The Evangel of Experience

Phil. 1:12.---' Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel.'

Paul was one of those rare men who make light of their misfortunes. He sums up his difficulties in a single phrase---'the things which happened unto me'---and one of these happenings was that he was now in prison. But he had learned the difficult art of turning awkward circumstances to the best account, and thus it is that we find the good news of Christ travelling throughout the whole praetorian guard.

The materialist thinks of the restricted liberty, of the irritating chain; he forgets that he has a free mind, a liberated spirit, an imagination on which no hand can be laid. What was prison to John Bunyan? The jail at Bedford became the birthplace of a Dream which will last as long as time. Where was Ezekiel when 'the heavens were opened' and he saw 'visions of God'? He was among the captives by the river Chebar. That is not captivity. No man is a captive who sees visions of God. He is the real prisoner who has the carnal mind, who is cursed with dark, self-centered thoughts.

Paul tells the story of his life to the soldier who guards him; the guard is relieved, and he tells the next; the men tell their comrades and at length the Apostle can write: 'Thus it has become notorious among all the Imperial guards, and everywhere, that it is for the sake of Christ that I am a prisoner; and the greater part of the brethren, made confident in the Lord through my imprisonment, now speak of God's message without fear, more boldly than ever.' Such is the contagious influence of a man filled with one aim, fired with one enthusiasm, devoted to one service.

A man's own religious experience, working itself out through ordinary events, may thus become an evangelistic medium. The equipment of an evangelist is comprised not so much in a dramatic theology as in a dramatic experience. It is not contained in a set of doctrinal statements or conventional religious phrases, but rather in the things that have happened to him. The spirit of Jesus Christ works its way in the individual, and outward to the universal. For no man lives to himself or dies to himself. A man may perhaps never speak to another of Jesus Christ, and yet he may win that man for Christ. Character has more force than eloquence.

The things that happen to us make up our experience. A man's biography is the record of the things that happen TO him and IN him. Things begin to happen to us as soon as we make our appearance on the stage of life; so that if experience be an evangelizing agency there need be no delay in the furtherance of truth. How does this happening process work out? Things often fall out to the progress of the gospel unconsciously. We use the word gospel in its largest significance, meaning by it the spirit of love, tenderness, sympathy, longsuffering, sacrifice; it includes everything that softens, deepens, purifies, and elevates the heart of mankind. In that case we can see how the things that happen to us even in our earliest years may have fallen out to the progress of the gospel.

How true then it is in the matter of companionship that the things which happen to us may fall out to the progress of the gospel. Our friends determine the quality if not the course of our history more than we can tell. If we be really knit to any true friend, there is an unfathomable element in our redemption. These invisible ties keep us right sometimes when we are absent one from another. And there are men we have never seen who become our friends; poets, novelists, artists, teachers, heroes---these often fall out to the progress of the gospel. They have contributed to the sum of the world's pity, insight, charity, tolerance; they have continued the spirit of the Son of Man. Is it not wonderful and beautiful to think that a sentence from the writings of one who lived, long perhaps before we were born, can kindle light in our minds and shed abroad love and sympathy in our hearts, and so make us friends for ever?

Whatever our experience has been---light or dark---it may in the providence of God fall out to the progress of the gospel. We do but see the surface of things. Life is complex, interrelated, intertwined: no man lives or dies to himself. Some of us who think we are doing but little for God may be high up on the list. It is not for us to judge or be harsh critics of one another. Let us play well our own part.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha