The first Christian evangelists moved the world. They went forth as heralds of good news, and their message was revolutionary. In most places it was unpopular, for it cut clean across all the recognized standards of social and religious patterns, yet it was irresistible a power that simply had to be reckoned with. They had the arguments, but they had more; they had all the power of heaven behind them.
"The arguments of the apostles alone, though clear and convincing, would not have removed the prejudice that had withstood so much evidence. But the Holy Spirit sent the arguments home to hearts with divine power. The words of the apostles were as sharp arrows of the Almighty, convicting men of their terrible guilt in rejecting and crucifying the Lord of glory. . . . With what burning language they clothed their ideas as they bore witness for Him!" Acts of the Apostles, pp. 45, 46.
That expression "burning language" is worth our noting. Their language burned because they themselves were on fire with the evangel. Their words were kindled by the Spirit of God, and their messages came leaping hot from their hearts.
"Rekindle the gift of God that is within you," was Paul's message to the young preacher. (2 Tim. 1:6, R.S.V.) The great apostle was eager that the Spirit of God might keep alive that flame which alone can give the evangelist his power.
A thousand years before, David expressed the same thought when he said, "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue." Ps. 39:3. A perfect formula for preachers of power. Only when the fire burns should the messenger of God speak with his tongue. Only iron that is hot can be welded. Nothing is more pathetic than a pan of ashes in a pulpit. Unreal religion and lukewarm labor not only fails to stir the world but displeases even God.
We speak of the Elijah message, but the thing that made Elijah the power he was,, was not merely the message he heralded but the anointing of the Spirit of God. The world of that day, as in this day, was looking for a demonstration of the living God, When that prophet stood before apostate Israel he challenged them to accept the living God. "The God that answereth by fire, let him be God," was his clear-cut proposition. There are certain details in this story that we do well to study. Elijah said to the people, "Come near unto me." Then as the people drew near to him, "he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down." Before he asked the living; God to answer by fire, he repaired the altar,
Fire rarely falls on altars that are in a state of disrepair. But let us picture the prophet seeking out those stones. Some were loose; others were scattered. But only as the altar is repaired will it be consistent for God to honor the sacrifice.
And now, fellow worker, are there loose stones on the altars of our hearts? What about the stone of humility? How often this is loosened by personal pride! Pride is the worst sin, because it is the original sin; it turned Lucifer into a devil. Yet, sobering as is the thought, pride can easily find place in a preacher's heart. Did any man become a spiritual power for God who was not humble? The Scripture nowhere tells us to pray for humility, but we are commanded to humble ourselves before the living God. Yes, pride is the greatest sin. But humility is the greatest virtue; it gave us a Saviour.
Then again, what about the stone of personal purity? Ezekiel was told to look through a hole in the wall. But what did he see? A caricature of religion. How God must be appalled as He looks into our hearts we who are His workers! In these days everything seems set to turn us away from those standards of purity, without which we can never be qualified for the out pouring of the Spirit of God. Though popular psychology endeavors to find excuses for sin, yet we all know that if that stone is out of place in our lives, then we have no right to expect the power of God.
Then we might think about the stone of personal devotion, or piety. True, we are busy workers. Things just seem to crowd upon us. So many things demand immediate attention. There are so many appointments, so many things to study, so many arguments to strengthen. But here is a challenging thought:
"You will receive more strength by spending one hour each day in meditation, and in mourning over your failings and heart corruptions and pleading for God's pardoning love and the assurance of sins forgiven, than you would by spending many hours and days in studying the most able authors, and making yourself acquainted with every objection to our faith, and with the most powerful evidences in its favor.
"The reason why our preachers accomplish so little is that they do not walk with God. He is a day's journey from most of them." Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 433, 434.
The story of Joseph and Mary's losing the boy Jesus might have a lesson for us. Incredible as it sounds, it is easy to lose the Saviour. In fact, the most unlikely people lose Him. He can be elbowed out of the very choicest company. It is possible to be so engrossed even in His work that we lose the Lord for whom we are working. How often the good becomes the enemy of the best! The most excellent books can lead us to neglect our Bibles. Tireless service can exclude our secret devotion.
There is a little church near Hawarden Castle in fact, it was a church in which Mr. Gladstone ' frequently worshiped. A notice appears in the porch of that church, placed there at Mr. Gladstone's own suggestion, and it lays down a simple rule for worship. But it closes with this admonition: "Be quiet and thoughtful as you go. On your way home be careful of your talk, or the world will slip back into your heart."
An Excellent Vow
The conversation of perfectly good people about perfectly good things may easily destroy the spirit of true meditation and reverence. Even the work of the Lord may keep us from the Lord of the work. We rise in the morning, and a sense of pressure grips us. We are so busy to do the things that must be done, yet all too often we fail to commune with God. Prebendary Colin Kerr, a spiritual leader in the Church of England, whose work has been proved through many years, made this statement a few weeks ago before a group of ministers in Washington, B.C.: "Sixteen years ago I took a vow before God, and by His help I have not broken it. And I want to bear this testimony before you, my brethren, that something has happened to me since I have determined to make my personal devotion more real." Having known him years ago in England, I was conscious that his spiritual life had indeed deepened. He said: "I vowed that at the beginning of each new day I would never speak to a soul until I had first talked to God. And never would I permit myself to read a thing until I had opened His Word. Not even an urgent tele gram will be opened until I have first taken my portion of the hidden manna." We all sensed that he was speaking out of a* heart experience, and his words winged their way to our hearts. Hundreds of preachers of varied faiths that morning vowed before God that they would make first things first in their lives.
God has called us to carry the Elijah message to the world, but that calls for Elijah consecration. His message was a call to prayer, to purity, to piety, to unpopularity, to faith, to surrender, to sacrifice. Are we willing to enter into that kind of consecration? Dare we let God have all of our lives those hidden areas of our lives that we share with nobody?
The prophet prayed, "Let it be known this day that thou art God." But how could it be known? Only by the leaping of the fires of God upon the sacrifice. Mere oratory and literary eloquence minus the fire of God's Spirit are powerless to move men to God. They can be but the floral tributes that adorn the caskets of dead sermons. Truly "the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." Hearts cleansed by His blood and aglow with the message of God make it consistent for the Spirit to fall upon the consecrated altar. The apostles were anointed with "cloven tongues like as of fire."
Spiritual power is generated, not by agitation, but by consecration. Elijah himself was first consecrated; then he consecrated the altar and the sacrifice. And God honored that consecration by a demonstration of His mighty power. We need just such a demonstration of power today. The times demand it, and God Himself demands it. The most thrilling prophetic pictures of this movement are an inspiration. "Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers. . . . Thus the inhabitants of the earth will be brought to take their stand." Familiar words! They have thrilled us ever since they were written. "The message will be carried not so much by argument as by the deep conviction of the Spirit of God." The Great Controversy, p. 612.
Yes, we have read these words many times, but do they apply to some group of workers sometime in the future? Why not let us appropriate them now, and by the grace of God move forward under the anointing of His Holy Spirit?