THOSE nine disciples, who remained at the foot of the mountain when the Savior took the other three to behold His transfiguration, had each of them a true commission from the Lord Jesus Christ. They were nine of His chosen apostles. He had elected them in His own good pleasure, and there was no doubt about their being really called to the apostleship They were not only elected, but they were also qualified, for on former occasions they had healed the sick, they had cast out devils, and they had preached the Word of Christ with great power. Upon them rested miraculous influences, and they were able to do great wonders in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ; and they were not only qualified to do this, but they had actually performed many marvels of healing. When they went forth, girded with divine power, they healed the sick, and cast out devils everywhere; yet on this occasion they were completely baffled and beaten.
A poor father had brought to them his epileptic son, who was also possessed with an evil spirit; and they could neither cast out the evil spirit nor heal the epileptic boy. They came, as it were, to a great difficulty which quite nonplused them; and the scoffing scribes were there, ready enough to take advantage of them, and to say in scorn and contempt, “You cannot cure this child, for the power you have received from your Master is limited, lie can do some strange things, but even He cannot do all things.
Perhaps He has lost His former power, and now, at last, a kind of devil has appeared that He cannot master. You see, you are mistaken in following Him; your faith has been fixed upon an impostor, and you had better give it up.” Oh, how ready the evil spirit ever is to suggest dark thoughts if we cannot always be successful in our work of faith and labor of love! Why do you think that the Lord allows his servants to be beaten at all? Well, of course, the chief reason in this case was — because God gives the victory to faith, and if we will not believe, neither shall we be established. If we fall, as those disciples probably had fallen, into an unspiritual frame of mind and a low state of grace, our commission will not be worth much, our former qualifications will be of little value, and all successes we have had in earlier days will not take away the effect of present failures. We shall be like Samson, who went out and shook himself as he had done aforetime; but the Spirit of God had departed from him; and the Philistines soon overcame him, — those very Philistines whom, if his Lord had still been with him, he would have smitten hip and thigh with great slaughter. If we are to do the Lord’s work, and to do it successfully, we must have faith in Him, we must look beyond ourselves, we must look beyond our commission, we must look beyond our personal qualifications, we must look beyond our former successes, we must look for a present anointing by the Holy Spirit, and by faith we must hang upon the living God from day to day. If I am successful, why is it that I succeed? Let me know the secret, that I may put the crown on the right head. If I do not succeed, let me know the reason why, that I may at any rate try to remove any impediment, if it be an impediment of my own making. If I am a vessel that is not fit for the Master’s use, let me know why I am not fit, that I may, as much as lieth in me, prepare myself for the great Master’s service. I know that, if I am fit to be used, He is sure to use me; and if He does not use me, it will most probably be because there is some unfitness in me. Try to know why you get baffled in holy service, for it will be wise to know.
Probably, it may tend very greatly to your humiliation. It may make you go, with tears in your eyes, to the mercy-seat. You may not yet know all that is in your own heart; there may be a something, which to you seems to be a very trifling affair, which is grieving your God, and weakening your spiritual power. It may seem to you to be a little thing, but in that little thing may lie the eggs of so much mischief that God will not tolerate it, and He will not bless you until you are altogether clear of it. It wilt be wise and right, therefore, even though it be to your sorrow and regret, that you should find the answer to the question, “Why could not we cast him out?” I am sure that anything that makes us often come back to our Lord, must be a blessing to us. It is very humiliating to have so long preached in vain; to have gone to that village so many times, and yet to see no conversions; to visit that lodging-house so often, and apparently to have made no impression upon the careless inmates, or to have gone into that dark garret, and told out the story of the Cross, only to find that the hearer is just as dark, and, possibly, just as brutal as ever. It seems as if our hearts must break, when we are really in earnest, yet we cannot achieve the blessed purpose that we feel sure must be dear to the Savior’s own heart; but it may be that our non-success has much of divine instruction in it, and it may be the preface and preparation for future success that shall greatly honor the Lord Jesus Christ. This was a part of the training of the twelve.
They were at college now, with Christ as their Tutor. They were being prepared for those grand days when they should do even greater things than He had done, because He had gone back again to His Father, and had received still greater power, and had given it to them. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”
For, whatever may be the reason of your failure, it may be cured. In all probability, it is not a great matter, certainly not an insuperable difficulty to the Lord. By the grace of God, this hindrance may be taken away from you, and no longer be allowed to rob you of your power. Search it out, then; look with both your eyes, and search with brightest light that you can borrow, that you may find out everything that restrains the Spirit of God, and injures, your own usefulness. “Why could not we cast the evils out of them?” That question each teacher may ask concerning his class, and each worker concerning his sphere of labor. I ask it concerning some who have made a profession of religion, and then have foully fallen, and others who have backslidden into coldness or lukewarmness, and many who, after years of preaching, remain just the same as ever. What devil is this that has got into them? Why cannot we cast him out?
The Lord Jesus told them that their failure was due to their want of faith.
He did not say, “Because of the devil, and his peculiar character, and the strength of his entrenchment within the poor sufferer’s nature;” but he said, “Because of your unbelief.” They might have said, and it would have been true, “This demon has been long in possession.” The father said that the affliction came upon him when he was a child. You know that it is not easy to turn out a devil that has lived in any place, say, for twenty years. It is a difficult thing to cast out evils of long standing; still, if we have faith, there will be no difficulty in overcoming even those sins that have held possession of the sinner for a great length of time.
Moreover, in this case, there was the strength of this devil as well as the length of his possession. He took this poor child, and threw him into the fire or into the water, and hurled him to and fro at his cruel and wicked pleasure. He did this even before the disciples’ eyes. Yes, but if they had had faith, they would have understood that, though Satan is strong, Christ is far stronger. The devil is mighty, but God is almighty. If the disciples had only believed, they might have overcome the demon by the power of Christ.
You see, the want of faith breaks the connection between us and Christ.
We are like the telegraphic wire, which can convey the message as long as the electricity can travel along it; but if you break the connection, it is useless. Faith is our connection with Christ; break the connection, and then what can we do? It is by faith that God works in us and through us; but if unbelief comes in, we are unfit for Him to work with us. Would you have God to bless the man who will not believe in Him? Would you have God to set His seal to the works of the unbelieving? That cannot be. The first condition of success in any work for God must be hearty faith in the God for whom we are working.
Looking now upon the condition of our times, and upon the work allotted to each one of us, I feel that what we want is more faith. Never mind how firmly fixed are the mountains of iniquity; they must move if faith be strong. Never mind how deep have gone the roots of the sycamine tree; it shall be plucked up by its roots if faith be strong. We do not half believe!
Dare and venture, and yet find no daring and no venturing in it, as you simply trust your God as a child trusts his father. We have often failed because of our unbelief.
It may be that there are cases in which God will not yield to your faith until your faith works in prayer; and then, when prayer has wrought to its utmost, you shall get the blessing.
I think that I can understand some of God’s reasons for acting thus. First, He wants to make us see the greatness of the mercy, so He occupies our thoughts with the greatness of the distress that needs to be relieved, and with the impossibility of that distress being relieved except by His own power and Godhead. That experience does us good. It makes us feel that the mercy, when it does come, will be remarkably precious.
The Lord intends also to excite our desires, and that, likewise, does us good. To be all aglow with holy desires is, in itself, a healthy exercise.
Then the Lord means to create in us unity of action. One brother finds that he cannot get on alone, so he will call in another to help him in prayer; and much holy united supplication will be called forth by the very desperateness of the case which cannot be met by simple faith, or even by the prayer of one. Let us always seek the united prayers of many brethren and sisters.
You remember that man who was carried by four, and let down from the roof into Christ’s presence. Oh, I wish that, in your houses, you met frequently, in twos and threes, for united prayer! I should like to hear of little bands formed of Christian men and women, who pledged themselves to pray, four at a time, for somebody possessed by a devil of the kind that will not go out by ordinary means, and must be ejected by four of you. Get together, and say to yourselves, “We will not rest until this soul, and that soul, shall have the devil cast out, and shall sit, clothed, and in their right mind, at Jesus Christ’s feet.” “This kind” — these certain kinds of devils are not to be driven out, except by special, importunate, continued, united prayer. They can be cast out if you only believe, and pray; there is never a devil but will have to go, if you have faith enough and prayer enough to drive him out. “By prayer and fasting.” Our Lord Jesus Christ never made much of fasting He very seldom spoke about it; and when the Pharisees exaggerated it, he generally put them off by telling them that the time had not come for his disciples to fast, because the Bridegroom was still with them, and while He was with them their days were to be days of joy. But, still, Holy Scripture does speak of fasting, in certain cases it advises fasting, and there were godly men and godly women, such as Anna, the prophetess, who “served God with fastings and prayer night and day.” I do not mean to spiritualize this away. I believe, literally, that some of you would be a great deal the better if you did occasionally have a whole day of fasting and prayer. There is a lightness that comes over the frame, especially of bulky people like myself; we begin to feel ourselves quite light and ethereal. I remember one day of fasting and prayer, in which I realized to myself, spiritually, the meaning of a popish picture, which I have sometimes seen, of a saint floating in the air. Well that, of course, was impossible; and I do not suppose that, when the picture was painted, it was believed in its literal sense; but there is a lightness, an elevation of the spirit above the flesh, that will come over you after some hours of waiting upon God in fasting and prayer. I can advise brethren sometimes to try it; it will be good for their health, and it certainly will not harm them. If we only ate about half what is ordinarily eaten, we should probably all of us; be in better health; and if, occasionally, we put ourselves on short commons, not because there is any virtue in that, but in order to get our brains more clear, and to help our hearts to rest more fully upon the Savior, we should find that prayer and fasting have great power.
Permit me to say just one thing more. I believe that the devil of drunkenness will not go out of some men, unless Christian people, who pray for them, and talk with them, will practice fasting in the matter of total abstinence. I do mean this, not that it is wrong for you to take what you do take, but that there are some souls that you cannot win unless you say to them, “For your sakes we are going to give up what might be lawful to us, that ,we may save you from the public-house and all its temptations.
Come, Jack, I intend to take the pledge; I never was drunk, and probably never shall be, but I will sign the pledge for your sake.” There are some devils that will not go out till you act like that; and we ought to do anything that may result in the saving of a soul. We ought to deny ourselves anything of which we can deny ourselves, if it be necessary to bring one single person to the cross of Christ. Let us see to it that we are quite clear in this matter, for there are still many devils that will not go out without prayer and fasting. Well then, say, “I will not fast to please the devil, or to please other people; but I will fast to spite the devil, and to get him out of that man. I will fast from anything so that I may but bring him to the feet of Jesus, that he may be saved.” We who love the Lord are, I trust, all agreed on that matter, that no cost on our part should be spared to win a soul from the dominion of Satan, and bring him into the glorious liberty of the children of God.