By S.D. Gordon
The Last Talk Together.
A little group of men were climbing the winding path that led up Olivet's slope. The Master was in the midst, and the others before and behind, where they could hear His voice. For they were talking together as they walked along. That is to say, He was talking, and they were listening, with an occasional question. They went on until they were over against where little Bethany nestles in among the blue hills. There they stood a little while, still talking together earnestly.
It was their last talk together. And there were two things the Master was saying. Those two things came with all the tender emphasis of a last message. They were to go on an errand to the world; a lifelong errand, and to the whole world. That was being burned in. But they weren't to start on the errand until the Holy Spirit had come upon them. The errand and the Spirit's presence were coupled together. That was to be their errand. And He was to be their life-power as they went on the errand.
They were to go. The Spirit was to come. He would come before they went. They must not go until He had come. Then they were to go in His presence and power. They would be able to go because of Him. Their going would be worth while, because wherever they went He would be at work in them and through them. The real work would be done by Him. But it would be done through them. His presence was essential to their work being done. Their presence was essential to His doing His work. He would work as they went, and where they went.
That was the new blessed partnership of world-wide service planned by the Master as He went away. They would tell of Jesus. The Spirit would open doors, guide their tongues, guard their persons, and make the message of Jesus as a flame of fire in men's hearts.
Just before this, Jesus had talked a great deal with His disciples about the Holy Spirit. They didn't yet know how much this that He was saying, would come to mean to them. But they remembered after the Master was gone, and then they understood. When they got down into the thick of the world's crowds they understood the great significance of what He had said.
That last talk they had together in the upper room and along the Jerusalem streets, on the betrayal night, was full of teaching about the Holy Spirit. And the next time after that that they met, in the upper room, on the evening of the resurrection day, He breathed strongly upon them, and said, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit." And the very last word on the Olivet slope was, "Wait; wait until the Holy Spirit comes." He burned in deep that their dependence must be entirely upon the Spirit.
The Partnership of Service.
Jesus Himself is an illustration of what He told them about this. He was on a missionary errand. He had been sent by His Father, even as later these men and we have been sent. With awe ever growing, one remembers that the divine Jesus in the days of His humanity gave Himself over to the control of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was the dominant factor in His life and in all His activities. All His teachings and movements were at the suggestion and direction and control of the Spirit. The power in speech and action, in healing, in raising the dead, and in the wondrous mastery of Himself was the Holy Spirit's power working upon and through Jesus.
Then it was that as He was going away He said, "As the Father hath sent me, even so I send you." And with that He coupled the significant breathing upon them, with the word, "Take ye the Holy Spirit." We are to be as He, both in our utter dependence upon the Spirit and in our assurance of His power in us.
Ever since then that has been the effective partnership for world-service: men and the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit and men. If you are thinking of the human side you say, "Men and the Holy Spirit." If you are speaking of the divine side, you say, "The Holy Spirit and men." The two belong together. Where men have failed to go the Spirit has been hampered in speaking to men. He has spoken, but the story of salvation through Jesus has not been known. The Spirit's mouth-piece for the telling of that story was lacking. That seriously hindered Him in His work.
Where men have gone without the Spirit, that is without yielding themselves habitually to His control, they have been sorely hampered. It is like having the kindling wood set in order for a fire, but the fire not started. There is no heat, nor any of fire's results. The kindling must have the flame, and the flame must have the coals. The two are partners in service.
This partnership belongs peculiarly in the world-wide service of winning men. If anybody needs the Spirit's presence, he does who attempts to win a man to Jesus anywhere. But if any man-winner needs that presence more than another, he does who goes into the peculiar atmosphere of a non-Christian people. And, on the other hand, if anybody can be sure of the Spirit's presence and power always with him, and working through him, he can who has gone out on the world-errand.
That man is in the direct line of obedience to Jesus' command. The Spirit Himself is sent by Jesus, and comes to us in direct obedience to Jesus' desire. These two, the man and the Spirit, are as one in the purpose that controls them. That man may depend on the gracious, irresistible Spirit's power at every turn. He is a thrice West man, if he have learned to depend upon His unseen Partner.
The Power That Never Fails.
You and I have to remind ourselves constantly that our chief dependence is not upon organization, nor method, nor personal talent, nor personal training, but upon the Holy Spirit working through these. The better organized the human machinery, the better the methods used, the more there is of personal gift, and the more thoroughly one's powers have been drilled, the more there is at the Spirit's disposal for Him to use. The practical bother is to remember this; to get it rubbed in until it is like an instinct in us, that the power is all from Him, through us. Not without Him, and not without us; the two together; but always His the far greater part--indeed, the real part.
The Holy Spirit has a double work to do: with us who go; and upon those to whom we go. Within us He has to work out the character of Jesus. He opens the Word, making its meaning stand clearly out. He wakens the mind up to do its best work. He guides in our decisions, suggesting and directing and controlling our thoughts, and in our actions, in our dealings with men. In things that are little in themselves, but on which so much hinges, He guides.
It constantly occurs that we are not at all conscious of His control at the time. But afterward we can see how He has been deftly, softly guiding, with His rare light touch upon us. When, in the thick of work, we may be pressed hard, and a bit wearied, and in doubt, He sends the quiet, quick suggestion into our thoughts that leads out of the tight corner and into the achievement of the thing desired. He works through us, and through what we do, giving power that otherwise would not be there. While you are talking in conversation or in public address, He is working through what you are saying.
And He works upon those to whom we go. He opens doors; the doors of circumstances that we find locked and double-padlocked against us. He opens the yet tighter-shut, harder-to-open human doors. He inclines men favorably toward us personally, and to our message. Under His touch the message becomes as a tongue of flame, kindling, disturbing, softening, burning down, and moulding over into new shape the inner man to whom the message comes.
Sometimes quarrymen find a very hard kind of rock in the stone quarries. They pick little grooves for the iron wedges, and then with great sledge-hammers drive these wedges into the hard rock. But sometimes this fails to split the rock. The iron wedges and big sledges have no effect at all on the stubborn stone. Then they go at it in another way. The iron wedges are removed from the narrow grooves. Then little wooden ones, of a very hard fibre are selected. These sharp-edged, well-made wooden wedges are first soaked in water. Then they are put in the grooves tightly while wet, and water is kept in the grooves. The sledges are not used. They would smash the wooden wedges.
The water and wedges are left to do their work. The damp wood swells. The particles must have more room as they swell. The granite heart of rock can't stand against this new pressure. It takes longer than with iron wedges and sledge, but after a while the rock yields and lies split wide-open. The water works on the wood, and that in turn on the stone. The iron wedges sometimes fail, but the wood and water never fail.
It seems to be a part of our make-up to make plans, and to count on the plans. And planning does much. We don't want to plan less, necessarily, but to learn to depend more in our planning on the soft, noiseless, but resistless power of the Holy Spirit.
"The day is long, and the day is hard;
We are tired of the march and of keeping guard;
Tired of the sense of a fight to be won,
Of days to live through, and of work to be done;
Tired of ourselves and of being alone:
Yet all the while, did we only see,
We walk in the Lord's own company.
We fight, but 'tis He who nerves our arm;
He turns the arrows that else might harm,
And out of the storm He brings a calm;
And the work that we count so hard to do,
He makes it easy, for He works, too:
And the days that seem long to live are His--
bit of His bright eternities--and close to our need
His helping is."
The Trinity of Service.
Now, we want to mark keenly that full power depends upon three things. There is a trinity of service, a human-divine trinity. The full results can come only through its working. The ideal winner of men needs to believe thoroughly in this trinity.
First of all is the message. There needs to be a clear understanding of the Gospel. That is the winner's message. That is the direct thing he uses in approaching and laying siege to some man's heart. It is a simple message, but very often it is grasped only partly by those who tell it.
That message needs to be understood clearly and fully by the man who would have the greatest power in winning men. From its first plain teaching about sin, on to the terrible results that sin left to itself works out; through the blessed teaching of love as shown most in the sacrifice for sin which Jesus made on the cross; the need of a clean cutting with sin, and clear-out surrender to Jesus as Saviour and Master; the work of the Holy Spirit in one's heart; and then the climax of service out among men--this simple message needs to be grasped fully and clearly. This is the first great essential hi the trinity of service.
There is a second thing, yet more important, that must go with this first. And that is a man who embodies the message in himself. It isn't enough to know the story of the Gospel, nor to tell it. It must be lived. That is the best telling of it. The man must be a living illustration of the truth he is telling. He may be conscious of not illustrating it as he should. The earnest man is never aware that he is as good an illustration of it as he is. He may think himself a poor illustration. He is quite apt to. But he is yet more apt not to be thinking of that side as he attempts to win men. He will be all taken up with Jesus, and with getting men to know Him.
The man is more than the message, even when he is less than the message. When his life fails to live out the truth he is speaking, still even then he is more. For the life is more than the lips. And, while he is talking, his life is discounting his words and taking away some of the power that belongs with them. I do not mean that those he is talking to are making the comparison, necessarily. They may not know about his life, whether it embodies the message or not.
I mean that the life that is true breathes a force and power into the man himself and so into his words. Or it doesn't. The message takes on the quality of the man. One man's talking catches fire; another's doesn't. The listeners know that it is so, though they don't usually know why. All the while you and I are trying to win others, in Sunday-school class or meeting, in Gospel service or church preaching, in personal conversation or letter-writing, there's a subtle something that goes out of us, as an atmosphere, that affects the power of the message we're giving out.
And that something is actually greater in its power than the truth we are speaking. It may be a touch of flame making the truth burn within him who is listening. It may be a deadly, dampening chill checking the fire that is naturally in the truth. The man is always more than the message.
Living on the Top Floor.
Then there is a third thing. It is yet more than the message or the man, or than both message and man together. It is this: the Holy Spirit controlling the man who embodies the message. I mean by controlling him that he has surrendered himself to the Spirit's control. And, further than that, that he cultivates the Spirit's presence.
There needs to be a habitual cultivation of the Spirit's presence and friendship, even as we cultivate our human friendships. There needs to be time spent alone, habitually, with the Book of God. I do not mean just now merely studying the Bible to get better acquainted with its contents. Something more than that--thoughtful meditation on its truths; the quiet, steady holding of one's self open to the searching and stimulating and enlightening influence of this rare Book. The Spirit speaks through these pages. Yet it is to be feared that many a careful student of its pages does not get deeper in than the print. He doesn't know and meet the Person who speaks in the print and through it.
Then, beyond the quiet time with the Book, there is the holding of one's whole life open to the Spirit's suggestion and subject to His direction. He guides through our thinking. And sometimes He guides us when our thinking, for some reason, has not gotten up high enough for Him to guide through it. Samuel thought that David's oldest brother was God's chosen one. But into his rarely sensitized inner ear the Spirit said "No." His thinking wasn't keen enough to be the channel through which he could be guided. But he had learned to hold his thinking subject to a higher power.
One time Paul thought it would be good to go over east into the province of Bithynia, and even tried to make a start that way. But the Spirit made plain His plan that they were to go in just the opposite direction, to the west. Had Paul's thinking been more open to the Spirit's touch at that point, he wouldn't have made the false start. But he was wise clear beyond the great crowd of us. For at once he dropped his own thought-out plans, and did as he was bid.
The keener our mental processes are, the better informed we are, the better poised our judgment--the better can the Spirit reveal His plans to us through this natural channel, if it is open to Him. But there is one thing higher up than our thinking powers. And that is the spirit-perception. The mental isn't at the top. It's a step up to the spirit floor, the highest of all.
Some men of splendid ability and training and consecration are constantly hampered because they insist on living on the mental floor. All their decisions are made there, not subject to change from above. And the Holy Spirit, who is the Commander-in-chief of all the forces in this campaign, is unable to use them as He would.
They haven't got the sensitized inner ear of the quiet time that would lead them up into higher, broader service. They go faithfully plodding along on the lower level. The Spirit can use them, of course. He does; but never to the full The Spirit of God controlling the man who embodies the message--this brings fulness of power in winsome service; and only this can. It is not by keenness of thinking, nor fulness of learning, nor shrewd, well-balanced judgment, but by the Spirit of God working through these, and sometimes working higher up than they have reached.
Partial Weavings of the Strands.
Now it will help us, I am sure, and make the truth stand out more clearly, to recall a good many variations that belong in here. Running back over these things brings up certain facts.
The truth has power of blessing in itself, regardless of who is speaking it. A bad man may preach the Gospel, and the truth itself will be felt in spite of the man. There is a life in truth itself, quite apart from the medium of its transmission. This explains why men who have turned out to be bad men have had good results attending their ministry. But it was the truth making itself felt in spite of the handicap it suffered at the hands of the man talking.
And men whose understanding of the truth is very one-sided and meagre have been greatly used and blessed in their work. It is striking how a man who has been rescued from a life of open sin, and who goes into Christian service with tremendous earnestness, will have great power. His emphasis of truth may be one-sided. It is quite apt to be. He tells what he has experienced. The man himself is a living illustration of the truth spoken. All the truth that can get out through him has the tremendous push forward of his life. But the extent of his service is limited.
And there are men who have a clear, well-rounded grasp of the blessed message of Jesus, and who give it out clearly and fully. But they are hampered by their mental swaddling-clothes, in which they have been wrapped up in school-days. They never get up out of them into the freedom of strong action through the Spirit's control.
Then, too, without doubt God's Spirit works alone, without using anybody. He speaks through nature's beauty and power. He speaks in the inner heart of every man. He is speaking directly to men all the time everywhere. But the message is a partial one. The direct revelation of God, in nature and in conscience, is a limited revelation. The full revelation of God was made in Jesus. And so it is in this Book that tells of Jesus.
The Spirit of God can speak most fully where that Book is known. He can work most fully and powerfully through the man who lives the Book. Every printing of this Bible, or any part of it, is giving the spirit freer entrance into men's hearts. Every one of us who produces a new translation of it in the language of his life gives the Spirit a wide-open door where otherwise the opening had been narrow.
Now, whatever combination of these there may be, some of the blessed power of God will be seen and felt. The truth unembodied or even hampered; men who embody the truth they know, but whose knowledge is small; men of much knowledge, but small practice; men of full knowledge, but who have not learned to let the Spirit sway them fully; the Spirit Himself speaking where Jesus is not known, and without any man's help--through each of these, power of life will go out to men.
But the fulness of power that runs like a mighty stream goes only as the three things come into one. The message, full and clear, the man who lives it, the Holy Spirit possessing and controlling the man who lives the message--this is the trinity of service through which alone the flood-tide flows.
Unbroken Connection Above.
That blessed flood-tide of power may be much more common than it is. There needs to be daily quiet time, alone with the Master, with the door shut, the Book open, the knee bent, the will bent too, to a clear right angle, the mind quiet and open, the inner spirit unhurried; broad, thoughtful reading; keen, clear, quiet meditation; the rigorous squaring of the life up to the standard of the Book; the cultivation of the Spirit's presence and friendship; and these habits steadily followed until they become second nature.
Then will be fulfilled the promise, "Out of His inner being shall flow rivers of water of life." And men have always been drawn irresistibly to the rivers. And yet, while there will be fulness of power, there will not be full knowledge of how full the power is. That is reserved for "the Morning."
For hundreds of years men have used a contrivance called a diving-bell for working under water. Practically it enables a man to live out of his native element. For a man to live in water for any length of time is impossible. Expert divers do so for a few minutes at a time, but must rise constantly to get a fresh supply of air. But their work is dangerous, and very trying on the body. By means of the diving-bell a man may live and work for hours under the water; that is to say, in an element that of itself, unchecked, would quickly take his life.
The diving-bell is a sort of huge inverted cup, let down into the water by its own weight, opening downward, so that the man in the bell faces the water directly with nothing between himself and it. Death by drowning is always within arm's length, yet he remains safe. The simple principle on which the thing is constructed is that water and air can't occupy the same space at the same time. The bell, being full of air, holds the water out.
But there needs to be a continual supply of fresh air sent down by means of a tube connected with the upper air. Death by drowning and death by suffocation, both threaten constantly, and each is held off, one by the air, and the other by the continual supply of fresh air. The man's ability to work and his very life depend upon the uninterrupted connection with the fresh air above.
The Christian man in this world is living out of his native breathing element. He needs to have his own atmosphere with him, or else he will die. And he needs to have a fresh supply continually from above, or his life will be at very low ebb.
Missionaries in foreign-mission lands speak much of the peculiar, deadening, moral atmosphere there. There is a strange sense of depression in it. They always plan to have their children brought home at an early age that they may be brought up through the tender, impressionable years in a land where Christian standards of life are recognized.
There is no language strong enough to put this truth, that we must, each of us, whether here or there, carry our own atmosphere with us, and have continual uninterrupted connection with the upper air. And that "must" cannot be too strongly underscored.
Blessed Holy Spirit, breath of God, and breath of my life, help me to let Thee have full sweep within me, that so my life may be kept sweet and full; and so Jesus can get freely and fully out of me to the great hungry crowd.