A friend with whom I once billeted claimed the blessing of a clean heart, and testified to it at the breakfast table the next morning. He said he had doubted whether there was such an experience; but, since going to The Salvation Army, he had been led to study the Bible, and to observe the lives of those who professed it, and he had since come to the conclusion that he could not serve God acceptably without holiness of heart. But the difficulty was, to come to the point where he would take it by faith. He said he had expected to get it some time, he had hoped for it, he had looked forward to the time when he should be pure; but he saw that it must be claimed now, and right there began his fight of faith. He took hold of one end of the promise, and the devil got hold of the other end, and they pulled and fought for the victory now.
The devil had often gotten the victory before. This time the man would not cast away his confidence, but came "boldly unto the throne of grace," obtained mercy and found grace to help in time of need (Heb. iv. 16); the devil was conquered by faith, the brother walked off with the blessing of a clean heart, and this morning he said: "God filled me with the Spirit last night," while the glad tones of his voice and the bright light of his face backed up his words.
The last thing a soul has to give up, when seeking salvation or sanctification, is "an evil heart of unbelief" (Heb. iii. 12). This is Satan's stronghold. You may drive him from all his outposts and he does not care much, but when you assail this citadel he will resist with all the lies and cunning he can command. He does not care much if people do give up outward sin. A respectable sinner will suit his purpose quite as well as the most disreputable. In fact, I am not sure but that some people are worse than the devil wants them to be, for they are a bad advertisement for him. Nor does he care very much if people indulge a hope of salvation or of purity; indeed, I suspect he likes them to do so, if he can get them to stop there. But let a poor soul say to himself, "I want to know I am saved now. I must have the blessing now. I can't live any longer without the witness of the Spirit that Jesus saves me now, and cleanses me now," and the devil will begin to roar and lie and use all his wits to deceive the soul and switch it on to some side track or rock it to sleep with a promise of victory at some future time.
This is where the devil really begins. Many people say they are fighting the devil, who do not know what fighting the devil means. It is a fight of faith, in which the soul takes hold of the promise of God, and holds on to it, and believes it, and declares it to be true in spite of all the devil's lies, in spite of all circumstances and feelings to the contrary, and in which it obeys God, whether God seems to be fulfilling the promise or not. When a soul gets to the point where he will do this, and will hold fast the profession of his faith without wavering, he will soon get out of the fogs and mists and twilight of doubt and uncertainty into the broad day of perfect assurance. Glory to God! He shall know that Jesus saves and sanctifies, and shall be filled with a humbling, yet unutterably joyful sense of His everlasting love and favor.
A comrade whom I love as my own soul sought the blessing of a clean heart, and gave up everything but his "evil heart of unbelief" But he did not understand that he was still holding on to that. He waited for God to give him the blessing. The devil whispered: "You say you are on the altar for God, but you don't feel any different." The "evil heart of unbelief" in the poor fellow's heart took the devil's part and said, "That is so." The brother felt all discouraged, and the devil got the victory.
Again he gave himself up, after a hard struggle -- all but "the evil heart of unbelief." Again the devil whispered: "You say you are all the Lord's, but you do not feel as other folks say they felt when they yielded all to God." The "evil heart of unbelief" again said, "That's so," and again the man fell, through unbelief.
A third time, after much effort, he sought the blessing, and gave God all but the "evil heart of unbelief." The third time the devil whispered: "You say you are all the Lord's, but you know what a quick temper you have; now, how do you know but what next week an unlooked-for temptation may come that will overthrow you? "The third time the "evil heart of unbelief" said, "That's so," and for the third time our brother was beaten back from the prize.
But, at last, he got so desperate in his hunt for God and in his desire for holiness and the witness of the Spirit that there and then he was willing for God to show him all the depravity of his soul, and God showed him that his "evil heart of unbelief" had been listening to the devil's voice and taking the devil's part all the time. Good people, professing Christians, do not like to admit that they have any unbelief remaining in them; but until they acknowledge all the evil that is in them and take God's part against themselves, He cannot sanctify them.
Again he came and put his all on the altar, and told God he would trust Him. Again the devil whispered, "You don't feel any different"; but this time the man hushed the "evil spirit of unbelief" and answered himself and said: "I do not care if I do not feel any different. I am all the Lord's."
"But you do not feel as other folks say they feel," whispered the devil.
"I do not care if I do not. I am all the Lord's, and He can bless me or not, just as He pleases."
"But there is your quick temper."
"I do not care; I am the Lord's, and I will trust Him to manage my temper. I am the Lord's! I am the Lord's!"
And there he stood, resisting the devil, "stedfast in the faith" (I Pet. v. 9), and refusing to listen to the suggestions of "an evil heart of unbelief" all that day and night and the following day. There was a stillness in his soul, and a fixed determination to stand on the promises of God for ever, whether God blessed him or not. About ten o'clock the second night, as he was getting ready to go to bed, without any thought of anything unusual going to happen, God fulfilled His ancient promise: "The Lord whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple" (Mal. iii. 1). Jesus, the Son of God -- "He that liveth, and was dead," but is now "alive for evermore" (Rev. 1. 18) -- was revealed in him, and manifested to his spiritual consciousness, until he was "lost in wonder, love and praise." Oh, how he exulted and triumphed in God his Saviour, and rejoiced that he had held fast his faith, and resisted the devil!
Now, it is to this point that every soul which gets into the kingdom of God must come. The soul must die to sin; he must renounce all unbelief and give up all doubts. He must consent to be "crucified with Christ" (Gal. ii. 20) now; and when he does this, he will touch God, and feel the fire of His love, and be filled with His power, as surely as an electric tram receives electric fire and power when proper connection is made with the wire above.
God bless you, my brother, my sister, and help you to see that "now is the accepted time" (2 Cor. vi. 2). Remember, if you are all given up to God, everything that makes you doubt is from
Satan, and not from God; and God commands you to "resist the devil stedfast in the faith." "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward" (Heb. x. 35).
"And it came to pass in Iconium that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and SO SPAKE that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed." (Acts 14:1.)
Bless God for such preachers and such preaching! How did they do it? What was their secret? I think it is threefold.
1. Their Manner. They must have won the multitude by the sweetness and grace and persuasiveness and earnestness of their manner. They certainly did not offend and shock them by coarse, vulgar, uncouth speech, or by a weak and vacillating, light and foolish, or boisterous and domineering manner. They wanted to win men, and they suited their manner to their purpose.
Solomon said, "He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend."
This "grace of the lips" is not a thing to be despised. It is rather something to be thought about and prayed over and cultivated. It was said of Jesus, "They wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth," and a police captain said of Him. "Never man spake like this Man;" and doubtless this graciousness was not only in what He said, but also in the way He said it. His manner was authoritative, yet gentle; strong, yet tender; dignified, yet popular and familiar. You can say to a little child, "Come here, you little rascal." in such a sweet manner as to win its confidence and draw it to you; or you can say, "Come here, you darling child," in such a rough, coarse way as to fill it with fear and drive it from you. It is largely a matter of manner.
Garrick, the great actor, was asked why he could so mightily move men by fiction, while preachers, speaking such awful and momentous truths, left them unmoved. He replied, "They speak truth as though it were fiction, while I speak fiction as though it were truth." It was a matter of manner. A woman so far away from Whitefield that she could not hear what he said, was weeping. A bystander asked her why she wept, since she knew not what he said, "Oh," said she, "can't you see the holy wag of his head?" His manner was matchless. Lawyers pleading before judges and juries, and political speakers seeking to win votes cultivate an ingratiating manner. Why, then, should not men who are seeking to save souls and win men to Jesus Christ seek from God the best manner in which to do this?
2. Their matter. I judge that not only was their manner agreeable and attractive, but their subject-matter was interesting, grave, and unspeakably important. They preached the Word; they reasoned out of the Scriptures; they declared that the prophecies were fulfilled, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, of whom Moses and the prophets wrote and spoke, had come, was crucified, was buried, but was risen again, and that through obedient faith in Him men might have their sins forgiven, their hearts purified and their whole being sanctified and filled with God. It was not stale platitudes they preached, or vain babblings about the Seventh Day, about baptisms and feet-washings and incense and vestments, or harsh criticisms of authorities and "powers that be," or divers and strange doctrines, but it was "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21.) This was the substance of their message.
(a) It was a joyful message. It was good news; it was a declaration that God was so interested in men -- "so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life; for God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." The war-worn, sorrowful old world needs such a joyful message.
(b) It was an illuminating message. It showed them how to be saved from sin and made acceptable to God. It also threw a flood of light into the grave and beyond, and "brought life and immortality to light." Jesus was "the first fruits of them that slept." It robbed earth of its loneliness, and the tomb of its terrors. It turned the world into a schoolroom and preparation place for the Father's house of many mansions, and made heaven real.
(c) It was a solemn and searching message. It called men to remember their sins and repent of them, forsake them, and surrender themselves no longer to the pleasures of ease, but to the service of God. They must take sides. If they would be saved, they must follow Christ crucified. "Every road leads two ways." If they would put away sin and follow Jesus, He would lead them to heaven; if they rejected Him they would surely go their own way to damnation, to hell.
3. Their spirit. The manner may be acceptable and the message true, but if the spirit of the speaker be not right there will hardly be a "great multitude" of believers. The cannon may be a masterpiece and the powder and shot perfect, but if there be no fire, the enemy need have no fear. The manner may be uncouth and the message fragmentary and faulty, but if the spirit be right, if it be humble, and on fire of love, believers will be won.
Cataline, a Roman citizen, conspired against the State, and Cicero, the matchless Roman orator, delivered a series of orations against him. The people were captivated by the eloquence of Cicero. They went from the Forum praising his oratory, lauding his rhetoric. extolling his gestures and his graceful management of the folds of his toga.
Philip, of Macedon, was planning to invade the States of Greece. Demosthenes, the Athenian orator, delivered a series of orations against him, and the Greeks went from his presence saying, "Let us go and fight Philip!"
Doubtless the manner and matter of the two orators were equally above criticism, but they were as far apart as the poles in spirit. One sent the people away talking glibly, prettily about himself; the other sent them away filled with his spirit, fired with a great impulse to die, if needs be, fighting the invader.
After all, I imagine it was this right spirit, this white heat of soul, this full-orbed heart-purpose which was the principal. factor in winning that multitude of believers in Iconium that day. These apostles were great believers themselves. They were full of glad, triumphant, hell-defying and defeating faith. They were not harassed by doubt and uncertainty. They did not preach guesses. They knew whom they believed (2 Tim. 1:12), and because they believed they spoke (2 Cor. 4: 13), and "so spake" that the faith of a multitude of others was kindled from the fire of theirs.
This faith had also kindled in their hearts a great love.
They believed the love of God in giving His Son for them, and their hearts were in turn filled with love for Him. They believed the dying love of the Saviour, and their hearts were so constrained with love for Him that they were prepared to die for Him. (Acts 20:24; 21:13.) They believed the love of God for all men, until they loved like Him, and felt themselves debtors to all men (Romans 1:14), and were ready to be offered as a sacrifice for the salvation of men. (Phil. 2:17.)
Oh, it was a bright faith and a burning love that set on fire the spirits of these men! And I think this Christlike spirit molded their manner and made them natural and gentle and strong and true and intense with earnestness, with no simper or whine or affectation of false pathos; no clang of hardness; no sting of bitterness, and no chill of heartless indifference. What school of oratory can touch and train the manner of an actor so that he shall for an instant compare with the untrained, shrinking mother who is suddenly fired with a quenchless impulse to plead for the life of her child? The best teacher of style in public speech is a heart filled to bursting with love to Jesus, and love and hope and fear and faith for men. A love that makes a man feel that men must and shall be won from hell and turned to righteousness and heaven and God. will surely, in due time, make the manner effective.
And it will also shape and control, if it does not make the message. It is marvelous the message men get whose hearts are afire. Someone asked why Mr. Bramwell could say such wonderful things. The reply was, "He lives so near the heart of God and the Throne that he gets secret messages, and brings them down to us." It is pitiable, the flat, insipid, powerless, soulless messages men manufacture when their faith is feeble and their hearts are cold!
Can we not, then, sum up for ourselves the secret of these men in the words of Solomon, "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life?"