Great Texts of the Bible
The Supremacy of the Spiritual
Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.—Zechariah 4:6.
1. The Lord, through the prophet Zechariah, addressed this message, under remarkable circumstances, to Zerubbabel, the prince and leader of the Jews, under whom the first company of the exiles, numbering about fifty thousand, returned from Babylon. On reaching Jerusalem, he with his fellow-exiles promptly set about building the second Temple. They laid the foundations with great rejoicing, in high hope of speedily completing the work. But seeing the smallness of their resources and the vastness of the undertaking, the large numbers who opposed and the fewness of those who helped, Zerubbabel and his people became discouraged, and ceased from their labours. For full fifteen years nothing was done. To arouse the leader and to stir up the people to resume and press forward the undertaking, the Lord by Zechariah addressed them, telling them that, though they were poor and weak in comparison with the builders of Solomons Temple, yet God would have them know that the work was not wholly theirs, but was emphatically His, and must therefore be accomplished. For their encouragement He promised that His favour and the aid of His Spirit would be given them, furnishing in ways of His own all that was needed to complete the building. This He taught them by the symbolic vision of the golden candlestick and two olive trees, which is recorded in the context preceding the text, and of which the text is the explanation. The prophet saw a candlestick of gold, having seven lamps on the tops of seven branches, all connected with the central stem and to the bowl above by a golden pipe. On the right side of the candlestick was a living olive tree, and on the left side a similar olive tree. These trees poured from themselves a plentiful and unfailing supply of oil into the central bowl of the candlestick. Then the prophet asked what the vision meant. The reply given was the words of the text—“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.”
2. Zechariah had shared in the prevailing despondency of his time. He did not see what good could be accomplished by men of so little pith as Zerubbabel and the rest. He had taken their measure, and he despaired of them as the root or beginning of any noble undertaking or any fruitful work. Such men can never shine as lights in the world. Such feeble, incompetent persons could only bring disgrace on religion. In the vision of the candlestick it was made clear to Zechariahs mind that he had been wrong, not perhaps in his judgment of his contemporaries, but in forgetting one contemporary of whom he had made no account. “Not by might, nor by power”—so far he was right, there was neither might nor power—“but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” He was reminded of the source of the Churchs light, and it was revealed to him that the oil which fed this light—the Spirit, that is, which produces right and God-glorifying results in men—flows from an inexhaustible source beyond the light itself; so that we can never measure the light by looking at the wick, or at the amount of oil each bowl can contain, but only by looking at the source whence the oil is supplied. With immense significance the oil was seen to be derived from two living olive trees—obviously to teach that, though the bowls might be very small, the supply out of which they could be refilled was inexhaustibly large, a living fountain of oil.
Here the angel bears witness—that the power of God alone is sufficient to preserve the Church, and there is no need of other helps. For he sets the Spirit of God in opposition to all earthly aids; and thus he proves that God borrows no help for the preservation of His Church, because He abounds in all blessings to enrich it. Father, by the word Spirit we know is meant His power, as though He had said, “God designs to ascribe to Himself alone the safety of His Church; and though the Church may need many things there is no reason why it should turn its eyes here and there, or seek this or that help from men; for all abundance of blessings may be supplied by God alone.”
When therefore we now see things in a despairing condition, let this vision come to our minds—that God is sufficiently able by His own power to help us, when there is no aid from any other; for His Spirit will be to us for lamps, for pourers, and for olive trees, so that experience will at length show that we have been preserved in a wonderful manner by His hand alone.1 [Note: Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, v. 109.]
1. The text teaches the central thought of religion—the supremacy of the spiritual over the material. There is no dispensing with the material, but the spiritual is supreme through the material. Here, in a single vision, is the relationship of life to organization, the relationship of the spiritual to the material; the material candlestick necessary to support the light, but the supply of the living flame coming, as it must come, from something which has life and continuance in itself, from the living olive trees.
The supremacy of the spiritual over the material—no truth is more difficult really to grasp as a practical belief than this. The world is so real, its forces are so powerful; not only the natural forces which we capture and tame and bend to our uses, the power of air and water and gravitation, the power of steam and electricity and explosives, but those other powers, the power of social position, the power of money, the power of combination, the power of custom, even the power of fact. We are so controlled by forces all around us that we are apt to forget that as Christians we walk by faith, not by sight. Religion consists in emancipation from the deadening slavery of things seen. It teaches us that behind this outward and visible framework there lives and moves a great spiritual Power with whom we may be united, that this universe which we see is but the clothing of God Himself, that the soul is a more wonderful thing than the body, that eating and drinking are not the chief concerns of the citizens of Gods Kingdom, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, that the mightiest machine in the world is not to be compared with the humblest flower that grows, that Christianity is above riches, that love is stronger than death. In a word, religion teaches us the supremacy of the spiritual over the material.
2. There is a remarkable fascination about mere might and power. The tramp of armed men makes the city thrill with pride; the display of wealth and resources makes the nation glory in its enterprise and industrial capacity. Some men never tire of looking at that mighty proof of power, the locomotive, as it tears its way at express speed from one end of the land to the other, bearing its heavy freight as lightly as if it were a plaything of the nursery. How our eyes follow the mighty ocean liner as it draws itself quickly out of sight, and is soon lost to view over the horizon! How imposing as an illustration of power is a great fleet of war ships! Lines upon lines of mighty vessels; a huge collection of engines of destruction; a great display of human resource and ingenuity; a splendid proof of a nations might and power upon the seas. All are attracted by these things. The dullest, the most self-centred, those with the smallest grasp of things secular and material, will be drawn out somewhat to the world of wonder and awe by the attractiveness of might and power.
Yet not a day passes but we see what a fitful and feeble thing at the best is human power. We cannot open a newspaper but we notice what veritable weaklings are mans mightiest works in the hands of the Creator. The wind rises in hurricane, and our strong creations are dashed in pieces like cockleshells. What of the ruined emblems of mans mightiest works in the hands of the Creator. The wind rises in hurricane, and our strong creations are dashed in pieces like cockleshells. What of the ruined emblems of mans power to be found in ancient Greece and Rome—stupendous works like the Pyramids and Sphinx of Egypt, the temples of Assyria and India? Where is the might of these mighty empires to-day? Once they held sway over the known world. Once Egypt and Assyria made every neighbouring nation tremble at the mention of their name. Once upon a time the eagles of Rome flew from the farthest east to the farthest west. But where is their might to-day? Who would have prophesied the time when their power should be shattered, and all that was left of them should be the ruins of temple and palace, fit theme for poet to sing about and moralist to discourse upon?
3. It is “not by might.” That is a word of very comprehensive meaning. Sometimes it denotes an army, and is significant of brute force, of coercion, of sheer repression. In all Christian work force is no remedy. And sometimes it denotes wealth, and is significant of material substance, of buying power, bribing power, the carnal energies by which men are illicitly enticed and enslaved. Not by these means can the Kingdom be advanced. And sometimes it denotes valour, and is significant of the large energies of heart and will. And it is not by the unconfirmed courage of men that the work of the Lord is to be done. “Nor by power.” This is surely suggestive of “capacity.” It is a word which is elsewhere translated “lizard,” probably as signifying stealth. It is also translated “chameleon,” denoting adaptability, smartness, sharpness, the “quick-change” type of character. It was to this particular class that our Lord referred when He said: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent.”
(1) The worship of physical force is anything but an obsolete idolatry. People of all classes in society crowd in admiration round the man with the strong arm. A war is the unfailing specific for all the worlds diseases. Is anything wrong anywhere? War will set it right. It is well for us, however, to remember that the man who declared that Providence was on the side of the big battalions died defeated, a prisoner and an exile. Think of the equipment of the early Church in the Upper Room. How it would have excited the ridicule of military men of the world! This unarmed, undrilled company going to lead an attack upon the powers of darkness! But which would really be the more absurd—the sneer of the soldier, or the faith of the Apostles?
In the course of a letter to a friend in Glasgow, a professor of the University of Copenhagen writes: “Indeed the war is terrible, but we understand that the mortal struggle cannot finish before the Germans have learned that physical force, as Professor T. A. Fleming says, is in the long run impotent unless backed by those spiritual forces which spring only from loyalty to the everlasting difference between right and wrong.”1 [Note: Glasgow Herald, Dec. 31, 1914.]
There are two opposite ways of trying to promote the triumph of good over evil. One way is that followed by the best men, from Buddha in India and Jesus in Palestine, down to the Non-Resisters of our own time. It is, to seek to see the truth of things clearly, to speak it out fearlessly, and to endeavour to act up to it, leaving it to influence others as the rain and sunshine act upon the plants. The influence of men who live in that way spreads from land to land and from age to age. But there is another plan, much more often tried, which consists in making up ones mind what other people should do, and then using physical violence if necessary to make them do it. People who act like that—Ahab, Attila, Cæsar, Napoleon, and the Governments and militarists of to-day—influence people as long as they can reach them, and even longer; but the effect that lives after them and spreads furthest, is a bad one, inflaming mens hearts with anger, with patriotism, and with malice. These two lines of conduct are contrary the one to the other, for you cannot persuade a man while he thinks you wish to hit or coerce him.1 [Note: A. Maude, The Life of Tolstoy: Later Years, 36.]
(2) Another modern symbol of power is money. The worship of wealth was never such a popular faith as it is to-day. And the power of money in Christian work is not to be despised. All honour to the rich men who have given the Saviour their wealth because they had first given Him their hearts; who have remembered their duties as stewards responsible to an Almighty Master; who have spent their money in relieving the wants of the least of the Lords brethren, instead of wasting it on personal luxury, or hoarding it in useless avarice. Yet, after all, money is a broken reed in Christian work. Money may buy place and authority in religious organizations, but it cannot buy spiritual power.
If a thing was according to the need of man and the will of God, it had to be done, and Paton laughed at the idea that considerations of money should stand in the way of its accomplishment. “We must never lose the battle for lack of powder and shot,” he would say. But in itself money was nothing to him. It was kept in its proper place as means and not end. “Money I care not for,” he writes to Mr. Henry Ollard, “save as all influence and all agencies it can bring are used unreservedly and sacredly for the winning of the world to God and holiness.”2 [Note: John Brown Paton (1914), 507.]
We live in a world where visible and tangible things exist, to which, on the immaterial side, there are spiritual correspondences. One of these things is money. The higher order of people are apt to say there are better things than money; that there is the wealth of aspiration, of noble purpose, of generous and liberal sympathies, of good health and right feeling. And this is deeply true; and if one were to choose from financial riches on the one side, and spiritual riches on the other, he who would choose the former rather than the latter would be a madman rather than a rational human being. All the same, however, there is no truth in a sort of vague, traditional feeling that material poverty is necessarily synonymous with spiritual wealth, or that material wealth is synonymous with spiritual poverty. That this not unfrequently is true does not in the least argue that it is necessarily so, or that it is an ideal state of affairs. Still, when wealth is gained by a man giving himself over, body and soul, to material accumulation; when it is gained by grinding down the wages of employés, by the oppression and selfishness of all competitive industry, why, then, to amass financial wealth is at the fearful price of spiritual development.1 [Note: Lilian Whiting, The World Beautiful, 172.]
(3) Another thing much worshipped in these days is physical courage. But a man may be physically brave yet morally a coward—as bold as a lion in one part of his nature and timid as a hare in others. A man may even lead a regiment into battle in face of the most fearful fire as stiff and unflinching as if he were made of steel; and yet when one talks to him one may find him timid in his opinions, always asking what others think and afraid to take any firm moral stand. To face danger boldly, to keep cool in trying circumstances may be the result of possessing a frame so truly strong that no nerve is exposed or sensitive. Physical courage, the mere meeting of pain or peril without quivering, by no means implies a similar endowment of moral courage.
The Greek virtue of courage, confined almost entirely to valour in battle, has but little correspondence to anything that is supremely important in modern life. The kind of fortitude which is required for valour in battle is, even in its most inward aspect, somewhat different from that fortitude which sustains the modern man of science, politician, scholar, or philanthropist. Hence this side of ethical study is one which each generation of writers requires almost to reconsider for itself. However instructive the great work of Aristotle may still remain on this point (and there is perhaps nothing more instructive in the whole range of ethical literature), it is yet not quite directly applicable to the conditions of modern life.2 [Note: J. S. Mackenzie, A Manual of Ethics, 353.]
We are not entitled to say that the Aristotelian ideal of fortitude has been either more or less pure than that which has been operative in Christendom; but there is no doubt that the latter has become far more comprehensive, and it has become so in correspondence with an enhanced fulness in our conception of the ends of living. Faculties, dispositions, occupations, persons, of which a Greek citizen would have taken no account, or taken account only to despise, are now recognized as having their place in the realization of the powers of the human soul, in the due evolution of the spiritual from the animal man. It is in consequence of this recognition that the will to endure even unto death for a worthy end has come to find worthy ends where the Greek saw nothing but ugliness and meanness, and to express itself in obscure labours of love as well as in the splendid heroism at which a world might wonder.1 [Note: T. H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, 280.]
1. Physical force, then, will not do the work that has to be done. Money will not do it. Courage will not do it. But if these are away, what is there left? If we tell men of the world that our desire cannot be accomplished by these things, they will reply, “Then you simply cannot do it at all.” And they are right. We cannot. But God can, and God will. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Over against our weakness is set the almighty power of Jehovah. If we ask, “Who is sufficient for these things?” we have the answer, “Our sufficiency is of God.” We speak the truth when we say that without Christ we can do nothing; but not the whole truth until we add, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Even earthen vessels may hold a treasure. Even in weakness strength may be made perfect.
It is by the operation of the Holy Spirit that the Church of Christ, and the Christian world in obedience to her authority, has condemned infanticide, slavery, cruelty, injustice, intemperance, impurity, and all the long catalogue of social evils in the world. The men and women who have fought these evils in Christs name have one and all professed that it was not they who won the victory of themselves—not they, but a power within them, stronger than themselves, inspiring and energizing them, and rendering them capable of achievements beyond their natural scope. That Power, as they knew, had been no other than the Spirit of God. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts,” is the motto inscribed upon their hearts.1 [Note: J. E. C. Welldon, Revelation of the Holy Spirit.]
2. One of the greatest dangers of modern life is that we tend to put more faith in the power of machinery than in the power of the Spirit. If we are wise, there will be a growing resentment in our minds at the way in which life is broken up, and rendered shallow and unspiritual, by the mere multitude of good works, by want of depth and concentration. No doubt it is the natural temptation of an active and busy generation that so many workers for good causes are simply lost in the multiplicity of their own doings, immersed in practical and semi-secular affairs, absorbed in the mechanism of their work. We try, in fact, to do too many things; we have never really taken to heart the story of Martha and Mary; we forget that nothing will go well with us if the mechanism of our work is more thought of and cared for than the inspiration which alone makes it real and progressive. Men are so accustomed to look on the outward appearance and on material resources, even in Christian work. They are disposed to trust to the might of numbers, of organization, of training, and of experience. They rely also on the ability of their leaders, on their own prestige and past achievements. They make much of high official position, of social rank, of wealth and worldly relationship. These God also takes into His account and uses them; but He is not confined to them. He has other and mightier powers which He employs to build up His house. In all Christian work there is a tendency for the mind to become concentrated upon the lamp-stand of solid gold, and to forget the olive trees; to be engrossed in the costly mechanism and to be forgetful of the life. It is well, therefore, for us to be reminded that our most elaborate equipment will be futile without the mystic grace of God.
Amiels Journal Intime is the history of a man told by himself,—a fine mind and beautiful nature, but on the whole a pathetic story—the conflict, so common in our time, between the intellect and the heart, including in that last word the spirit, which is the Divine side of the heart. He was in heart a believer, in intellect not an agnostic, but perplexed. I suppose the right view is that neither is to be taken by itself. The heart without the intellect will lead to superstition, the intellect without the heart to Pantheism, or Materialism or blank Nihilism. The intellect must take the emotional and spiritual part of man into account in forming its theories, as the physicist does with the facts of nature. How to give the intellect and spirit their proper place is the cause of the conflict, and perhaps this conflict is a necessary condition of our progress and of our final establishment in the best way. Without sin the solution would have been easier. The conflict might have been only a keen, friendly discussion. And so the way to get above doubt is to rise into the region of the spirit, carrying our reason with us: “He that doeth his will shall know,” etc. “Blessed are the pure in heart.”1 [Note: Letters of the Rev. John Ker, 355.]
3. Nothing aroused the anger of Christ more than this intrusion of the mechanical into the spiritual, the encroachment of machinery upon life. As He studied with prophetic eye the religion of His day, as exhibited in its most orthodox representatives, He saw how fatal that intrusion was. Religion had passed from a life into a mechanism. We know how constantly, and how easily, in the history of religion, the spiritual hardens into the mechanical. The prayer-wheel of the Buddhist, the ceaseless repetitions of the Koran, are but symptoms of a disease that has not left Christianity itself unassailed. They have their counterparts in Christendom to-day. Even the regular attendance at public prayer, even the constant participation in the highest act of Christian worship, carry with them the perils of familiarity. The danger of mechanical religion is that we may lose sight of the end in the means, may even forget that there is an end for each and all of us, here and hereafter—personal righteousness, the realization of the image of God in man, the saving of the soul. Behind the things of sense lie the things of the spirit; behind Nature, God; behind time and the world, death and judgment and eternal life. Let us hold fast to the first principles of our faith, to the things which are not seen but are eternal.
Keble was ordained Deacon on Trinity Sunday, 1815, and Priest on Trinity Sunday, 1816, both by the Bishop of Oxford, Dr. William Jackson; and in July of the latter year, writing to me, he said, “I want your prayers, too; very much I want them, for every day I feel the dangers and anxieties of my profession increase upon me. Pray for me that I may not pollute Gods altar with irregular, worldly-minded, self-complacent thoughts. Pray for me that I may free myself from all pride, all ambition, all uncharitableness. You cannot think how a little word which you dropped one day, the last we met together at Oxford, struck me, and how it has abode with me ever since. You cautioned me against Formalism; I thought it hard at the time, but now I know you had too good reason. Help me by your prayers, your advice, if any occurs to you; and your reproof, if you at any time think I need it, to get rid of that dangerous habit.”1 [Note: J. T. Coleridge, A Memoir of the Rev. John Keble, i. 59.]
1. Human might has limits set to it, if it were only because it cannot achieve the highest and best results. It can civilize, but it cannot redeem. It can bring changes, some of them excellent changes, in the shape of social, physical, and even intellectual benefits; but it cannot Christianize. It can reform, but it cannot convert. It can alter circumstances, but it cannot change character. It can do much on the surface; but it cannot go deep down to the roots of the nature, and produce radical changes, the highest and eternal results. Now, it is just here that the magnificent claim of the text comes in. At the point where social reform and human culture lie baffled and broken, the Christian faith comes in with its supreme influence, because it is backed by the Divine power of the Spirit. It aims at the best results. It is omnipotent in the sphere of moral and spiritual things. It changes the heart and renews the mind. It redeems the soul and cleanses the character. It goes down to the springs of human nature; hence it revolutionizes the life; and thus it redeems society, because it first redeems the individual. Its sphere is found where human might and resource know no way of admittance. It deals with the soul, with the heart, with the eternal part of human nature. It speaks to men of sin and righteousness, of death and eternity and judgment, of salvation and heaven and life everlasting. It introduces new motives, and instils new desires. It implants new aims, holds up new and glorious ideals, gives grace and strength to work up to them. Where human might cannot enter, the Spirit of God has supreme dominion. Where human power falls back hopeless and helpless, the Spirit of God achieves its grandest results. Human empires come and go; they rise and fall, and others take their place; but the Empire of the Divine Spirit retains its early power to regenerate human hearts and renew and glorify human lives.
When I was turned from one whose business was to shirk into one whose business was to strive and persevere, it seemed to me as though all had been done by some one else. I was never conscious of a struggle, never registered a vow, nor seemingly had anything personally to do with the matter. I came about like a well-handled ship. There stood at the wheel that unknown Steersman whom we call God.1 [Note: R. L. Stevenson.]
Not by power are we to conquer, but by the sacred energies of the Holy God. “By my Spirit”; shall we reverently give it the old translation and say, “By my wind”? It is the breath of the Lord, creating atmosphere sometimes like a cool, refreshing air, sometimes like a withering simoom; sometimes like a tempestuous whirlwind. “He breathed upon them and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” But here is the other ministry of the same breathing: “The grass withereth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it.” It is an atmosphere in which the good is quickened, and in which all that is evil is inevitably destroyed. It is, therefore, with this mystic wind, this spiritual minister, that we are to go about our work. We are to do it in the intimate fellowship of the Lord.2 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
2. Now, may we not say that, in regard to the work of the Christian Church, this power is indispensable and essential? that where there is not the power of the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts all else is vain? We can never count upon success when the Spirit of God is absent. Every dry and barren period of the Churchs history tells the same tale. There may be intellectual gifts and literary culture. There may be riches and worldly resource. There may be social status and human influence. But over against these, with all the goodness that may be in them, we hear the cry echoing through the vaulted corridors of the Churchs life, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” These, at their best, are of the earth, earthy. They are but parts of human might and earthly resource, which have their limits appointed to them. But this supreme force of the Spirit of God is Divine; it is Almighty. It partakes of the nature of Him who is everlasting and omnipotent. Those others are the hands that lay the train; or, rather, they are the materials laid upon the pile. This is the magic flash of fire that kindles them into a mighty flame. This is the electric touch that can call forth all the force that lies in these, and make them truly mighty for the overthrow of strongholds of sin and Satan. Learning and scholarship, literary power, tact, address, resource; who shall despise them? They are all needed in the work of the Kingdom. But the first essential that can make men truly powerful is the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts.
Therefore, to rest on any other source of power is to lean on a bruised reed that will break and pierce the hand that leans upon it. What constitutes the power of a church? Numbers? God would rather have seven consecrated men and women than seven thousand who are living according to the course of this world. Where lies the strength of a church? In human wealth and patronage? Sometimes these are curses instead of blessings. The power of any church is the Holy Spirit. If He be in the preacher and in the believer, and in the general body of disciples, there is no telling what wonderful things may be done.
The baptism of the fulness of spiritual energy, of moral force, is a mysterious and an extraordinary event in the history of the race. “God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God.” The Old Testament knew the manifestation of this power in varying measures, yet it never witnessed the revelation of that power in its fulness. The Romans with pick and spade could do little in making roads through rocks and mountains. The use of gunpowder in the seventeenth century raised blasting to a science. The introduction of dynamite, thrice as powerful as gunpowder, entirely revolutionized that science. And then, again, nitro-glycerine, half as strong again as dynamite, has largely superseded dynamite. In the moral world, in various directions and ages, men have proved in various degrees the spiritual power by which they subdue sin and achieve holiness, but to us is the Spirit given without measure. Do I realize the saving, sanctifying Power?1 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, The Gates of Dawn, 132.]
3. Did not the Lord who breathed on His Apostles, saying, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” also charge them to tarry at Jerusalem till they were endued with power from on high. For nothing less than the power from on high could fit them for their arduous work, and nothing less than the Spirit of God could effect the great change to be wrought in the hearts and lives of the people. So it came to pass that, when Gods time came, even the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God gave the Apostles new powers and gifts, and the people new ears to hear and hearts to feel and understand. In a word, the Spirit of God breathed the breath of spiritual life into the new gospel creation. His life was the source of the Churchs spiritual power then and has been ever since. We must get back, therefore, to the primal sources of spiritual power; to prayer and meditation, to the study of the Bible, to sacramental grace and the realization of the Divine Presence. There are many among us who seem to have no capacity for suffering; and if we cannot suffer, how can we save? If we are never haunted by the sinfulness of the world, if we never know what it is to be crushed, humbled by the littleness of our own work and the greatness of mens need—if we are satisfied with the tiny circle of our own self-complacent career, and never look out into the wide wilderness about us where men toil and faint and suffer and despair—let us go back to the Bible and learn to see in that cross which throws its splendour and its shadow on every page the bitterness of human sorrow and the awfulness of human sin. The story of the cross, the story that changed the world, is the means by which the Divine Spirit works His great miracles. The cross of shame, the cross of bitter agony, the cross of terrible defeat, but also the cross of atoning love, love gloriously triumphant,—by this sign the Spirit conquers, proving Himself stronger than warlike might and earthly substance. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit” revealing to sinful men a crucified and risen Redeemer, the sinners refuge, the sinners hope, the sinners plea.
The Spirit of the Lord of Hosts is love—the sacrifice of might and power. The world has been made great by the gentlest of all its forces. Man had no dominion over the beast of the field until the advent of love. The animal raged within him unsubdued until the Christ came. Thunder, earthquake, and fire strove in vain to quell it; it yielded only to the still small voice. The Jew proposed the terrors of the law; the philosopher advised the crucifixion of feeling. Neither could suppress the passions of the soul. But when love came, it conquered the old passions by a new passion. It sent not thunder but lightning. It forbade nothing; it crucified nothing; it destroyed nothing; it simply flashed on me the light of a new Presence and the old presence died. There was no mutilation of the heart; there was no destruction of the hearts ancient possessions; there was just a transcendent glory which made the ancient possessions valueless; they were destroyed “by the brightness of his coming.”1 [Note: G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, 89.]
4. We often speak and act as though we expected the presence of the Spirit to be shown in the same miraculous manner as on the Day of Pentecost, but have we any right to expect this? We forget that we are living after Pentecost, not before it; that the Holy Spirit has come to this earth and has not departed. Our Lords words were, “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever.” If we read the Epistles carefully, we shall not find a single passage commanding Christians to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Ghost; only one passage that can possibly be interpreted as a prayer of the writer that the Church might receive the blessing of the Holy Ghost; but scores of passages implying that the Holy Ghost is already in the Church, and that what Christians have to do is not so much to pray that He may come as to take heed lest by their own unfaithfulness they lose the blessing which is already theirs. The warning, “Quench not the Spirit,” is addressed not to unbelievers but to believers; and the way in which we quench the Spirit is by refusing to open our hearts to the influences that are always waiting for entrance. Are we wrong, then, when we pray to be filled with the Spirit, when we pray that that Spirit may take more complete possession of our hearts? By no means. There is none of the good gifts of God that we do wrong to pray for. But we do wrong if we pray for the Spirit, and then, when His voice speaks, close our ears. We do wrong if we pray for the Spirit, and then bolt the door of the heart. How often we clamour for more light, when all that we need is to open our eyes!
The keynote of the twenty-first annual convention of Christian Endeavour at Middlesborough was struck by the Rev. James Spedding of Birkenhead, who reminded the delegates that all the elaborate plans and programmes for the convention would be as machinery with no driving force apart from the Divine Spirit. He little thought how perfect an illustration of his message the convention would provide. The great Town Hall of Middlesborough, seating some 4000 people, was thronged for a praise service—“The Evangel of Jesus,” composed by a local organist of conspicuous ability; a choir of 350 voices was in readiness; Felix Corbett, a master musician of the north, was at the keyboard of one of Englands noblest organs. The brilliant composer, R. G. Thompson, Mus.Bac., was on his dais. But the organ remained silent. We could soon tell there was some misadventure, the fact being that one of the wires of one of the electric motors was out of order. Till an electrician had been sent for, and had repaired the fused and broken wire, the choir had to sing to the weaker accompaniment of the piano. Great was the relief of conductor, choir, and audience when once more the electric power was free to rush into the organ. Only as the link between ourselves and God is established and maintained can great things happen in our individual lives and our Christian societies.1 [Note: S. Pearce Carey.]
Some time ago I stood on the east coast of England and looked out over a stretch of oozy slime and ill-smelling mud. There were the barges high and dry, lying on their sides, in the mud. No good their heaving the anchor or hoisting the sail—all this availed them nothing. And as I looked out upon it I thought within myself—What is the remedy? Were it any use for the Corporation to pass a bye-law that every citizen should bring pot, kettle, or pan filled with water, and pour it out upon the stretch of mud? But as I watched I saw the remedy—God turned the tide. In swept the waters of the sea and buried the mud, and then came the breath of sweetness and life. And it flowed in about the barges, and instantly all was activity. Then heave-ho with the anchor, then hoist the sails, then forth upon some errand of good. So is it that we stand looking out upon many a dreadful evil that fills us with dismay—drunkenness, gambling, impurity. Is there any remedy? And the churches, so very respectable, dreadfully respectable many of them—but alas! high and dry on the mud—for these, too, what is the remedy? We want the flood-tide—the gracious outpouring of the Spirit; then must come the roused and quickened churches. It is ours now if we will have it: “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me.”2 [Note: M. G. Pearse, Parables and Pictures, 108.]
Mysterious Presence, Source of all,—
The world without, the soul within,
Fountain of Life, O hear our call,
And pour Thy living spirit in!
Thou breathest in the rushing wind,
Thy beauty shines in leaf and flower;
Nor wilt Thou from the willing mind
Withhold Thy light and love and power.
Thy hand unseen to accents clear
Awoke the psalmists trembling lyre,
And touched the lips of holy seer
With flame from Thine own altar-fire.
That touch divine still, Lord, impart,
Still give the prophets burning word;
And vocal in each waiting heart
Let living psalms of praise be heard.1 [Note: S. C. Beach.]
The Supremacy of the Spiritual
Dods (M.), Footsteps in the Path of Life, 82.
Edwards (H.), The Spiritual Observatory, 85.
Horwill (H. W.), The Old Gospel in the New Era, 27.
Little (J.), The Day-Spring, 50.
Matheson (G.), Voices of the Spirit, 89.
Neville (W. G.), Sermons, 97.
Pierson (A. T.), The Hopes of the Gospel, 41.
Rutherford (R.), That Good Part, 135.
Spurgeon (C. H.), New Park Street Pulpit, iii. (1857), No. 149.
Swanson (W. S.), Gethsemane, 96.
Voysey (C.), Sermons, iv. (1881), No. 32; xi. (1888), No. 5.
British Congregationalist, Feb. 6, 1908 (J. H. Jowett).
Christian World Pulpit, xvi. 161 (D. Fraser); xxxviii. 298 (R. F. Bracey); lxiv. 186 (S. Barnett); lxviii. 21 (G. R. Eden); lxix. 152 (A. F. W. Ingram).
Church of England Pulpit, lv. 42 (P. T. Bainbrigge); lxiii. 359 (G. A. Lefroy).
Church Pulpit Year Book, 1913, p. 33.