By J.R. Miller
We too easily set limits to our own ability. We do not know our own potential. We face a difficulty and think we cannot master it--so do not try. Any of us might accomplish a great deal more than we do. Jesus said, "All things are possible with God." The preposition "with" is the key to the meaning of this saying. Many people take the words to mean only that God can do everything, that nothing is impossible to him. But what Jesus says is that a man with God can do impossible things. We know that God is omnipotent. Job said, "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be restrained." It gives us confidence, in the midst of dangers, in the face of enemies, or when troubles are about us--to know that God is stronger than the strongest. "If God is for us--who can be against us?" When we have some duty to do which is too hard for us with our little power, it gives us immeasurable comfort to know that God can do it. Yet God des not do our duty for us.
But we are co-workers with God. We cannot do our hard tasks ourselves, neither will God do them for us--God and we must do them. Nothing is impossible to one who works with God. So we may not indolently roll the responsibility of hard tasks and duties off our shoulders, even upon God. Whatever is given to us to do, we must accept and must accomplish. We have nothing to do, however, with the question of ability. Back of us--is all the strength of the Mighty God; and with this we can do the impossible--if it is God's will for us.
Many of the miracles of Christ are illustrations of this truth. He did not do for anyone by divine power, what the person could do with his own strength. He did not himself, by an act of his own, change the young ruler's heart; he bade him voluntarily to give up his money, which he loved, and follow him. If he had done this Christ would have entered his heart and changed it. When Jesus healed the man with a withered arm, he did not put life into the arm as it hung helpless by the man's side. He bade him stretch it forth, requiring him to use his own power of will. When he did this, the arm became strong. To the man himself the restoring of the arm was impossible; but to the man with God, it became easily possible.
It was impossible for the disciples to feed the hungry multitude on the hillside. Yet Jesus said, "Give them something to eat." It was an impossible duty, therefore, to which he set them. Yet they set about to obey his commandment, as if it had been some easiest thing to do. They did not say, "Master, we cannot do it." The simply began to do what he told them to do. Then, as they began to carry the bread to the people, it increased and continued to increase, until all the five thousand were satisfied.
Thus are we co-workers with God in all our life--in all our duties, in all our struggles. We cannot do these things by ourselves. "With men it is impossible." But, on the other hand, God does not do the things for us. "All things are possible with God." That is, all things are possible for us, with God. This is a most practical teaching. To each of us, the Master gives a work which is altogether our own. No one can evade his own personal responsibility. Neither can anyone say, "I cannot do anything." You cannot alone--but with God, which is working with God--there is nothing that is impossible to you. This is not your work, it is not God's--it is yours and God's.
It is by faith that we thus become co-workers with God. While Jesus and three of his disciples were on the Transfiguration Mount, a story of pitiful failure was being enacted at the foot of the mountain. A father had brought his epileptic son to the disciples during the night, asking them to cure him. The disciples tried--but could not do it. When Jesus came down in the morning, the father brought the son to him. "If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us," cried the father, in his distress. The "if" revealed the weakness of the man's faith. Nothing could be done for the boy while this "if" remained in the father's heart. Even Jesus, with his divine power, was balked in healing, by the "if." "If you can!" Jesus replied. "All things are possible to him who believes." Jesus could not do anything for the boy, but through the father, and before the father could do anything the doubt must be taken out of his heart.
This incident has serious teaching for parents. Something is wrong with your child. It may be sickness, or it may be evil in some form. You bring the child to Christ, while your faith is small. You tell him your heart's burden of distress or anxiety, and then you say, "O Master, if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." But your "if" tells of faltering faith. The blessing is within your reach--but it cannot yet come to our child because of your lack of faith. "If you can believe!" the Master answers in yearning love. "All things are possible to him who believes." The healing, the helping, waits for your faith.
There is more of this story. Jesus healed the boy. Then when the disciples were alone with him, they asked him, "How is it that we could not cast it out?" Jesus answered, "Because of your little faith." Think of the impotence of these nine men! They tried to cast out the demon--but it defied them. Yet they need not have failed. They ought to have been able to cast it out. They had received Jesus as the Messiah. They loved him, they believed on him. But their faith was weak. Look at the case. Nine friends of Christ, disciples, too, ordained to do great things, baffled now, balked, failing to do a work of mercy--because their faith was too little! Blessing, healing, kept from a poor distressed boy--because a company of Christ's friends had not enough faith!
There is something startling in this, when we begin to apply it to ourselves. We are Christ's, we love Christ, we follow him, and we profess to believe on him, we are banded together for his service. About us are many who do not know their Lord, who has had no experience of his goodness. If these are to receive the blessing of Christ's love and grace, it must be through us. Do we ever stand in the presence of great human needs, as the disciples did that night at the foot of the mountain? Do we ever fail to give help, to cure, to restore, to comfort--because of our little faith? Is there danger that Christ himself shall not be able to do mighty works of blessing in our community, because of our unbelief? He will not do the mighty works, the gracious works, without us.
We need not go to him in prayer when we come upon some great need--a man in the grip of temptation, a woman in deep sorrow, a child in distress, a soul unsaved--and ask him to do the work of love and grace. He says at once to us, "Go and do it--and I will work with you." We must do the work--he will not do it without us, and if we do not do it, Christ's work in that case will fail, and the responsibility will be ours. At Nazareth it was said--that Jesus could not do many mighty works because of the unbelief of the people. The suffering in the town went uncomforted and unrelieved, because of the unbelief of the rulers. Is anybody going unhelped, uncomforted, unsaved about you, because your faith is so small, because there is no hand the Master can use?
What is the faith that has such power? It is the faith that so enters into Christ--that it takes up into itself all the life of Christ, all that he is. It makes us one with him, so that where we are he is, his Spirit flowing through us. "Because I live, you shall live also," said the Master. Paul puts it in a wonderfully vivid way when he says, "It is not I who live--but Christ living in me." This faith makes Christ and his friend not two--but one. It is this which enables him who believes to do impossible things. Paul says, "I can do all things--in him who strengthens me."
The standard of character which our Master sets for his followers, is full of impossibilities. Did you ever seriously try to live the Sermon on the Mount for a week, or even for a day? Did you ever try to live the Beatitudes? If you did, you know how impossible these holy standards reach. But when Christ enters into us and begins to live in us--we find that it is possible to begin to live out these impossible things.
Impossible things are expected of a Christian, just because he is a Christian. Anybody can do possible things. Possible things are the things of the ordinary natural life. It requires no heavenly grace, no divine strength, and no superhuman skill--to do possible things. But the Christian should do impossible things, should live a life of truth, purity, and holiness, as far above the world's standard and reach--as the sky is above the mountains. He should live a life of love, so patient, so thoughtful, so self denying, that it shall prove in the eyes of all who see it immeasurably above this world's ideals of life. But we are satisfied with too low standards of Christian life. We are not as holy as we ought to be. We are not as holy as we might be. We are not doing the impossible things, which our Master expects of us.
Sometimes we read of heroisms wrought on mission fields. The careers of many missionaries are sublime in their faith, in their devotion, in their courage, in their readiness to lay down their lives for Christ. Our hearts are thrilled when we read the story of these faithful witnesses. They do impossible things, such things as none but Christians can do, because Christ is in them. He said, "Go, make disciples of all nations, and lo, I am with you."
When Raphael was asked the secret of his marvelous work, he imagined, "I feel the spirit of my mother bending over me when I paint." In reality, when we ask why a Christian can do impossible things, it is because the Spirit of Christ is bending over him. A Christian in himself is only a man of common mold. He has no more wisdom, strength, or goodness than any other man. He has all the frailties, the infirmities, the imperfections, and faults of other men. But a Christian is a common man--plus Jesus Christ. Christ has added himself to him--his strength, his goodness, his love, his divine life. A Christian is a man with God.
In the later days of Grecian art, a prize was offered for the best statue of one of the goddesses. A youth in the country who loved this goddess set to work to compete for the prize. But he lacked the artist's gift and experience, and his statue was crude and clumsy, far from beautiful. It seemed to have no chance at all for winning the prize. But the goddess, so the heathen legend runs, knowing of the sincere devotion of this youth to her and his love for her, when the time came for the display of the statues in the competition, entered herself into the crude stone, and at once it glowed with divine beauty, by far the most beautiful of all the statues, winning the prize.
In similar manner, we are called to show the world the beauty of Christ, to reproduce the glory of his life, not in cold marble--but in Christian character, in Christian spirit, in Christian service. In our weakness and faultiness, it may seem to us that we cannot do anything, that our life and work are unworthy of the holy name which we bear. Our best seems most unlovely, crude, faulty, and imperfect; but if we truly love Christ, if we truly believe on him, and if at his command we strive to do that which seems impossible, Christ himself, knowing our love, and seeing our striving--will enter into our life and fill it with himself. Then our poor efforts will become radiant and divine in their beauty. Able to do nothing worthy in ourselves, when Christ adds his own blessed life to ours--we shall have power to do the things that are impossible.