In Word and in Power
James Smith, 1861
"Our gospel came to you not simply with words — but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction." 1 Thessalonians 1:5
The purposes of God are accomplished in the use of means; and while God's rule is his purpose — our rule is the precepts of his word. In attending to duty, we expect the Lord to accomplish his will. We are commanded to preach the gospel to every creature, and it is our duty to do so; and while we are doing so, God accompanies it with power to the hearts of his elect. In this way, Paul knew that the Thessalonians were elected of God, as he states, "Our gospel came to you not simply with words — but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction."
The Privilege Conferred.The gospel was sent unto them. The gospel is good news — good news from God — good news from God to every creature. It is the good news of salvation — of salvation for sinners — salvation for sinners which is all of grace. It is a salvation which prevents all penal evils — and secures all real, spiritual, and everlasting good. Paul calls it our gospel, because he was entrusted with it, he was commissioned, to proclaim it, he knew the power, savor, and sweetness of it in his own soul, and he preached it to others. This gospel he carried to Thessalonica, and preached it with much success, so that many were converted, a church of Christ was formed, and others were raised up to spread it further.
The Difference Made in its Reception.
It came to ALL as a message from God, and it was delivered to all without distinction.
To SOME in word only, as a fact to be believed, as a message to be received and acted upon, and as a subject commending itself to the understanding, the conscience, and the heart.
But it came to OTHERS in power. There was a
divine agent secretly working — even the Holy Spirit. There was an
all-conquering energy put forth — even the power of God. There was a
glorious effect produced — even a full persuasion of its truth and
authority, of its high and infinite importance, and of its adaptation to
their circumstances and needs. In consequence of this:
they cordially embraced it, with all readiness of mind;
they acted upon it, exercising faith in Jesus;
they were transformed by it, into the moral likeness of God;
and were filled with joy and peace in believing.
This proved to the apostle that they were chosen to salvation, so that he could say, "Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God."
See, God's sovereignty. He sends a message to all — to every creature. A message full of love and mercy. He proposes and presents Christ to all and to each one who hears the gospel. He equally and alike invites all to come, receive, and enjoy salvation.
But he sends the Spirit to some — in whom he exerts his secret power, in consequence of which they not only listen to the message — but embrace the offered blessing, and are saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation.
See, why the gospel succeeds. Not because a
certain class of men preach it, or because it is preached in any particular
way; though the Spirit generally makes use of the most suitable means; but
because the power of the Holy Spirit attends it! This irresistible power . .
quickens the soul,
opens the eyes of the understanding,
and awakens the slumbering conscience.
There is an alarm felt in consequence of sin — the wrath of God is feared, and a dread of damnation fills the soul. Now the gospel appears just adapted to the sinner's case, and the Lord Jesus becomes the great object of desire. The soul feels a sweet all-persuasive influence prompting it to embrace the gospel, receive Christ, and be reconciled to God. The conquering power exerted subdues the enmity of the heart, overcomes the prejudices of the mind, and at length brings the soul into subjection to the obedience of Christ.
The influence exerted, resembles the influence of light on flowers, or the thaw on frozen gardens, or the sun's rays on wax or ice. Gently, quietly, and gradually — the heart is changed; and the change of the heart soon appears in the life, as here, "You turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God — and you became imitators of us."
See, what we should especially pray for. We have the gospel, we have our ministers, and we have our sanctuaries; but one thing is still lacking — it is "the power of the Spirit of God." The gospel will have an effect without the Spirit — for it will be "a savor of death unto death." But the effect we desire to see, even the conversion of sinners, the sanctification of believers, the edification of the body of Christ, and the subjecting of the world to Christ — never will be, never can be — without "the power of the Holy Spirit."
For the presence and power of the Spirit to accompany the word — we should earnestly, constantly, and unitedly pray. On this blessing our hearts should be set, to obtain this blessing all the saints should unite, and until we receive this blessing, we should give God no rest.
Reader, how do you feel on this point? Has the gospel been attended with the power of the Holy Spirit to your own soul? Are you very desirous that the same power should attend it to others? Do you cry mightily to God that the power of the Spirit may attend the gospel — be it preached by whom it may?