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The Power of the Essential or True Life.

Our principal object in this chapter is the consideration of the Power of the true life, not in its philosophy but in its practical results; not in its highest and primal manifestations, which in some degree transcend human insight, but in its subordinate manifestations, and particularly as it is manifested in men. The methods in which it manifests itself are very various. In the case of the Christian orator, for instance, it will sometimes, under the inspiration of essential life, speak in terms of rich and glowing eloquence, matching and more than matching the standards of the world’s great masters; but not less frequently its words are few and simple; perhaps an apothegm or a parable, but coming from the well-spring of the life, they touch the hearts of the people, and open the fountains of living salvation. And what is remarkable, it is sometimes the case, that the absolute silence of the man of God will have more effect than the noisy declamation of the man. who is without God. Power goes out of him as it went out of Jesus. If it speaks in the mighty words of Paul and Apollos, it speaks also in the silence of a loving John, when he leans his head on a brother’s bosom. What more effective and touching eloquence than that of the Son of Man, when, in the midst of a stormy and cruel tribunal, he “uttered not a word;” and the Roman governor, struck with this sublime disregard of the precedents of a worldly life, “marveled greatly.” And there are some specific modifications of the great variety of its forms, which are worthy of notice. One of the most remarkable things pertaining to the Power of the Life, is, that it manifests itself often, not by the antagonism of the same forces, as when we meet evil with evil and return blow for blow, as when sword clashes with sword and cannon rebounds to cannon; but conquers the violence that attacks it, by the resistance and antagonism of what is found in the opposite. The stormy cloud is melted by the sunbeam; the lion is tamed and led captive by the lamb; and the little child plays, with its life and beauty unharmed, on the cockatrice’s den. In all this there is a deep philosophy, which transcends the conceptions of a heart, that knows no higher school than that of a self-hood which excludes the living God.

And now we will say further, coming more within the practical sphere of the subject, that the Power of the Life, that form of power which pierces and breaks the stony hearts of men, and is blessed of God in the great matter of renovating and purifying their perverted natures, is not found greatly, if at all, in mere intellectualism. Many facts are a confirmation of this. There are preachers who have eminently the gifts of perception and reasoning, but have little influence with the masses. Even if at certain times their reasonings harmonize with the truth they produce, and can produce but little effect, so long as the soul from which they come, is felt by the hearers to contradict in experience, what their reasonings affirm and try to prove as a principle. Again, the element of vitalizing power is not found in every form of mere emotionality; we refer particularly to what may be called aesthetic emotionality. There are preachers, and other professedly religious teachers, who add to intellectual powers a cultivated taste, and adorn their reasoning with the arts of rhetoric. Their sermons, considered as the exercises of intellect or the imagination, enlist the curiosity of men and please their fancy, but have little living power. There was a German preacher of the 14th century — we refer to the justly celebrated John Tauler of Cologne, who stood unmatched in learning and in intellectual and aesthetic eloquence, but he had little power and influence, at least in a way which satisfied his conviction of what ought to be the result, until he was led into the way of truth and life, by a poor, uncultured man of the people, whom as one of the weak and despised things of the world, God had chosen and made the instrument of this mighty influence. The few unlearned men, who went forth from Jerusalem in the beginning of the Christian era, were not allowed to go until they were endued with power from on high. They were commanded by Christ, “that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father,” which was understood in its fulfillment to be the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And then it was added: “Ye shall receive
power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” Endowed with this great gift, this small band of early laborers and martyrs, without the prestige of position or scholarship, went forth to the mighty work which was appointed them; and though the strife was long, and in many cases crowned with great suffering and death, they were found more than a match for the proud philosophers, the arts, and the institutions of that trying time. That power is the same now that it was then; that divine power is now as it always has been, the reserved force and inspiration of the world’s progress and salvation; but it lies hidden in the life. The life is God in the soul; and the power of God always goes with it.

There comes in connection with these remarks, the remembrance of a man, whose life of love and self-sacrificing labors strengthens and illustrates them. I remember him well. He lived and labored in the early part of this century in the State of Maine — a man without the advantages of a public education, but who had but one thought, one feeling, that of the glory of God and the salvation of men — the Oberlin of the American woods. He wandered through the forests; he crossed lakes and rivers; he went from house to house among the poor and ignorant, in summer’s heat and winter’s snows; he preached in barns and school-houses, and in the remote, rude dwellings of the woods, and wherever he could find people who were ready to hear; fulfilling more than half a century of labors, up to the very limit of human faith and human endurance. Such was our loved and venerated Father Sewall. God was with him in power.

I was once connected with a church of great intelligence and not wanting in piety; some of whose members have held high political positions, and others have been distinguished for attainments in science; but of all the members of this truly leading and useful church, the one who was thought to exert the most religious influence, and is to this day perhaps exerting the most influence, through the account which is published of her life, was a poor negro woman, who in her childhood was a slave. She dwelt alone. During a period of eighteen years, she supported herself by washing and ironing for the students in the neighboring college. And judged by all outward measurements and incidents, and as the world commonly judges, nothing could have been lower in prestige, or lower in position. But her heart was the dwelling-place of Christ. Her great familiarity with the Bible, the spirit of prayer which seemed always to be present with her, her gentle and wise words of discreet and thoughtful encouragement, her peace which flowed like a river, her sublime and forgiving charity which never failed—these beautiful and great results of a living principle in the soul, made her known and felt as a mighty power of God for many years. She was spoken of both in the Church and in the community around, under the name of “Happy Phebe;” and the interesting tract, published by the American Tract Society, giving some account of her character and labors, still preserves her precious memory, and perpetuates the power of her holy life.

One instance more, which illustrates in a peculiar manner the resources of God in raising up instruments for his purposes, where human wisdom would not be likely to look for them. I once knew a poor woman. In early life we were near neighbors. Time passed on; and she heard of the slave, his toils, his sufferings, and his terrible bondage, continued for centuries. It moved her heart to the very foundations of her being; and the world called her insane. Being at a certain time in the city of Boston, where through the aid of a near relative she had found an humble abode, and touched by the remembrance of early days as well as by Christian sympathy, I sought the place of her residence. It was a Sabbath day, and to my astonishment I found the street opposite to her house filled with people, listening respectfully and earnestly; and from an upper window, this poor woman, the world’s outcast, uttering terrible truths, with the burning energy of the words of the ancient prophets. I listened with the multitude; and when she had concluded, I went to her room, and seated by her side we talked of the slave, whose sorrows had become her own soul’s sorrows; and we talked also of our early days, and of the joys and sorrows of our little neighborhood.

And in the conversation I had painful evidence that her mind was shaken; and that there was to some extent, a foundation for what had been said of her insanity. In leaving her my heart was strangely and profoundly affected. I said to myself, how wonderful are the mysteries of Providence. To-day, with temples, rich in architectural beauty, and preachers learned in theologies and worldly science, their lips comparatively sealed on this great subject of slavery; and God, as if to put worldly wisdom to shame, has chosen a poor woman, reduced almost to beggary, without the advantages of education, and with the intellect injured and broken by sorrows, to utter His eternal truths, and to shatter the foundations of the gates of hell.

The man who has the power of God in his soul, will not feel much troubled when told that certain false philosophies, whether found in Germany, in France, in England, or in any other countries, will overthrow the religion of Christ. The world and its wisdom may leave us; and we can easily afford to part company with them; but we cannot under any circumstances, dispense with the power of the Life. Let the friends of the divine truth, who are girding on their armor for the last great conflict, remember that everything which appeared in Christ as the “Son of Man,” and was possessed and manifested in His incarnation, is brought within the sphere of humanity, and has become humanity’s eternal and mighty possession. Whatever Christ did as the “Son of Man,” any other son of man can do, of whom it can be said, as the Apostle Paul said of himself, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” He can heal the sick, can cast out devils, can open prison doors, can tread on serpents and not be hurt, and most and mightiest of all, can become the instrument of imparting the Holy Ghost, and of healing the diseases of the mind. Therefore, we believe that God will raise up instruments when emergencies arise, and that, if the rich reject Him, He will choose the poor, and if the learned reject Him, He will take the ignorant, and if the strong reject Him, He will make friends of the weak; and pouring into the vessels of poverty, ignorance and weakness, the mighty powers which are lodged in the bosom of essential and Eternal Life, He will triumphantly complete the work of redemption. And Christ on the throne, and Christ in the soul of man, Christ in heaven and Christ on earth, shall hold the sceptre of dominion and shall reign forever and ever.