>Power given to the Feint - Part 1
Preached at Zoar Chapel, Great Alie Street, London, on Lord s Day Morning, July 20, 1845.
IN order to understand the mind and meaning of the Holy Spirit in these words, we must take a glimpse at their connection.
We find, in the preceding verses, the Lord addressing himself to his people, and speaking to them as deeply exercised in their souls. But what was the source of their exercises ? It was this -that their path was so dark and obscure. "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, my way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?" The path in which the family of God were then walking was exceedingly perplexing. Their "way"-that is, the path they were taking-the way of the Spirit s teaching in their conscience-the mode of the Lord s dealing with their soul, was so intricate and obscure, that they could not believe it was a right way. The Lord had hidden his face from them, and did not shew them the nature or reason of his dealings with them. Infidelity, seizing hold of this circumstance, worked so powerfully in their hearts, that they burst forth into this cry, "My way is hid from the Lord." Surely he cannot see the way I am taking, or he would have appeared sooner on my behalf. "And my judgment," that is, my cause, " is passed over from my God." He neglects to take that notice of me which I seek at his hands; he passes me by as unworthy of his regard; he slights my cause, and rejects my prayer, as though I did not belong to him.
Now, in order to meet these exercises in the hearts of his people-in order to apply a suitable remedy for these workings of unbelief and infidelity-the Lord answers by appealing to their own experience-"Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?" However thou mayest faint, however thou mayest be wearied of him -whatever be thy hard thoughts concerning his dealings with thee-dost thou not know, that the everlasting God remains "the same yesterday, today, and for ever"-that he is not a changeable God, tossed to and fro like thyself; but that he "rests in his love," and is ever the same; -that "he fainteth not" under the burdens which thou castest upon him; "neither is weary" of thee, though thou art often weary of him? And, with respect to this intricate path in which thou art walking, he adds, "There is no searching of his understanding." He knoweth what is best for thee; and though thy present path is dark and obscure in thine eyes, it is bright and clear in his.
He would, therefore, urge this upon the conscience of his exercised and complaining child, Thy part is to sit still, and wait till the deliverance appear; in due time, I will explain to thee the nature and reason of these mysterious dealings. He then goes on still further to clear up the point by the words of the text: "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
If we look at the text, we shall observe, that there are two characters traced out in it. Of these, one is set forth by the expression "youths" and "young men." And not only is their character set forth, but also their destiny is described that they "shall faint," and "shall utterly fall." And, on the other hand, we have another, a spiritual character traced out, as one who "has no might," and yet "waits upon the Lord." And we find his destiny also pointed out. For as there is an end reserved for the one-an utter fall; so there is an end reserved for the other- a spiritual blessing.
I shall, then, if God enable me, endeavour this morning to trace out these two distinct characters, and shew the allotted portion and end of each.
We will begin with a description of the character pointed out by the expression "youths" and "young men;" and then shew what is their allotted portion and appointed destiny.
I.-By the expression "youths" and "young men" is implied a contrast betwixt the whole-hearted condition of the professing world and the fainting state of God s family. Youth is the season of comeliness, vigour, and strength; and thus, figuratively and typically, the "youths" and "young men" are those professors of religion who have never been weakened and brought down by a work of the Spirit upon their hearts; but who retain all their natural comeliness, activity, and vigour. In the exercise of this activity and strength, these youths run a race, but not the race that God s people run in faith and patience. In a word, the expression "youths" and "young men" describes unburdened professors, who have never had such a work of grace upon their hearts as has laid trouble upon their souls, or wrought penetrating convictions in their conscience. Never having been humbled in their souls, nor exercised in their minds, nor afflicted by a body of sin and death, they retain all their natural vigour. It has never been drawn away from them by the running sores of sin and guilt; they have never been drained nor exhausted of it by lacerating wounds in their conscience; and they thus preserve all that comeliness, youthful vigour, and beauty which have been battered down in the Lord s afflicted family.
Now when the Lord s people, exercised and tried in their souls, compare their deformity, ugliness, and wrinkles, with the comeliness of these unhumbled professors, it is often to them a bitter contrast. They often see in unexercised professors much more zeal, consistency, earnestness, amiability, activity, and apparent devotedness, than they can see and feel in their own hearts; and, contrasting their own wrinkled and weather-beaten visages with their smooth and ruddy cheeks, they cry out, "My skin is black upon me; my flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust: my skin is broken and become loathsome" Job 30:30
vii. And so with respect to the activity, strength, and vigour of these "youths" and "young men." The Lord s people have often no heart to "run with patience the race that is set before them." Spiritual things, instead of being their solace and delight, are often their burden. The enmity of their carnal mind works up against divine realities; and so far from being active and zealous in them, they are often so burdened in the things of God, that they feel unable to do any one thing which is acceptable in His sight. But these "young men," who have never seen the breadth, nor felt the spirituality of God s law-who have never known their inward corruption, never been plagued with a body of sin and death, never exercised with the perplexities that God s people are tried with-retain all that zeal and comeliness-those fleshly substitutes for vital power and godliness-which the exercised family of God once had, but have long lost.
There are those amongst the Lord s family "whose senses are not as yet exercised to discern both good and evil," and therefore cannot see the difference between pretence and reality, between nature in its highest form and grace in its lowest. When therefore one of these poor, burdened, exercised children of God contrasts his own want of zeal, earnestness, and activity-his darkness of mind, deadness of soul, and coldness of affection-with the earnestness and activity of many a zealous religionist around him, he is almost tempted to think that they are right and he wrong, and that they will stand when he shall fall.
But how different are God s ways from our ways, and God s thoughts from our thoughts! How differently does he view these "youths" and "young men" from the admiration bestowed upon them by the professing world! What hollowness, deceitfullness, and hypocrisy does he see working under all this natural comeliness, strength, and vigour! How the Lord sees that all this strength is weakness, all this wisdom is folly, all this righteousness is hypocrisy, and all this earnestness and zeal is but fallen nature carrying into religion the same restless activity which cultivates the farm, or manages the shop-a buyer and seller in the temple, and not a spiritual worshipper in the sanctuary!
But what is the sentence which the Lord has passed concerning such? A sentence that we see, more or less, fulfilled every day. They shall all "utterly fall." In due time these comely and vigourous "youths," these strong and active "young men" will faint and fall. Though for a time they seem to run well, they never reach the goal. Sin, which for a time was dead in them, begins to revive; temptations that before never beset them, are laid in their paths; snares before hidden, they are now entangled by: their zeal, their earnestness, their activity gradually decline; and thus, long before they come to the end of the race, they faint, and are utterly unable to proceed any further. They give up their religion, often abandon even a profession, go into the world, fall into sin, and "concerning faith make shipwreck."
But even if some of them do not faint by the way, they "shall utterly fall." God never has sanctioned, and never will sanction any religion but his own divine work in the soul. All other wisdom he proves to be folly, all other strength weakness, all other profession but that which springs from his own work in the conscience to be "the spider s web" and "the hypocrite s hope." He has therefore determined, in his own sovereign appointment, that these comely and vigourous "youths" and "young men"-these active professors of religion-these unhumbled and un-exercised ones, "shall utterly fall;" and if it be not before, a death-bed shall unmask them; or, if they even proceed in confidence through the dark valley as we read in the Pilgrim s Progress of one that did so, yet the day of judgment will reveal them. God will discover them by shewing that they have been feeding upon ashes; and that a deceived heart has turned them aside; that they have had no interest in the love and blood of the Lamb, and no participation in the Spirit s teaching.
How different is the character, and how different is the destiny of the Lord s own family! How determined the Lord is to mortify the pride of man, to subvert all his purposes, and bring about his own counsels of infinite wisdom, in direct opposition to the wisdom of the creature! What would be our judgment? Would it not be this? That these "youths" so comely, vigourous, and strong-so earnest, active, and zealous in religion-would surely be crowned-that these would without doubt receive the prize? And could we believe that the faint and weary, the hopeless and helpless, should receive the blessing? But God, on purpose to disappoint and pour contempt upon all creature wisdom, has determined otherwise. He has decreed that there shall be no wisdom honoured but his own wisdom, no strength crowned but his own strength, no righteousness exalted but his own righteousness, no purpose accomplished but his own eternal sacred purpose. He therefore brings all his people by a secret, mysterious work upon their conscience into that state and case where he alone gets to himself all the glory.
II.-Bearing this in mind, we may be enabled more clearly to see the case and state of the Lord s people, as distinguished from the state and case of unhumbled and professors. "He giveth power to the faint." This, then, is God s description of his people, that they are "faint." Until they are faint, there is no promise for them that God will give them power.
But what makes them faint? There are several causes.
1. One cause of their fainting is, the burdens that are put upon their shoulders. It is so naturally. If you carry a heavy burden a long way, you are pretty sure to faint before you arrive at your destination. So spiritually. The Lord s people have heavy burdens; sometimes guilt upon the conscience; at others, exercises perplexing them; passions striving for the mastery; an adulterous eye, and an idolatrous heart. These burdens make them faint and weary in their souls.
But what do we understand by fainting? It is a swooning away, so as to lose all knowledge of where we are; a falling down in a state of exhaustion, so as not to be able to move a step further. This is the case with many of God s family. They are often so weary and exhausted with the burdens they have to carry, that they are actually unable, in their own feelings, to move a single step further; they swoon away, so as to lose all consciousness of where they are and what they are.
2. Grievous wounds will make a man faint. So spiritually. The wounds of sin, the fiery darts of Satan, the arrows of God in the conscience, make the heart of many of God s children faint within them. They cannot move a step further; their very life-blood is drained away, and they sink down, and are unable to move forward from weakness and exhaustion.
3. Denial of food will also produce faintness. Hunger and famine soon exhaust the body. So spiritually. When supplies of grace are withheld-when heavenly manna does not fall-when God does not appear-when his testimonies do not drop into the heart-when love and blood are not applied-when, as the Prophet speaks, there is "a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" Am 8:11,12. This spiritual destitution makes the Lord s famished people faint and feeble, and their heart to sink and swoon within them.
But how strange it appears, before we are spiritually led into a knowledge of the Lord s wise and gracious dealings, that all this painful work in the conscience should be a needful, an indispensable preparation of heart to receive the gospel in its fullness, sweetness, and power!
What a mysterious way! That God s people should have to be emptied of all their strength, that the Lord may communicate his-that their very life-blood, their native stock of goodness, excellency, and wisdom, must be drained out of their veins, that the life-blood of Jesus may be poured into them! What a mysterious path! that we are not fit to receive any blessing till thoroughly emptied-that there is no deliverance till shut up in prison-no mercy till brought into misery-no manifested laying of the everlasting arms underneath the soul till it is ready to sink into the awful precipice of perdition! But were it not so, we should want to share the glory with God. It would be partly our strength, and partly God s; partly our own righteousness, and partly Christ s; partly our wisdom, and partly Jehovah s. Therefore, it is absolutely needful, however mysterious, for the glory of God, and the consolation and salvation of his people, that all our own wisdom, strength, and righteousness should be drained away, that the wisdom, strength, and righteousness of Christ should become manifestly ours.
III.-Now, when the soul is brought down to this spot and it may take years to bring it there; a succession of trials and troubles, difficulty after difficulty, stripe after stripe, blow after blow; many painful dispensations in providence, perplexing paths in grace, burdensome trials of body and soul may all have been needed to bring down the proud, stubborn heart with labour-but when at length the soul is brought into that state of poverty and destitution so as not to have a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or water out of the pit-then it is fit to receive power. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength." They are not fit to receive God s strength till they are faint and feeble. Weakness is the only needful qualification; and this sense of weakness is wrought in their heart by the teaching and operation of the blessed Spirit.
But how does the Lord give "power?" The power that God gives is quite distinct from our own. Our power is only another name for weakness; and therefore the sooner we lose it the better. But God s power is real power. It is not a fiction, like our own; not a delusion and a deceit, like the boasted strength of man; but there is a divine reality in it.
1. But "he giveth power" in various ways. Sometimes he gives power to persevere. It is at times with God s people as with Jonah. When Jonah was in the belly of the whale, when the weeds were wrapped about his head, and he was in his own feelings "in the belly of hell," yet he said, "I will look again toward thy holy temple" Jon 2:4. He was not then brought out of the belly of the whale; yet in the belly of the whale, and in the very belly of hell, God gave him power to look to his holy temple. If God had not given him power, he would have looked into the very belly of hell in the horrors of despair, instead of looking again to his holy temple in the actings of living faith.
Thus the Lord often gives his people power to take a longing, languishing look at the blood and righteousness of Jesus; to come to the Lord, as "mighty to save," with the same feelings with which Esther went into the presence of the king: "I will go in; and if I perish, I perish." It is with them sometimes as with the four lepers who sat at the entering in of the gate of Samaria: "And they said one to another, Why sit we here until we die ? If we say, We will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there; and if we sit still here, we die also. Now therefore come, and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die" 2Ki 7:3,4. And so the Lord s people are sometimes brought to this state-"If I perish, 1 will perish at his footstool." If he give no answer of mercy, they will still cling to his feet, and beseech him to look upon, and save them.
Now this is "power," real power. Despair would have laid hold upon their soul, if this secret power had not been given to them. Sometimes we learn this by painful experience. Our trials sometimes stun us, and then there is no power to seek or pray. But when power is given, there is a pleading with the Lord, a going out of the heart s desires after him, and a fulfilment in the soul of the experience described by the prophet, "1 will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him" Isa 8:17.
2. He gives power to believe; for it is the work of the blessed Spirit to raise up living faith in the heart. He gives power to hope; for it is only so far as he communicates power, that we can cast forth this anchor of the soul. He gives power to love; for it is only as he gives power, that we feel any measure of affection either to the Lord or to his people. In a word, every spiritual desire, every breath of fervent prayer, every movement of the soul heavenward, every trusting in God s name, relying on his word, and hanging upon his promises, spring out of power communicated by the Lord to the faint and feeble.
3. Sometimes the Lord gives power by recalling past mercies and former dealings to the mind; by enabling the soul to look unto him "from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar" Ps 42:6; not to give up all its confidence, or cast the things God has done for it behind its back: but to take encouragement from the past to hope for the future. As the Church says, "This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope" La 3:21. And as she pleads, "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon"? Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? Isa 51:9,10. This is putting the Lord in remembrance Isa 43:26; and a making use of past favours to plead with him for more.
IV.-But there is another word added, "And to them that have no might he increaseth strength." The Lord s people are often in this state, that they "have no might." All their power seems exhausted, and their strength completely drained away; sin appears to have got the mastery over them; and they feel as if they had neither will nor ability to run the race set before them, or persevere in the way of the Lord. Yet, even then, they have strength; for it says, "he increaseth strength." It does not say, he gives, bestows, communicates strength; but "he increaseth strength." How can this be? We must have power to feel our weakness, as dear Gadsby used to say, We need power to sink. God must put forth his power to enable us to fall down into nothingness and helplessness. It therefore says, "he increaseth strength." As though it would imply, Is not the very power to sink down into creature weakness, helplessness, and nothingness, strength? It is so in God s mysterious dealings. And therefore, "to them that have no might" in other words, those who are sensible in their own consciences that they have no power at all, who are completely exhausted of nature s strength and wisdom to these "he increaseth strength."
Now the Lord "increaseth strength" in a very mysterious way. He often drops strength stilly and secretly into the soul. We are not always to expect very great manifestations. This is not the way in which the Lord usually increases strength. His visits to the soul are often better known by their fruits and effects, and by looking back upon them when they are past, than by any immediate impulse. The strength given is more easily felt than the hand seen which communicates it. In this respect it much resembles the new birth, of which the Lord says, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth" Joh 3:8.
One fruit and effect of divine strength communicated to the soul is, that it is enabled to persevere in the way of the Lord. "The righteous shall hold on his way" Job 17:9. "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" Pr 4:18.
Now what has kept us to this day? Some of you here have made a profession ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years. What has kept us ? When powerful temptations were spread for our feet, what preserved us from falling headlong into them? When we felt the workings of headstrong lusts, what kept us from being altogether carried captive by them? When we look at the difficulties of the way, the exercise and the perplexities which our souls have had to grapple with, the persecutions from relations or superiors, the hard blows from sinners and saints that we have had to encounter-what has still kept in us a desire to fear God, and a heart in some measure tender before him? When we view the infidelity, unbelief, carnality, worldly-mindedness, hypocrisy, pride, and presumption of our fallen nature, what has kept us still believing, hoping, loving, longing, and looking to the Lord? When we think of our deadness, coldness, torpidity, rebelliousness, perverseness, love to evil, aversion to good, and all the abounding corruptions of our nature, what has kept us from giving up the very profession of religion, and swimming down the powerful current that has so long and so often threatened to sweep us utterly from the Lord and his people? Is it not the putting forth of the Lord s secret power in our souls? Had we been without the fear of the Lord, in a mere profession, like the "youths" and "young men," we should long ago have fainted, and utterly fallen. Can we not look back, and recall to mind our first religious companions, those with whom we started in the race-those whom we perhaps envied for their greater piety, zeal, holiness, and earnestness, and with which we painfully contrasted our own sluggishness and carnality, admiring them, and condemning ourselves? Where are they all, or the greater part of them? I can say, for my part, I should be very sorry to be in the places where most of them are. Some have embraced soul-destroying errors; others are buried in a worldly system; and others are wrapped up in delusion and fleshly confidence.Thus, while the "youths" and "young men" fall into the snares of the devil, God, by putting forth his secret power in the hearts of his fainting ones, keeps his fear alive in their souls, holds up their goings in his paths that their footsteps slip not, brings them out of all their temptations and troubles, delivers them from every evil work, and preserves them unto his heavenly kingdom. He drains them of all their strength, that he may communicate his own: and destroys the wisdom of the wise, and brings to nothing the understanding of the prudent, that he may get all the honour and glory to his own great name. He thus secures the salvation of his people by his own free grace; and whilst he hides pride from their eyes, he saves them by the only way that is suitable to them, and glorifying to himself.