Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Prayer School – On Lesson 10 – The Birthing Of A Vision; Date: 4 July 2010

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Believing The Vision

 

This week’s lesson of our Prayer School (by Suzette Hattingh & Gayle Claxton) is teaching us how to birth a vision. It is session number nine: The Birthing Of A Vision. What needs to happen so that you see a vision come true? This is an exciting topic because we all want to know: What are the practical components of achieving a God-given dream? Take a moment and ask yourself: What do you want to do with your life? How much do you think is possible and how will you get there? What can you aim for and how will you achieve your goals? There are not many questions that are more important than these.

You may think now that another long sermon is (surely) coming up. Such fundamental questions must require long expositions (which in the end no one can remember) but – no – this is not the case – the answer to all of these questions is surprisingly simple – and short: 1) Hear from God, and 2) believe him. This is the sum total of what your life is about and how you birth a vision: 1) Hear from God, and 2) believe him.

This is a simple answer but – all the same – there are many that misunderstand its meaning – (more needs to be said) – and, therefore, we are going to learn how this works in practice from the person that birthed one of the greatest visions in the Bible. His name was Abraham and I read from the Bible – Romans 4:1-25: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? …  What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ …  Therefore, the promise [the vision] comes by faith … Abraham is the father of us all. As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us … “

Abraham became the father of many nations because he received a promise from God – God spoke to him – and then Abraham responded by believing God. This is “all” that happened. Abraham heard God, put his faith in the promise that he would be the father of many nations – he trusted God – which pleased God so much that he declared Abraham to be righteous before him – without blame on account of his faith.

The very first information in the Bible about Abraham sums up how he would birth what even today would be an amazing vision – Genesis 11:28-12:4 – I read: “ … The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai … Now Sarai was barren; she had no children … The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ So Abram left … Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai … all the possessions they had accumulated … and they set out for the land of Canaan … ”

God spoke and Abram – in faith – got up and left everything behind – (his country, his people and his father’s household) – to attain what was promised to him by God. God spoke and Abraham believed him, which – in due time – made him the father of all nations and a blessing to all nations through Jesus Christ.

This is not complicated but how can it happen for you? God spoke to Abraham. How does he speak to you? And before we get to this question: What could possibly be his vision for you? You may not yet have heard clearly what you are meant to be doing but the good news is that God frequently works with your passions and (what you think) are natural desires. God “wired” you in a certain way – he designed what makes you “tick” – because he made you with a purpose in mind.

In the case of Abraham – he was getting older and older and still had no children. His wife was barren and both of them were just pining for a child of their own – an heir – and God responded to their natural desire and passion for offspring but then made it so much grander – so much more God-sized – that it was almost unbelievable. Even today – how can an old couple – faraway from home – birth a great nation and become a blessing to all the nations on earth? God worked with the deep-seated wish for a child in a barren couple and in this way made his greater promise align with what was already in the heart of Abraham.

The good news is that God frequently does the same for us – especially when we are growing closer to him. I will not expand on this but simply leave you with three Bible references – Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” John 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” John 16:23-24: “ … Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you … Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” [Cf. John 15:16; 14:14; Bill Johnson: Dreaming With God, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 2006.] You and I – become excited. God’s vision is not going to disappoint you.

How then can you hear when God speaks to you? This is another big question but in the case of Abraham – the first Bible information on him – we are not told in what precise manner God communicated with him. Yet, we know that the most common means of communication is the reading of the Scriptures and the preaching of his word. Then, there are dreams and visions. God can drop sudden revelations or sudden directions into us at any time. We just know that we know that this has been God’s voice. In the Bible – on reflection – some disciples described it in these terms – Luke 24:32: “ … Were not our hearts burning within us, while he talked … ” Therefore, pay attention to what keeps burning in you. Another man of God gave this description – Jeremiah 20:9: “ … his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot

Some people may receive a word from God and it suddenly – at once – changes their lives. I don’t know whether this was the case for Abraham but some people hear from God and immediately set out for a distant land. Yet, for others – and this seems to be more commonly the case – the word of God comes and then the confirmation of the word – the confirmation of God’s promise – slowly takes hold of the person. More than once people in the Bible asked for assurances whether they had understood him correctly (cf. Judges 6:36-40) and even Abraham needed the word – the promise of God – to come to him on several occasions because years into pursuing the promises of God he would still – in a downcast moment – ask God in prayer – Genesis 15:2: “O Sovereign God, what can you give me since I remain childless … ” Faith assurance – becoming assured of God’s vision – is an ongoing process.

There is more. Hear from God and believe him. This is how you birth a vision but – as we have already seen: the word of God needs to burn within us – there needs to be a connection – our hearing and believing God requires more than a mere understanding of facts. It wasn’t difficult for Abraham to understand that he would be made into a great nation. This is what God had said to him in the beginning – Genesis 12:2: “I will make you into a great nationHowever, when there is no pregnancy – year after year – you need more than the plain facts. You understand them but they no longer grab you. They are no longer real and, therefore, God spoke to Abraham again and used words which fired the imagination of faith – Genesis 15:5-6: “He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness

God spoke words which fired the imagination so that Abraham’s faith became alive with vision. “Look up at the heavens and count the stars. So shall your offspring be.” “Look up and take your time. Take in the sight. Get a handle on the vision. Let it become real to youHave you ever done that? Right here we have the downfall of many Christians. They know the facts – yes, they are the children of God and God is with them – they can repeat these lessons – but these facts have lost their impact. They have become some kind of dead knowledge and not the fire of faith – not the imagination which attacks the future with vision. Have you ever taken the time, looked up to heaven and counted the stars? Do you ever take the time and imagine the future – what it looks like? This is important. So shall your vision be.

One leader in the Bible was also desperate to have the church wake up to a greater vision of themselves in God. Therefore, he wrote to them – Ephesians 1:18-23: “I pray . that they eyes of your heart [that is: the imagination of faith] may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope [that is: fire up in faith] to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance … and his incomparably great power for us who believe … ” Maybe today – this morning – we need to hear this. Like Abraham – we are on a journey of faith and maybe – like what happened to him – year after year the barrenness has remained – no breakthroughs in the healing of cancer, no breakthroughs in the revival of Toowoomba. Therefore, the eyes of our heart need to be opened again – with fresh vision – fresh words which fire up the imagination of faith – so that the promise remains more than some kind of dead knowledge. Church, we fire up. There is “incomparably great power” for those who believe. It will come. Take the time and see it in faith – in your imagination.

Faith needs to see. Maybe here I insert another practical point. Therefore, when you pray for someone, expand on the facts and let your words paint pictures. For instance, when you pray for healing, imagine – in faith – as the Spirit leads you – the new life of health and start praising God for days without pain and walking in the garden. Pray with imagination until the sick person fires up with fresh hope and lays hold of God’s promises. Abraham strengthened himself in the same way. This is a verse from the first Bible reading which I shared – Romans 4:20-21: “ … Abraham grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God [as he praised God with imagination for what would happen], being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised

I come back to the core lesson of how to birth a vision: 1) Hear from God, and 2) believe him. We have already clarified that when God speaks, he does not just communicate facts – (it’s not going to be a dry lecture) – but fires us up with imagination – (he makes us look up and count the stars). His words make us burn and impart vision.

When God speaks, our faith can see what is promised – can lay hold of it – which means – and this is another practical side-comment – that every now and then we need to ask ourselves the question: What exactly are we seeing with the eyes of faith? God may lead us step by step – he may not map out for us a ten-year plan – (Abraham was not given a time-line or precise strategy) – but what precisely is the vision that is unfolding? Are we seeing anything? God, open the eyes of our heart. If there is no vision burning within us – (or no longer burning within us), we need to go back to step number one, that is: hearing from God and then – with fresh imagination – what we hear, we believe.

However – now – I want to spell out another fundamental misunderstanding of how birthing a vision works. I want to talk more about faith and – in particular – the faith of Abraham. Where many Christians go wrong is misreading the first Bible passage which I shared. I read some verses again and give you the larger context – Romans 4:1-25: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? …  What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ … It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith … Therefore, the promise [the vision] comes by faith … Against all hope, Abraham … did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God … being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us … ”

The Bible here highlights the faith of Abraham and then contrasts the birthing of God’s vision by faith with the vain attempt of birthing God’s vision by upholding the law. I quote again one verse: “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faithThe same basic teaching point that faith – not law – lays hold of God’s promises (because God grants righteousness to believing people and not [at least not as his main focus] law-abiding people) occurs more frequently in the Bible. For instance, Romans 3:21-26: “But now a righteousness from God apart from law, has been made known … This righteousness from God comes through faith … ” Ephesians 2:8-9: “ . it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works … ”

Only here then it is easy to misconstrue the Bible’s intent. Yes – as we can see in the life of Abraham – there was no way that any amount of obedience could have worked the required miracle for him. He was one hundred years old and – in the words of the Bible – Sarah’s womb was dead. Therefore, there was no way that – in his own strength – by attempting to obey even the strictest of holy laws – he could have birthed new life. All he could do was to put his faith in God and trust him to work the miracle and God was touched by this faith – he responded to this kind of faith – and then made the impossible come true – I quote again words from the reading: “ … God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were … God had power to do what he had promised … ”

God degreed that it would be faith – Abraham-like faith – not law-abiding goodness – which would unlock his promises for us. This is at the heart of the good news – the best news – for an even greater vision than Abraham ever had – for all of us. I give you now the last verse of our opening Bible reading – Romans 4:1-25: “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? …  What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ …  The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification

What a vision – for us – here this morning! Jesus Christ “was raised to life for our justificationWhat does this mean? See it with your faith. There is now forgiveness and freedom from sin – for all of us. As we – like Abraham – exercise faith – we put our faith in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and was raised to life for our justification – we also – like Abraham – gain righteousness – it is credited to us as a free gift (not on account of any law-abiding works) – so that all of heaven opens up for us. We are going to live as justified people – holy people.

This is what the Bible teaches but then many Christians make the wrong assumptions. I spell it out now. Since Abraham-like faith and not law-abiding goodness unlocks God’s promises for us – righteousness is by faith and not works – many assume that, therefore, there is no law-abiding required from Christians. This is wrong. The point is that laws do not empower you but faith does. The point is that no amount of striving will make you holy. You may try as you like to be obedient and – according to the Bible – you will always fail (relying on your own resolve) but trust God (lean on him) and then – by faith – receive the power to live a holy life – a justified life – a life with all of the miracles required that subdue sin.

When the Bible contrasts faith and law, it only wants to spell out that law-abiding is no source of power. It is faith that lays hold of God who then responds by enabling us to keep his law and – let me add here – then (after receiving power from God) living out his holy law – obedience as Christians – is not optional. This would be misunderstanding the Bible teaching. Obedience was not optional for Abraham. His faith required much obedience. Right from the beginning he had to leave his country, his people and his father’s household to go where God wanted him to be. This was a big step and throughout Abraham’s life his faith obedience would be tested again and again to the point where God even required the sacrifice of the one son that was born to Abraham so late in life (Genesis 22). In the end the son would live but not before Abraham proved himself to be obedient and acting on his faith.

Visions are birthed by faith – not law-abiding – but then – as we lay hold of God – we act on our faith. Faith becomes our source of power to be obedient to God. We let the Bible confirm this – Romans 1:5: “ … we received grace … to call people … to the obedience that comes from faith.” Romans 16:25-26: “ … God . is able to strengthen you … the proclamation of Jesus Christ … is now disclosed … to bring about the obedience of faith … ” James 2:20-24: “ … Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ … ” 1 Peter 1:5-7: “ … through faith [you] are shielded by God’s power … In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine … ” Galatians 3:1-29: “ … You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? … Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you have heard? … After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? … Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you [even the miracle of holiness] because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ … The law is not based on faith … by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit … ” Romans 6:17-18: “ … you whole-heartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness … ” Romans 8:13: “ … by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body … ”

How do you birth a vision? You 1) hear from God and 2) believe him and – after what we have now considered – you believe him by acting on your faith with obedience. You allow your faith to be tested. Thus – and this is the conclusion of everything that we have said so far – neither hearing from God nor believing in him are passive actions. There is life. There is imagination. There is looking up and counting the stars. There is burning passion. There is a stepping out in faith and obedience. There is so much but everything comes back to the simple lesson: 1) Hear from God and 2) believe him. The word of God and faith birth the visions in our life.

I conclude this message by demonstrating how practical this is. We will look at two faith testimonies.

 

[Abbreviate and retell in your own words.] Charles Finney: The chapter of his conversion in his autobiography:

 

ON a Sabbath evening in the autumn of 1821, I made up my mind that I would settle the question of my soul's salvation at once, that if it were possible I would make my peace with God. But as I was very busy in the affairs of the office, I knew that without great firmness of purpose, I should never effectually attend to the subject. I therefore, then and there resolved, as far as possible, to avoid all business, and everything that would divert my attention, and to give myself wholly to the work of securing the salvation of my soul. I carried this resolution into execution as sternly and thoroughly as I could. I was, however, obliged to be a good deal in the office. But as the providence of God would have it, I was not much occupied either on Monday or Tuesday; and had opportunity to read my Bible and engage in prayer most of the time.

But I was very proud without knowing it. I had supposed that I had not much regard for the opinions of others, whether they thought this or that in regard to myself; and I had in fact been quite singular in attending prayer meetings, and in the degree of attention that I had paid to religion, while in Adams. In this respect I had not been so singular as to lead the church at times to think that I must be an anxious inquirer. But I found, when I came to face the question, that I was very unwilling to have anyone know that I was seeking the salvation of my soul. When I prayed I would only whisper my prayer, after having stopped the key hole to the door, lest someone should discover that I was engaged in prayer. Before that time I had my Bible lying on the table with the law books; and it never had occurred to me to be ashamed of being found reading it, any more than I should be ashamed of being found reading any of my other books.

But after I had addressed myself in earnest to the subject of my own salvation, I kept my Bible, as much as I could, out of sight. If I was reading it when anybody came in, I would throw my law books upon it, to create the impression that I had not had it in my hand. Instead of being outspoken and willing to talk with anybody and everybody on the subject as before, I found myself unwilling to converse with anybody. I did not want to see my minister, because I did not want to let him know how I felt, and I had no confidence that he would understand my case, and give me the direction that I needed. For the same reasons I avoided conversation with the elders of the church, or with any of the Christian people. I was ashamed to let them know how I felt, on the one hand; and on the other, I was afraid they would misdirect me. I felt myself shut up to the Bible.

During Monday and Tuesday my convictions increased; but still it seemed as if my heart grew harder. I could not shed a tear; I could not pray. I had no opportunity to pray above my breath; and frequently I felt, that if I could be alone where I could use my voice and let myself out, I should find relief in prayer. I was shy, and avoided, as much as I could, speaking to anybody on any subject. I endeavored, however, to do this in a way that would excite no suspicion, in any mind, that I was seeking the salvation of my soul.

Tuesday night I had become very nervous; and in the night a strange feeling came over me as if I was about to die. I knew that if I did I should sink down to hell; but I quieted myself as best I could until morning.

At an early hour I started for the office. But just before I arrived at the office, something seemed to confront me with questions like these: Indeed, it seemed as if the inquiry was within myself, as if an inward voice said to me, “What are you waiting for? Did you not promise to give your heart to God? And what are you trying to do? Are you endeavoring to work out a righteousness of your own?”

Just at this point the whole question of Gospel salvation opened to my mind in a manner most marvelous to me at the time. I think I then saw, as clearly as I ever have in my life, the reality and fullness of the atonement of Christ. I saw that His work was a finished work; and that instead of having, or needing, any righteousness of my own to recommend me to God, I had to submit myself to the righteousness of God through Christ. Gospel salvation seemed to me to be an offer of something to be accepted; and that it was full and complete; and that all that was necessary on my part, was to get my own consent to give up my sins, and accept Christ. Salvation, it seemed to me, instead of being a thing to be wrought out, by my own works, was a thing to be found entirely in the Lord Jesus Christ, who presented Himself before me as my God and my Savior.

Without being distinctly aware of it, I had stopped in the street right where the inward voice seemed to arrest me. How long I remained in that position I cannot say. But after this distinct revelation had stood for some little time before my mind, the question seemed to be put, “Will you accept it now, today?” I replied,” Yes; I will accept it today, or I will die in the attempt.”

North of the village, and over a hill, lay a piece of woods, in which I was in the almost daily habit of walking, more or less, when it was pleasant weather. It was now October, and the time was past for my frequent walks there. Nevertheless, instead of going to the office, I turned and bent my course toward the woods, feeling that I must be alone, and away from all human eyes and ears, so that I could pour out my prayer to God.

But still my pride must show itself. As I went over the hill, it occurred to me that someone might see me and suppose that I was going away to pray. Yet probably there was not a person on earth that would have suspected such a thing, had he seen me going. But so great was my pride, and so much was I possessed with the fear of man, that I recollect that I skulked along under the fence, till I got so far out of sight that no one from the village could see me. I then penetrated into the woods, I should think, a quarter of a mile, went over on the other side of the hill, and found a place where some large trees had fallen across each other, leaving an open place between. There I saw I could make a kind of closet. I crept into this place and knelt down for prayer. As I turned to go up into the woods, I recollect to have said, “I will give my heart to God, or I never will come down from there.” I recollect repeating this as I went up: “I will give my heart to God before I ever come down again.”

But when I attempted to pray I found that my heart would not pray. I had supposed that if I could only be where I could speak aloud, without being overheard, I could pray freely. But lo! when I came to try, I was dumb; that is, I had nothing to say to God; or at least I could say but a few words, and those without heart. In attempting to pray I would hear a rustling in the leaves, as I thought, and would stop and look up to see if somebody were not coming. This I did several times.

Finally I found myself verging fast to despair. I said to myself, “I cannot pray. My heart is dead to God, and will not pray.” I then reproached myself for having promised to give my heart to God before I left the woods. When I came to try, I found I could not give my heart to God. My inward soul hung back, and there was no going out of my heart to God. I began to feel deeply that it was too late; that it must be that I was given up of God and was past hope.

The thought was pressing me of the rashness of my promise, that I would give my heart to God that day or die in the attempt. It seemed to me as if that was binding upon my soul; and yet I was going to break my vow. A great sinking and discouragement came over me, and I felt almost too weak to stand upon my knees.

Just at this moment I again thought I heard someone approach me, and I opened my eyes to see whether it were so. But right there the revelation of my pride of heart, as the great difficulty that stood in the way, was distinctly shown to me. An overwhelming sense of my wickedness in being ashamed to have a human being see me on my knees before God, took such powerful possession of me, that I cried at the top of my voice, and exclaimed that I would not leave that place if all the men on earth and all the devils in hell surrounded me. “What!” I said, “such a degraded sinner I am, on my knees confessing my sins to the great and holy God; and ashamed to have any human being, and a sinner like myself, find me on my knees endeavoring to make my peace with my offended God!” The sin appeared awful, infinite. It broke me down before the Lord.

Just at that point this passage of Scripture seemed to drop into my mind with a flood of light: “Then shall ye go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. Then shall ye seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” I instantly seized hold of this with my heart. I had intellectually believed the Bible before; but never had the truth been in my mind that faith was a voluntary trust instead of an intellectual state. I was as conscious as I was of my existence, of trusting at that moment in God's veracity. Somehow I knew that that was a passage of Scripture, though I do not think I had ever read it. I knew that it was God's word, and God's voice, as it were, that spoke to me. I cried to Him, “Lord, I take Thee at Thy word. Now Thou knowest that I do search for Thee with all my heart, and that I have come here to pray to Thee; and Thou hast promised to hear me.”

That seemed to settle the question that I could then, that day, perform my vow. The Spirit seemed to lay stress upon that idea in the text, “When you search for me with all your heart.” The question of when, that is of the present time, seemed to fall heavily into my heart. I told the Lord that I should take Him at his word; that He could not lie; and that therefore I was sure that He heard my prayer, and that He would be found of me.

He then gave me many other promises, both from the Old and the New Testament, especially some most precious promises respecting our Lord Jesus Christ. I never can, in words, make any human being understand how precious and true those promises appeared to me. I took them one after the other as infallible truth, the assertions of God who could not lie. They did not seem so much to fall into my intellect as into my heart, to be put within the grasp of the voluntary powers of my mind; and I seized hold of them, appropriated them, and fastened upon them with the grasp of a drowning man.

I continued thus to pray, and to receive and appropriate promises for a long time, I know not how long. I prayed till my mind became so full that, before I was aware of it, I was on my feet and tripping up the ascent toward the road. The question of my being converted, had not so much as arisen to my thought; but as I went up, brushing through the leaves and bushes, I recollect saying with emphasis, “If I am ever converted, I will preach the Gospel.”

I soon reached the road that led to the village, and began to reflect upon what had passed; and I found that my mind had become most wonderfully quiet and peaceful. I said to myself, “What is this? I must have grieved the Holy Ghost entirely away. I have lost all my conviction. I have not a particle of concern about my soul; and it must be that the Spirit has left me.” Why! thought I, I never was so far from being concerned about my own salvation in my life.

Then I remembered what I had said to God while I was on my knees, that I had said I would take Him at his word; and indeed I recollected a good many things that I had said, and concluded that it was no wonder that the Spirit had left me; that for such a sinner as I was to take hold of God's Word in that way, was presumption if not blasphemy. I concluded that in my excitement I had grieved the Holy Spirit, and perhaps committed the unpardonable sin.

I walked quietly toward the village; and so perfectly quiet was my mind that it seemed as if all nature listened. It was on the 10th of October, and a very pleasant day. I had gone into the woods immediately after an early breakfast; and when I returned to the village I found it was dinner time. Yet I had been wholly unconscious of the time that had passed; it appeared to me that I had been gone from the village but a short time.

But how was I to account for the quiet of my mind? I tried to recall my convictions, to get back again the load of sin under which I had been laboring. But all sense of sin, all consciousness of present sin or guilt, had departed from me. I said to myself, “What is this, that I cannot arouse any sense of guilt in my soul, as great a sinner as I am?” I tried in vain to make myself anxious about my present state. I was so quiet and peaceful that I tried to feel concerned about that, lest it should be a result of my having grieved the Spirit away. But take any view of it I would, I could not be anxious at all about my soul, and about my spiritual state. The repose of my mind was unspeakably great. I never can describe it in words. The thought of God was sweet to my mind, and the most profound spiritual tranquillity had taken full possession of me. This was a great mystery; but it did not distress or perplex me.

I went to my dinner, and found I had no appetite to eat. I then went to the office, and found that Squire W had gone to dinner. I took down my bass viol, and, as I was accustomed to do, began to play and sing some pieces of sacred music. But as soon as I began to sing those sacred words, I began to weep. It seemed as if my heart was all liquid; and my feelings were in such a state that I could not hear my own voice in singing without causing my sensibility to overflow. I wondered at this, and tried to suppress my tears, but could not. After trying in vain to suppress my tears, I put up my instrument and stopped singing.

After dinner we were engaged in removing our books and furniture to another office. We were very busy in this, and had but little conversation all the afternoon. My mind, however, remained in that profoundly tranquil state. There was a great sweetness and tenderness in my thoughts and feelings. Everything appeared to be going right, and nothing seemed to ruffle or disturb me in the least.

Just before evening the thought took possession of my mind, that as soon as I was left alone in the new office, I would try to pray again--that I was not going to abandon the subject of religion and give it up, at any rate; and therefore, although I no longer had any concern about my soul, still I would continue to pray.

By evening we got the books and furniture adjusted; and I made up, in an open fireplace, a good fire, hoping to spend the evening alone. Just at dark Squire W, seeing that everything was adjusted, bade me goodnight and went to his home. I had accompanied him to the door; and as I closed the door and turned around, my heart seemed to be liquid within me. All my feelings seemed to rise and flow out; and the utterance of my heart was, “I want to pour my whole soul out to God.” The rising of my soul was so great that I rushed into the room back of the front office, to pray.

There was no fire, and no light, in the room; nevertheless it appeared to me as if it were perfectly light. As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me then, nor did it for some time afterward, that it was wholly a mental state. On the contrary it seemed to me that I saw Him as I would see any other man. He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. I have always since regarded this as a most remarkable state of mind; for it seemed to me a reality, that He stood before me, and I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to Him. I wept aloud like a child, and made such confessions as I could with my choked utterance. It seemed to me that I bathed His feet with my tears; and yet I had no distinct impression that I touched Him, that I recollect.

I must have continued in this state for a good while; but my mind was too much absorbed with the interview to recollect anything that I said. But I know, as soon as my mind became calm enough to break off from the interview, I returned to the front office, and found that the fire that I had made of large wood was nearly burned out. But as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love, for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings.

No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more;” yet I had no fear of death.

How long I continued in this state, with this baptism continuing to roll over me and go through me, I do not know. But I know it was late in the evening when a member of my choir--for I was the leader of the choir--came into the office to see me. He was a member of the church. He found me in this state of loud weeping, and said to me, “Mr. Finney, what ails you?” I could make him no answer for some time. He then said, “Are you in pain?” I gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, “No, but so happy that I cannot live.”

He turned and left the office, and in a few minutes returned with one of the elders of the church, whose shop was nearly across the way from our office. This elder was a very serious man; and in my presence had been very watchful, and I had scarcely ever seen him laugh. When he came in, I was very much in the state in which I was when the young man went out to call him. He asked me how I felt, and I began to tell him. Instead of saying anything, he fell into a most spasmodic laughter. It seemed as if it was impossible for him to keep from laughing from the very bottom of his heart.

There was a young man in the neighborhood who was preparing for college, with whom I had been very intimate. Our minister, as I afterward learned, had repeatedly talked with him on the subject of religion, and warned him against being misled by me. He informed him that I was a very careless young man about religion; and he thought that if he associated much with me his mind would be diverted, and he would not be converted.

After I was converted, and this young man was converted, he told me that he had said to Mr. Gale several times, when he had admonished him about associating so much with me, that my conversations had often affected him more, religiously, than his preaching. I had, indeed, let out my feelings a good deal to this young man.

But just at the time when I was giving an account of my feelings to this elder of the church, and to the other member who was with him, this young man came into the office. I was sitting with my back toward the door, and barely observed that he came in. He listened with astonishment to what I was saying, and the first I knew he partly fell upon the floor, and cried out in the greatest agony of mind, “Do pray for me!” The elder of the church and the other member knelt down and began to pray for him; and when they had prayed, I prayed for him myself. Soon after this they all retired and left me alone.

The question then arose in my mind, "Why did Elder B laugh so? Did he not think that I was under a delusion, or crazy?" This suggestion brought a kind of darkness over my mind; and I began to query with myself whether it was proper for me, such a sinner as I had been, to pray for that young man. A cloud seemed to shut in over me; I had no hold upon anything in which I could rest; and after a little while I retired to bed, not distressed in mind, but still at a loss to know what to make of my present state. Notwithstanding the baptism I had received, this temptation so obscured my view that I went to bed without feeling sure that my peace was made with God.

I soon fell asleep, but almost as soon awoke again on account of the great flow of the love of God that was in my heart. I was so filled with love that I could not sleep. Soon I fell asleep again, and awoke in the same manner. When I awoke, this temptation would return upon me, and the love that seemed to be in my heart would abate; but as soon as I was asleep, it was so warm within me that I would immediately awake. Thus I continued till, late at night, I obtained some sound repose.

When I awoke in the morning the sun had risen, and was pouring a clear light into my room. Words cannot express the impression that this sunlight made upon me. Instantly the baptism that I had received the night before, returned upon me in the same manner. I arose upon my knees in the bed and wept aloud with joy, and remained for some time too much overwhelmed with the baptism of the Spirit to do anything but pour out my soul to God. It seemed as if this morning's baptism was accompanied with a gentle reproof, and the Spirit seemed to say to me, “Will you doubt? Will you doubt?” I cried, “No! I will not doubt; I cannot doubt.” He then cleared the subject up so much to my mind that it was in fact impossible for me to doubt that the Spirit of God had taken possession of my soul.

In this state I was taught the doctrine of justification by faith, as a present experience. That doctrine had never taken any such possession of my mind, that I had ever viewed it distinctly as a fundamental doctrine of the Gospel. Indeed, I did not know at all what it meant in the proper sense. But I could now see and understand what was meant by the passage, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I could see that the moment I believed, while up in the woods, all sense of condemnation had entirely dropped out of my mind; and that from that moment I could not feel a sense of guilt or condemnation by any effort that I could make. My sense of guilt was gone; my sins were gone; and I do not think I felt any more sense of guilt than if I never had sinned.

This was just the revelation that I needed. I felt myself justified by faith; and, so far as I could see, I was in a state in which I did not sin. Instead of feeling that I was sinning all the time, my heart was so full of love that it overflowed. My cup ran over with blessing and with love; and I could not feel that I was sinning against God. Nor could I recover the least sense of guilt for my past sins. Of this experience I said nothing that I recollect, at the time, to anybody; that is, of this experience of justification.

 

Charles Finney experienced the truth of how you birth a vision in God. Hear from him and believe him. At first, he thought that he could be converted in his own strength. He understood the principles of repentance and forgiveness and he resolved to give himself to God on a certain day. He had it all worked out in his head but when the time came for him to pray and speak with God, he could not do it. Verging on despair, he said to himself: “I cannot pray. My heart is dead to God, and will not prayHe became discouraged but then God revealed his pride to him. He was again ashamed of being discovered in his attempt of becoming a Christian. He did not want to be seen on his knees before God. This sin was pointed out to him and it broke him down. There was so much pride and it was also pride that made him think that he knew how to become a Christian. He knew the method – the law – the rules – and he – by himself – thought that he could do what was required. He could not.

You birth a vision – you become a Christian – by hearing from God and then believing him. As Finney repented of his pride and cried out to God, suddenly the following passage of Scripture “seemed to drop into his mind with a flood of light: ‘Then shall ye go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. Then shall ye seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.’” He seized hold of this with his heart. He knew that he had heard from God and now – instead of taking this as some sort of dead knowledge that somehow resides in the mind without impacting anything – he put his trust in the one that spoke those words. He put his faith in God and God continued to speak further promises in his life. They were spoken straight into his heart and he took hold of them like a drowning man. Finney experienced in practical ways the truth: Forgiveness – righteousness – comes by faith – not by proud law methods or works – and then – by faith – you will be empowered to live a holy life.

What about you? Have you heard from God and believed him for righteousness and eternal life? Maybe here I clarify one more point. Forgiveness – righteousness – comes by faith – not by proud law methods or works – and then – by faith – you will be empowered to live a holy life. This is true but even the most mature Christian will continue to be righteous by faith. No matter how much he may have experienced the power for living a holy life and irrespective of how much he have grown in practical holiness. Any sin – even the smallest sin – drives us back to faith. There is no other way. We humble ourselves before God, listen to him – (his offer of forgiveness) – and then we believe him – for our righteousness. Cf. 1 John 8-9: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousnessThis is what he promises. Believe him.

The second and last testimony is from Hudson Taylor. While Charles Finney struggled to catch the vision for becoming a Christian – he struggled with the beginnings of faith – Hudson Taylor struggled with being a mature Christian. How do you live a better life?

 

Letter from Hudson Taylor (October 17, 1869):

 

“I feel as though the first glimmer of the dawn of a glorious day had arisen upon me. I hail it with trembling, yet with trust- as to work, mine was never so plentiful, so responsible, or so difficult; but the weight and strain are all gone. The last month has been perhaps the happiest of my life; and I long to tell you a little of what the Lord has done for my soul- Perhaps I shall make myself more clear if I go back a little- My mind has been greatly exercised for six or eight months past, feeling the need, personally, and for the mission, of more holiness, life, power, in our souls. But personal need stood first and was the greatest. I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living near to God. I prayed, agonized, strove, fasted, made resolutions, read the Word of God more diligently, sought more time for meditation and prayer - but all was with effect. Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me- each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power- then came the question Is there no rescue? Must it be thus to the end - constant conflict and instead of victory too often defeat? How, too, could I preach with sincerity that to those who receive Jesus, to them gave He that power to become the sons of God (i.e. God-like) when it was not so on my own experience?


I hated myself. I hated my sin; and yet, I gained no strength against it. I felt I was a child of God: His Spirit in my heart would cry: 'Abba Father'; but to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless.”


“All the time I felt assured there was in Christ all I needed, but the practical question was how was I to get it out?- I knew full well that there was in the Root abundant fatness; but how to get it into my puny little branch was the question. As the light, gradually dawned on me, I saw that faith was the only prerequisite, was the hand to lay hold on His fullness and make it my own. But I had not this faith! I strove for it but it would not come; tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Savior-my helplessness and guilt seemed to increase. Sins committed seemed but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief, which was their cause, which could not, or would not, take God at His Word, but rather made Him a liar. Unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world-yet, I indulged in it.


“When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never know it before. McCarthy, who had been exercised by the same sense of failure, but saw the light before I did, wrote: 'But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.' As I read I saw it all, 'If we believe not, He abideth faithful' (2Tim 2:13). I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said: 'I will never leave you.' (Heb 13:5) Ah, there is rest I thought! I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I'll strive no more. For has He not promised to abide with me?


“But this was not all He showed me, nor one-half. As I thought of the vine and branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul- I saw not only that Jesus would never leave me, but that I was a member of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. The Vine, now I see, is not the root merely, but all- root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit; and Jesus is not only that: He is soil and sunshine, air and shower, and ten thousand times more than we have every dreamed, wished for, or needed. Oh, the joy of seeing this truth! I do pray that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened, that you may know and enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ.”


“Oh, my dear sister, it is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Savior; to be a member of Christ! Think what it involves. Can Christ be rich and I poor? Can your right hand be rich and the left poor? Or your head be well-fed while your body starves? Again, think of its bearing on prayer. Could a bank clerk say to a customer: 'It was only your hand wrote that check, not you,' or 'I cannot pay this sum to your hand, but only to yourself?' No more can your prayers or mine be discredited if offered in the name of Jesus (i.e. not in your own name, or for the sake of Jesus merely, but on the ground that we are His members) so long as we keep within the extent of Christ's credit - a tolerably wide limit”...

If we ask for anything unscriptural, or not in accordance with the will of God, Christ Himself could not do that. But ‘if we ask anything according to his will…we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.’


The sweetest part... is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash wroth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So, if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trials, much strength? No fear that His resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.


And since Christ has thus dwelt in my heart by faith, how happy I have been! … I am no better than before. In a sense, I do not wish to be, nor am I striving to be. But I am dead and buried with Christ—ay, and risen too! And now Christ lives in me, and “the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

And now I must close…. May God give you to lay hold on these blessed truths. Do not let us continue to say, in effect, ‘Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above).’ In other words, do not let us consider Him as far off, when God has made us one with Him, members of His very body. Nor should we look upon this experience, these truths, as for the few. They are the birthright of every child of God, and no one can dispense with them without dishonoring our Lord. The only power for deliverance from sin or for true service is Christ.”

 

In another letter he wrote:


“And now I have the very passage for you, and God has so blessed it to my own soul? John 7: 37-39: ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto ME and drink.’ Who does not thirst? Who has not mind thirst, heart-thirsts, soul-thirsts or body-thirsts? Well, no matter which, or whether I have them all—”Come unto me and’ remain thirsty? Ah no! ‘Come unto me and drink.’


What, can Jesus meet my need? Yes and more than meet it. No matter how intricate my path, how difficult my service; no matter how sad my bereavement, how far away my loved ones; no matter how helpless I am, how deep are my soul-yearnings—Jesus can meet all, all, and more than meet. He not only promises me rest—ah, how welcome that would be, were it all, and what an all that one word embraces! He not only promises me drink to alleviate my thirst. No, better than that! ‘He who trusts Me in this matter (who believeth on Me, takes Me at My word) out of him shall flow….


Can it be? Can the dry and thirsty one not only be refreshed—the parched soul moistened, the arid places cooled—but the land be so saturated that springs well up and streams flow down from it? Even so! And not mere mountain-torrents, full while the rain lasts, then dry again…but, ‘from within him shall flow rivers’—rivers like the mighty Yangtze, ever deep, ever full. In times of drought brooks may fail, often do, canals may be pumped dry, often are, but the Yangtze never. Always a mighty stream, always flowing deep and irresistible.!”

 

 

Hudson Taylor agonized for six to eight months over the feeling that he needed more holiness, more life, more power in his soul. He was stressing over his ingratitude and the danger – the sin – of not living near to God. He prayed, strove, fasted, made resolutions, read the Word of God more diligently, sought more time for meditation and prayer – but all was with effect. He began to hate himself. He hated his sin, yet could not overcome it. Why? Because he was trying to do it by himself which is the way of the law – doing it by certain methods and principles. Praying, fasting and reading the Bible are good practices but not when you rely on these actions rather than God.

Then, the breakthrough came for him. He heard from God and believed him. When his agony was the greatest, God used a sentence in a letter from a friend to “remove the scales” from his eyes and the Spirit of God revealed to him the truth of his oneness with Jesus Christ in a way that he had never known before. His friend wrote: “But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful OneAs Hudson Taylor read this, he saw it all. Another Scripture – 2 Timothy 2:13: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful … ” He looked to Jesus and saw (and when he saw – oh – how joy flowed) that God had said: “I will never leave you” (Heb 13:5). Hudson Taylor put his faith in what God spoke to him. The words were finally in his heart and – as a consequence – he found rest and joy. He didn’t have to strive any more. God had promised to abide with him – always. He began to believe him and trust him – even in the most dire circumstances. God would do what was required. He was no longer anxious about anything. [The other Bible image that lodged itself deeply in Hudson Taylor was the image of Jesus being the vine and we are the branches. The connection will never be broken. Where we are, Jesus is.]

I come to a close. God is a God of many visions and we want to take hold of them all – we are dreaming about many things here at Living Grace – but – maybe this morning – first and foremost – for yourself – connect again with the most important vision in anyone’s life. Make the testimonies of Charles Finney and Hudson Taylor your own according to the opening Bible reading which we have heard from Romans 4:1-25 – I read again the closing verse: “ … ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ …  The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification

Justification – forgiveness from sins – righteousness: There is a life with God. Like Hudson Taylor – and Charles Finney – you may have been around Christians or in the church for a long time but the words have never really connected with your heart. Please – this morning – look up. Count the stars and see what God speaks to you. Put your faith in him and his promises and you will be forgiven. Trust him and you will rest in his power for holiness. You will no longer be anxious about anything. Go from there. Hear God and believe him. Amen.