Now to him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,…
I. WHAT THIS WORK IS. It is the direct acting of God the Holy Ghost, the third Divine Person in the adorable Trinity, as a Person, upon our spirit. It is, farther, His working in us to restore perfectly that image of God in our soul which the fall of man into sin has so grievously blurred, and which in all those who have fallen into wilful sin has been by their own act still more obliterated. On the one side, then, it is, so far as regards the agent, supernatural. It is the working in us, and on us, of the creative Spirit. It is the power of another within us: and that other the eternal God; the self-existent Being; to whose gracious will we owe our existence; by whose perpetual power encompassing and upholding us we continue to be; "in whom we live, and move, and have our being"; of Him whose all pervading power upholds the universe, whose presence and whose will rolls the countless worlds which people universal space along their pathless way. He is working within us; working upon our souls by the one, indivisible, Almighty power of Godhead. Now though, on the one side, that into which we are inquiring is thus truly a power far above any natural to man, even the energy of the Divine power working within us; yet, on another side, it is most really a work in which we have a share; it is, as I have said, a work in us, as well as on us; it is a work in the will of a being with a will — in the affections, heart, desire, and reason of one who can pervert that reason so that it cannot be wrought on, or can yield it up to this power; can harden the heart, can freeze up the affections, can poison the desires, can stiffen the will, against the operation even of Him who is Almighty. But again: not only may we discover that this work is thus on the one hand wrought upon us supernaturally, whilst on the other it advances through the action of our natural powers, and with our conscious cooperation; but further, we may trace the part of us on which it operates. It is "in the spirit of our minds" that we are to be "renewed"; it is "in the inner man" that we are to be "strengthened with might by His Spirit."
II. But further still: we may trace in many particulars THE LAW OF THIS DIVINE WORK, as it advances in those who yield themselves to its blessed processes for their renovation. For it has about it special characteristics of its own, on which we shall do well to meditate.
1. It is a REAL work. It is not the mere calling up out of the depths of our nature certain passing impulses or actions, but it is so truly a new modification of its very constitution that there are cast forth new emanations of desire and action, which show that the very fountain of spiritual being from which they arise has undergone a change. There is first a desire to act in all things with an eye to God. Next, there is the practice of offering up to Him each day as it passes by; and with this a crying of the soul to Him against its remaining selfishness, earnest supplications for a clearer eye, truer affections, and a simpler purpose. And all of these mark on the soul which He is training this first great character of His working, that a real change is passing on it; a change of the nature itself in true harmony with the laws of its own constitution, and yet a change which could not have sprung from itself, and so which proves that the power of One above itself is working on it by His own might.
2. But again, it is another characteristic of this work that in each one in whom it is wrought it is an INCREASING work. No mark is set down oftener than this in Holy Scripture. It is a growth: "Grow in grace." It "increaseth with the increase of God." And in nothing is the distinction between this heavenly work and any lower change more clearly shown than in this, that whereas the vigour of all inferior powers is soon exhausted, this tends ever to perfection.
3. Further, this is a gradual work. The very word "growth" implies so much. That which increases by the putting forth of an inner life is always distinguished by this feature from that which is enlarged by occasional and external increment: and this is eminently true of the work of God's grace in the soul. The conflict of the spirit with the flesh is inevitable, and so the progress of the final victory is of necessity gradual.
4. This may lead us to another mark of this great work. Marvellous as it is in its results, it is in its progress most secret. Here, too, it is as in nature so in grace. All growth is secret, so secret that eye of man never saw the separate parts of that mighty mystery of growth which every succeeding springtime repeats so profusely around him. The grass, the green herb, the tree, each leaf, each blade, each bough, each flower, in gradual living growth most secretly accomplishes around us its own law of increase. We see the result as we mark each developed part, and gaze upon the rich beauty which, unseen by us, though close beneath our sight, has painted the glowing flowers with all the lights of heaven. But we saw not the process. This is that "path" of God's secret doings "which the vulture's eye hath not seen." And so most truly is it with that "kingdom of heaven" within the renewing soul which is "like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until the whole was leavened." That marvellous life which the Spirit is quickening in the soul which He renews, which "is hid with Christ in God," is secret as is the quickening of the living flesh in the dark chambers of the womb, or as the growth of those members "which day by day were fashioned when as yet there was none of them."
5. But there is yet another mark of this work, where it is truly accomplished, which we shall do well to note. Though gradual and secret, it is also universal. Herein again it differs palpably from all merely human operations. For every reform of the moral character which is accomplished by secondary powers is more or less partial. There is no object short of God which can duly draw forth all the capacities which He has implanted in man's nature, and there is no power less than that of God which can duly accomplish that development. There is, moreover, about this universal progress one essential character of all true life. The change which proceeds from an inward principle, essentially one and indivisible, is yet multiform in its external manifestation. The same one inward power of life casts itself equably forth in the growth of every several limb, and every other adjunct of the body; the growing tree at the same moment expands in its stem and thickens in its branches, and multiplies its leaves and adorns itself with flowers: and "the fruit of the" living "Spirit," in like manner, "is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." And from this it follows, that whilst each character is growing in all graces, yet every separate character, as it has its own law of perfection, grows and ripens according to its separate kind. And hence the beauty of the army of the saints of Christ: they are uniform in the midst of their diversity, and multiform in their unbroken unity.
(Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,