Ephesians 1:18-20 “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”
There are two great requests we constantly make to God, for ourselves and for others. We ask him for a living hope for the future, and also we ask for daily strength to press on towards that hope. You will remember a line in the hymn, “Great is Thy faithfulness” which speaks of “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” In other words, we long for deliverance from despair and from cracking up. That is a theme of Christian praying, and both these elements are here in our text in Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, that they might know for themselves Christian hope and strength.
1. BRIGHT HOPE FOR TOMORROW.
“That you may know the hope to which he has called you” Paul prays. What a hope that is! When he mentions this he is praying that they might know a completed salvation, that is, that glorious time when everything will be summed up in Christ. He is praying that they might attain the resurrection of the body, that they might possess eternal life, that they might see the glory of Jesus Christ which he had with his Father before the foundation of the world – that such hopes might live within them. Until then he longs that they might know a lifetime of serving and glorifying and enjoying the Lord. What a difference a living hope makes. Think of those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas and his companion were two utterly hopeless people that day, their Master having been to death on a cross under the order of their rulers. Then, what happens? The living Christ walks alongside them, opens the Scriptures to them and explains the ghastly cross. Then their hearts burn within them. They were begotten again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
What sufferings some Christians pass through, but what endurance they can show if they have this hope. I knew of a godly Christian who died of a muscle-wasting disease, who, at the end of his life, could only move his eyes. He would smile at you with his eyes and then he would glance upwards. He couldn’t speak, but you knew what he was saying so eloquently and movingly. He was telling his visitors that he was looking heavenwards. He had a living hope though his body was dying. Our suffering may seem at times beyond endurance, but there’s going to be a glory to be revealed to us which will be beyond compare.
The discovery of hope after there’d been despair is life-transforming. It’s like the dimming of harsh house lights, and a hush coming over the audience, and the curtains of a theatre are drawn back. Then your eyes see some incredibly moving spectacle. I remember an occasion almost forty years ago that I drove a Canadian student friend of mine called Graham from Swansea, where we then living, to Aberystwyth. We travelled here on the mountain road and he’d barely had a glimpse of the sea. We came into Aberystwyth town and I drove down Pier Street and we parked by Galloways, and we walked down the street towards the pier. It was a sunny day in May, and Graham had no idea that Aberystwyth was on the Irish Sea, and he could see only the facade of the pier across the end of the street before us. He thought we were in the middle of a town, and then we approached the theological college, and then we turned the corner, and suddenly there was the bay, and the mountains, and the promenade, and the ocean. His face lit up with wonder and there was an expulsion of breath and he said something like “Hey!’ or “Wow!” Many of you might have been in a circumstance like that, that have taken your breath away because of its unexpectedness and beauty. My point is this, that there are times when the bright hope of the gospel surprises the Christian. We are not on a long day’s journey into night. That is the despair of the unbeliever. We are on the path of the just that shines more and more brightly unto the perfect day. Do you all have that hope? If you don’t possess Christ then you can’t have hope. There was a terminally ill man, and the doctor broke the news to him that he was not going to recover, that he had only a year to live. When the consultant left he was very angry, and he turned to a nurse (who happened to be a Christian) and he said to her, “That man has destroyed my hope.” She said to him urgently, “Then you must get a new hope, a better hope.” She was able to tell him of the hope of the gospel, as we’re always telling you. Today the Lord Jesus is saying to you, “Come!” Tomorrow the Lord Jesus will be saying, “Welcome!” to all who’ve come. But there’s no hope unless you come.
Christians are people of hope, and that is the secret of their lives. We see believers doing the most menial and wearying work, taking the basin of water, washing and drying disciples’ feet. They are strengthened to do so because they see the day approaching. They know that there’s soon going to be a complete transformation of themselves and those whom they love. That body sown in weakness is going to be raised in might. A glory is going to be shown not to them, it’s going to be revealed in them. They are going to glorified together with Christ in just a few more years. Can you imagine that day? An old missionary to Peru named Michael Smith died seven weeks ago. He kept hiking into remote villages on narrow jungle trails visiting scattered groups of Christians when he was in his eighties. At the end of the summer he was told that he was in a terminal condition. An old friend said to him, “Michael, you’ve climbed many mountains in your life and now you have to climb the highest one of all.” “Yes, I’ve often thought of it like that,” he replied, “and the best part of climbing a mountain is the view from the top.” That is the Christian hope.
There’s going to be a day of deliverance for every believer frustrated by sin, for Christians who know that they ought to be strong and mature in Christ, and yet who’re aware of constant failure. The good they would do they don’t do, and the evil they would not do, they actually do. They feel wretched, and they have to live with that frustration, but there’s going to be a day where frustration and wretchedness will all be over. Let me illustrate that in this way: you know that as athletes get into their thirties they can find themselves at a point where they can’t do the things that they used to be able to do. They can’t make the times any longer; they can’t make the distance; they can’t make the endurance, and it’s so frustrating for them. That is exactly where Christians live their entire lives. God’s word tells us of our marvelous status and our illimitable resources. God’s word calls us to be perfect, and then we look at what we’re actually achieving, and we never seem to measure up. We can survive only by the hope to which God has called us, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.
What’s the view like from the Christian mountain top? It is the most breathtaking scenario the world has ever seen. Let’s start here, that it’s a view of home. We are going home to our Father’s house. “In my Father’s house are many rooms” (John 14:2): “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). For the believer, death is a home-going. Surely this biblical perspective challenges our reluctance to die. It challenges the way we cling to this earthly existence. For the believer, this world is a foreign country. Here we have no continuing city; we are strangers and pilgrims; we are stateless aliens, or colonists far from home. We are beset by sin and harassed by the devil and agitated by restlessness and imperfection. Why should we want to remain here forever? Think of home! Home is where our Father is and where our Elder Brother is and where, in increasing numbers, our friends and loved ones are. Think of your home!
“My Father’s house on high,
Home of my soul, how near
At times to faith’s foreseeing eye
Thy golden gates appear!
Ah! then my spirit faints
To reach the land I love,
The bright inheritance of saints,
Jerusalem above.” (James Montgomery, 1771-1854).
In New Testament perspective, the believer isn’t simply ‘unafraid’ of going home or simply ‘willing to go.’ He desires to “depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23). It wasn’t that the apostle was weary of life. He’d learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, but he wasn’t neutral between living or dying, staying or going. For the good of the church, he was willing to stay (Philippians 1 :24), but his desire was to depart and to be with his dear Saviour Jesus Christ. What are you? Are you pilgrims? Or are you mere religious tourists, or day trippers?
What is the view from the mountain top? One day we’ll really worship the Lord. We’ll serve him day and night in his temple. The New Jerusalem as the apostle John saw it was a perfect cube, reminiscent of the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple. Once a year one man, the High Priest, was allowed to enter that place with a bowl of the blood of a sacrifice, and remain there for a short time. We are going to spend our eternity in the presence of God! John saw no temple in the City. It was all temple. The presence of God, the Shekinah, was absolutely everywhere. The insignia of his majesty and the reminders of his love filled the place. In this life the knowledge of the one we have never seen moves us to joy unspeakable and full of glory. There, we shall see him as he is. We shall see him face to face. Our worship will be a response to that: not something exacted or extorted, but the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. The vision before us (the majesty of God unveiled in the transfigured humanity of Christ) will forbid silence. As Principal Macleod has observed, it will invoke, irresistibly, wonder, love and praise; and these will find expression not only in the voices of individuals, but in the symphony of all the redeemed. They will come from north and south and east and west. They will include black and white, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, the weak and the powerful, introverts and extroverts. Each will sing her own song. But it will be no cacophony. It will be a great harmony, a symphony of grace, awe-inspiring in volume and yet euphonious and melodious as the harp: the response of humanity to the wonderful works of God. That is the view from the mountain top.
What is the view from the mountain top? To enter into our rest. Here, in this life, are responsibilities, pain and temptations. Here, harassment by the demonic, persecution by the world and disappointment in friends. Here, relentless, remorseless pressure, requiring us to live at the limit of our resources and at the very edge of endurance. But there, rest: ‘the strife is o’er, the battle done.’ The toil is behind us and the danger is past. No more the burden of unfinished work or the frustration of inbuilt limitations. No sin to mortify. No flesh to crucify. No pain to endure. No malice to fear. That’s the view from the mountain peak.
But there is one thing more about this view, and Paul describes it here like this, “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (v. 18). We are heirs of God, and what is our rich inheritance? It is God himself; God’s love, power, providence, protection, and provision. What are we going to have at the end? We are going to have God. I have asked, “What are we going to have at the end?” Let me ask you, “What do we have now?” We have God now. We already have the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. Let’s remember that our inheritance doesn’t depend on our dying to secure it. It depends on the death of Christ – the death of the testator! Jesus is the one who’s died, and we get the inheritance. The death that matters before God has already occurred. It is a great fallacy that we have to wait until our own death to get the inheritance. We receive the inheritance because of the death of the Son of God!
The psalmist says, “God is my inheritance.” Even the Old Testament men knew that. They knew that day by day they were getting God. They were receiving his love, his care and his promises. They were getting such things then and there. The psalmist again says, “You are my sure portion O Lord.” He was enjoying the benefits and blessings of God himself. They were heirs of God, and you must cling to that, if at times just by your fingertips. When the hardest of all days comes you must remember those words spoken by a wise man long ago, that nothing can deprive us of the providence of God. Every day we have his inheritance. God is our inheritance for ever and ever.
Or again we can say it like this, that we are joint heirs with Christ. Do you know what that means? It means that we who are in Christ have exactly the same inheritance as the Son of God himself. It means that Christ’s inheritance is no greater and no more glorious than his saints’. It means that if you are a co-heir with Christ that you share the inheritance. You know that in the letter to the Hebrews we are told that we have come to the church of the first born. In other words, in the church of God everyone is first born. Everyone has the rights of prima genitor; everyone has the complete rights of the inheritance. Ours is the same inheritance as the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of the body we’re going to have – a body like the body of Christ’s glory. He shall change the body of our humiliation and make it like the body of his glory. What kind of character shall we have? We have been foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son; a body like Christ’s, and a character like Christ’s. What kind of environment is our inheritance? “That where I am there they may be also.” It is absolutely no different from the environment in which the Son of God is going to spend his eternity. We’re going to have an eminence like his, a sovereignty like his, a peace like his, a knowledge like his, a happiness like his
What an inheritance! Can you see why Paul writes of the riches of his glorious inheritance which all the saints will know? Everything that God has done is so extravagant. There was the extravagance of the cross, that God gave his only begotten Son – what an extravagance! There was the extravagance of the exaltation of Christ – not just exalted but highly exalted, hyper exultation, and then there is this extravagance of our inheritance. We come back to God like the prodigal son to his father, but with us it is not a matter of fatted calves, we are made heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ. All the wisdom, love and power of God has gone into preparing something fit for his children. You know how it is with parents, how they want to give their children the best? So God has been labouring, preparing our inheritance, a kingdom prepared for us before the world was, such riches of the glorious inheritance of the saints. That is the Christian hope.
Let me say this again, that Christ was highly exalted because he was obedient unto death, and God exalted him in a way that was commensurate with the glory of his own obedience. Put it this way; God the Father looked at the cross, and God said, “How can I respond to that? What can I do commensurate with what my Son did on Calvary? What kind of exaltation will be the proper response, and reward, and love?” That was the challenge God faced, and God said, “I will hyper exalt him. I will put him in the midst of the throne.” Now I’m saying that today Christ is as high as his achievement; he is as high as the cross deserved. But I am saying something more, that God the Father will exalt the people of Christ to the same proportion and for the same reason, because Christ has purchased glory not only for himself but for us as well – that where he is there we may be also.
I believe that Christ is as high as Golgotha merits, and I believe that one day his church also will be as high as Calvary deserves. That is my view from the mountain top. The riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints is a statement of God’s appreciation of his own glorious and only begotten Son. Do you understand? He is not looking at the things which we’ve done, at the quality of our love, or even at the depths of our degradation. No, God is looking at the cross, and he is building a heaven that is commensurate with the cross. He is preparing a glory for us that is commensurate with the cross, and a blessedness that is commensurate with Calvary. The whole riches of this glory will reflect the Father’s appreciation of the magnificence of Golgotha.
That is the Christian hope. I’m soon going to be on the mountain top, and that will be the sight before me. I urge you to keep your affection set on things above. There are people in the congregation who are so morose, and melancholic and discouraged. The eyes of their hearts need enlightenment, and whereas I can preach to them week by week (or whenever they’ll come to hear me), you also can do something to lift their drooping spirits. You must pray for them like Paul prayed for the Christians in Ephesus. This is what he asked God to do in them, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.”
2. KNOWING GOD’S INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER.
This is how Paul continues the prayer, by asking that the Ephesians might know God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” “I want you to know more of God’s power at work in your life,” says Paul, but again he wants to impress upon them the wonderful magnitude of this power, its utterly supernatural reality. So he refers to it as God’s “incomparably great power” (v.19). This is something the world never experiences. It sees God’s might and glory in creation, but it can’t see God’s power in grace, calling a sinner, regenerating him, making him a new creation, transforming him into the image of Christ, glorifying him – all that, none but his loved ones know. “His incomparably great power,” Paul says, is “for us who believe” (v.19). Such power, the apostle says, is not for those who’ve been baptized with the Spirit. Not for those who’ve turned away from every sin. Not for those who’ve laid all on the altar. Not for those who’ve agonized and prayed night and day without ceasing for weeks or months. No. Paul says that his incomparably great power is for them who believe. Mere believers, just like the dying thief. Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. Those who believe are the beneficiaries of God’s incomparably great power. We can never go far in the writings of Paul without being reminded of the significance of personal trust in Christ. All the benefits he describes to us, the glorious hope of heaven, are reserved for those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and them alone.
Let me make this as simple as I can. There are two basic realities in which the Christian puts his trust. The first is the righteousness of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born into the world and lived a blameless life. He loved God with all his heart and soul, and he loved his neighbour as himself. All that we should do, but constantly fail to do, he actually achieved. What Jesus was in public he also was when no human eye observed him. What he was outwardly he was also inwardly, without malice or envy or pride or lust or any such thing. Christ lived like this because it was his desire to do so. It glorified and pleased the God he loved who was his Father. But our Lord also did it on our behalf. He fulfilled all righteousness; no righteousness was left unachieved, and he offered it to God on our behalf. The Father accepted that life of Christ for all the multitudes who were joined to Christ and lived in him. So where is my righteousness today? It is in heaven where Jesus Christ is. I have none of my own but immeasurable righteousness in the Lord. That is my trust. The Lord is my righteousness.
The second reality in which we trust is the death of Jesus Christ. He did more than live a blameless life for me: the wages of sin is death, but the Saviour, because he loved me, died the fearful death of judgment in my stead. Golgotha is a fact. It is not a theological statement. The agony and darkness and cry of dereliction are history. Why did the holy one whom God loved die that death? Why did God desire it? The magnificent answer of the Scriptures is that it was because of me! He was bearing my sins in his own body on the cross. In my place condemned he stood. He was the Lamb of God and he took away my shame and blame when he hung there. So my hope is also in his death.
“Because my sinless Saviour died,
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.”
So my plea for God’s grace to forgive the sins of the past and strength to help me overcome the sins of the future is based on two realities – realities which this world has witnessed. They are not based on speculation, or theology, or doctrine, or on the teaching of mother church, but on events that this world has seen and experienced, they are the blood of Jesus Christ and his righteous life. His life of active obedience to the law of God, and his blood shed as the Lamb – that is all my plea. “Jesus Thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress.”
Now let us see the significance of personal faith. Where does trusting Christ come in? All that work which was done by Jesus Christ all by himself can only benefit me personally should I entrust myself to him. He may have died for sinners, but if I don’t receive him into my life then I am a lost man. It is when I believe upon him then God’s forgiveness and grace become mine. It is not when I start living a better life, and begin to get religious, and start praying and fasting and get baptized and go to meetings that then God starts to forgive me. No! It is not like that at all! He forgives me and justifies me entirely and only because of the life and death of his Son in this world 1900 years ago. The eternal realities of the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ become mine when we get connected to the Saviour, really plugged into him, and this happens when we entrust ourselves to him. So the great message of the gospel is the declaration of the mighty achievements of the Lord Christ, and that we sinners may benefit from them by faith alone. In other words, when we say, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” Or we may say such words as those of another hymn from our hearts (of course with your own personal adaptations and additions of confession and stumbling faith so that the statement is your very own – don’t simply repeat words like this as some ‘formula’) – “Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me and that thou bidst me come to thee O Lamb of God I come.” We believe right into Jesus Christ alone.
I came across this little poem in the past few days which I found so helpful, and probably very near to my own experience of fifty years ago, in 1954, when I became a Christian under the influence of the word of God one Sunday night in a little church which is no longer standing in a South Wales valley:
“You ask me how I gave my heart to Christ,
I do not know;
There came a yearning for him in my soul
So long ago.
I found that all earth’s flowers would fade and die,
I wept for something that would satisfy
And then, and then, somehow I seemed to dare
To lift my broken heart to God in prayer.
I do not know, I cannot tell you how;
I only know he is my Saviour now.” (Anonymous).
So Paul speaks of God’s incomparably great power, which only those who have believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ have experienced. Do you realize what power has been at work in a mere believer? Listen as he expands this theme of our being affected by God’s power; he introduces this striking simile: “That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (vv. 19&20). You ask yourselves where is the source of the believer’s strength? How do you measure its character? What are its dimensions? A great comparison is this, says Paul, “it is like the mighty work of God when he raised Christ from the dead.” How strong do you expect believers to be? Is it the strength of their Christian parents? Is it the strength of their genetic inheritance? Is it the strength of the pulpit from where they receive ministry Sunday after Sunday? Is it the strength of their friends, their dear husband or wife? Is it the strength of their personal character? Paul says that it is not at all the impact of those influences. Rather it is like the unique work of God when on the third day God focused his loving power right into a hitherto unused sepulchre just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Inside that sepulchre the dead body of his Son was bound with grave-clothes and covered with a hundredweight of embalming spices. There God raised that dead body to new life. He gave it vitality and power and breath and ability to speak and to walk and eat and drink. There God joined again to that revived body the spirit of Christ, which had been with him in heaven since he had yielded up the ghost and cried, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” So that the resurrected person came out of that sepulchre in the power of an endless life.
The God-man, Christ Jesus, appeared many times to Mary and Cleopas and Peter and John and Thomas and the twelve and the crowd of five hundred brethren and Saul of Tarsus. Death was overcome by the power of God. The tyranny of death was pronounced to have ended. The death of death! The sepulchre was emptied of his presence. Jesus appeared for forty days speaking of the kingdom of God. The lives of these demoralised men and women were transformed. They went everywhere telling the world that the Christ who had been put to death had risen from the grave. There was an authority, urgency, integrity, purity and love about them that was irresistible. Some of them laid down their lives for refusing to stop speaking of the risen Jesus. They filled the world with his knowledge. The same power that was exerted in raising the Saviour from his grave was now at work in them, and after them in every single generation of Christians – all of God’s elect – until today. In distant Ephesus and even more distant Wales centuries later Christians would know the power of his resurrection.
There is a presence in the life of the mere Christian which is altogether not of the strength of this world. An energy has come to him from heaven, which identical energy was once active in the body of dead Jesus in the tomb giving him new life. Paul is stressing the extraordinariness of the being, and position, and potential of the ordinary child of God. He is not talking about the gifted Christian, cultured, eloquent, successful and honoured men of God, but all of us plodders. We sinners who believe are garrisoned by the strength of God. Our moral and spiritual energy is commensurate with this extraordinary work of God. The Son of God who died now lives in us, and our own power can be measured by the Lord’s own immeasurable power which raised him.
The whole point of what Paul is saying is this, that as believers we face all the challenges of this life. We face every obligation God lays upon us. We must endure the sufferings of this present time. We must resist the wiles of the devil. We must love our wives as Christ loved the church. We must obey our parents in all things. We must honour our elders. We must be steadfast, unmovable and always abound in the work of the Lord. We must present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. We have to face up to the demands of the Christian life, but we confront them with absolutely extraordinary strength. It is no use our saying, “Well, we came through that like any ordinary person,” because that will not do, simply because the Christian man is not an ordinary chap. The Christian young person is not your typical teenager. God has made over to every Christian extraordinary resources, and he expects us to show consistent obedience, to be victorious in temptation, and patient in suffering, and submissive in bereavement. In other words, God requires graces that are commensurate with our resources and the glory of our position.
I remember the opening of the first motorway in the British Isles at the end of my first year in college on July 4 1959. It was the M1 from London to the Midlands, 100 miles of so in length. The first day it was opened a number of the daily newspapers hired leading motor racing drivers, putting them in Jaguars and Aston Martins and Ferraris, to see who would be the fastest in getting from London to Birmingham. There were no speed limits outside the towns in those days because small cars and narrow roads themselves were sufficient restraint on a car’s speed. So drivers like Stirling Moss took off in their sports cars and reached speeds of 150 miles an hour and got to Birmingham in under sixty minutes. The various papers published this excitement the next day and there was a buzz in the country. A new day had dawned for family motoring. Here was a road with two or three lanes without any traffic lights and no speed limits stretching straight ahead for 100 miles. The following Sunday thousands of men took their little Austins, and Fords, and Morris cars for a family outing on the M1. They put their foot down as far as it could go and they ‘bombed’ their way north up to Birmingham. Of course it proved a disaster, because those cars didn’t have the power or resources for such an outing. Before July 1959 they’d barely travelled faster than 45 miles per hour. There were two consequences to this recklessness: the hard shoulder of the M1 was littered with broken down cars, the big ends gone – the AA and the RAC never had so many calls for assistance – and the government introduced the 70 mph speed limit.
The Christian is pressing on heavenward. He is on a marathon whose finishing line is the throne of God and the Lamb, and for this race God has made him extraordinarily strong. He has given us superhuman resources. Paul is saying here that God has made over to us more power than the power that death has. I wonder what is your conception of spiritual power? We speak of powerful sermons, and powerful testimonies, and powerful preaching and even powerful worship and singing. We say that the power of God was in such a gathering, or in such a life. Yet what is the criterion of power? How do we know the person who is spiritually strong? Look at the prayer of Paul in the first chapter of Colossians, so like this prayer, and this is what he is asking God for them, that they be “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father” (Cols 1:11&12). It is not that these men are wonderfully gifted, or have superhuman insights, or that the gullible swallow whatever they say, or that they are angelic in their manner. It is not that they have power to make people weep; it is not the power to speak with the tongues of angels; it is not that they can command a mountain to move into the sea or all kinds of unusual phenomena. A man who is spiritually strong may not ever know a lot of theology, but because the power that raised Christ from the dead is in him then there is great endurance, and patience and thanksgiving.
Those of you who want power this day, I wonder do you see it in those terms? Those of you who have lamented so often the absence of power in the Christian church and say it is power that we need, do we see power like that? “The strength and the power I want is the power to be patient; it is the power of longsuffering and gentleness; the power to have a grateful spirit.” In other words, there are all these provocations and afflictions, as Jesus said, “Men revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.” There is the discipline of the providence of God. There are the hardships, difficulties and disappointments of the groaning creation. Then we have need of some great endurance, the grace to bear God’s will without complaint and bitterness, not allowing it to affect our lives. Have I the strength to take the crashing of my hopes and my experience of the divine chastening and bear it all with composure?
Let me tell you of some Christian women who did just this: there was the late Elizabeth Tallach, the wife of the minister of the Free Presbyterian pastor in Stornoway on the island of Lewis. He died in 1960 leaving her at the age of 49 with five boys to rear, having to vacate their manse, and possessing no salary. She was to live without him for the next forty years. One morning in the early days of her widowhood God helped her while she was in the midst of cleaning the door of the manse. These words, “Goodness and mercy shall follow me” came to her with divine power. It was quite unforgettable, and she occasionally referred to the incident as she spoke with her family. She’d say, “Think of the security in that. The goodness of God coming behind you and a provision before you that no one could take from you. Sometimes we don’t lean on God’s promises as we should, and we are the losers for that. I was enabled just to take that promise and to lean on it.” How faithful God was to her and her sons throughout their rich lives. She was given the strength to bear the disappointments of her life with endurance and she could show gratitude to God.
Another woman was the daughter of a Free Church minister, Edith (later Edith Dain), who sailed to Bombay in November 1935. She arrived at the mission station on December 13 having motored 43 miles through forest and jungle. On Sunday December 22 after the morning service she went back to her room and she broke her heart. A great tidal wave of homesickness swept over her. She longed to see her father and mother. It would be five years before she had a furlough and could go back to Scotland. As she was writing in her diary the tears were still flowing, but this is what she wrote: “It is thy perfect will, and I would not have it otherwise. Lord, give me grace and strength not to show this weakness to other people.” God answered her prayer, even though the Second World War came, and she did not return home for eleven years, by which time her mother and father had both died. She was never to see them again. Strength to deal with homesickness in serving the Lord when one is oceans away from all one’s family and friends and church.
Or again patience: people provoke me. Christians provoke me. They disappoint me; they revile me; they contradict me; they upset me. How do I react? When they do evil against me, do I do evil to them in return? Do I threaten them? Do I determine on vengeance? Do I think, “I will expose them.” Or do I bear it this way, with patience? Do I simply take it to God? I wonder have we ever thought what strength we need to be patient. What a tragedy when a man’s whole concept of the mighty power of God is focused in the realm of preaching, or in the realm of gifts, and talents, and numbers, and we fail to see what lies here in endurance and patience.
Have you ever realised this, that a man may need strength and power to be joyful? Here is a man prone to melancholy. With his outlook the glass is always half empty, and yet he faces the great commandment, as divine as any of the ten commandments, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice!” It is not that we are to rejoice in moments of prosperity but when, as Peter says, we are in heaviness through manifold trials. Can I in the moment of sorrow, and in the time of grief, and in disappointment, and anguish, and danger, say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord took away, blessed be the name of the Lord!” Where then is my joy? Why then art thou cast down O my soul? Why? Why? At such moments, to retain one’s joy in Christ, a person needs extraordinary assistance: “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (vv. 19&20).
Consider the strength that we need to speak a word for Jesus Christ to another sinner. We can do it only by abiding in Christ, and only by his enabling. I was sitting in the home of Edward Donnelly this week, and he was talking to me wryly of our inconsistencies as Christians and especially as ministers of the gospel, of how weak he himself is in talking to people around him about the living God, and what he said in the following words found an echo in my own heart: “If I were invited to speak to a thousand atheists at a great hall tonight then I’d go there and address them all. But do I have the strength to walk across an airport departure lounge and sit next to one man, and begin to talk to him about God? No.” So much of what we call power to preach is simply the love of the big occasion with ourselves being under the spotlights. Our failure in personal witness-bearing is that we’re not praying for strength to do it. We’re not going in our desperate weakness to God for his enabling. We are not recognising that without Christ’s strength we can do nothing.
Again, I may face the enmity of one person, and I’m saying to myself, “How shall I get by? How can I possibly endure all this?” Then I say, “I’m forgetting the resurrected Christ who has promised never to leave me nor forsake me. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. What can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord? I may seem to be poor. I might be very poor, and I may be physically and mentally weak, and yet who am I? Someone in whom the mighty power of God is at work. The force that made the universe is at work in my life, and every day, and each moment of the day, though frequently in heaviness through manifold temptations, in moments of anguish and trial I must recall that this is the greatest of all realities in the world – there was the dead body of Jesus bearing the marks of a brutal death lying there in the dark sepulchre. Then the stone was tossed aside, and there is the dead body breathing, and the colour coming back to the cheeks, and the heart of Jesus beating, and an eye opening, and another eye, a twitch, a movement . . . looking around, getting his bearings – and up he stands, alive! Never to die again! And I am united to the saving living power that did that, and I say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
8th February 2004 GEOFF THOMAS