There is only one life that wins; and that is the life of Jesus Christ. Every man may have that life; every man may live that life.
I do not mean that every man may be Christlike; I mean something very much better than that. I do not mean that a man may always have Christ's help; I mean something better than that. I do not mean that a man may have power from Christ; I mean something very much better than power. And I do not mean that a man shall be saved from his sins and kept from sinning; I mean something better than even that victory.
To tell you what I do mean, I must simply tell you a very personal and recent experience of my own. I think I am correct when I say that I have known more than most men know about failure, about betrayals and dishonorings of Christ, about disobedience to heavenly visions, about conscious fallings short of that which I saw other men attaining, and which I knew Christ was expecting of me. Not a great while ago I should have had to stop just there, and say simply I hoped that some day I would be led out of all that, I knew not how, into something better, I knew not what. But, thanks be to His long-suffering patience and infinite love and mercy, I do not have to stop there this morning, but I can go on to speak of something better than a miserable story of personal failure and disappointment.
The conscious needs of my life, before there came the new experience of Christ of which I would tell you, were definite enough.
Three in particular stand out:
1. There were great fluctuations in my spiritual life, in my conscious closeness of fellowship with God. Sometimes I would be on the heights spiritually; sometimes I would be in the depths. A strong convention, such as this; a stirring address from some consecrated, victorious Christian like Speer or Mott; a searching, Spirit-filled book, or the obligation to do a difficult piece of Christian service myself, with the preparation in prayer that it involved, would lift me up; and I would stay up,—for a while,— and God would seem very close and my spiritual life deep. But it wouldn't last. Sometimes by some single failure before temptation, sometimes by a gradual down-hill process, my best experiences would be lost, and I would find myself back on the lower levels. And a lower level is a perilous place for a man who calls himself a Christian, as the Devil showed me over and over again.
It seemed to me that it ought to be possible for me to live habitually on a high plane of close fellowship with God, as I saw certain other men doing, and as I was not doing. Those men were exceptional, to be sure; they were in the minority among the Christians whom I knew. But I wanted to be in that minority. Why shouldn't we all be, and turn it into a majority?
2. Another conscious lack of my life was in the matter of failure before besetting sins. I was not fighting a winning fight in certain lines. Yet if Christ was not equal to a winning fight, what were my Christian beliefs and professions good for? I did not look for sinlessness. But I did believe that I could be enabled to win in certain directions habitually, yes, always, instead of uncertainly and interruptedly, the victories interspersed with crushing and humiliating defeats. Yet I had prayed, oh, so earnestly for deliverance; and the habitual deliverance had not come.
3. A third conscious lack was in the matter of dynamic, convincing spiritual power that would work miracle-changes in other men's lives. I was doing a lot of Christian work— had been at it ever since I was a boy of fifteen. I was going through the motions,—oh, yes. So can anybody. I was even doing personal work, —the hardest kind of all; talking with people one by one about giving themselves to my Saviour. But I wasn't seeing results. Once in a great while I would see a little in the way of result, of course; but not much. I didn't see lives made over by Christ, revolutionized, turned into firebrands for Christ themselves, because of my work; and it seemed to me I ought to. Other men did, why not If I comforted myself with the old assurance (so much used by the Devil) that it wasn't for me to see results; that I could safely leave that to the Lord if I did my part. But that didn't satisfy me; and I was sometimes heartsick over the spiritual barrenness of my Christian service.
About two years ago I began, in various ways, to get intimations that certain men to whom I looked up as conspicuously blessed in their Christian service seemed to have a conception or consciousness of Christ that I did not have,—that was beyond, bigger, deeper, than any thought of Christ I had ever had. I rebelled at the suggestion when it first came to me. How could anyone have a better idea of Christ than I? (I am just laying bare to you the blind, self-satisfied workings of my sinstunted mind and heart.) Did I not believe in Christ and worship Him as the Son of God and one with God? Had I not accepted Him as my personal Saviour more than twenty years before? Did I not believe that in Him alone was eternal life, and was I not trying to live in His service, giving my whole life to Him? Did I not ask his help and guidance constantly, and believe that in Him was my only hope? Was I not championing the very cause of the highest possible conception of Christ, by conducting in the columns of The Sunday School Times a symposium on the Deity of Christ, in which the leading Bible scholars of the world were testifying to their personal belief in Christ as God? All this I was doing: how could a higher or better conception of Christ than mine be possible? I knew that I needed to serve Him far better than I had ever done; but that I needed a new conception of Him I could not admit.
And yet it kept coming at me, from directions that I could not ignore. I heard Jowett of England preach a sermon on Ephesians 4:12,13: "Unto the building up of the body of Christ; till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ"; and as I followed it I was amazed, bewildered. I couldn't follow him. He was beyond my depth. He was talking about Christ, unfolding Christ,, in a way that I admitted was utterly unknown to me. Whether Jowett was right or wrong I wasn't quite ready to say that night; but if he was right, then I was wrong. And I came away realizing that I had heard what was to me the most wonderful sermon I had ever listened to.
A little later I read another sermon of Jowett's, in the Record of Christian Work, on "Paul's Conception of the Lord Jesus Christ." As I read it, I was conscious of the same uneasy realization that he and Paul were talking about a Christ whom I simply did not know. Could they be right? If they were right, how could I get their knowledge?
One day I came to know Dr. John Douglas Adam, who speaks the closing message of the convention to you to-night. I learned from him that what he counted his greatest spiritual asset was his unvarying consciousness of the actual presence of Jesus. Nothing bore him up so, he said, as the realization that Jesus was always with him in actual presence; and that this was so, independent of his own feelings, independent of his deserts, and independent of his own notions as to how Jesus would manifest His presence. Moreover, he said that Christ was the home of his thoughts. Whenever his mind was free from other matters, it would turn to Christ; and he would talk aloud to Christ when he was alone,—on the street, anywhere,—as easily and naturally as to a human friend. So real to him was Jesus' actual presence.
Some months later I was in Edinburgh, attending the World Missionary Conference, and I saw that Dr. Robert F. Horton was to speak to men Sunday afternoon on "The Resources of the Christian Life." His book on "The Triumphant Life" had helped me greatly, and I went eagerly to hear him. I expected him to give us a series of definite things that we could do to strengthen our Christian life; and I knew I needed them. But his opening sentence showed me my mistake, while it made my heart leap with a new joy. What he said was something like this:
"The resources of the Christian life, my dear friends, are just Jesus Christ."
That was all. But that was enough. I hadn't grasped it yet; but it was what Paul, Dr. Jowett, and Dr. Adam, were trying to tell me about. Later, as I talked with Dr. Horton about my personal needs and difficulties, he said earnestly and simply, "Oh, Mr. Trumbull, if we would only step out upon Christ in a more daring faith, He could do so much more for us."
Before leaving Great Britain I was confronted once more with the thought that was beyond me, a Christ whom I did not yet know, in a sermon that a friend of mine preached in his London church on a Sunday evening, a young "Welsh minister, the Rev. Richard Roberts. His text was Philippians 1:21, ''To me to live is Christ." It was the same theme,—the unfolding of the life that is Christ, Christ as the whole life and the only life. I did not understand all that he said, and I knew vaguely that I did not have as my own what he was telling us about. But I wanted to read the sermon again, and I brought the manuscript away with me when I left him.
It was about the middle of August that a crisis came with me. I was attending a young people's missionary conference, and was faced by a week of daily work there for which I knew I was miserably, hopelessly unfit and incompetent. For the few weeks previous had been one of my periods of spiritual let-down, not uplift, with all the loss and failure and defeat that such a time is sure to record. The first evening that I was there Bishop Oldham, of India, spoke on the Water of Life. He told us that it was Christ's wish and purpose that every follower of His should be a wellspring of living, gushing water of life all the time to others, not intermittently, not interruptedly, but with continuous and irresistible flow. We have Christ's own word for it, he said, as he quoted, "He that believeth on me, from within him shall flow rivers of living water." He told how some have a little of the water of life, bringing it up in small bucketfuls and at intervals, like the irrigating water-wheel of India, with a good deal of creaking and grinding, while from the lives of others it flows all the time in a life-bringing, abundant stream that nothing can stop. And he described a little old native woman in India whose marvelous ministry in witnessing for Christ put to shame those of us who listened. Yet she had known Christ for only a year.
The next morning was Sunday, but I did not go to church. Alone in my room, I prayed it out with God, and I asked Him to show me the way out. If there was a conception of Christ that I did not have, and that I needed because it was the secret of some of these other lives I had seen and heard of, a conception better than any I had yet had, and beyond me, I asked God to give it to me. I had Richard Roberts' sermon with me, "To me to live is Christ," and I rose from my knees and studied it. Then I prayed again. And God, in His longsuffering patience, forgiveness, and love, gave me what I asked for. He gave me a new Christ,—wholly new in the conception and consciousness of Christ that now became mine.
Wherein was the change? It is hard to put it into words, and yet it is, oh, so new, and real, and wonderful, and miracle-working in both my own life and the lives of others.
To begin with, I realized for the first time that the many references throughout the New Testament to Christ in you, and you in Christ, Christ our life, and abiding in Christ, are literal, actual, blessed fact, and not figures of speech. How the 15th chapter of John thrilled with new life as I read it now! And the 3rd of Ephesians, 14 to 21. And Galatians 2:20. And Philippians 1:21.
What I mean is this. I had always known that Christ was my Saviour; but I had looked upon Him as an external Saviour, one who did a saving work for me from the outside, as it were; one who was ready to come close alongside and stay by me, helping me in all that I needed, giving me power and strength and salvation. But now I knew something better than that. At last I realized that Jesus Christ was actually and literally within me; and even more than that: that He had constituted Himself my whole life, my body, mind, soul, and spirit; my very self. Was not this better than having Him as a helper, or even than having Him as an external Saviour: to have Him, Jesus Christ, God the Son, as my own very life? It meant that I need never ask Him to help me again, as though He were one and I another; but rather to simply do His work, His will, in me and with me and through me. My body was His, my mind His, my will His, my spirit His; and not merely His, but literally a part of Him; all He asked me to say was, "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me." Jesus Christ had constituted Himself my life,—not as a figure of speech, remember, but as a literal, actual fact, just as literal, just as actual, as the fact that a certain tree has constituted itself this desk on which my hand rests. For "In Him were all things created, and in Him all things consist"; and we are a part of the body of Christ.
Do you wonder that Paul could say with tingling joy and exultation, "To me to live is Christ"? He did not say, as I had mistakenly been supposing I must say, "To me to live is to be Christlike," nor, "To me to live is to have Christ's help," nor, "To me to live is to serve Christ." No; he plunged through and beyond all that in the bold, glorious, mysterious claim, "To me to live is Christ." I had never understood that verse before. Now, thanks to His gift of Himself, I am beginning to enter into a glimpse of its wonderful meaning.
And that is how I know for myself that there is a life that wins: that it is the life of Jesus Christ; and that it may be our life for the asking, if we let Him—in absolute, unconditional surrender of ourselves to Him, our wills to His will, making Him the Master of our lives as well as our Saviour—enter in, occupy us, overwhelm us with Himself, yea, fill us with Himself "unto all the fulness of God."
What has the result been? Was my experience of last summer only a new intellectual conception of Christ, more interesting and satisfying than before? If it were only that, I should have little to tell you to-day. No; from that hour to this it has meant a revolutionized, fundamentally changed life, without and within. If any man be in Christ, you know, there is a new creation.
Do not think that I am suggesting any mistaken, unbalanced theory of perfection or sinlessness in what I have been saying. The life that is Christ reveals to a man a score of sins and failures in himself where he only saw one Christ; and my life since the new experience of which I speak has recorded shamefully many failures and sins of such resistance. But, men, the fighting has been on higher levels than it ever used to be; and the restorations after failure are wonderfully blessed and complete,— made so, I think, by "keeping short accounts with God."
The three great lacks or needs of which I spoke at the opening have been miraculously and satisfyingly met.
1. There has been a sustained fellowship with God utterly different from and infinitely better than anything I had ever known in all my life before. Christ has permitted no extended, dreary fluctuations or barren intervals in my spiritual life.
2. There has been habitual victory over certain besetting sins,—the old ones that used to throttle and wreck me. There is yet infinitely much ground to be occupied by Christ; of that I am more painfully aware than I ever used to be; and I know also that there is in my life, as Bishop Oldham said, "a vast area of undiscovered sin" that I have not let Him, as I must by ever completer surrender and obedience, even open my eyes to. But many of the old constant and sickening, soul-destroying failures are done away with by Him, and, as I have faith to believe, forever.
3. And, lastly, the spiritual results in service and fruit-bearing have given me such a sharing of the joy of Heaven as I never knew was possible on earth. Six of my most intimate friends, most of them mature Christians, have had their lives completely revolutionized by Christ, laying hold on Him in this new way and receiving Him unto all the fulness of God. Two of these are a mother and a son, the son a young businessman twenty-five years old. Another is the general manager of one of the large business houses in Philadelphia, with branch houses in San Francisco, Savannah, and Richmond. Though consecrated and active as a Christian for years, he is now letting Christ work out through him in a new way into the lives of his many associates, and of his salesmen all over the country. A white-haired man of over seventy has found a peace in life and a joy in prayer that he had long ago given up as impossible for him. Life fairly teems with the miracle-evidences of what Christ is willing and able to do for other lives through any one who just turns over the keys to His complete indwelling.
Jesus Christ does not want to be our helper; He wants to be our life. He does not want us to work for Him; He wants us to let Him do His work through us, using us just as we use a pencil to write with.
When our life is not only Christ's, but Christ, our life will be a winning life: for He cannot fail. But remember, a life cannot win unless it serves. A prize fighter may win, but he does not serve. It is only a small part of life, and a wholly negative part, to overcome: we must bear fruit in service if we would really enter into life and the joy of the life that is Christ. If we are not bearing fruit, constantly and habitually, as a life-habit, we cannot ever do the lesser thing of habitual winning.
And remember that Christ Himself is better than any of His blessings; better than the power, or the victory, or the service, that He grants. God creates the electricity that drives cars, and carries messages, and lights our houses; but God is better than electricity. Christ creates spiritual power; but Christ is better than that power. He is God's best; He is God; and we may have this best: we may have Christ, yielding to Hjm in such completeness and abandonment of self that there shall be nothing to us but Christ. Will you thus take Him?
Charles Trumbull, Presbyterian Men; Addresses and Proceedings of the Fourth National Convention… held at St. Louis, MO February 21-23, 1911, 227-240