I I read this little gem of a book early in 2004, and was deeply ministered to by the stories of these men and women of a bygone era. These are brief little vignettes of a point at which great men like Oswald Chambers, D.L. Moody, Hudson Taylor and other giants of the faith, reached a crises of faith when they sought God for a deeper walk with Him and “found a secret.”
Recently I picked it up to read it again and realized that these stories seem to have a life of their own for each season of my life, and every time I read them, I receive a new blessing. Thank God for men and women who told their stories and who continue to tell their stories for that “living water” which continues to flow from one generation to the next.
Adoniram Judson Gordon
Boston’s Adoniram Judson Gordon was a man mighty in word and in deed. Massive in appearance, masterful in intellect, he was ceaselessly active in the Savior’s service, always willing to help a good cause or a downtrodden sinner. He was of a radiant sweet spirit, saintly, patient, exemplary, a lover of mankind, and especially of little children. Delivered from contentiousness, he contended, as a true saint, for the faith “once delivered.” Criticism he endured with a courage and calmness that seemed like complacency.
Scholar and preacher, author and Bible teacher who left us a rich heritage of faith and good works in the books he wrote and the Bible College he founded, he was always reticent in telling of God’s deep dealing with his own soul and particularly in regard to the crisis of the deeper life. One summer at a Northfield conference, Dr. Gordon with Dwight L. Moody spoke to a group of college students at a consecration service. In a letter to Mrs. Gordon he wrote: “The questions which they asked about the work of the Holy Spirit are the hardest I have to answer. Questions of experience are so much more difficult than questions of doctrine. For while ‘the testimony of the Lord is sure’ the testimony of consciousness is variable, like the impression on the sea beach, which the next wave may change. So after Mr. Moody had given his experience of the baptism of the Spirit because the students called for it, I confessed to much shrinking and reluctance when they made the same demand of me. The boys would have all that could be known, both of doctrine and experience. A hungrier crowd one rarely finds; may the Lord give us more and more to tell. …”
In his spiritual autobiography, How Christ Came to Church, Dr. Gordon made reference to the growing drudgery and desperation of spirit that was his experience in the ministry. The record of this deep exercise of spirit is familiar to many of us. He wrote:
“Well do we remember those days when drudgery was pushed to the point of desperation. The hearers must be moved to repentance and confession of Christ; therefore more effort must be devoted to the sermon, more hours to elaborating its periods, more pungency put into its sentences, more study bestowed on its delivery. And then, came the disappointments that few, if any, were converted by all this which had cost a solid week of toil. And now attention was turned to the prayer meeting as the possible seat of difficulty—so few attending it and so little readiness to participate in its services. A pulpit scourging must be laid on next Sunday, and the sharpest sting which words can effect put into the lash. Alas, there is no increase in the attendance and instead of spontaneity in prayer and witnessing there is a silence which seems almost like sullenness! Then the administration goes wrong and opposition encountered among officials, so that caucusing must be undertaken to get the members to vote as they should. Thus the burden of anxieties increase while we are trying to lighten them, and should-be-helpers become hinderers, till discouragement comes and sleepless nights ensue; these hot boxes on the train of our activities necessitating a stop and a visit of the doctor with the verdict overwork and the remedy absolute rest.
“It was after much of all this,” he continued, “of which even the most intimate friends knew nothing, that there came one day a still voice of admonition, saying, There standeth one among you, whom ye know not. And perhaps I answered, ‘Who is he Lord, that I might know him?’ I had known the Holy Ghost as a heavenly influence to be invoked, but somehow I had not grasped the truth that he is a Person of the Godhead who came down to earth at a definite time and who has been in the church ever since, just as really as Jesus was here during the thirty and three years of his earthly life. …”
With lightening heart came the climax: “… how many true Christians toil on, bearing burdens and assuming responsibilities far too great for their natural strength, utterly forgetful that the mighty Burden-bearer of the world is with them to do for them and through them that which they have undertaken to accomplish alone! Happy also for these if some weary day the blessed Paraclete, the invisible Christ, shall say to them, Have I been so long time with you and yet hast thou not known me? So it happened to the writer. The strong Son of God revealed himself as being evermore in his church, and I knew him, not through a sudden burst of revelation, not through some thrilling experience of instantaneous sanctification, but by a quiet, sure, and steady discovery, increasing unto more and more. Jesus in the Spirit stood with me in a kind of spiritual epiphany and just as definitely and irrevocably as I once took Christ crucified as my sinbearer I now took the Holy Spirit for my burden-bearer.”
A close personal friend, the late George C. Needham, gave the only first-hand account, of which I know, about the “enduement for service” for God’s servant:
“Dr. Gordon, unlike some Christians, believed there was something always beyond. This he ever sought to attain. Fifteen years ago, during the first Northfield convention, he was desirous to secure what he yet needed as a saint and servant of Christ. Toward the close of those memorable ten days, spent more in prayer than in preaching, my beloved friend joined me in a midnight hour of great heart-searching and infilling of the Spirit. He read with peculiar tenderness our Lord’s intercessory prayer of John 17. The union of the believer with Christ and the Father, as taught by our Lord in that chapter, called out fervent exclamations, while with deep pathos he continued reading. During united prayer which followed, the holy man poured out his soul with a freedom and unction indescribable. I never heard him boast of any spiritual attainment reached during the midnight hour. Soul experiences were to him very sacred, and not to be rehearsed on every ordinary occasion. But I have no doubt that he received then a divine touch of ever-increasing spirituality and of ever-widening breadth of sympathy.”
After thus meeting the risen Savior and receiving by faith the filling of the Spirit, Dr. Gordon hurried to a preaching appointment in Seabright, New Jersey. One who knew him there left for us this further word:
“I remember his once coming from Northfield after the August conference. He seemed filled with the Spirit; he could not talk commonplaces. He said he had had a great blessing. He went to his room, and came out shortly after and said he was going down to the fisher village, and asked the way. He did not come back until we were at dinner—that hot afternoon. He had visited the beer and liquor saloons and prayed with the men there, and had been among the shanties. I know more than one family saved that day.”
The infilling of God’s Spirit was not an ecstasy to be kept selfishly; rather, it was the dynamic of discipleship that constrained a Great Heart to seek humble fisher folk and hopeless drunkards that they might know the living Savior as their own. Few preachers and teachers of the Word have been more clear and convincing on the crisis of the deeper life than was Dr. Gordon. Let him speak for himself:
“’Then you received the baptism of the Holy Spirit did you?’ someone will ask. Well, we prefer not to use an expression which is not strictly biblical. The great promise, ‘Ye shall be baptized in the Holy Ghost’ was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost once for all, as it seems to us. Then the Paraclete was given for the entire dispensation, and the whole Church present and future was brought into the economy of the Spirit, as it is written” ‘For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body’ (1 Corinthians 12:13, R.V.). But for God to give is one thing; for us to receive is quite another. ‘God so loved that he gave his only begotten son,’ is the word of our Lord to Nicodemus. But it is written also: ‘As many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God.’ In order to realize regeneration and sonship it is absolutely essential for us to receive as for God to have given. So on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit, as the Comforter, Advocate, Helper, and Teacher and Guide, was given to the Church. The disciples who before had been regenerated by the Spirit, as is commonly held, now received the Holy Ghost to qualify and empower them for service. It was another and higher experience than that which they had hitherto known. It is the difference between the Holy Spirit for renewal and the Holy Spirit for ministry. Even Jesus, begotten by the Holy Ghost and therefore called ‘the son of God,’ did not enter upon his public service till he had been ‘anointed,’ or ‘sealed,’ with that same Spirit through whom he had been begotten. So of his immediate apostles; so of Paul, who had been converted on the way to Damascus. So of the others mentioned in the Acts, as the Samaritan Christians and the Ephesians (19:1-8). And not a few thoughtful students of Scripture maintain that the same order still holds good; that there is such a thing as receiving the Holy Ghost in order to qualify for service. It is not denied that many may have this blessing in immediate connection with their conversion, from which it need not necessarily be separated. Only let it be marked that as the giving of the Spirit by the Father is plainly spoken of, so distinctly is the receiving of the Spirit on the part of the disciples constantly named in Scripture. …”
“God forbid.” Said Gordon, “that we should lay claim to any higher attainment than the humblest. We are simply trying to answer, as best we may from Scripture, the question asked above about the baptism of the Holy Ghost. On the whole, and after prolonged study of the Scripture, we cannot resist this conviction: As Christ, the second person of the Godhead, came to earth to make atonement for sin and to give eternal life, and as sinners must receive him by faith in order to have forgiveness and sonship, so the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, came to the earth to communicate the ‘power from on high;’ and we must as believers in like manner receive him by faith in order to be qualified for service. Both gifts have been bestowed, but it is not what we have but what we know we have by a conscious appropriating faith, which determines our spiritual wealth. Why then should we be satisfied with ‘the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace’ (Ephesians 1:7), when the Lord would grant us also ‘according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man’? (Ephesians 3:16).”
… The dynamic for discipleship is indeed the gift of God, even the Holy Spirit; yet it is costly to our human nature, even death to self.
“It costs much,” said Dr. Gordon in one of these convention addresses, “to obtain this power. It costs self-surrender and humiliation and the yielding up of our most precious things to God. It costs the perseverance of long waiting and the faith of strong trust. But when we are really in that power, we shall find this difference: that, whereas before it was hard for us to do the easiest things, now it is easy for us to do the hardest.”
Dr. Gordon added: “As we become deeply instructed in this matter, we shall learn to pray less about the details of duty and more about the fullness of power. … It is, in like manner, the sources of our power for which we should be most solicitous, and not the results.”
This is the dynamic for discipleship!
(Edmond, Raymond V., They Found the Secret. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1960, 1984, p. 71).