a living reality in a Christian's life, the power of the resurrection is inseparable from it.
SATAN CANNOT TOUCH US
Now the risen life in Christ is the overcoming life. By the power of the cross we die to the enemy, and by the power of the resurrection we rise above the enemy. Satan cannot touch either the sonship of the saved one or the service of the surrendered one. The soul of the believer is forever safe in Christ, and the service of the soul- winner is beyond his reach in Christ.
It is because our life is hid with Christ in God that it is beyond the reach of Satan. As someone has put it, "Satan cannot touch our life in its source, for God is its source and he cannot touch God. He cannot touch our life in its channel, for the risen Christ is its channel, and he cannot touch the risen Christ. He cannot touch our life in its power, for the Holy Spirit is its power, and he cannot touch the Holy Spirit. He cannot touch our life in its duration, for eternity is its duration, and he cannot touch eternity. And he cannot touch our life in its sphere, for heaven is its sphere, and he cannot touch heaven. The child of God is eternally safe in Christ."
Moreover, Satan cannot touch the service of those who have gone by way of the cross into the risen life in the heavenlies with Christ. That working of the strength of the Father's might which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead and set him far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and put all things under his feet, is also "the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe"—who live by faith—by which we are made to fellowship with Christ in his power over all the enemy. And so when Satan and the world call after us, their call must come through the grave of Christ to reach us, and it is too muffled to hear. And when self makes its appeals to us and thunders its intimidations at us, we are dead to self and do not heed. All those weak and childish excuses for our selfish and criminal unwillingness to go after the lost which come from the enemy are therefore things of the past. And so when we experience the power of his resurrection in our lives, we will be in the place where nothing the enemy can do can deter or hinder us in the least from the work of soul-winning.
Let every Christian assuredly know, therefore, that if there is anything whatever that is hindering him from this work, he is not, experiencing the power of Christ's resurrection in his life, and by that much he is under the- enemy's dominion.
But there is no need for any Christian to be the tool of the world, the slave of the flesh, and the football of the devil. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:17, as Rotherham translates it, "For the flesh coveteth against the Spirit, but the Spirit against the flesh,—for these unto one another are opposed, lest whatsoever things ye chance to desire, these ye should be doing!" And he says this in explanation of the previous statement, "By Spirit be walking, and fleshly coveting ye will in no wise fulfill."
Dr. F. B. Meyer tells about going down in a diving bell. The passengers sat on a seat fastened on the inside of the bell. When they were lowered, the water came up into the inside of the bell a few inches and then stopped, because the air held it down. The water was fighting against the air, but the air was also fighting against the water, so that it could not do what it otherwise would. And the passengers did nothing but accept and enjoy the victory of the air over the water.
Thus it is with every Christian who turns everything over to his Lord. The life of the risen and indwelling Christ makes constant conquest over the flesh, and as long as the activity of the flesh is nullified by the life of Christ within us, neither the world nor Satan has any entrance into our lives, and therefore no power over them.
This means that we are free for service. And so nothing the enemy can do can hinder us from a life of soul-winning.
2. Christ's Radiant Love Overflows
When we are set free for service, we are in the place where all effective witnessing for Christ is done. Our lives will furnish the indispensable background for our testimony, and our testimony will be "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."7 When the enemy loses his control over our lives, we can witness with great persuasiveness to those whom the enemy is holding captive at his will. For the doctrine of the cross becomes surpassingly persuasive when illustrated by crucified lives, and the truth of the resurrection becomes gloriously triumphant through those who are transfigured by the risen life in Christ. And when it comes to witnessing to Christ, instead of hesitating to take the Gospel to all the lost in our personal worlds, we cannot be kept from it, We shall not go after the lost because we are commanded to, but because we cannot help it. We shall never run before we are sent, but we shall always go when we are sent. And if the enemy tries to prevent us from speaking in Christ's name—as he surely will, we shall turn him over to his Victor and go right on with our testimony. For the love of Christ will so constrain us—so bear us along and impel us—that we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
When a disciple is possessed and dominated by the life of the risen Lord, he cannot keep still about him. And all the powers of earth and hell cannot make him keep still. He will go through every condition and brave every difficulty to tell about him.
What an effect a little first-hand fellowship with the risen Christ had on those Emmaus disciples! There flamed within their hearts a strange and wonderful fire, even before they knew him, as they listened while he unfolded the Word by the way. And when they realized that he was their risen Lord, that moment they forget everything else and started out with the story, "He is risen!"8 They had just walked seven miles and a half from Jerusalem, but though night was now on, their weariness and the dangers of the road disappear as they hurry back over the same rocky road with their resurrection message. They had come into personal fellowship with the risen Christ, and the power of his resurrection had so transformed their lives that they could not wait till morning to tell the story of his triumph over death.
Now if a short period of personal fellowship with the risen Christ has such an effect as this, what about the effect on those into whose lives the risen Christ comes as an abiding Presence? If the news was so good to those disciples that they must tell it in spite of weariness and danger and everything else that could hinder, what about those in whose lives the power of his resurrection is a daily experience? If you can keep still about the Son of God, you give no evidence of any experience of his resurrection power in your life, and that means you are not surrendered to him. When you are living in the power of his risen life and walking in daily triumph over all the power of the enemy, it will be news too good to keep, and you will go everywhere telling it. It is hard enough to keep bad news, but when it comes to good news it is impossible to keep it. If the Gospel is really Gospel—good news—to you, you cannot keep from telling it. If you are not telling it, it is not good news to you!
It is something like this. Touch the keys of an organ and it refuses to speak—as many Christians do. It has the breath within it, as much as there is in the room around, just as those who have been born again have within them the breath of life; but it does not speak. Now turn the power on, and every joint is strained and the whole organ cries out, Give me a chance to speak! In the same way will a Christian cry out when the power of the risen life has taken possession of him. Touch him on any side and he will speak of him who is mighty to save.
Right here is the supreme need of Christians everywhere today! There can be no glad, spontaneous obedience to the Great Commission until the power has been turned on. Then they will be like Jeremiah when he said, "I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay."9 Even when he tried to keep still, he could not do it.
Dr. Chalmers visited a dying infidel in Glasgow twenty-one times and was refused admission every time. But at the twenty-second visit the infidel invited him in, because he wanted to see the man who could be refused twenty-one times and still keep coming. And then Dr. Chalmers had a chance to tell the dying man of him who can save. What if he had not continued calling! What if he had not been yielded to that indwelling one who kept him calling!
A lady was calling on a minister's wife. She was told of a cultured family near by, none of whom ever went near church, and she said, "I will go and see them."
"What excuse will you offer for calling?" asked the minister's wife. "Oh, yes; take this book," she said. "I remember hearing one of the young ladies express a desire to read it."
"But I don't want any excuse," said the caller. "I want them to know I am interested in them."
That visit resulted in the conversion and church- membership of three of them, and the regular church attendance of all of them.
In speaking of it afterward, the mother said, "I never realized the danger we were in until I saw someone else—and that one a stranger—was concerned about me."
Oh, for multiplied thousands of Christians through whose lives the radiant love of Christ is constantly flowing out to the lost!
Now we shall study the effect of God's love on the sinner.
II. The Love of Christ Compels the Sinner
Contact with the love of Christ compels action. It is absolutely impossible to remain indifferent in its presence. Response of some kind is as certain as response in nature to the action of the sun.
But the response which love compels is not all of one kind. It is of two opposite kinds, with no middle ground between. The soul that feels the love of Christ will respond either with a melting heart or with antagonism. Antagonism may change under pressure of love to the broken and the contrite heart, but indifference is impossible. Christ's love compels to one action or the other.
Every true Christian wishes most devoutly that all hearts might be compelled to melt under pressure of the divine love, but so long as man can act in free will, he will be able to reject God's grace, in spite of all that even God himself can do to melt his heart to love.
1. Love Compels Some to Rejection
The lost want to be let alone in their sins. They have no desire to have conscience aroused, for its action is painful and intensely unwelcome. The demons of Christ's day on earth cried, "Let us alone,"10 and this is the cry of the sinners of all ages. This is precisely why the lost never will come to church until the miracle of Christ's compelling love draws them there.
And Satan wants the lost to be let alone, and so he fills their time with everything that will crowd Christ out, and then keeps Christians from taking the Gospel to them.
But love cannot let the sinner alone, any more than light can let darkness alone. This is why Christ, in love, commissioned every Christian to bring men everywhere face to face with his yearning love, and this is why those who are filled with that love cannot help going with it to all the lost about them. Love simply cannot let the sinner alone. But the moment the pressure of Christ's love is brought to bear on the sinner, an issue is drawn. He must make a choice between two opposites. He must either crown Christ or crucify him. He cannot remain passive when the issue has once been drawn.
Right here is the supreme reason why we are commanded to be filled with Christ's love by the filling of the Spirit before we go to the lost. Because if the testimony to Christ's love is presented apart from the exhibition of it in our lives, the lost are more likely to be antagonized than they are to melt. There will be some who will reject it in spite of its utmost exhibition, as they did when they were face to face with it in Christ himself, but what an unspeakable crime to presume to go to the lost when we are not filled with Christ's love! And what a more terrible crime yet to be so devoid of his love that we do not go after them at all!
Now if the lost reject the appeal of Christ's love when it comes to them through a love-filled life, they will treat those who present the appeal as they did the Son of God himself. His presence in the midst of willful sinners stirred up an accusing and condemning conscience, and therefore caused them the most terrible and unmitigated pain known to the experience of sinful moral beings, and they fought him off. And so when he sought to do them good, they went about to do him harm. When he poured his blessings on them, they spewed out their curses on him. When he lavished upon them his unmeasured love, they let loose on him their sullen hatred. His pity brought nothing but scorn, his compassion nothing but cruelty, and his loving- kindness nothing but fiendish outrage.
This is why the love-filled Christian, living with Christ in the heavenlies and seeking to save the lost, is sure to suffer the contradiction of persistent sinners. This is why "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."11 And this is why the Christian who is not suffering persecution for righteousness' sake gives no evidence of a godly and love-filled life.
The aggressive and Christ-filled soul-winner, therefore, need not be surprised at persecution as though some strange thing had overtaken him, for those who refuse the appeal of Christ's love can do nothing else. Rejected love literally compels those who reject it to make every possible effort to quench its appeal.
2. Love Compels Some to Acceptance
There are some, however, who yield, thank God! And when the lost break under the appeal and yield to his love, how it melts them! Nothing else can do it like the love of Christ.
Our sympathy, our kindness, our love will never melt a sinner, but Christ's will. What a tragedy when they cannot see it in us! What a glorifying of our risen Lord when they can! Do you see why it is that we must follow Christ all the way to the cross and to resurrection ground before we can have much success in soul-winning? For it is only when we get here that we can literally compel them to come in. Perhaps we can best see why in the light of some illustrations from life.
Dr. J. W. Mahood says that when he was pastor in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, there was a little woman in his church in humble circumstances. She did not have much of what people call social standing; she kept a boarding-house. She had a number of young people boarding with her, and it was nothing unusual for her to say at the close of a noon meal, "Before you return to your work, let us kneel down and ask God's blessing." And she would kneel with them and pray for each one by name.
One day there came to her a book agent who was not a Christian, and this woman discovered it and set about to win her to Christ. At the close of a meal she said, "Now before you go to your rooms, let us kneel down and have prayer," and she prayed for each one about the table until she came to the young lady book agent, and then she prayed that she might become a Christian.
When they rose, the young lady was in tears. This woman put her arms about her and said, "This is the soul I want for my Jesus," and drew her into another room and got down on her knees and pointed her to Christ, and that young woman was saved. She was always doing something like that. She used to say to Dr. Mahood that she kept a boarding-house to pay expenses, but her business was to win souls to Christ. She was impelled by that love that compels the lost to come in.
The late Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman has told the story that not far from his home in Indiana, just across the state line in Ohio, there lived an old woman who was the terror of all who had ever seen or heard of her. She was finally arrested and sent to Columbus Penitentiary.
She broke every rule of the institution, and they exhausted every form of punishment upon her. Times without number they had sent her to the dungeon, and for weeks at a time she lived on bread and water.
Finally an old Quaker lady from the same part of the state asked permission to see her. The prisoner was led into her presence with chains upon her hands and feet. With downcast eyes she sat before the messenger of Christ.
The old Quaker lady simply said, "My sister."
The old woman cursed her, and then she said, "I love you."
With another oath the prisoner said, "No one loves me!"
Then the Christian woman came near, and taking the sin-stained face in both her hands, she lifted it up and said, "I love you, and Christ loves you.” Then she kissed her first upon one cheek and then upon the other, and that broke the sinner's heart. Her tears began to flow like rain. She rose to her feet, and they took the chains off, and until the day of her death they were never put on again; but like an angel of mercy she went up and down the corridors of the prison ministering to the wants of others, a trophy of the compelling love of Christ.
A QUESTION OF ETERNAL MOMENT
One question only remains. Will you go? He has commanded it; he will enable you. Do you dare refuse?
A young woman barely escaped with her life from the Chicago fire. After she was in safety she began to sob and moan. Those around her assured her that she was perfectly safe, and asked her why she wept.
She said, "Yes, I know I am safe, but I didn't save anybody else!"
Then they said to her, "How could you? You just barely escaped with your own life."
"Yes," she said, "I know that, but I didn't even try!"
It weighed upon her mind until they finally took her to the insane asylum moaning, “1 didn't even try! I didn't even try!"
"Must I go and empty handed,
Thus my dear Redeemer meet?
Not one day of service give him,
Lay no trophies at his feet?"
"He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.”12
"Abide in him; that when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming."13
Dr. W. Leon Tucker tells of how, in New York City, there was a great street demonstration in which twelve thousand people marched. The most remarkable thing in the procession was three sight-seeing motor cars packed full of men, women and children. In one of them was a judge of the Court of Appeals, and in the last one was a ragged street boy.
On the sides of the cars it said, "These people have all been saved from burning buildings by New York City firemen," and then back of the cars marched the men who had saved them wearing their medals, while hundreds of thousands of people cheered them.
Think of the eternal joy that will thrill the hearts of those who, following their Lord and disregarding the consequences, have spent their lives "pulling men out of the fire"14!
14 Jude 23
This comes from the 2nd section of the third chapter of Conant's Every Member Evangelism. It's a wonderful book that speaks to both the organization and the power that makes a church a soul-winning church!