The Fellowship of the Spirit

2 Cor. 13:14.---' The communion of the Holy Ghost.'

Let us think first of the Christian fellowship in the world.---It is extraordinary vital and impressive thing---the Christian fellowship that meets us in the pages of the New Testament. Here we have Saul of Tarsus, haughty Pharisee, Hebrew of Hebrews, who took care that everybody should know it, sharing his deepest intimacies with poor illiterate slaves from Greek slums, barbarians, he would once have called them, Scythians, miserable outsiders---yet now miraculously his brothers. Here we have a Christian love-feast in the catacombs, and a Roman lady, with imperial blood in her veins, a kinswoman of the Caesars, taking the cup from the hand of a nameless piece of property of the streets, and both feeling it was the most natural thing in the world to do, for there was a love deeper than sisterhood between them now. Only one thing explains it---Christ.

It was an amazing thing, that early fellowship; and it meant everything to those who shared it. When they met temptation out in the world the fellowship was an unseen rein-forcing host, backing them up, steadying them, putting them on their honor, giving them victory. Young converts coming out of heathenism found that in the testing days after their conversion, when the first glow had passed and the old environment was trying to drag them down again, it was the fellowship that held them up. Not that these early Christians were always talking about their fellowship. They never tried to organize it in a semi-professional way, saying, 'It is our duty as Christians to be brotherly: let us start a meeting to promote brotherly love.' That would have seemed to them utterly trivial and foolish. Their fellowship was this---that they were sharing together the very life of Jesus. And the trouble with us today is that far too often we have tried to run a superhuman fellowship on a human basis. And it can't be done. We have tried to organize and mechanize and work the thing up, not seeing that the fellowship of the Church is going to be just as limited, just as disruptive, just as much at the mercy of temperment and frail human nature as all the other fellowships of the world---unless it is true to its own supernatural origin, and builds on an experience of Christ.

That fellowship of the Spirit in the New Testament never thought of it as if it were an end in itself. It never became esoteric, for it was the Body of Christ, existing for Christ's purposes in the world. It never sang, as alas! its successors of a later day have sometimes sung: We are a garden walled around, Chosen and made peculiar ground; A little spot enclosed by grace Out of the world's wide wilderness. There was far more of John Masefield's Saul Kane about it: I knew that Christ had given me birth To brother all the souls on earth.

It was always drawing others to itself. Always it was self-propagating. Every member of that early fellowship knew himself to be a herald. He knew that that was the condition on which his own place in it depended. Have we ever fully realized that the very life of the fellowship today depends on each member of it being [to use the language of electricity] a Christ-conductor? Your brain, shouldn't be a cold-storage chamber, but a power-house. That is even truer of the soul than of the brain. Our soul is not to be a cold-storage chamber where our personal religion is stocked and hidden away, but a power-house, sending out into the world the light and warmth and radiance of the Christ. That is what God wants today---not apologists arguing for Him, but heralds proclaiming Him. This is what I could tell the world: there is not one thing that comes more direct and flamingly from the heart of a living man. That is how our witness as members of the fellowship ought to come, direct and flaming from the heart. And even if we cannot tell it out, we can at least live it out, and so share it with the world. The cry raised by the world's great Christ today is: Live Me, do not debate about Me, do not even argue for Me, but live Me! That is what the fellowship is for---to be out in the world living Christ, scattering the glory, heralding the Lord. And it is the very death of the fellowship if it fails its Master here.

If I should never see you out here again, I would like you to know that you and I are working for the same purposes. We have the same commission as a missionary has, with all its perplexities and responsibilities, as a means of letting our Christian life shine.

Let us turn now to the other side---the fellowship of the separate soul with God.---Behind that wonderful Christian fellowship that burned and glowed in the early Church there lay a direct individual fellowship with God, a personal experience of the Holy Spirit. In other words, behind it was Pentecost. Now we have been told scores of times in these recent years---and certainly it is true---that to recapture Pentecost is the prime need of the Church today, and the big question for many minds is---What was it that really happened there? That something happened, something tremendous and revolutionary, is clear. There rings out in the lives of these followers of Christ a note which had not been there before. In a single moment, the human fumbling and faltering which had so often come between these men and Jesus is all finished; and from this point we get the throb and beat of the march of men whose heads are up, who are utterly sure of God. Everybody is agreed that, at this definite point and on this definite day of history, something happened that saved Christianity for the world. But what was it? What does Pentecost really mean?

There are two simple but decisive things that we might notice about the men who got the experience.

[1] They were expectant men.---That is to say, Pentecost did not happen in a vacuum. It happened in an atmosphere where faith and eagerness had prepared the way. It came to men who were taking time to listen for God. And there will never be a Pentecost without that---either for the individual or for the Church. We complain sometimes that we have never had much in the way of definite spiritual experience, and perhaps we even come to think that we were not meant for it. But we cannot believe the New Testament and the Christ of the New Testament, and not believe that we are. But it is the listless, bored, apathetic, non-expectant attitude that hinders God all along the line. If we finish up the day, for instance, with a prayer because it is a habit, a custom, nothing more, we are taking the channel between God and ourselves that Jesus Christ has dug with His own hands, and blocking it. But if we can offer to God a prayer electrically charged with faith, if in the silence we are really listening for God, then God will speak indeed. It is the expectant heart to which the Holy Spirit comes.

[2] The other simple but decisive thing about these men who first got the great experience was this. They were Christ-surrendered men.---Every one of them had given himself to Christ up to the hilt, and was ready to go anywhere, do anything, at Christ's command. So we cannot look for their spiritual experience unless we too have taken the circle of our life and lifted it up bodily off the center called self, and set it down and rooted it on the center called Jesus. Pentecost is God's answer to a soul's surrender to Jesus: it comes after the surrender, not before. But our trouble is that we want God's Spirit, without God's conditions. How often it happens, for instance, that when some great moral issue is raised---it may be in the world at large, or it may be in our own secret life---that we argue, and go on arguing, the matter! It is so pitifully easy to give God a half-obedience, a second-best religion. In these recent years we have been contenting ourselves far too much with a friendly and appealing Jesus; and with a gospel of good fellowship and camaraderie, instead of a gospel of downright obedience. We sometimes see, when any prominent man of letters or man of science writes an article in which he speaks approvingly about Jesus of Nazareth and the Christian religion, that there are crowds of Christians ready to applaud it as much as to say, 'How gratified Jesus must be!' That is all wrong. It is a travesty of the truth. Christianity is not complimenting Christ as genius, or artist, or poet, or teacher, or social reformer, or anything else whatever: it is bowing to Christ as Commander. It is being ready to make His will our law, His command our joy, and His hardest marching-orders the music of our life. This is the crux of the matter. Pentecost is God's answer to men's obedience to His Son. The Spirit comes to those, and to those alone, who can say to Christ: You are my life, my love, my heart, The very eyes of me, And have command of every part To live and die for you.

The heart of the Pentecostal experience was power---a power that shook them to the very depths of their souls, and then sent them out to shake the earth. The fellowship of the Spirit is power on certain different levels. It is power on the physical level. Look at the men of the New Testament. Quite apart from their spiritual force, they were physically twice the men they had been before, tingling with an energy and a spirit of enthusiastic vitality which they themselves formerly would not have believed possible, and carrying things through triumphantly which would once have broken them. For a spiritual experience exhilarates a man's very body. The idea that to be religious is to have a cramped and weakly life is the stupidest heresy ever invented, so stupid as to be mere rubbish. It is power also on the mental level. It is possible to make far too much of the illiterate character of the early Church. In point of fact, that Church had in its membership some of the best brains of the ancient world. And what a power of initiative they had, what a sureness of touch, what a keen eye for essentials, what a directness of decision! The world has never seen anything like it. It is power on the moral level. Look at those men again. Many of them had spent a lifetime at the beck and call of devouring, devastating passions; many of them had wasted, shriveled, burnt-out souls---until Jesus had got hold of them, and by a miracle of grace had wrenched them clear and set them with their faces to the sky; and now there they were, walking through cities that were living dens of corruption, and yet clad in the purity of Christ! And, above all, it is power on the spiritual level. What mighty missionaries these men of Pentecost were! Wherever they went, lives were changed, and souls redeemed. It was not anything they said that did it: it was the way they lived. They had been swept out of all narrowness and selfishness into the sheer blaze and glory of life; and the world, looking at them, could only say, 'You have been with Jesus! You have found the secret. Help us find it too!'

That is meant to be normal Christianity. That is the impact our lives might be making on the world, if we were really men and women of the Spirit. Is there something still impeding that? Something unsubdued to Christ and therefore spoiling all our Christian witness? Our Lord is summoning us to Him, one by one He is looking us full in the face. Can we hold something back? Must we not give ourselves to Him without reserve?

In Christ, timothy. maranatha