Great Texts of the Bible
Power in the Inward Man
I bow my knees unto the Father, … that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man.—Ephesians 3:16.
In every sphere of life to-day there is an urgent demand for strength or efficiency. The apostles of physical culture denounce, in large letters, the “crime” of not being strong. Their laudable endeavour is to persuade us to develop our powers by exercise; but they have no gospel for the weak. There are strong-minded men who agree with John Stuart Mill that, notwithstanding all the talk about brain-fag, it would do most people good to use their minds more than they do. And if worry be distinguished from work, it is probably true that increased mental effort would mean, for the majority of people, increased mental power. There is a corresponding truth in the spiritual life, as every Christian knows. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews refers to the harmful effects which are the inevitable result of neglecting to exercise the higher faculties of the soul (v. 11, 14). Though our ears have been opened and we have heard the whisper of His love, we shall become “dull of hearing” unless we listen often and listen long for the still and small and inward voice of His Spirit. Therefore, let us “exercise” ourselves “unto godliness” (1 Timothy 2:7), but withal let us remember that the central truth of the Christian gospel is not that we are to become strong merely by development of our own powers, by exercise of our own faculties, by conservation of our own energies; if we are to become strong, we must be strengthened by a “power that is not ourselves,” and St. Paul can name that power and bear witness to its energizing—it is the power of the Holy Spirit.1 [Note: J. G. Tasker.]
“That ye may be strengthened with power.”
1. What shall the universal Father be asked to give to His needy children upon earth? They have newly learnt His name; they are barely recovered from the malady of their sin, fearful of trial, weak to meet temptation. Strength is their first necessity: “I bow my knees unto the Father … that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man.” The Apostle asked them in Ephesians 3:13, in view of the greatness of his own calling, to be of good courage on his account; now he entreats God so to reveal to them His glory and to pour into their hearts His Spirit, that no weakness or fear may remain in them. The strengthening of which he speaks is the opposite of the faintness of heart, the failure of courage deprecated in Ephesians 3:13.
In Paul’s opinion a Christian had no right to be weak. To Timothy, his spiritual son, he wrote, “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” To the Colossians, “We desire that ye might be strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness.” To the Corinthians, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” And again, to the Ephesians, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” To be strong is a duty; therefore to be weak is a sin. “Why art thou lean, being the king’s son?”1 [Note: D. J. Burrell, The Religion of the Future, 14.]
2. “Strengthened with power.” The word for “power” is familiar to-day in the forms “dynamite,” electric “dynamos,” etc. It signifies force or energy in an intense degree. We have it in the 19th and 20th verses of the 1st chapter: “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead”; and then in the 20th verse of this third chapter: “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.”
I confess that power, the possession of power, is one of the ideas I am trying to master. It seems to be greater every day I live; I am only just beginning to understand it, but Paul says that the power working in us is the power that raised Christ up from the dead. I cling to that thought, because I find that in my weakness and unworthiness I am like Christ in the tomb, and I pray that I may be raised up, out of weakness into strength, out of selfishness into sympathy, out of earth into Heaven. The power is the great power of God, the power of resurrection, the power of “endless life.”1 [Note: J. W. Ewing, The Undying Christ, 77.]
3. It was when we were “without strength” that Christ died for the ungodly, and the work of new creation is to restore strength to our thoughts, to our volitions, to our speech, and to our action. He “worketh in us to will, and to do.” He kindles within us a flame of spiritual passion, a force of resolution, before which even bars of iron must give way, and which makes us “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” One man in real earnest is a match for a thousand who do not know either their own minds or their Maker’s; and while others are putting it to the vote, or seeking authority for reform, or graciously holding that a balance of argument is in favour of the truth of Christianity, he who knows Almighty God, and with whom God dwells, knows the great secret of truth beyond all doubt, speaks not as the scribes, but pushes on the work of God as a soldier who sees victory before him and the Kingdom nigh at hand.
There are important cases in which the difference between half a heart and a whole heart makes just the difference between signal defeat and a splendid victory.2 [Note: A. K. H. Boyd.]
When Palmerston was trying to get Cobden into the Government, and meeting all his objections in a light and airy way, Cobden at length said: “But, my Lord, I am in earnest.” That closed the conversation. Palmerston, I should think, would look on earnestness in politics as the one unpardonable sin, as it is often looked upon now.3 [Note: G. W. E. Russell, Sir Wilfrid Lawson, 29.]
Take me out of the langour, the irritability, the sensitiveness, the incapability, the anarchy, in which my soul lies, and fill it with Thy fullness. Breathe on me, that the dead bones may live. Breathe on me with that Breath which infuses energy and kindles fervour. In asking for fervour, I ask for all that I can need, and all that Thou canst give; for it is the crown of all gifts and all virtues. It cannot really and fully be, except where all are present. It is the beauty and the glory, as it is also the continual safeguard and purifier of them all. In asking for fervour, I am asking for effectual strength, consistency, and perseverance; I am asking for deadness to every human motive and simplicity of intention to please Thee; I am asking for faith, hope, and charity in their most heavenly exercise. In asking for fervour, I am asking to be rid of the fear of man, and the desire of his praise; I am asking for the gift of prayer, because it will be so sweet; I am asking for that loyal perception of duty which follows on yearning affection; I am asking for sanctity, peace, and joy all at once. In asking for fervour, I am asking for the brightness of the Cherubim and the fire of the Seraphim, and the whiteness of all Saints. In asking for fervour I am asking for that which, while it implies all gifts, is that in which I signally fail. Nothing would be a trouble to me, nothing a difficulty, had I but fervour of soul.
Lord, in asking for fervour, I am asking for Thyself, for nothing short of Thee, O my God, who hast given Thyself wholly to us. Enter my heart substantially and personally, and fill it with fervour by filling it with Thee. Thou alone canst fill the soul of man, and Thou hast promised to do so. Thou art the living Flame, and ever burnest with love of man: enter into me and set me on fire after Thy pattern and likeness.1 [Note: Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, in Ward’s Life of Cardinal Newman, ii. 367.]
“In the inward man.”
1. By the “inward man” is meant, not the new creation through faith in Jesus Christ which this Apostle calls “the new man,” but simply what Peter calls the “hidden man of the heart,” the “soul,” or unseen self, as distinguished from the visible material body, which it animates and informs. It is this inward self, then, in which the Spirit of God is to dwell, and into which it is to breathe strength. The leaven is hid deep in three measures of meal until the whole is leavened. And the point to note is that the whole inward region which makes up the true man is the field upon which this Divine Spirit is to work. It is not a bit of our inward life that is to be hallowed. It is not any one aspect of it that is to be strengthened; it is the whole intellect, affections, desires, tastes, powers of attention, conscience, imagination, memory, will. The whole inward man in all its corners is to be filled, and to come under the influence of this power, until there be “no part dark, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.”
The inward man, of which St. Paul speaks as delighting in the law of God, is the moral personality. When the inward man is regenerated, it becomes “the new man”; but before this renewal in the spirit of our mind (Ephesians 4:23), the inward man can recognize the goodness of Him whose holy law is the expression of an ideal, which wins the admiration of him whose failures compel him to cry, “It is high, it is high; I cannot attain unto it.” To be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man” means therefore the invigoration of our noblest powers, the enriching of the higher self, the imparting of new energy to our whole conscious personal being. The result of the Holy Spirit’s energizing is neither the gradual extinction of desire nor the enfeeblement of the will; on the contrary, the Spirit-filled personality desires more ardently and wills more strongly. The difference is that the inward man is no longer “infirm of purpose.” All, and more than all, that the wisest ethical teachers intend, when they extol the virtue of self-control, is a gift of grace to those who “walk in the flesh,” but “do not war according to the flesh.” Those who “walk in the Spirit” also war according to the Spirit, and in the Spirit’s strength they are enabled to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).1 [Note: J. G. Tasker.]
The day came when Paul was led out along the road towards Ostia to his execution. There were priests and beggars and Arab merchants and sailors and camel-drivers who turned to look. What they saw was an armed guard with a Jewish culprit in chains; a man of “mean presence” outwardly, but destined to walk through history like a giant. The place was reached; there was the flash of a heavy sword; a head fell from the block. “There’s an end of this zealot,” said the executioner to his men. Little they knew! The real Paul cannot be slain. He is destined to be heard from. The “inner man” will walk up and down in Church councils, a participant in all great theological controversies, until the end of time. His death is but the widening of his parish.
Out of sight sinks the stone
In the deep sea of time, but the circles sweep on!1 [Note: D. J. Burrell, The Religion of the Future, 15.]
2. Every one has an inward man, a better self, a potential perfection within him, which will awake and begin to flower when he feels in his soul the touch of God. There is laid down in the being of each man, or deposited there in germ, an ideal, a Divine ideal, which ought to become, under the nourishing powers of redemption and providence, the real. The man is not “himself” truly, until he has at least begun to translate the ideal into the real in his daily life. So we read that the prodigal “came to himself”; he had been beside himself until then, a kind of lunatic. For madness—so saith the Wise Man—is in the heart of the sons of men while they live; he means in sin, and away from God. When they come to God they come to sanity, to self. In fact, coming to one’s self in discovery, idea, desire, deep-grasping consciousness, is the first step in the way of return to God and happiness. That hour of full awakening is the supreme season of a man’s life. How very far some men seem to be from it! But there is this consolation—that they are not always so far from it as they seem.
Mr. Macgregor’s nature presented a union, difficult for those who did not know him to understand, of feeling, of intellect, and strength of will. If feeling “overpowered” him for the moment, it was not suffered to carry him away. No impulse was allowed to master him for which he could not find intellectual justification; and then what he felt and experienced his resolute will turned into a force of life. That these days at Keswick were a turning-point in his life, there is not the smallest doubt. That they made his later ministry what it was, is equally certain. To say that he sometimes appeared to claim for this experience and its effects more than the facts altogether warranted, is only to say that, though remarkably enlightened and strengthened by God’s Spirit, he remained a fallible human being. But no one who knew George Macgregor, either as a man or a minister, before that crisis and after it, could question that he found then a new secret of strength both for his own life, and for his work.1 [Note: Life of George H. C. Macgregor, M.A., 110.]
Paul’s great solicitude is for the inner man; if he can only get that strengthened he feels that his work is done. And he is right. The inner man is the metropolis, the capital, the chief city; all the provinces take their tone from there. No man must begin with the provinces if he wants to make his fortune. In vain you adorn the body, in vain you amass the gold, in vain you seek the sights and sounds of beauty; the capital is the heart, and if the fashion of the heart be sombre, the whole is sad. But if the fashion of the heart be bright, I have no fear for the provinces; these will soon follow. The body may be meanly clad, the gold may be scarce and dim, the sights and sounds of beauty may be shut out by lane and alley, but if in the heart there be voices of laughter, they will fill all the land. If there be songs in the metropolis, I shall not be able to keep down my singing. I shall sing through all the provinces; I shall sing in the cold and in the snow; I shall sing in the dark and in the rain; I shall sing amid my struggles for daily bread. The life of joy is everywhere when there is gladness in the inner Man 1:2 [Note: G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, 219.]
3. How then is the discovery made? How does a man reach the centre and fountain of his own being? find himself? recover himself? bring himself home again to God? There are very great varieties of experience. But perhaps these things, or something like them, will be found in all.
(1) First, there is what may be called a soul consciousness—a consciousness of having, or being, a soul; not merely an animated something, to be covered with dress and beautified with manners; not merely a thinking something, to be informed by knowledge and guided by morals; but a something spiritual, vast, deep, related to eternity, related to God.
(2) The next thing is the conscious relation to God. No sooner does a man become conscious of his true self than he in that very act becomes cognizant and sensible of God. Some philosophic thinkers say that the deep and true self-consciousness is also, in a sense, consciousness of God—that we are so related to the Infinite that we cannot become conscious of our truest selves without touching and feeling it, without touching and feeling God.
(3) The third thing, or the thing which goes along with this very often, is the consciousness of sin—“I will say unto him, Father, I have sinned.” When the inward man is found, sin is found in it, or cleaving to it very closely. Yes, real sin, deep, soul-humbling sin. Not merely infirmity, mistake, and misadventure; but sin, which makes the sinner guilty, which makes him unworthy of kindness, worthy of wrath.
(4) Then, further, he becomes conscious of goodness as well as of sin. Not the old formal goodness; but goodness that is fresh and new and living; with love in the heart of it, gratitude lending it a glow and a lustre, faith building it up. This new life of goodness begins just with the other things we have named. Not after them, but with and in them. We are too apt to conceive of the religious life as consisting in a series of consecutive exercises, the beginning of the one waiting for the completion of the other. First repentance, then cleansing and forgiveness, then gratitude, then filial love, then active goodness. Not so. The moment a man comes to himself, all these things begin together, and go on together.
Some trees in early spring are yet covered with last year’s leaves; all withered now and begrimed. What says the new vegetation to these? “I must wait until God sends winds strong enough to sweep them away; rains heavy enough to wash the tree clean in every branch”? Not at all. That new vegetation, that fresh leafage, comes out and pushes them off, and clothes the tree with virgin green, drawing food and beauty from the mould of the earth, from the wandering wind, from the passing cloud. So goodness throws off sin, and dresses and adorns the soul in the beauties of God’s holiness.1 [Note: A. Raleigh, The Way to the City, 9.]
“Through his Spirit.”
1. In comparing the characters of Greek and Roman story described in Plutarch’s “Lives” with those depicted in unfading colours in the Old and New Testaments, one feels that both of these great picture galleries are filled with portraits of men of immense strength and resolution. But there is this difference, that in Plutarch’s heroes the human element of strength is supreme, while in the Scripture biographies there is added a Divine element of spiritual and moral power arising from vital contact with the Infinite and Eternal God—a spiritual power almost unknown to the Greeks and Romans, and producing types of men and women who seem to belong to another species through their union with the spiritual realms. This contrast is seen at a glance when we compare the heroes of Homer and of the Greek tragedians with those of the historical books of the Bible, or the poems of Greece and Rome with the remains of Hebrew song collected in the Book of Psalms. Aristotle himself says, when speaking of men’s relation to the gods, that all Greece would laugh if any man were to say that he loved Jupiter. How different the tone of David! “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength”; “I will sing praise to my God while I have any being.”
The expression in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, chosen as the text of this sermon, describes the quality of such souls. They were “strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man.” It is by no merely natural decision or force of character that men and women are made conquerors of death and time. Such new force, exhibiting itself in unfashionable faith, in thought, in purpose, in action, in speech, in Suffering, in sacrifice, in love, is the work of that Almighty Spirit from which all forms of energy proceed, but whose chief work in the universe is the creation of inspired character.
Every month seems to reveal to us more fully, in the progress of scientific discovery, the wonderful nature of the invisible energies which pervade and animate the material universe, until we look almost with speechless astonishment at the men whose experimental gifts, and mysterious insight, and mathematical grasp of thought, have unveiled the action of these interior energies of heat, and light, and electricity, and magnetism, and chemical affinity, and subdued them in practical forms to the service of man in the modern world. Hear the words of Dr. Crooke, spoken to his Company on opening the electric light for Ladbroke Square last week: “Before finishing I just want to draw your attention to a little bit of philosophy. We ought to have some philosophy in an electric light installation. Millions of years ago the sun shone upon the earth; plants grew; they died, and were converted in the course of time into coal. The light of the sun which was shining then was transformed into the latent energy of the coal. That coal has been dug up millions of years afterwards, and is forming the fire under the boiler. The heat of the coal is raising the steam, which, thus produced, passes through the engine and is being converted into motion. That motion is being communicated to the armature of the dynamo, which produces magnetism, and this, in its turn, produces electricity. The electricity is conducted into the secondary batteries and is there changed into chemical action. This chemical action is reconverted into electric current in the mains, and when human brains and energy are employed to direct the current in the right direction, the ultimate result is evident to you in the form of light. This light is the identical energy of the sun, bottled up in the coal measures countless ages ago, and now reproduced after having undergone more strange transformations than were ever dreamed of in fairyland.”
But we live in the midst of still sublimer manifestations of one and the self-same Spirit, in His dealings, not with matter, but with souls—in the work of renewing them in the image of God, to an endless life, a life as indestructible as the Divine. For it is never to be forgotten that it is one and the self-same Spirit who has governed the geological and zoological development of this globe with its physical forces in the past eternities, in whose hand have been the deep places of the earth, and who has directed the gradual evolution of all living things. It is the same almighty Spirit who is now occupied in the work of saving men by “creating them anew” in the image of God for life everlasting; and whose far more mysterious and glorious energies are employed in “strengthening with might the inner man” for an endless life of power, obedience, and love. “Now if any man have not this Spirit of Christ he is none of his.”1 [Note: Edward White.]
2. Nothing is more familiar in Scripture than the conception of the indwelling Spirit of God as the source of moral strength. The special power that belongs to the gospel Christ ascribes altogether to this cause. “Ye shall receive power,” He said to His disciples, “after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” Hence is derived the vigour of a strong faith, the valour of the good soldier of Christ Jesus, the courage of the martyrs, the cheerful and indomitable patience of multitudes of obscure sufferers for righteousness’ sake.
God will show him—if a man wishes to be like Christ, and to work like Christ, at doing good; God will teach him and guide him in all puzzling matters. And do not be afraid of being called cowards and milksops for bearing injuries patiently; those who call you so will be likely to be the greatest themselves. Patience is the truest sign of courage. Ask old soldiers who have seen real war, and they will tell you that the bravest men, the men who endured best, not in mere fighting, but in standing still for hours to be mowed down by cannon shot; who were most cheerful and patient in shipwreck, and starvation, and defeat—all things ten times worse than fighting—ask old soldiers, I say, and they will tell you that the men who showed best in such miseries, were generally the weakest men in the whole regiment; that is true fortitude; that is Christ’s image—the meekest of men, and the bravest too.1 [Note: Charles Kingsley.]
There is a great truth expressed when we describe a brave and enterprising man as a man of spirit. All high and commanding qualities of soul come from this invisible source. They are inspirations. In the human will, with its vis vivida, its elasticity and buoyancy, its steadfastness and resolved purpose, is the highest type of force and the image of the almighty Will. When that will is animated and filled with “the Spirit,” the man so possessed is the embodiment of an inconceivable power. Firm principle, hope and constancy, self-mastery, superiority to pleasure and pain—all the elements of a noble courage are proper to the man of the Spirit. Such power is not neutralized by our infirmities; it asserts itself under their limiting conditions and makes them its contributories. “My grace is sufficient for thee,” said Christ to His disabled servant; “for power is perfected in weakness.”2 [Note: G. G. Findlay, The Epistle to the Ephesians, 187.]
If we say that a man is remarkable for his intellectual energy, we think of him as having in the very centre of his intellectual life a free and inexhaustible fountain of force and activity. It is the same in the spiritual life. There is a certain imperfection in many of us which I do not know how to describe except by saying that, though at times particular spiritual faculties may appear to be vigorous, the central life is weak. There are men whose zeal for the evangelization of the world is often very real and very fervent, but who give us no impression of spiritual strength. There are others who are often inspired with a passion for Christian perfection, but in them too there appears to be no real vigour. There are others who seem spiritually weak, though their vision of spiritual truth is very keen and penetrating. There are others who seem capable of very lofty devotion,—of awe, of vehement religious emotion, of rapture in the Divine love and in the hope of glory, honour, and immortality—and who yet give us the impression that they are wanting in those elements of life which constitute spiritual energy. In every one of these cases, to use language which suggests rather than expresses the truth, the vigour is derived not from the central fountains of life, but from springs that are more or less distant from the centre. The man himself is wanting in force though there are spiritual forces at work in him. Those of us who are conscious that this is our condition should pray to God that we “may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man.”1 [Note: R. W. Dale, Lectures on the Ephesians, 246.]
Robertson Smith returned to Cambridge for the decisive consultation of his doctors, and the story of what passed may be given here in the words of the Master of Christ’s. “Half the members of the Conference [of Orientalists] had been invited to spend the Saturday and Sunday at Cambridge, and as usual Smith was the centre around which they all moved. From the bustle and confusion of tongues he withdrew to meet the doctors, and as usual he insisted on knowing the whole truth. When he left the room he turned to me and said, ‘I know what that means. My brother died of it.’ He then returned to his guests, and that evening presided at a banquet given in their honour in the Hall of Christ’s, but never by a word or a sign did he let any one suspect what he had learned but an hour or two before from the doctors, and it was with the same magnificent courage that he bore the ceaseless suffering and gradually increasing weakness of the next eighteen months.”
What Smith had learned from the doctors was indeed sufficient to try his heroism. It was now ascertained with as much clearness as is possible in such matters that the real cause of the discomfort and illness which had crippled him for so long was deep-seated tuberculosis.2 [Note: The Life of William Robertson Smith, 543.]
3. The very name of the Spirit is the “Spirit of might.” Christ spoke to us about being “endued with power from on high.” The last of His promises that dropped from His lips upon earth was the promise that His followers should receive the power of the Spirit coming upon them. Wheresoever in the early histories we read of a man that was full of the Holy Ghost, we read that he was “full of power.” According to the teaching of this Apostle, God hath given us the “spirit of power,” which is also the spirit “of love and of a sound mind.” So the strength that we must have, if we have strength at all, is the strength of a Divine Spirit, not our own, that dwells in us, and works through us.
There is in the human heart an inextinguishable instinct, the love of power, which, rightly directed, maintains all the majesty of law and life, and misdirected, wrecks them.
Deep rooted in the innermost life of the heart of man, and of the heart of woman, God set it there, and God keeps it there.—Vainly, as falsely, you blame or rebuke the desire of power!—For Heaven’s sake, and for man’s sake, desire it all you can. But what power? That is all the question. Power to destroy? the lion’s limb, and the dragon’s breath? Not so. Power to heal, to redeem, to guide and to guard. Power of the sceptre and shield; the power of the royal hand that heals in touching,—that binds the fiend, and looses the captive; the throne that is founded on the rock of Justice, and descended from only by steps of Mercy.1 [Note: Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies, ii. §§ 86, 87 (Works, xviii. 137).]
(1) That indwelling Spirit will be a power for suffering.—The parallel passage to this in the twin Epistle to the Colossians is—“strengthened with all might unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness.” Unless this Divine Spirit were a power for patience and endurance it were no power suited to us poor men. So dark at times is every life—so full at times of discouragements, of dreariness, of sadness, of loneliness, of bitter memories, and of fading hopes does the human heart become—that if we are to be strong we must have a strength that will manifest itself chiefly in this, that it teaches us how to bear, how to weep, how to submit.
Ill-health was Stevenson’s always, but what he accomplished in the way of letters surpasses in amount and scope that which many a stronger man has done. It amounted to “nearly four hundred pages a year for twenty years,” and of the conditions under which most of it was done he wrote to Mr. George Meredith in 1893:
“For fourteen years I have not had a day’s real health; I have wakened sick and gone to bed weary; and I have done my day unflinchingly. I have written in bed and written out of it; written in hæmorrhages, written in sickness, written torn by coughing, written when my head swam for weakness; and for so long it seems to me I have won my wager and recovered my glove. I am better now, have been, rightly speaking, since first I came to the Pacific; and still few are the days when I am not in some physical distress. And the battle goes on—ill or well is a trifle, so as it goes. I was made for a contest, and the Powers have so willed that my battlefield should be this dingy, inglorious one of the bed and the physic bottle.”1 [Note: J. A. Hammerton, Stevensoniana, 313.]
(2) And it will be a power for conflict.—We have all of us, in the discharge of duty and the meeting of temptation, to face such tremendous antagonisms that unless we have grace given to us which will enable us to resist, we shall be overcome and swept away. God’s power from the Divine Spirit within us does not absolve us from, it fits us for, the fight. It is not given in order that holiness may be won without a struggle; it is given to us in order that in the struggle for holiness we may never lose “one jot of heart or hope,” but may be “able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
The battle of life is a common phrase which, as generally used, means the struggle for bare existence in which the lives of so many are spent, or the effort to get on in the world by making money or attaining positions of eminence in society. The Apostle Paul’s idea of the life battle is very different, it is higher, nobler, in every way better; because it is no selfish conflict, it is a fighting for God and for the cause of God. The world’s battle of life is little better than a war of plunder, a fighting amongst beasts of prey, in which the strong endeavour to crush the weak, and the weak make desperate efforts against the strong—for the most part a mean and miserable contention on both sides, and one in which falsehood and trickery and cruelty and all other base stratagems are, without scruple, resorted to; so that, as a rule, those who win have more reason to be ashamed of themselves than those who lose. St. Paul’s battle of life is waged in the interests of humanity, the laws of the warfare being strictly honourable, and its aim the establishment throughout the world of that Kingdom which is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”2 [Note: Hugh Stowell Brown, in Life, by W. S. Caine, 305.]
(3) It is a power for service.—“Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high.” There is no such force for the spreading of Christ’s Kingdom, and the witness-bearing work of His Church, as the possession of this Divine Spirit. Plunged into that fiery baptism, the selfishness and the sloth which stand in the way of so many of us are all consumed and annihilated, and we are set free for service because the bonds that bound us are burnt up in the merciful furnace of His fiery power.
If we allow the record of St. Paul’s experience in Christian service to cast light upon his prayer, we see that to be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man” means the supply of energy which enables us to toil for Christ without spiritual exhaustion, and to bear one another’s burdens, for His sake, without so soon becoming faint and weary. “Wherefore, we faint not,” exclaims St. Paul. Christian workers need, in hours of disappointment, to remember his secret. Discouragement in the Master’s service cannot always be cured by greater diligence. To labour hard, even for Him, is no guarantee of happiness. Indeed, the higher the service, the deeper will be our dejection if we fail to lay hold of the hope set before us in our glorious calling, because the task assigned proved to be beyond our strength.
Happy we live, when God doth fill
Our hands with work.
If that were the only condition, most Christians could be happy every day and happy all the day. But our realization of the Beatitude depends, not upon the filling of our hands with work, but upon the filling of our hearts with zeal.
Happy we live, when God doth fill
Our hands with work, our hearts with zeal.
Significantly we speak of being “disheartened” in our work for Christ; our use of the word should warn us against allowing the inward altar-fires to die down, or even to burn low. Without the Holy Spirit’s strengthening with power in the inward man, it is impossible for the heart to be always as full of zeal as the hands are full of work.
The sum of all is—Yes, my duty is great:
My faith’s still greater; then my faith’s enough.1 [Note: J. G. Tasker.]
John MacNeil had always watched himself with considerable jealousy lest the fire within him should burn less brightly as he grew older. It distressed him to see many men, who in their youth had been ardent spirits, gradually cool off into a prudent moderatism. “Shall I ever get like that?” he would ask. “Is it necessary for a man’s ardour to decrease as his years increase?” and then, answering his own question, would reply emphatically—“No! by God’s grace, I will not alter if I live to be eighty; people will be as glad to come and hear me when I preach leaning on a staff, as they are now.” It was a great comfort to him to run over the long list of honourable names of white-haired old men who are serving God as enthusiastically now as when their blood ran faster in their veins. It was one great charm in John MacNeil that he never did alter. He was the same at forty as at twenty. In him “zeal” never “curdled into ambition,” nor did his enthusiasm ever abate. He was the same eager, hopeful, courageous soul from beginning to end.1 [Note: John MacNeil, Evangelist in Australia, 207.]
“According to the riches of his glory.”
1. “According to the riches of his glory”—that is the measure. There is no limit except the uncounted wealth of His own self-manifestation, the flashing light of revealed Divinity. Whatsoever there is of splendour in that, whatsoever there is of power there, in these and in nothing on this side of them lies the limit of the possibilities of a Christian life.
“The riches of his glory”! How sublime a conception! We are not to ask according to the strength of our faith, the largeness of our hearts, or the breadth of our thoughts, but “according to the riches of his glory”! Paul wants us to take time and think of the glory, and of its inconceivable riches, and then in faith to expect that God will do nothing less to us than according to the riches of that glory. What is to be done in our inward man is to be in very deed the glory of God shining into our heart, and manifesting the riches of His power in what He does there within us. Our faith dare not expect the fulfilment of the prayer until it enters into and claims to the full that God will do in us “according to the riches of his glory.” Let us take time and see that nothing less than this is to be the measure of our faith.
2. And what are the riches of God’s glory? Who of us can conceive them? Think of the riches of God’s material glory. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” The gold mines and the forests, the gardens and the prairies, the mountains and the seas are all God’s. The stars in the heavens, the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, are a part of His glory, for the material universe reveals the wisdom of His handiwork. But that is only the threshold of God’s glory. Think of the glory of God’s providence, of God’s word, of God’s grace, of God’s Son! Who can conceive the power, and the majesty, and the love, and the compassion of God? And all these are included in “the riches of his glory.”
I seem to stand beside a great sea, a sunlit sea, with wave upon wave, wave upon wave of glory rolling in upon my soul. The resources of God are infinite, and in Christ they are all open to us. Truly, when we pray we may say:
We are coming to a King,
Large petitions let us bring.1 [Note: J. W. Ewing, The Undying Christ, 75.]
3. We may speak of the riches of God under three aspects—first, the riches of His power; second, the riches of His wisdom; and third, the riches of His goodness; and, as it is the blended and harmonious attributes of God that make up His highest glory, the view of His riches under these three aspects may enable us to see something of the riches of His glory.
(1) His Power.—We see the riches of His power in creation. If a man could create in the highest sense of the word, how rich he would soon become! For his own wants he would have an immediate supply. When he was hungry he could create bread. When he was thirsty he could make the pure fountain spring up by his side. When he wanted money he could turn everything he touched into gold. It is in the ability to produce that the source of wealth is found.
The riches of God are seen in the preservation of all things in existence as well as in their creation. The sublime act of creation did not exhaust or weary God. From day to day, from year to year, and from century to century, the whole universe is upheld in its primeval freshness and power. The sky is still the “unworn sky,” and time writes no wrinkles on the azure brow of the sea. The seasons revolve, and the earth teems every year with beauty and plenty.
And the riches of the Divine power are seen not only in creation and preservation, but in re-creation. We are taught in Scripture that a wondrous transformation must pass over the present world—that forms of being now around us will be dissolved in a deluge of fire, and that from this second deluge will emerge a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. We are also taught that the bodies of men will be raised from the dust of the ground in a new and higher form. What marvellous exhibitions, then, has the future still in store of the riches of the power of God!
I have read Carlyle’s “Reminiscences.” They remind me of an apple I have just been trying to eat—very sound on the one side, on the other bruised and black. What a pity Froude persisted in thrusting it in the public face, and that he did not help to let the dead bury its dead! Carlyle had certainly a morbid nature, partly, I suppose, from dyspepsia, and partly from having set himself to expose wrong as the exclusive business of his life, and weakness and incapacity were in his philosophy forms of wrong. We may be thankful that we have a better standard in the Infinite Strength that stooped to weakness to pity and to raise it. I should be far from saying that Carlyle had not the Christian in him, but he wanted one part of it, and it is proof of an entirely original and Divine Being, that the Reminiscences of the Fishermen of Galilee give us One who had the most perfect purity, with the most tender pity—an unbending strength that never despised weakness.
One of the false things of the day is to exalt power (including intellect as a form of power) at the expense of the moral and spiritual. It belongs to materialism and in a degree to pantheism, and it is the direct opposite of Christianity, which makes Christ lay power aside, in order to make the centre of the universe self-sacrifice and love; and that then power should gravitate to this centre because it is the only safe one. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power.” When we begin to see this, we feel in our deepest nature that it is Divine—that this must be true if the universe has any meaning, and the soul a worthy end. It gets obscured sometimes, but it will come out again.1 [Note: Letters of John Ker, 330.]
A ship was rounding Cape Horn, where, as you may know, on account of the fogs and storms, the sun may not appear in view for many days together. The ship of which I am speaking had encountered violent storms; the weather was intensely cold, so that icicles were hanging from the mast and yard-arms. A sailor boy was ordered out upon one of the yard-arms to reef a sail; but as he was out there, hanging over the dark and stormy sea, he raised a cry that his hands were getting benumbed and that he was about to fall. The captain, a relative of his own, shouted to him to hold on, and seizing a piece of rope lying on the deck ran up the rigging, went out on the yard and lashed the boy to it until he could be rescued. When the captain was tying the rope round the body of the lad, he said: “If you ever prayed in your life, pray now.” “I cannot pray,” said the boy, “but I can sing.” And there, over that wild sea, the boy sang this verse of the paraphrase—
His voice commands the tempest forth,
And stills the stormy wave;
And though His arm be strong to smite,
’Tis also strong to save.
That sea captain is a member of this congregation, and that sailor boy was taught in our own Sabbath school.1 [Note: Robertson of Irvine (by A. Guthrie), 90.]
A close, attentive study of Watts’s picture of “The All-pervading” will throw some light upon its meaning. All the immeasurable expanse of space is pervaded by a Divine Element, which Watts depicts as a figure with great encircling wings, seated and holding in its lap a globe, representing the stellar universe. Nothing could be more impressive and awe-inspiring than the sense of the overwhelming vastness and ubiquity of this Divine Element throughout the world which is given in this picture. It penetrates to the essence of everything; it holds everything from the largest to the smallest within its mighty grasp. It is a sublime conception that a Personality is seated on the throne of universal empire. We must postulate Spirit and not a thing as the first formative causation. The universe is not self-created and self-upheld. A thing cannot originate a thing. Law is a necessity of things, but law is an expression of will. It is not eternal, self-enacting, self-executing. The laws of the universe presuppose an agent, since they are only the modes in which the agent operates. They cannot be the cause of their own observance. The All-Pervading is Spirit which includes, but is not limited to Personality. The Creator and Upholder of all things is not a mere metaphor for force. And thus we are brought back to the magnificent generalization of the artist in his most original picture.1 [Note: Hugh Macmillan, G. F. Watts, 191.]
(2) His Wisdom.—How manifest are the traces of God’s wisdom in the way in which the earth has been fitted to develop and support man, and in the manifold provision made for man’s education and comfort! But what we have to notice more particularly here is, not merely the wisdom of God, but the riches of His wisdom; and these are seen not only in the original adaptation of means to ends, but in the way by which God can bring good out of evil. The mechanist would be wise who could invent and construct a machine which by the simplest movements could produce mighty results; but he would be rich in wisdom, who, out of that same machine, when marred and broken, could produce still mightier results.
God’s wisdom is seen in making all things work together for good; and what a wealth of wisdom is implied in bringing out of the most contradictory and deleterious elements a vast, harmonious and unspeakably valuable result!
We are broken on the wheel; torn by tribulation; beaten and shaken and purified by sorrow; emptied from vessel to vessel; passed from process to process;—the design of the whole being to bring us forth at last like the snowy sheet of paper; and not only so, but to impress upon us also the very thoughts of God, that we may thereafter circulate through the universe, “living epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.” “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”
While the adaptations of natural life are comprehended under the term “Sophia,” or the wisdom of God, the adjustments of the spiritual life and its laws and development are what is called by the apostles the all-varied wisdom of God. I am sorry that I cannot translate the Greek word better—I know what it means, and what it does not mean. It does not mean that the manifestation of God which we call His wisdom is variegated like a Joseph’s coat of many colours, patched up out of many fabrics, both old and new, and often self-discordant, because the new agreeth not with the old. It does mean that there is an ever-changing diversity in the Divine wisdom and work which glows and gleams like a fine opal in the light, or like an ancient glass vessel from Cyprus or Phoenicia, when all the finer harmonies of the solar spectrum are unceasingly at play. And it is true of the Church as well as of the world that the Never-Changing One is to be sought in the Ever-Changing Many. That His wisdom should baffle our knowledge is what we have a right, a priori, to expect, and especially when we are contemplating it on the side where it seems to be many and not one.1 [Note: J. Rendel Harris, The Guiding Hand of God, 17.]
The God of Hegel is not the Big Man of the nursery imagination, making the Universe with His hands, as the child makes its mud-pies or its sand-castles. “We cannot suppose God making the world like a mason.”
“God is spirit, and the life of spirit is thought. Creation, then, is thought also; it is the thought of God. God’s thought of the Creation is evidently the prius of the creation; but with God, to think must be to create, for He can require no wood-carpentry or stone-masonry for this purpose; or even should we suppose Him to use such, they must represent thought, and be disposed on thought.”2 [Note: James Hutchison Stirling, His Life and Work, 160.]
(3) His Goodness.—We may use the term goodness as a general expression to embrace the mercy, the compassion, the benignity, and the love of God. All the attributes of God culminate in love. God is first and last a God of love. The whole universe and the plan of redemption are summed up in love. It is the want of love, it is selfishness and hatred, that are the curse and woe of the world. God comes to fill up the sorrowful void with His own rich heart.
Pre-eminently in the work of redemption do we see the riches of His goodness. There we behold God not only working and waiting, but making a great sacrifice for the salvation of man. We can never understand what it cost God to save the world. We read that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”; but how little do we know of all that lies in that declaration! How little do we know of the greatness of that gift and of the depth of that sacrifice! How little do we know of that mystery of sorrow which seems to enter into the very Godhead!
“Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”
Salvation is not forgiveness of sin: it is not the remission of a penalty: it is not a safety. No, it is the blessed and holy purpose of God’s love accomplished in the poor fallen creature’s restoration to the Divine image. And to this end is the news of God’s love in this great work declared to men, that they hearing it may have confidence in Him who hath thus loved them, and so open their hearts to let in His Spirit. So we have no need now to go out of our nature to meet God, and to get the eternal life, for God is in our own flesh, and the eternal life is in our own flesh, and we have but to know this loving God, and the longings of His heart over us, and to give Him our confidence in order to receive His Spirit into us.1 [Note: Erskine of Linlathen.]
O Slain for love of me, canst Thou be cold,
Be cold and far away in my distress?
Is Thy love also changed, growing less and less,
That carried me through all the days of old?
O Slain for love of me, O Love untold,
See how I flag and fail through weariness:
I flag, while sleepless foes dog me and press
On me: behold, O Lord, O Love, behold!
I am sick for home, the home of love indeed—
I am sick for Love, that dearest name for Thee:
Thou who hast bled, see how my heart doth bleed:
Open thy bleeding Side and let me in:
O hide me in Thy Heart from doubt and sin,
O take me to Thyself and comfort me.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]
Power in the Inward Man
Burrell (D. J.), The Religion of the Future, 13.
Campbell (R. J.), Thursday Mornings at the City Temple, 210.
Ewing (J. W.), The Undying Christ, 68.
Ferguson (F.), Sermons, 190.
Gibbon (J. M.), The Children’s Year, 230.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, iii. 182.
Maclaren (A.), Christ in the Heart, 1.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Ephesians, 132.
Matheson (G.), Voices of the Spirit, 199.
Murray (A.), The Full Blessing of Pentecost, 121.
Murray (A.), Aids to Devotion, 62.
Muspratt (W.), The Work and Power of the Holy Spirit, 24.
Pulsford (J.), Christ and His Seed, 106.
Raleigh (A.), The Way to the City, 1, 46.
Ridding (G.), The Revel and the Battle, 151.
Smith (H. A.), Things New and Old, 160.
Spurgeon (C. H.), My Sermon-Notes, iv. 275.
Tasker (J. G.), in Great Texts of the New Testament, 219.
Vallings (J. F.), The Holy Spirit of Promise, 148.
Winterbotham (R.), Sermons, 270.
Christian World Pulpit, xiii. 88 (Gallaway); xxxii. 339 (White); xxxix. 379 (White).
Church of England Pulpit, 1. 182 (Rainsford).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, xii. 188 (Jobson), 192 (Cotton), 195 (Wright), 197 (Davies), 201 (Armstrong), 214 (Kempthorne), 216 (Heber).
Keswick Week, 1905, p. 49 (Moore).