“Witnesses for God” by E. J. Waggoner
Text: Acts 1:4-8:—
And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
The words essential to our discourse this morning are, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me.” It is now but a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not carry. We think of that time as of the greatest importance to us, because we have a case pending in court. We are now on trial, and soon the judgment will be pronounced, to decide our eternal destiny. But there is a good deal more pending in that heavenly court than that. God has a case there. He himself is on trial, and this fact with which we have to do is of far greater importance to us than the interests which pertain to ourselves alone.
Our attention has been called to the fortieth chapter of Isaiah; referring to that scripture again, and continuing into the forty-first chapter, we have this language: “Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.” Now the case is called, and silence is commanded in the court. The judgment is come, and the attention of all is drawn to the great event. Continuing into the forty-third chapter, the subject is there resumed:—
Fear not; for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west: I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him. Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and show us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth. Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour. I have declared, and have saved, and I have showed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.
God’s character is now on trial. He who is the accuser of the brethren is, above all, the accuser of God. He is a liar from the beginning, and in his first lie on earth he bore false witness against God. Speaking in his insinuating way, he said to the woman, “Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” His question implied an accusation of arbitrary power, of tyranny, and was calculated to awaken dissatisfaction and distrust in the mind of the woman. She replied: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it. lest ye die.” “Ye shall not surely die,” was the prompt response. In this temptation. God’s power was held up as arbitrary. He was represented as holding man in ignorance, lest he should assume some of the prerogatives that belong to him. Insinuation is the most cruel way in which a charge can be made. And even since that time, this charge has been raised against God. Says the skeptic, If God has all power, why does he let people suffer? Why does he permit sin? And thus the character of God is continually impeached.
Unbelievers say it openly; but how many of God’s professed people have been so influenced by that lie that they have not really known whether it were true or not? Notwithstanding that the whole earth is full of the goodness of God, the charge of unfair and unjust use of power, and of arbitrary government, and the direct impeachment of God’s character is continually raised against him.
Now the Lord says, Bring forth the blind that have eyes, and the deaf who have ears. We will have a trial of this matter. Bring forth your strong evidence. Produce your witnesses. Let all the nations be gathered together. Let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified, or let them hear, and say, It is truth. O, the marvelous forbearance of God, that all through these ages the Lord has borne with these things! He has been traduced and maligned, but has patiently waited his time. He declares, “I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.” Man has fallen in with the clamor of Satan, but God keeps quiet; not once does he become impatient or irritable, but he relies upon the future trial to demonstrate to the assembled universe the righteousness of his cause.
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
But God has left the vindication of his character to his children. He has, as it were, risked his character with men. David said, in his penitential psalm:—
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
Paul brings out the same idea when he says:—
Yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.
The time when we are judged is the time when God is judged. At that time all the dealings of God with his creatures will come up before the universe. The character of God as expressed in his government, and the whole story of his dominion, will come up there. Every man will have to participate in pronouncing judgment, for it is written,
“Every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess,” “that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father.”
Every man shall pronounce his own judgment, and, in pronouncing his own judgment, will declare the righteousness and justice of God’s character.
I am so glad that we have a chance to pass in our decisions now; for he who refuses to confess the righteousness of Christ now, will be compelled to acknowledge it them. The approval of God’s justice will be wrong from the hearts of his enemies. They will have to say in that day: “He is just; his ways are right and true,” even though they say in their hearts, “I hate him.”
The opportunity is given to us now to testify for God. “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord.” God desires that all shall go out and testify to his goodness now. When a witness is sworn in court, he promises to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. God will not ask less. “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen.” This chosen servant is Christ, and we are linked with Christ in this case. We are to testify to the character of our Heavenly Father, and Christ will testify to the same. Paul says of him, that he witnessed a good confession before Pontius Pilate. His mission was to bear witness to the truth. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” You and I are called to the same work. Christ came to this world to reveal his Father. The message is, “Behold your God.” God has not left himself without a witness. We may learn of God in nature; in the grass, in the flowers, in the trees, in every living thing, “seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” But his plan will not be complete till his people bear witness to his glory and to the perfection of his character. In Christ, the great Witness of the Father, dwelt the fulness of the godhead; and as he was, so are we to be in this world. He said, “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.” And in the person of the Holy Spirit, Christ dwells in the hearts of his people.
Read Ephesians 3:16-19:—
That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
If anything less than the fulness of God be in us, we cannot witness for him. God’s faithful witnesses, seen in the starry heavens, bear continual testimony to his glory; but they speak no word. So with us. The strongest witness we can bear to the character of God, is a life that is consistent with that character. And this is not true of the preachers only, but of every child of God. And this life can only be lived through the power of the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us. God has sent us into the world in order that, as Christ bore witness to the truth, so we should bear witness to the truth; so that, Christ living in us, our lives may testify to the glory of God. Does any one say that this is impossible? Those who doubt God’s power to do this work will have no part in it. Like the nobleman of old who said in the time of famine, “Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?” And to him it was answered, “Thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof.” “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” It takes the power of the Holy Ghost to make us witnesses for God. It is an awful thing to bear false witness in court; how much more terrible it is when God has entrusted himself and his character to us, that we should misrepresent and bear false witness to his goodness.
God has left in our hands his own character. He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. We, in Christ’s stead, say to the world, “Be ye reconciled to God.” Dare any of us, then, go forth, presuming to be a witness for God in any place, without knowing that God is with us of a truth? Every should is called to bear witness that God is in him, as though God were living his life and doing his work through him. But you and I have had so little power to take men where they are, and make them living witnesses for God, that the cause of Christ has been greatly hampered. We have had so little faith, either for ourselves or for others, that we have not encouraged men to trust in God. Men have been taught to look for places where they could keep the Sabbath; the first thing is to look for places where we can better ourselves and get with Sabbath-keepers. God does not want us to do that. God wants us to be lights in this world, and to shine wherever he places us. What is a candle worth that will burn only in the fire? There is power in God to help. There is power in God to transform even the beasts of the field, for we read in Isaiah 11:6-11:—
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together: and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar and from Hamath, and from the Islands of the sea.
And then, as we continue to read,—
And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.
There will be no contention among brethren; there will be no feelings of envy or jealousy; the power of God will not be used in that way. There will be enemies, but the fear of the Lord shall be upon them. There will be with the people of God in that day the same power, with which he led his people out of Egypt; and as they go forth, nations shall know that God is with them. The same work will then be done as was done upon the day of Pentecost, and the same power be manifested, only in a greater degree. Too often in the past we have used our power to vex; we have envied one another. But when that work is manifest, and God’s power is placed upon us, his power will not be used in that way. That Spirit resting upon us will settle all difficult problems, and make plain before us all our duty, and all the brethren will see eye to eye. In our experiences in this meeting we have seen how God can bring us to see eye to eye. It is not by might or power, but by the Spirit of God. Some have felt troubled because so little work has been done in this Conference. But it is not here that the work of the Lord is done; it is our work to show forth God in our lives as we go forth. It is nothing short of a miracle that God can reveal himself in us. The power that can take sin out of us and put Christ into us, is nothing less than the mighty power of God.
But the apostles did not always go about with the burden of this power resting upon them. They were not always speaking with tongues. They were not always raising the dead and doing mighty miracles. But, as the rod lay passive in the hands of Moses, so we should lie in the hands of God. We are poor, helpless sticks, and nothing but sticks. We are only dust; but God can take of the dust of the earth and set it over the works of his hands; not in his place, but in his stead. And when the work is done, it will be of God only. When human power was presented to Christ, he fled from it; he hid himself; and we must learn to be possessed of the same Spirit, that when the temptation of human authority and power comes to us, we shall resist it. To us it is given to draw water from the wells of salvation. Christ was continually giving of the water of life to the people. He was giving his life when speaking at the well of Samaria, as much as upon the cross of Calvary. If any man thirst, let him come to Christ, and drink. And just as Christ was a fountain of life, so every one that comes to him and drinks will become a fountain of living water, and others will come to him and drink. “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” And “he that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
It is the divine commission to go forth, bearing the life of God. God pity the minister who has no other credentials than those written on a piece of paper. Every Christian has credentials from heaven. Our God is a mighty God. He dwells in heaven, and hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. Shall we continue to bear his name in vain? God gives to us the name that pleases him. Shall we not represent that name to the world? Dare we go out from this place, and run the risk of bearing false witness of God? We have no need to do this. The Spirit of God is waiting to live in us and to make us faithful witnesses. That Spirit can take away not only sin, but the love of sin, when we come to the point where we can adopt the language we have sung:—
“The dictates of thy sovereign will,
With joy our grateful hearts receive;
All thy delight in us fulfill:
Lo, all we are, to thee we give.”
God can do mighty works in us and through us, but the glory must be to him, and not to us. To my mind the most marvelous thing is that God can take us, so weak, so frail, so full of pride and conceit, so ready to arrogate power to ourselves, and yet through us he can manifest himself without our being lifted up. The Spirit of God brings us power, but keeps us humble.
“To thy sure love, tender care,
Our flesh, soul, spirit, we resign;
O, fix thy sacred presence there,
And seal the abode forever thine!”
Brethren, are we coming to the place where we shall no longer play with the truth? The power of God is in the truth. We do not seek for miracles, but we should seek for the transforming power of the Spirit of God. The power of God in us seeks for utterance and expression. It has been too long repressed. The Lord still waits for us. He does not become impatient with us; and bears with us because he has his character at stake. The only way in which he can demonstrate the perfection of his character, and take away his reproach, is in perfecting a people to his praise. He is able to accomplish this in us. Shall we let God have a chance? Shall we let the people know that God is with us, that they may see him and know him?
Abstract of a sermon by Ellet J. Waggoner preached before the General Conference, March 6, 1897