HAVE faith in God, and never let your discovery of your own weakness shake your firm conviction that with God all things are possible. It seems to me to be a fountain of comfort, a storehouse of strength. Do not limit the Holy One of Israel, nor conceive of the Holy Ghost as bounded and checked by the difficulties which crop up in fallen human nature. No case which you bring to Him with affectionate tears and with an earnest faith in Jesus shall ever be dismissed as incurable. Despair of no man, since the Lord of hosts is with us. Sometimes we are troubled because of the hardness of men’s hearts. You that work for the Lord know most about this. If anybody thinks that he can change a heart by his own power, let him try with any one he pleases, and he wilt soon be at a nonplus. Old Adam is too strong for young Melancthon: our trembling arm cannot roll away the stone of natural depravity. ‘Well, what then? The Spirit of the Lord is not straitened! Did I hear you cry, “Alas! I have tried to reclaim a drunkard, and he has gone back to his degradation”? Yes, he has beaten you, but is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? Do you cry, “But he signed the pledge, and yet he broke it”? Very likely your bonds are broken; but is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? Cannot He renew the heart, and cast out the love of sin? When the Spirit of God works with your persuasions, your convert will keep his pledge. “Alas!” cries another, “I hoped I had rescued a fallen woman, but she has returned to her iniquity.” No unusual thing this with those who exercise themselves in that form of service; but is; the Spirit of the Lord straitened? Cannot He save the woman that was a sinner? Cannot He create a surpassing love to Jesus in her forgiven spirit? We are baffled, but the Spirit is not. What narrow and shallow vessels we are! How soon we are empty! We wake up on the Sabbath morning and wonder where we shall find strength for the day. Do you not sigh, “Alas! I cannot take my Sunday-school class to-day with any hope of teaching with power; I am so dreadfully dull and heavy; I feel stupid and devoid of thought and feeling”?
In such a case say to yourself, “Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?” He will help you. You purpose to speak to someone about his soul, and you fear that the right words will not come. You forget that He has promised to give you what you shall speak. “Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?”
Cannot He prepare your heart and tongue? No, the Spirit of the Lord is not straitened. Still is that promise our delight “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
It is a joy to become weak that we may say with the apostle, “When I am weak then am I strong.” Behold, the, strength of the Lord is gloriously revealed, revealed to perfection in our weakness. Come, ye feeble workers, ye fainting laborers, come and rejoice in the unstraitened Spirit. Come you that seem to plough the rock and till the sand, come and lay hold of this fact, that the Spirit of the Lord is omnipotent. No rock will remain unbroken when tie wields the hammer, no metal will be unmelted when He is the fire. Still will our Lord put His Spirit within us and gird us with His power, according to His promise, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”
But some have said, “Yes, but then, see how few the conversions are nowadays! We have many places of worship badly attended, we have others where there are scarcely any conversions from the beginning of the year to the end of it.” This is all granted, and granted with great regret; but “is the Spirit of the Lord straitened: are these His doings?” Cannot we find some other reason far more near the truth? If there are no conversions we cannot fall back upon the Spirit of God, and blame Him. Has Christ been preached? Has faith been exercised? The preacher must take his share of blame; the church with which he is connected must also inquire whether there has been that measure of prayer for a blessing on the word that there ought to have been. Christians must begin to look into their own hearts to find the reason for defeat. If the work of God be hindered in our midst, may there not be some secret sin with us which hinders the operation of the Spirit of God? May He not be compelled by the very holiness of His character to refuse to work with an unholy or an unbelieving people? Have ye never read, “He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief”? May not unbelief be turning a fruitful land into barrenness? The Spirit Himself is not straitened in His power; but our sin has made Him hide Himself from us. The want of conversions is not His doing: we have not gone forth in His strength. We shake off with detestation the least trace of a thought that should lay any blame to the Spirit of the Most High. Unto us be shame and confusion of face as at this day.
But it is also said that there is a want of power largely manifested by individual saints. Where are now the men who can go up to the top of Carmel and cover the heavens with clouds? Where are the apostolic men who convert nations? Where are the heroes and martyr spirits of the better days? Have we not fallen upon an age of little men, who little dare and little do? It may be so; but this is no fault of the great Spirit. Our degeneracy is not His doing, We have destroyed ourselves, and only in Him is our help found. Instead of crying to-day, “Awake, awake, O arm of the Lord,” we ought to listen to the cry from heaven which saith, “Awake, awake, O Zion; shake thyself from the dust, and put on thy beautiful garments.” Many of us might have done great exploits if we had but given our hearts thereto. The weakest of us might have rivaled David, and the strongest among us might have been as angels of God. We are straitened in ourselves; we have not reached out to the possibilities of strength which lie within grasp. Let us not wickedly insinuate a charge against the good Spirit of our God; but let us in truthful humility blame ourselves. If we have not lived in the light, can we marvel that we are in great part dark? If we have not fed upon the bread of heaven, can we wonder that we are faint? Let us return unto the Lord. Let us seek again to be baptized into the Holy Ghost and into fire, and we shall yet again behold the wonderful works of the Lord. He sets before us an open door, and if we enter not, we are ourselves to blame. He giveth liberally and upbraideth not, and if we be still impoverished, we have not because we ask not, or because we ask amiss. “Look at the condition of the world. After the gospel has been in it nearly two thousand years, see how small a part of it is enlightened, how many cling to their idols, how much of vice, and error, and poverty, and misery, are to be found in the world!” We know all these sad facts; but are these His doings? Tell me, when has the Holy Spirit created darkness or sin?
Where has He been the author of vice or oppression? Whence come wars and rightings? Come they from Him? Come they not from our own lusts?
What if the world be still an Augean Stable, greatly needing cleansing; has the Spirit of God in any degree or sense rendered it so? Where the gospel has been fully preached, have not the words of the Lord done good to them that walk uprightly? Have not cannibals, even during the last few years, been reclaimed and civilized? Has not the slave trade, and other villainies, been ended by the power of Christian influence? How, then, can the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the gospel, be blamed? Will you attribute the darkness to the sun? Will you charge the filthiness of swine to the account of the crystal stream? Will you charge the pest upon the fresh breeze from the sea? It were quite as just, and quite as sensible. No, we admit the darkness and the sin and the misery of men. Oh, that our head were waters and our eyes a fountain of tears, that we might weep day and night concerning these things! But these are not the work of the Spirit of God.
These come of the spirit from beneath. He that is from above would heal them. He is not straitened. These are not His doings. Where His gospel has been preached, and men have believed it and lived according to it, they have been enlightened, and sanctified, and blessed. Life and love, light and liberty, and all other good things, come of the Spirit of the Lord. “Blessings abound where’er He reigns; The prisoner leaps to lose his chains, The weary find eternal rest, And all the sons of want are bless’d.”