GOSPEL NOT IN WORD BUT IN POWER
R. M. McCheyne*
‘For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5.
Thrice happy minister who can address his people in these delightful words. Oh! that all our ministers could with truth say this. Why is it not so? Surely if we are determined, like Paul, “to know nothing among them but Christ Jesus and him crucified”; if we are filled with the same Holy Spirit, if we live the same devoted life, and carry the same message night and day with tears, we ought to be able to use these precious words. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” The day of Pentecost was the time of the first-fruits. The day of ingathering is yet to come. The apostles had the former rain. We wait for the time of the latter rain.
1. Let us meditate on an unsuccessful ministry. The gospel comes to the people in word only. How often a faithful minister preaches the gospel, and the people seem to drink it in with joy! A beam of natural eloquence lights up all he says, or he has a gentle pathetic strain which rivets their attention. But no saving effects are seen to follow. No hearts are broken, no souls added to the church of such as shall be saved. So it was with Ezekiel: “Lo! thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not” (Ezekiel 33:32). These are they that receive the word into stony places; they hear the word, and anon, with joy receive it, yet have they not root in themselves, but endure only for a while.
Oh! my soul, art thou contented to receive the gospel in word only? Can a hungry man be fed by the smell of the viands? Or can a beggar turn rich by hearing the sound of money? And can my hungry soul find rest by hearing the tinkling of the gospel cymbals? Alas! it is a fearful thing to drop into hell under the sound of gospel mercy.
But there are some who not only hear the gospel, but know the gospel; and yet it comes to them in word only. How many a child is brought up under godly parents, well catechized in divine truth, well disciplined in the Bible? They understand the gospel scheme. They have all knowledge; no point is new to them. And yet they have no spiritual sight; no tasting and seeing that Christ is good; no rock below their feet; no sitting with great delight under the shadow of the apple-tree. Ah! these are the most miserable of all unconverted hearers. They will sink lower than Capernaum. Ah! how many children of ministers, how many sabbath-school teachers, how many preachers of the gospel may know, that the gospel has come to them in word only, and never in power. Alas! how sad is it to perish pointing to the city of refuge, to preach to others, and then to be a castaway. But there is a more excellent way. Turn we now to meditate on –
2. A successful ministry. “Our gospel came unto you in power.” What a powerless thing the gospel sometimes appears. The minister is half ashamed of it. The people slumber under its most affecting statements. Again, at another time, the gospel is evidently “the power of God unto salvation”. An unseen power accompanies the preached word, and the sanctuary is felt to be the house of God, and the very gate of heaven. Then the word of Jeremiah is fulfilled: “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23.29). Then stout-hearted sinners are awakened. Old, and middle-aged, and little children, are made to cry. What must I do to be saved? An awful stillness pervades the assembly. The arrows of the King of Zion are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies, and the people are brought down under Him. Oh! sinner, has the gospel come thus in power to you? Has the hammer of the word broken your rocky heart? Has the fire of the word melted your icy heart?
Has the voice that is “like the noise of many waters” spoken peace to your soul?
“Our gospel came unto you …. in the Holy Ghost.” It is He, the third person of the blessed Godhead, that makes the gospel come with power. It was He who “moved upon the face of the waters”, when this world was without form and void, and brought life and beauty out of a dead world, Genesis 1:2. It is He that moves over the face of nature still, when the winter is past, and brings the fresh life of spring out of the cold bosom of the ground, Psalm 104:30. But most of all, it is the Holy Spirit’s work to take away the vail from the hearts of sinners, so that they turn to the Lord, 2 Corinthians 3:16. The carnal mind has got such enmity to God, the unconverted sinner is so dead in trespasses and sins, the natural man is so stupid in divine things, that there must be the work of the Almighty Spirit – quickening, enlightening, and making willing – before the sinner will cleave to Jesus.
Oh! sinner, has the Holy Spirit come to you? Sweet is the peace, which they enjoy who are taught by Him. When it is a dry time, ministers labour in vain; they spend their strength for nought and in vain. They feel like one standing on the sea-shore, speaking to the hard rocks, or the raging waves, or the tameless winds. But when the Holy Spirit comes, the weakest instruments are mighty, “mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds”. Oh pray for such a blessed time.
“Our gospel came unto you in much assurance.” This is the effect on the soul, when the word comes with power, carried home by the Holy Ghost. The soul thus taught has a sweet certainty of the truth of the great things revealed in the gospel. When a man contemplates the sun, he feels a certainty that it is not the work of man but of God. So when a sinner gets anointed eyes, he sees a glorious beauty and fulness in Christ, so that his heart is filled with a sweet certainty of the truth of the gospel. He does not ask for evidences. He sees enough of evidence in Christ Himself. He says, I am all guilt: thou art Jehovah my righteousness. I am all weakness: thou art Jehovah my banner. I am all emptiness: in thee dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine. He feedeth among the lilies.” It is this that fills the bosom with all joy and peace. It is this that gives a sweet sense of forgiveness and nearness to God. It is this that enables us to pray. Now we can say, “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord”. “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” “Who shall separate me from the love of Christ?” This is the gospel coming in much assurance. Oh! happy minister that can take up these words of Paul, and say, “Our gospel came not unto you”, etc. That people is thy joy here, and shall be thy crown throughout eternity.
* Taken from a series of meditations reprinted in 1988 by Free Presbyterian Publications, 133 Woodlands Road, Glasgow, G3 6LE.