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Things That Matter Most: Devotional Papers
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XXXV

THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

WHEN the apostles received the power of the Holy Spirit what difference did it make to them? What kind of dynamic does the Holy Spirit bring to men? What change takes place in the lives of men to-day when they become companions of the Holy Spirit? What infirmities do they leave behind? What new equipment do they gain? I turn to the records of apostolic life and I put my inquiries there. What happened to these men? What kind of power did they receive when they had received the Holy Spirit?

First of all, then, I find an extraordinary power of spiritual apprehension. I know not how to express what I see. The apostles have a certain powerful feeling for God. They have a keen spiritual sense which discerns the realities of the unseen. It is as though their souls have developed latent feelers for the Divine. If we compare their dulness in the earlier days before the Holy Spirit was received, with their alertness afterwards, we shall see that the difference is most marked. The Master Himself describes them as “slow of heart.” Their perceptions are blunt. They are dull to catch the spiritual side of things. But now when we turn to the record in the Acts of the Apostles we find this powerful sense of the Divine presence. It is as though a man has been sitting in a room with another man, but was only dimly aware of his presence; and then there came to him a refinement of his senses, and he gained a perfect assurance and a vivid knowledge of the other’s company. The spiritual senses of these men were awakened, and they became aware of the “all-aboutness” of God. They have an intimate power of correspondence with Him which makes the unseen Lord a most real and intimate friend. And along with this sense of the Divine presence there is a refined apprehension of the Divine will. Everywhere in the apostolic life there is a tender and refined correspondence with the mind of God. Everywhere communications are being made between the Divine and human, and the human is strongly apprehending the Divine. Sentences like these abound everywhere: “The angel of the Lord said unto me”; “The Spirit said to Philip, Go near”; “And the Lord said to Ananias”; “The Spirit said unto Peter.” There is everywhere this suggestion of an intimate walk and an intimate knowledge of God’s will. Is not this a power to be coveted, and a power to be desired? And it is a power given by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

I look again at the lives of these apostles, and I find them distinguished by magnificent force of character. In the early days they were timid, pliable, unfaithful. In supreme crises they deserted their Master and fled. They were as reeds shaken by the wind. The wind that blew upon them from the haunts of desolation, the keen, perilous winds of persecution, made these disciples bend before their blast. The men were negative, hesitant, uncertain, altogether lacking in persistent force. But now the timid and fearful have become positive and affirmative. There is nothing lax about them, nothing wavering, nothing yielding. Their characters have become strong, and steady, and effective. I say they have got force of character, and they have the two elements that are always found in forceful character: they have light and they have heat. They have light in the sense of clarity of purpose. Their outlook is not confused. Their aim is perfectly clear. If we watch them in the service of their Lord we find them never to be diverted from their track. “This one thing I do.” They have this primary element in a forceful character, the clarity of an undivided aim. And the second element in a forceful character is heat, the fire of a quenchless enthusiasm. And they certainly had this fire in glorious strength and abundance. The Acts of the Apostles is a burning book. There is no cold or lukewarm patch from end to end. The disciples had been baptized with fire, with the holy, glowing enthusiasm caught from the altar of God. They had this central fire, from which every other purpose and faculty in the life gets its strength. This fire in the apostles’ soul was like a furnace-fire in a great liner, which drives her through the tempests and through the envious and engulfing deep. Nothing could stop these men! Nothing could hinder their going! “We cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard.” “We must obey God rather than man.” This strong imperative rings throughout all their doings and all their speech. They have heat, and they have light, because they were baptized by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And I look again into the lives of these men who had been redeemed by the power of the Holy Ghost, and I find the energies of a glorious optimism. There is no more buoyant and exhilarating book in the literature than the book of The Acts. If we sit down and read it at a sitting we shall feel something of the swift and hopeful pace of its movement. I do not know that in their earlier days we should have described the disciples as “children of light.” They easily lost heart, and the cloudy days filled them with dismay. But now, after they have received the Holy Spirit, we find them facing a hostile world. They are face to face with obstructions, with persecutions, with threats of imprisonment and death. But nowhere do we find a desponding or a despairing note. Ever and everywhere they are optimists in spirit. And what is an optimist? He is a man who can scent the coming harvest when the snow is on the ground. He can “feel the days before him.” He can live in the distant June in the dingy days of December. That is an optimist, a man who can believe in the best in the arrogant and aggressive presence of the worst. He can be imprisoned in the desolations of Patmos and yet can see “the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” He can look at a poor, wayward, sinful Samaritan woman whose life is scorched like a blasted heath, and He can say, “The fields are ripe already unto harvest.” And this power of optimism is always operative in the apostolic life. I find it in the springiness of their soul. You cannot break their spirit. You cannot hold them down in dull despair. “They laid their hands on apostles and put them in the common prison.” And what happened after that? The morning after their release I read, “They entered into the temple early in the morning and taught.” And here is another part of the record: “When they had called the apostles, and had beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His sake.” These men could not be held down. The spirit of optimism was ever dominant.

And with their springiness there was a marvellous spirit of joy. Theirs was not a dull buoyancy, but a radiant and a singing one. “And they raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts; and the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Ghost”! “And at midnight Paul and Silas sang praises unto God”! Is not this the very spirit of power? These men had spiritual springiness, spiritual delight, because they had the spirit of Christian optimism, and this power they received when the Holy Ghost came upon them.

Do we wonder, then, that men of this kind, so endowed, have the additional power of witnessing for the Lord Jesus Christ? They witness by the arresting magnetism of their own transfigured character. They witness by their clear and enlightened apprehension of the Gospel by which they have been redeemed. And they witness by the grip of their words; words which were vitalized by the indwelling spirit of God. And we, too, shall receive a similar power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. The same power is offered to us, to fit us for our condition, to equip us for our life. And what are the terms on which that power is received? They are these: that we are willing to offer our life for God, that the offer be made in all sincerity, made in simplicity, made in humble trust upon the Lord Jesus Christ. It means that we are willing to give up our sins, to lay down our pride. It means that we are willing to receive the Lord as our guest, and to allow Him to rule and to dominate our lives.

XXXVI

KEEPING THE ROADS OPEN!

“IF thy brother sin.” But we must be quite sure about it. We can so easily be mistaken. Summary judgment can be villainously unjust. The assumed criminal may be altogether innocent, and his supposed crime may be the ugly figment of our own diseased imagination. For through what perverting media we can look at one another, and what monsters we appear when seen through a distorting lens! And therefore the primary rule of guidance in all presumed offences is that a man should examine his lens. Is the lens a perverting medium? Am I looking through a magnifying glass, and therefore magnifying trifles? Is the whole matter an exaggeration? And is the real fault in my own eye? Let me not leap to conclusions concerning my brother. “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

But assuming that there is no distorting lens corrupting our judgment, and that the offence is palpable when seen through cool and simple sight, what then should be our course? “Rebuke him.” Well, that would be pleasant enough. It is an exercise which provides a feast for the majority of people, and we set about it with rare satisfaction. But there are rebukes and rebukes. There is a rebuke which is only intended to satisfy the offended, and there is a rebuke which is purposed to rectify the offender. A legitimate rebuke is more than a vent for passion—it is a minister of redemption. It is intended to do more than work off my spleen; it is purposed to remove my brother’s defilement. It is to be used not so much for the relief of my wound, but for the healing of his. The wound of the offended is clean, and time will most surely heal it. But the wound of the offender is unclean, and it may easily fester into something worse. And therefore I say the primary purpose of a rebuke is not to gratify my temper, but to help my brother to recover his broken health.

Now, we may quite easily ascertain whether our rebuke has been of the kind counselled by the Master, a medicated kind, and the test is to be found in whether we are prepared to go further with our Lord. “If he repent, forgive him.” If our rebuke has been healthy and wholesome, we shall be quite ready to take the further step as soon as occasion offers. The fine aim and trend of all Christian rebuke is ultimate reconciliation. A rebuke is not an instrument of punishment; it is an instrument of adjustment. It is not penal, but surgical, and always and everywhere it is purposed to be a minister of moral and spiritual restoration. To put the matter in a word, in all the offences we suffer, our after-conduct should seek the moral recovery of the offender.

Now, let us seek to grasp one or two vital principles which lie behind this teaching. And I think we must begin here: a man’s finest asset is his integrity. It is just as well that even so familiar a commonplace as this should be re-emphasized. We are in such general agreement about it that it is apt to be ignored. Let a man destroy his integrity, and he destroys the finest jewel in his life. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.” Things provide only an existence; in character is found the life.

And the second step is this: the finest contribution which any man can make to a city or a nation is the contribution of an unblemished character, the gift of a scrupulously clean and consistent life. It is ever a temptation to men to esteem gifts more than dispositions, to exalt the showy and the dazzling more than the inherently good. We are captured and fascinated by genius, and talent, and cleverness, and subtle and ingenious accomplishments. And yet these do not constitute the sterling wealth of the corporate life. When a man has given only brilliant genius to his country he has not given his best. The best we can give is not our interest, not our service, but a chivalrous character, massive and undefiled.

If, therefore, a man has lapsed from moral and spiritual health, and is squandering his finest treasure, it should surely be his brother’s concern, for his own sake as well as for the sake of the offender, to keep the way open for his return. It is wise, even for our own sakes, to seek an offender’s restoration. When a man becomes morally defiled he introduces uncleanness into the commonwealth. Our sense of the corporate life is so dull and faint that we only very imperfectly discern the influence of the part upon the whole. Our conception of society is mechanical, not organic; it is political, not vital. We think of society as a chance collection, not as a nerve-pervaded corporation. At the best we regard it only as an aggregation and not a union. But the teaching of the Scriptures brings before us a far more profound conception. According to the New Testament, society is not a mere combination, like a heap of miscellaneous articles which the ocean has thrown up on the shore. The race of men constitute one vast, nervy body, with all the members vitally interdependent, vitally intercommunicative, inherently one and whole, every part related to every other part in community of interest, and every part suffering in so far as any part is undeveloped or bruised or broken. Let me state quite boldly the implications of this teaching. So long as China’s hordes are stagnant we ourselves will remain immature! So long as the cannibal tribes of tropical islands drowse on in their animalism we ourselves will not be fully awake! So long as anywhere in broad England any man is mentally or morally dwarfed, every other man will be hindered from gaining his appointed stature! No man will walk at his full height so long as any man remains a pigmy! One moral cripple affects the pace of the race! And therefore if a man “goes wrong,” if he becomes morally filthy, whether in slum or suburb, there is no isolation-hospital in which his nefarious influence can be safely confined. Prison-walls may isolate bodies, they cannot destroy the nerve communications of the race. We are every man and woman the poorer for every man and woman in gaol to-day.

If, therefore, my brother sin, what shall I do? Why, for the sake of everybody, try to get him right again. To rebuke him is not enough; to punish him unduly may aggravate the danger. The only adequate purpose is to get him whole again. And therefore did I say it is for the offended to keep the road open for the offender’s return.

Now, according to the teachings of the Master, one of the methods for keeping open roads in the moral and spiritual realm is the ministry of forgiveness. “Forgive him.” Yes, but the word is not used with the thin significance of effeminate emotion. The forgiveness of the New Testament is not emotional, but motional; not pathetic, but energetic; not a matter of cheap tears, but of sacrificial service. It is more than pardon, it is chivalry. It is more than the withdrawal, of the sword, it is the conversion of the sword into a ploughshare. It is the destructive transformed into the constructive and employed in positive culture. It is no use-considering anything else than this when we are thinking or speaking about forgiveness. There are many counterfeits about; masquerading as forgiveness, but they have no vital kinship with reality. There is a superciliousness which patronizingly utters sacred words, but its poverty is exposed by its very pride. Forgiveness is not a passive acquittal; it expresses itself in the ministry of self-sacrificing toil. And such a spirit, by the teaching of the Master, will assuredly keep the road open for a sinful brother’s return, and we shall be called “the repairers of the breach, the restorers of paths to dwell in.”

But a disposition of this kind demands that .we ourselves have faith in the spiritualities. Practical materialists will have no concern for these things, because the currents and forces in which they believe are of an altogether mundane kind. It is needful to have a firm conviction of the reality of the spiritualities, and of their power to strengthen or corrode the temporalities which are often so glaringly showy and so superficially majestic. If we are to exercise the ministry of forgiveness, in the way in which I have indicated, it is needful that we believe in God, and in the energies of godliness, and in our own possible co-operation in the ministries of redemption. And, therefore, how fitting was the prayer of the apostles which succeeded this high counsel of our Lord, “Increase our faith”!

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