Authority and Power
It is the privilege of every child of God to have divine authority for his path and divine power to pursue it––authority for his position, and power to occupy it––authority for his work, and power to do it. That authority is found in the divine word, and that power in the divine presence. My authority is found in the Scriptures, my power in walking with God. Why wasn’t Noah deflected from the seemingly ridiculous task of building such a huge boat in a world that had never known a flood? The answer is that he had the pledge of the divine word (Gen. 6: 14), and the assurance of the divine presence (Gen. 6: 9).
Now if we look at the present condition of professing Christians, one cannot help being struck by the fact that so very few are prepared to face Scripture on all points and in all matters, whether they be personal or domestic, commercial or ecclesiastical. If the question of their soul–salvation is settled, then many seem to consider themselves free to break away from the sacred domain of God’s Word, and launch forth upon the desolate waste of human opinion and human will, where each may think for himself, and choose for himself, and act for himself. Nothing is more certain however, than that where it is merely a question of human opinion, human will or human judgement, there is not a shred of real authority. No human opinion has any authority over the conscience––I must have God’s Word. If anything, no matter what, comes between my conscience and the Word of God, then my path will be blighted by uncertainty and instability. Human opinions may, at best, seem to be right, but I cannot be sure. God’s Word I know to be right: “All his precepts are faithful” (Ps. 111:7) How many have followed human opinion––even the opinions of godly and righteous men––only to find at the end that God was not in that path? By contrast, God’s Word will not and cannot fail us––it is an infallible guidance.
Creeds and confessions, religious formularies and commandments, the doctrines and traditions of men––these things will be listened to and obeyed. Our own will, our own judgement and our own views of things will be allowed to bear sway. Expediency, position, reputation, influence, usefulness, the opinion of friends, the thoughts and example of good and great men, the fear of grieving or giving offence to those whom we look up to and love, and with whom we may have been long associated in our religious life and service, the dread of being thought presumptuous, intense shrinking from the appearance of judging those at whose feet we would willingly sit––all these things operate and exert a most pernicious influence upon the soul, and hinder full surrender of ourselves to the paramount authority of God’s Word.
The OT records a solemn example of one who would not submit in all things to this supreme authority––Israel’s first king. Now king Saul knew perfectly well that the Word of God expressly restricted priestly service to the tribe of Levi. It may have seemed right in the absence of Samuel for Saul to offer up the burnt offering––might appear perfectly reasonable in the circumstances––but it was a flat denial of the authority of Scripture. Thus we read that “Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of Jehovah thy God which he commanded thee” (1 Sam. 13: 13) Scripture is not to be taken up and set aside as we see fit. It is the grossest irreverence to make God’s Word subservient to the opinion and will of the creature. Again, Saul received another definite word from God: “Now go and smite Amalek, and destroy utterly all that they have, and spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Sam. 15: 3) Once again, Saul allowed the divine commandment to be moderated by human ideas: “And the word of Jehovah came to Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king; for he is turned away from following me, and hath not fulfilled my words...And Samuel came to Saul; and Saul said to him, Blessed art thou of Jehovah: I have fulfilled the word of Jehovah. And Samuel said, What [means] then this bleating of sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of oxen which I hear?...And Saul said to Samuel, I have indeed hearkened to the voice of Jehovah, and have gone the way which Jehovah sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the devoted things, to sacrifice to Jehovah thy God in Gilgal. And Samuel said, Has Jehovah delight in burnt–offerings and sacrifices, As in hearkening to the voice of Jehovah? Behold, obedience is better than sacrifice, Attention than the fat of rams. For rebellion is [as] the sin of divination, And selfwill is [as] iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah, He hath also rejected thee from being king.” (1 Sam. 15: 10–11, 13–14, 20–23). The precepts of Scripture are not only informative but binding. Saul lost the kingdom for the simple fact that he was not prepared to submit to God’s Word in all things.
Now in saying all this, it must be remembered that divine authority must be taken up in conjunction with divine power. The two go together and must not be separated. It is a dreadful thing to consider but it is possible to be right but dead, to be adhering to the letter of Scripture, but knowing nothing of the divine presence. Awful condition! What more striking example than that of Sardis: “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Rev. 3: 1) Yes, we may have chapter and verse for all we do and say, but how utterly valueless if God is not with us! How much better to be told like Gideon, that “Jehovah is with thee” (Judges 6:12) It is in virtue of this divine presence that we will have divine power accompanying us, and thus Gideon, though of little account in Manasseh and in his father’s house, was able to destroy a multitude of the children of the East. Take a specific example: that of the assembling together of the Lord’s people. Here it must be emphasised that it is not enough to speak of the scripturalness of our proceedings: those proceedings must be marked by the divine presence. Paul told the assembly at Corinth that if one came into the assembly he should be caused to fall down on his face reporting “that God is indeed amongst you” (1 Cor. 14: 25). Now it is to be admitted that we live in a broken day, and that the whole assembly of God in a place does not, on account of its factions and schisms, assemble together anymore. This fact does not, however, alter the absolute necessity of the divine presence when Christians assemble. Many forget this and reduce Christianity to a mere form of doing things decently and in order, of acting and behaving in a certain way. These things have their place of course, but they will never, on their own, produce one iota of spiritual power. Divine power comes with the divine presence. Hence Paul can say, “At my first defence no man stood with me, but all deserted me. May it not be imputed to them. But the Lord stood with [me], and gave me power” (2 Tim. 4: 16–17).
Sadly, it is possible to glibly assume to have the divine presence, and be unaware of its absence. Samson “knew not that Jehovah had departed from him” (Judges 16: 20), and ended up a prisoner of the enemy. The assembly in Laodicea was completely unaware of its spiritual poverty: Christ was outside, and there is even some doubt as to whether His voice at the door would be heard (Rev. 3: 14–22). Even today, there is a dangerous tendency among some to assume the Lord’s presence in the company––as if it were somehow ‘guaranteed’. The promise of the Lord’s presence in the midst of two or three (Matt. 18: 20) is an oft–quoted Scripture, but it is also often misused. The passage is a conditional one––it is the worst kind of irreverence to associate the Lord’s name with what is not in accord with His presence. It is easy to claim His presence, but it is whether spiritual conditions are right and not what I claim, that determines whether we have that presence. Yet if He is there, then there is power, hence, “whatsoever it may be that they shall ask, it shall come to them from my Father” (v19). It is a remarkable fact that two or three feeble and uneducated saints may be favoured by the presence of God, whilst a gifted congregation of two or three thousand strong may know nothing of it. Even the best can fail in this regard. The parents of Jesus “supposing him to be in the company that journeyed together” (Luke 2: 44) went for three days without him. There is no sadder day than when the people of God move without the divine presence! In that solemn passage in Numbers 14, we read that Moses said to the children of Israel “Why now do ye transgress the commandment of Jehovah? but it shall not prosper! Go not up, for Jehovah is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies; for the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword; for as ye have turned away from Jehovah, Jehovah will not be with you”. What was the response of the people? “Yet they presumed to go up to the hill-top; but the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, and Moses, did not depart from the midst of the camp. And the Amalekites and the Canaanites who dwelt on that hill, came down and smote them, and cut them to pieces, as far as Hormah” (vs41–45). Are these things not written for our learning, and if so, is not the lesson most solemn?
The assembly at Philadelphia had a little power (which comes from the divine presence) and had kept the Lord’s Word (see Rev. 3: 8). These things may not appear much to the human eye, but were very precious in the divine reckoning. Like them, let us see to it that we truly value these two things that have been before us: the divine word and the divine presence. Only then shall we know anything of true authority and real power.