Men of Old Put Great Faith in Names
To the original readers of this letter this text would have a deep significance, and it would have that because to them there was so much that was mysterious in a name. With us there is little meaning in a name. It is a handy badge of recognition. What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But with the eastern it was very different. It was no chance that called a rose a rose. There was a deep, a mystical connection between the name and the thing signified. That applied to every name, but was particularly true of names of persons. It was no accident that of two disciples, the one should be called John, the other Peter. Men felt that the hand of God was in the matter moving those concerned to make the choice and in that choice embodying or foreshadowing the glory or the weakness of the character. No name was arbitrary to an oriental. No name was ever given haphazardly. As the years passed and character was formed, it was discovered that the name was prophecy. Something happened which confirmed the choice and showed the infinite wisdom which had guided it and deepened within the hearts of men the reverence for the mystery of names.
The Authority and Life behind the Name
Now it is in the light of that that we must read and understand our text. Whatsoever ye do, says Paul, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. That does not mean that ere we begin to work, we should invoke the name of the Lord Jesus. Many of us, I trust, do that, but that is not what Paul is teaching here. True is it, true beyond all words, that everything is sanctified by prayer, yet that is not the doctrine of our text. When an ambassador at some foreign court utters his message in the name of Britain, that means that behind his message is the authority and power of Britain. He is not speaking as a private person. He is not himself the source of what he says. He is the channel for the will of Britain, and all the power of the empire is behind him. That is the apostle’s meaning when he bids us labor in the name of Jesus. He wants us to realize that behind us is the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. He wants us to feel in everything we do, however great it be or however small, that we are but channels for the will of heaven. It is one character of the God of love that He is ever striving to express Himself. In Him is life, and life is never satisfied saving in outflow and in utterance. And so I take it that in every sunset and in every bird that sings upon the tree, you have a partial utterance of God. They cannot tell that they are voicing Him. They do not know the life that is behind them. But you and I, fashioned in His image, have been endowed with faculty to know it. And I would to God I could impress upon you what an enormous difference it makes just to realize that it is so. To feel that I am a channel, not a fountain, to feel that God needs me to express Himself, to feel that through my toil, however lowly, the will of heaven is working to its goal, it is that which ennobles life, sheds a sanctity on all its drudgery, helps it even in its dreariest, to be in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.
A Source or a Channel?
And that I take it is the most important question with which we are ever faced about our work. I feel it more deeply every year I live. Many are busy working with the brain, and many are busy working with the hand. And some are teachers, others doctors or lawyers, and some spend their days in the market. And some are occupied in lowly work and others in the control of vast concerns. Here is a woman whose appointed sphere is in the home among her growing children. There is a man whose business interests extend through half the countries of the world. Well now, the question I want to ask is this—in what light do you regard your work? Under what aspect do you think of it? On the answer to that question far more depends than you might ever dream of and there are only two answers which are possible. The one is that you yourself are the source and origin of all you do. It is your brain that has achieved success. It is your hand that has procured your welfare. The other is that you are not a source, but only the channel of a greater power which from an infinite fountain in the heavens is flowing out through you upon the world. Give the one answer, and you stand alone. You are fighting for your own hand in loneliness. But give the other and believe the other, and behind that toil of yours is God. It is He who is working through that brain of yours. It is He who is toiling through that hand of yours. It is He who is moving out into that expression through every honest task you ever tried. That is the spirit of our text. Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. Just stop a moment and try to realize that you are the instrument of God in Christ. There is not a thing you do then whether in shop or home or office, but will begin to flash with a new meaning and seem as if it were worthier to be done.
Being a Channel Does Not Lead to Inactivity
Now there is one objection to this view of service which may be and often has been urged. It is that if we are but channels, then our activity is likely to suffer. If it is Jesus who is working through us, would it not be best to be still and let Him work? If through us the will of God is moving, is it not our duty to be passive? So men have speculated upon this and thought that human activities would slacken if once it were brought home to men and women that they were but channels of the will of Christ.
Well now, there is a passage in the Acts that may help to throw some light on that. It is the memorable passage of the healing of the lame man at the gate Beautiful. Peter and John were going up to pray, and doubtless they were thinking about Christ. And then the cripple cried to them for money, and somehow it brought Jesus very near them. For they remembered how He used to look and how a great compassion would possess Him when such a cry came ringing in His ear. It was then that Peter felt through his own soul the moving of the power of Jesus Christ. And he cried out with a loud voice, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk.” And the point to note is that just then when Peter was most a channel for his Lord, so far from being listless or inactive, he was intensely and tremendously alive. It was not his power. It was that of Jesus. It was not he who was working, it was Christ. Yet look at his eyes burning upon the cripple. Look at his hands outstretched to lift him up. The whole impression is of a man alive, quick to the finest fiber of his being, and quick simply because he knew that he was working in the name of Jesus.
As it was with Peter, so is it with everyone who makes this great discovery. When once we feel that God is using us, then every activity is quickened. Is the branch less active in the vine because it is abiding in the vine? Does it begin to say, I need not toil because my life is flowing from the stock? Why, brethren, it is that very fact, that inflow from a source beyond itself, that stirs it into life abundant. Let it be separated from the parent stern and every leaf upon the branch will wither and every tendril will lose its power to twine and every grape will dry and die. But let it live in union with that stock, drawing upon a power beyond itself, and every part of it is energized. Every leaf of the branch is busy now, a little kingdom of organized activities. Every grape, like the old temple, is being built without the sound of tools. And all this, mark you, this unwearied toil as if a thousand unseen hands were occupied, begins and has its being in the fact that the branch is not a fountain but a channel. So is it, I say, with every man when he first thrills to think that God is using him. It does not weaken him. It strengthens him. It makes him not less industrious, but more. Everything that we do is better done, more purely, more intensely, and more patiently, when it is done in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Working in Christ’s Name Results in Calmness of Heart
Now, when we grasp that thought and apply it to our duties, two results are almost always found. Of these two the first is this, a certain calmness and peace of the heart.
Readers of the Gospel story have often noted the perfect peace of Christ. It breathes upon us as a breath from heaven in every page of the evangelists. Never was a life so full as Christ’s. Never was one so busy or so broken. Well He knew what overpressure meant and all the vexatiousness of interruption. And yet the calmest sea of summer evening when not a ripple is playing on its surface does not convey to us such peace unutterable as does the life of the Lord Jesus. Now, if you want the secret of that peace, I think you have to turn to John to find it. It is in that Gospel that you see most clearly how Jesus looked upon His work. And the great fact that shines upon these pages is just the fact that Jesus was a channel, a channel deep beyond all human fathoming, for the conveyance of the Father’s will. No words of mine could exaggerate that thought. It is written large throughout the whole Gospel. Moment by moment, Jesus Christ is doing that which His Father has given Him to do. And the great peace that clothed Him like a garment and kept Him tranquil under intense pressure was just His certainty that this was so. A11 might forsake Him, but He was not alone. All might gainsay Him, but it mattered not. Christ was no fatalist who buoyed Himself with the dark sophism of the inevitable. He walked abroad in perfect filial freedom, grasping constantly His Father’s hand, and He was always tranquil in His work because His work was given Him by God.
Now, brethren, as it was with Christ, so in a measure is it with us all. To feel that God in Christ is working through us is one of the surest secrets of tranquility. Men have often noted the great calm that is one of the most common virtues of the fatalist. He will face death after the manner of heroes; he will suffer in quietness where we would cry aloud; he will display the magnificence of patience just because his heaven is dark with fate. Now no man who believes in Christ can ever seek the refuge of the fatalist. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. He is the Son, and He hath made us free. But what I say is that that quiet heart, touched with a happiness he never knew, is yours and mine more than the fatalist’s when once we grasp the doctrine of our text. Think of yourself as the one worker, and ah, how soon the burden overwhelms you. How quickly do things get in disarray, how often are you on the margin of despondency. But think of yourself as God would have you think, as but the channel for the will divine, and into every day there will come peace. You cannot be spoiled by your successes now, for it is not you who are triumphing but God. You cannot be shattered by your failures now, for God has His own purposes in failure. Through you the will of heaven is being done. Through you the infinite is finding utterance. Once let a man or woman wake to that and peace shall flow upon him like a river.
Working in Christ’s Name Kills the Bitterness of Competition
It is thus, too, let me say in passing, that the bitterness of competition dies away. I have more faith in this text for that than in all the propaganda of the socialist. Here for example are two ministers whose churches are not far from one another. Or here again there are two Sunday school classes whose teachers’ are from the same church. Well now, if these ministers or teachers think of all they are doing as their own, I say there is almost certain to be bitterness. All success that may attend the one will stir a pang of envy in the other. There may be all the semblances of brotherhood, but never the true brotherhood of hearts. There is but one way to make sure of that—to make us comrades while we are still competitors—and that is to feel that at the back of all both bear the name of Jesus Christ. Then shall we strive our hardest for our own, but never shall we begrudge another’s striving. The very power that is using him is flowing to its accomplishment in us. So are we summoned from our isolation and called in service to the truest unity, a unity that is a living thing because of the diversity it holds. I have spoken of ministers and Sunday school teachers, but remember these are only examples. Lawyers and doctors, artists, men of trade, remember that the same applies to you. I want you to feel today about your rival of whom so often you have had bitter thoughts that God is moving to express Himself through him as surely as through you. That will not make him any less your rival. God has no purpose to abolish rivalry. When He does that, the rose will cease to charm and the iris to change upon the burnished dove. But now from the breast of rivalry has vanished that gnawing bitterness which made it hell. We are the thousand channels of the one, and of every channel He has need.
Working in Christ’s Name Gives Dignity to Human Labor
There are times, I take it, in all callings, when men feel bitterly the sense of pettiness. To some it becomes almost intolerable that they should be living such a petty existence. They know the stirring of a larger life; they hear the whispering of undeveloped powers; they feel that they were meant for greater things and could achieve them if the way were open. Yet every morning they must return to duty, to undistinguished and often sordid duty, and it is very far from easy in that duty to keep alive the nobility of work. We, the ministers of Jesus Christ, through your liberality are set apart. You have said to us, You go apart, my brother, and traffic with heaven while we are in the market. Then come to us upon the Lord’s day and give us some of the riches of your argosy, for we are soiled in battling with the world. Would you not think, sir, that a toil like that would be illumined with a constant dignity? Alas, how far is that from being the truth. How much have we to do that seems unworthy. And what I say is that if even on us there steals too often the sense of degradation, how much more constantly must it intrude on you. You feel that you were meant for better things. Sometimes that buying and selling grows contemptible. You feel as Grotius felt, who on his deathbed said, “I have spent my life laboriously doing nothing.” What is the use of it all—this daily routine, this buying and selling for a little money, this drudgery that we lay down tonight only to resume tomorrow morning?
The Gospel understands that as it understands our complex nature. And the relief it offers against that is found in the thought of our great text. True to the heavenly wisdom which inspires it, it never loses its feeling of proportion. It does not mock you by assuring you that every service is of equal glory. But it relieves you from the sense of pettiness, inevitably, perfectly, immediately, the moment you deeply feel that what you do is done in the name of the Lord Jesus. The smallest token is a lovely thing when there is a heart that loves behind it. A single word may be a cheering thing when behind it is a heart of trust. So when behind our labor there is Christ, when we are the instruments of Christ, then the sorriest drudgery of earth begins to wear a crown upon its head. Once you feel that everything you do is God seeking to express Himself, once realize that you are but a conduit for the out flowing of the will divine, and as the dustiest hedge will flash and sparkle under the glistening dew of the May morning, so will the lowliest labor be ennobled. It is not you who are working now. It is Jesus who is working through you. It is His will that is being done on earth in every labor that you set your hand to. And this, remember, is as true when you are cleaning dishes or selling at a counter as when you are teaching in the Sunday school or preaching the riches of His grace.
God Fulfills Himself in Many Ways
For we must never forget, to put it in the language of the poet, that God fulfills Himself in many ways. Those of us who have sailed upon the Rhine know what a mighty stream it is as it flows proudly through the heart of Europe. It sweeps along in its channel, powerful in its silence and its swiftness. And many a vineyard ripens on it shores and many a castle looks down upon its waters. But when it comes at last into that region which is to join its waters to the sea, there the single channel becomes fifty. And some of them are great and noble streams, and some of them are tiny rivulets. And some of them wash the walls of busy cities, and some go wandering in lonely places. Yet every channel, be it great or little, be it the haunt of commerce or of dream, is carrying the one river to the sea. Say not that the tiny rivulet is different from the flood where steamers ply. Both are flowing because behind them both is the one mighty volume of the Rhine. And so behind your life and mine, however different these lives may be, is the one river of the will of God. It is His will that is finding its fulfillment wherever a mother is working in her home. It is His will that is finding its fulfillment in the honest labor of the shop and office. And the great secret that redeems our toil and robs it of its depressing pettiness is just to realize that that is so.
One of the few men of genius I have known was Professor Lord Kelvin. Well, I shall tell you one thing that always impressed me about Lord Kelvin; it was the number of people he kept busy. Some were busy working out his problems, some in superintending his experiments, many in making his innovative machines, and others I suppose in cleaning them. But what impressed me was how many men, from the apprentice to the finest engineer, were all required to carry out completely the workings of that single brain. Now, brethren, uplift your thoughts from men and fix them upon the genius of God. Think of the infinite life there is in God; think of the infinite thought which that implies. Then tell me how many thousand workers will be required upon this earth of ours if in its height and depth that will of God is to be carried out into expression. I want you to feel that there is room for you. I want you to feel that there is need of you. I want you to feel that through your lowly task, the Infinite is pressing to its utterance. And I say this, that when that breaks upon you with all the thrill of a new discovery, the sorriest drudgery a man is chained to ceases to be sorry from that hour.