What is now, and what has always been, the secret of spiritual power in any? This is a question of grave importance for us; but the answer is one we as Christians ought to know something at least about. Such a question is seriously necessary to be both asked and answered today; and little able as we may be to reply to it fully, our lack may help us to seek the divine answer. One thing at least is clear, that where power has been known, either individual or collective, two things (among others perhaps) have been realized by the saints who have known it. First, God's own immediate presence with His people; and secondly, man's (i.e. their own) utter impotency.
It is to be regretted that with certain Christians there should be such an appearance of satisfaction in speaking of that power which they knew in early years long past, and which they gravely tell us has now passed away. They are fain to cry out with Job, "Oh that it were with me as in months past, as in the day when God preserved me; when His candle shined upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness; as I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle." (Job 29:2-4.) All this is sorrowful, inasmuch as it neither helps themselves nor any who hear them. Very different is such a state of soul from that of Paul, who says, "But one thing . . . forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:13,14.) Very different too was this experience of Job from that of the wise man in an earlier day than that of Paul, who declares that "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." (Prov. 4:18.) And surely this is as it should be. Nearing the object of desire, the way becomes brighter and brighter. Brightened as the past may have been by His presence, I am nearer to Him now; how can I therefore regret and long for those days of shadow and darkness to come again through which in the past He led me? "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed" (Rom. 13:11, 12), and we are journeying from the night of shadows (illumined notwithstanding by His love) to the day of His manifested glory; and if glimpses of His power and presence have cheered us here, what will it be to abide with Him?
But as to power, I turn now to a passage in the Old Testament to see how in the past His presence was manifested, the power of which wrought in a twofold way; and then I desire to note for myself this twofold effect: first, on His own people; and secondly, on all that raised opposition thereto. "When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language; Judah was His sanctuary, and Israel His dominion. (Consequence.) The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back. The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs. What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou wast driven back? Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs? (Answer.) Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob; which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters." (Psalm 114:1-7.)
What a picture we have here drawn by the Spirit for our contemplation! As the morning light dawns on Rameses we see, not a well-disciplined army with ability to meet its enemies, but six hundred thousand footmen going forth apparently without resources, and encumbered with the care of wives and little ones. May we not say, What a powerless, defenceless, and easy prey they are to the wandering hordes of the desert? But no, beloved reader; a blood-bought people, and powerless in themselves truly, is going forth; but not alone. At that time "Judah was His sanctuary, and Israel His dominion." Jehovah was in the midst of His people, and what was the result? "The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back. The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs." Now nothing in nature is more restless than the sea. (Isa. 57:20, etc.), and nothing in nature so apparently immovable and unbending as the mountain (Ps. 46:2, 3; Matt. 17:20); but both confess to a power sovereign and supreme; both bow to its presence, and own it. Nature's might must flee and tremble in His presence; and this is man, who hath power as lord over all His creation - man in his restlessness, man in his pride!
And while they marched on in obedience and dependence on it (the power of His presence with them), all was well. It scattered all the opposers; it prepared for them fountains in the desert. But they must remember that He is with them; they must not be inconsistent therewith. Truly He is for them, and against all who are against them; as He says, "Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee" (Num. 24); but He cannot overlook inconsistency in any of His people with the fact that He is there. If they practically ignore Him, it is but that independent restlessness and pride of man which ever opposes Him; and if it work in them, then because they are His people He must deal with it. So again and again He had to remind them of Himself, there in their midst, as they murmur and wander forty years in the wilderness to humble them. (Deut. 8:2, 3.) If they desire to have Hobab for eyes (Num. 10:31-33), He (the ark) immediately goes before them to find out their resting-places. If they faint, feeling but as grasshoppers before the giants of Anak, and the "cities great and walled up to heaven," they faint because they have left the Lord out. But Caleb, the man of faith, cannot do this. He brings Him before the rebellious company, saying, "If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land." Yet the people must bear their iniquities for this their unbelief forty years, "each day for a year," from twenty years old and upward; "in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there shall they die." (Num. 14)
"Our God is a consuming fire," and His saints must not forget it; they must own it first, before (going out in power) it makes itself felt for them. I see this everywhere among the saints who have gone before us in the path of faith. Thus it wrought in Jacob's case. While he was in servitude in Padan-Aram, and oppressed by Laban (Gen. 31:38-41), far away from the place of testimony, God does not interfere on Jacoh's behalf; but when (himself in obedience, and a crippled man) he is again on the way, though weaker than before as to outward appearance, yet it is then, as he journeyed, that the Spirit writes of him: "The terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them;" and they did not pursue after Jacob. (Gen. 35:5.) Ah! in that being crippled lies the secret. He has learnt that he is in the way with God - it regulated him - and then God makes the power of His presence to be felt on those who would hinder His poor servant. It is the same today. And Paul learnt it in his path down here. "Most gladly," says he, "therefore will I glory in mine infirmities, that the power of Christ may tabernacle (lit. have its dwelling-place) on me." (2 Cor. 12:9.) And thus, too, it bowed Job in its presence before it dealt with his three friends, and before it blessed his own family. (John 42:5, 6.) Similar also was its effect upon the prophets Isaiah (Isa. 6:5) and Elijah. (1 Kings 19:11-13.) That power which can if it please "rend the mountains, and break in pieces the rocks before the Lord," makes itself known to Elijah, and to His saints, in a still small voice: "And it was so, that when Elijah heard it he wrapped his face in his mantle." Blessed Master, and blessed servant, may we now more diligently listen to catch Thy voice!
What have we left, beloved reader, as our resource today? The most blessed revelation that we can have here on earth: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20.) HE IS THERE. (Not He will come there perhaps before our meeting closes; He nowhere says that); He is there when we come. Does the fact of His presence regulate us who are gathered? Does it banish for ever all that restlessness and pride of nature which we all more or less possess, so that His people may unhinderedly go up to Him? Do restlessness, natural ability, and the pride of man, ever exalting itself, flee and tremble in His presence? In short, do we really desire spiritual power individually, and in the assembly? Then we must begin with ourselves. Can I expect to know it myself, or to see its action on others (1 Cor. 14:24, 25), if it have no power over me then present? Nature, and the carnal mind, can find no quarter in any soul who truly realizes the LORD'S presence, whatever others may allow. But He is there, even if I do not realize it individually. May it lead us to judge and refuse that in us which we know HE cannot own.
One question more. If I go on, forgetful of what is due to His presence, must He not deal with me, and will He not do so sooner or later, in order to maintain what is due to Him, and to separate me from evil? (1 Cor. 11:30-32.) H. C. Anstey.