By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
Text: "For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life" (2 Cor. 1:8).
We live not only in a material, but in a spirit world. "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." Like as before a terrific electric storm when there is intense pressure, so in the spirit world, a sensitive soul becomes very conscious when three worlds are gathering their forces for a fierce battle. Here the .apostle gives a little glimpse into his spiritual conflicts. They were so fierce that he says he "despaired even of life." In like manner, many times the saints of our day are under great pressure and it is well to know from whence this pressure comes, as it will help one to properly adjust himself. I have in mind six sources.
I. Pressure may come from God.
II. From Satan.
III. From opposing minds.
IV. From our own blunders.
V. From physical disorders.
VI. From imaginary sources.
I. Pressure may come from God. Some people are so easy-going that God would never get anything out of them were he not to press them into service. He, like we, admires those who volunteer and say, "Here am I, send me." But men may be patriotic and yet dread to go to war. Hence God, like our government must draft, or conscript soldiers. They make good warriors, but must be pressed into service. Even the courageous Paul, while at Corinth, felt like holding a street meeting, or doing something to awaken the Jews, but being single handed, waited for reinforcements. And we read, "When Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ" (Acts 18:5). Yes, many times one is pressed in the spirit to resort to secret prayer; to visit the prison; to call upon and pray with a neighbor; to write a letter and send a check to a missionary, or some other worthy cause; pressed to arise at night and write a new article, or sermon. Such are delightful and profitable pressures. We should always invite them and rejoice that God sees fit to press us into his loving service.
II. Pressure from Satan. Paul wrote to the Ephesians and urged them to "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Note, the Apostle declares that the war is not against "flesh and blood," but it is a spiritual conflict. If we could see with angelic vision, we would behold at least twice as many spirits around us as human beings. No doubt on each side of you there stands a black winged and a white winged angel. One is ever trying to catch away the truth and all good desires. The other is urging you onward and upward toward heaven. These eternal beings never sleep, but are always alert and mighty in wrestling power.
It is well to remember that Satan was once a powerful angel, perhaps equal, or superior, to Michael, or Gabriel and next to God Almighty in wisdom and power. When he was cast out of heaven he did not lose his strength, or intelligence. All he lost was his holiness. To get an idea of his might turn to 2 Kings 19:35, and behold what one angel did in one night, when he slew 185,000 men. Again, an angel in one night slew "all the first born of Egypt, both of man and beast." Remember Egypt was a very populous country and we may rightly conclude that there were millions of lives lost that night. Again, Daniel declared, "My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths."
Whether this angel were the Lord himself is immaterial. It simply proves the supernatural strength and flight of an angel. And remember, Satan is a fallen angel of the first magnitude. His subtlety, hate, and strength are beyond comparison.
He is called the "Angel of the bottomless pit," Rev. 9:11; "Prince of Darkness" Eph. 6:12; "Accuser of the brethren," Rev. 12:10; "Murderer," John 8:44; "Liar," John 8:44. "Tormenter," Matt. 18:34; "Deceiver," Rev. 20:10; "God of this world," 2 Cor. 4:4; "Roaring lion," 1 Peter 5:8; "Dragon," Rev. 12:7, and "Piercing serpent," Isa. 27:1. We could give other scriptural names of this malignant "adversary," but these are sufficient to show up his character and might. Were it not for God's restraining power Satan would crush out our lives as easily as we do that of a worm. He came near killing the mighty Apostle, when he pressed him "out of measure, above strength, insomuch that he despaired even of life." No marvel then that we have hand to hand conflicts with Apollyon. "Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you as though some strange thing happened unto you."
Some people do not believe in Spiritualism, but I do. It is a reality, but a devilish reality. Satan is delighted in shifting the scenes of battle, so as to get us occupied in fighting certain "things," such as "church entertainments," "instrumental music," "worldliness," etc. These he can afford to push to the front. But he keeps in the background while we "bite and devour" each other. O, that we might fully realize that after all, the prime agent in the fight is Satan himself. It is a spiritual conflict and the two, great, opposing forces are Christ and the Devil. And mark you, he who has the courage to open fire into the center of the camp will assuredly feel the "fury of the oppressor" (Isa. 51:13).
This "king," or "angel of the bottomless pit" has a well organized kingdom with millions of fallen angels at his command, who are quick to obey the biddings of their chieftain. On one occasion, (Rev. 9th chap.) he turned loose upon this earth 200,000,000 of these relentless supernatural foes. Think of it! No doubt, like a wise general he held other legions in reserve for another attack. Now, this is what we must meet and overcome in making the race from earth to heaven. They who conquer are made of martyr material. No child's play here!
"Angels our march oppose,
Who still in strength excel,
Our secret, sworn, eternal foes,
From thrones of glory driven,
By flaming vengeance hurled,
They throng the air and darken heaven,
And rule this lower world.
"But shall believers fear
But shall believers fly?
Nor see the bloody cross appear,
And all their powers defy?
By all helps host withstood,
We all bell's host o'erthrow;
And conquering them through Jesus' blood,
We on to conquer go."
-- Charles Wesley
Though Satan intends our ruin, if we will only hold still while under pressure, God will turn it to our account and enlargement. Great engines, cannon, and lifting cranes are always tested under tremendous hydraulic pressure before they are put upon the market. This pressure does not injure, but rather insures the machinery.
In like manner, God permits severe pressure to prepare us for future success. One reason why some engines and likewise some men blow up is because they were turned out too soon. We should never feel jealous over a brilliant young convert, or preacher who quickly eclipses older men. No, rather pity him, for methinks I see Satan chuckle with a fiendish delight, knowing that later on when the pressure comes, this popular young fellow will explode and land on the scrap heap. Sad to say, thousands have done so!
III. Pressure from others. Friends, do you know that there are different kinds of human spirits in the world? There is the athletic mind, the money grasping mind, the argumentative mind, the sensual mind. An unkind man can bring pressure and cause his wife to suffer without saying a word. Perhaps this is one reason why some women go insane, or collapse with nervous prostration. A vile man can inflame and influence the feelings of a virtuous girl and never say a word. I personally knew a strong minded woman who confessed she could call to her room with her mind a man from the other part of the city. She declared that God took a good man to heaven prematurely whom she had intended to ruin. He tried once and again to break away from her spirit, but she held him as in a vise. Yes, the human mind is almost omnipotent and can be turned loose like a mighty Niagara for weal or for woe. Some of us could testify that we have suffered more in mind from false and opposing brethren, than had they tied us up and lacerated our bodies.
IV. Pressure from our own blunders. One can get out of the Spirit and do unwise things, which will react and later, bring on great despondency of soul. The after-effect of an act determines the quality of the act, So, it is not enough to feel self-complacent while performing an act. It is not enough to declare with great confidence that your position in this or that is right. What is the after effect? Does it leave a sweet taste in the mouth? Does it increase or diminish the spirit of devotion? Does it draw, or drive others from you? I fear that sometimes we vainly think we are persecuted or set at naught, for righteousness' sake, when it was because of our own indiscretion.
V. Pressure because of physical disorders. It is well to learn that the condition of the body has at times much to do with the status of the soul. We have known many instances where what an individual needed was something for his liver rather than his heart. A glass of hot milk and a hot bath will do more good with some people at certain seasons than a siege of fasting and prayer. At other times just the reverse. A cathartic will sometimes correct physical disorders and act favorably upon the soul. Many a soul could be saved from dumps and despair, if only a sympathetic person understood how to relieve the body. An osteopath doctor told us he had saved many a woman from going to the asylum because of his manipulations of the head and spine. God give us heavenly wisdom to know when and how to help those who are distressed in soul, mind and body.
VI. Pressure from imaginary sources. Of all pressures, this is the most unreasonable. Friend, you will have enough to suffer during your short stay in a world of sorrow and misunderstanding, without digging up old skeletons. Study to forget unpleasant things. Do not imagine that someone has it in for you when perhaps you have never entered his mind. In fact he may be looking for bigger game. I have known people who have suffered in mind, lost sleep and appetite only to find out later that all their fears were groundless.
Three good women were leaving a prayermeeting and lingered a moment in the rear of the church. Two other sisters were sitting near the front, when they perceived that the first three were whispering and smiling as they looked in their direction.
"Well," says one, "I wonder what they see in us?"
"I think," says the other, "they better be minding their own business."
The night passed, but one of the two sisters did not sleep well as she kept wondering what the other three could have been talking about. Whereupon she decided to go over forthwith and have it out.
"What were you three sisters saying about us last night?"
"Yes you were, for I suffered all night over it."
"O, I remember, we were not talking about you dear souls at all. We were looking over your heads at the old worn out blackboard and devising how we could raise a little money and surprise the Sabbath school superintendent with a new one next Sunday morning."
Yes, some of us have gray hairs and wrinkles we ought not to have -- brought on by worry and imagination of evils that never happened. Good Lord, teach us how to "cast all our care" upon Thee, for Thou dost care for us. If we must have cares, teach us how to put an extra "S" on and make it spell "caress."
Pressed out of measure and pressed to all length;
Pressed so intensely it seems, beyond strength;
Pressed in the body and pressed in the soul,
Pressed in the mind till the dark surges roll.
Pressed by foes, and a pressure from friends,
Pressure on pressure, till life nearly ends.
Pressed into knowing no helper, but God;
Pressed into loving the staff and the rod.
Pressed into liberty where nothing clings;
Pressed into faith for impossible things.
Pressed into living a life in the Lord,
Pressed into living a Christ-life outpoured.
-- L. S. P.