XX. POWER AND WEAKNESS
`He hath said unto me, My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore will I glory in my weaknesses, that the strength of Christ may rest upon me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses: for when I am weak, then am I strong.' -- 2 Cor. 12:9,10
There is almost no word that is so imperfectly understood in the Christian life as the word weakness. Sin and shortcoming, sluggishness and disobedience, are set to the account of our weakness. With this appeal to weakness, the true feeling of guilt and the sincere endeavour after progress are impossible. How, pray, can I be guilty, when I do not do what it is not in my power to do? The Father cannot demand of His child what He can certainly do independently. That, indeed, was done by the law under the Old Covenant; but that the Father, under the New Covenant, does not do. He requires of us nothing more than what He has prepared for us power to do in His Holy Spirit. The new life is a life in the power of Christ through the Spirit.
The error of this mode of thinking is that people estimate their weakness, not too highly, but too meanly. They would still do something by the exercise of all their powers, and with the help of God. They know not that they must be nothing before God. (Rom. 4:4,5; 11:6; 1 Cor. 1:27,28) You think that you have still a little strength, and that the Father must help you by adding something of His own power to your feeble energy. This thought is wrong. Your weakness appears in the fact that you can do nothing. It is better to speak of utter inability -- that is what the Scriptures understand by the word `weakness.' `Apart from me ye can do nothing.' `In us is no power.' (2 Chron. 16:9; 20:12; John 5:19; 15:5; 2 Cor. 1:9)
Whenever the young Christian acknowledges and assents to this his weakness, then he learns to understand the secret of the power of Jesus. He then sees that he is not to wait and pray to become stronger, to feel stronger. No: in his inability, he is to have the power of Jesus. By faith he is to receive it; he is to reckon that it is for him, and that Jesus Himself will work in and by him. (John 15:5; 1 Cor 1:24; 15:10; Eph. 1:18,19; Col. 1:11) It then becomes clear to him what the Lord means when He says, `My power is made perfect in your weakness.' He knows to return the answer, `When I am weak, then am I -- yea, then am I -- strong.' Yea, the weaker I am, the stronger I become. And he learns to sing with Paul, `I shall glory in my weaknesses.' `I take pleasure in weaknesses.' `We rejoice when we are weak.' (2 Cor. 11:30; 12:9,11; 13:4,9)
It is wonderful how glorious that life of faith becomes for him who is content to have nothing, or feel nothing, in himself, and always to live on the power of his Lord. He learns to understand what a joyful thing it is to know God as his strength. `The Lord is my strength and song.' (Ps. 89:18; 118:14; Jer. 12:2) He lives in what the Psalms so often express: `I love Thee, O Lord, my strength;' `I will sing of Thy strength: unto Thee, O my strength, will I sing praises.' (Ps. 18:2; 28:7,8; 31:5; 43:2; 46:2; 59:17,18; 62:8; 81:2) He understands what is meant when a psalm says, `Give strength to the Lord: the Lord will give strength to His people;' and when another says, `Give strength to God: the God of Israel, He giveth strength and power to His people.' (Ps. 29:1,11; 68:35,36) When we give or ascribe all the power to God, then He gives it to us again.
"I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the Evil One." The Christian is strong in his Lord: (Ps. 71:16; 1 John 2:14) not sometimes strong and sometimes weak, but always weak, and therefore always strong. He has merely to know and use his strength trustfully. To be strong is a command, a behest that must be obeyed. On obedience there comes more strength. `Be strong ... and He shall strengthen thine heart.' In faith the Christian must simply obey the command, `Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.' (Ps. 27:14; 31:25; Isa. 40:31; Eph. 6:10)
The God of the Lord Jesus, the Father of glory give unto us the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Jesus, that we may know what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe. Amen.
1. So long as the Christian thinks of the service of God or of sanctification as something that is hard and difficult, he will make no progress in it. He must see that this very thing is for him impossible. Then he will cease still endeavouring to do something; he will surrender himself that Christ may work all in him. See these thoughts set forth in detail in Professor Hofmeyr's book, Out of Darkness into Light: a Course of Instruction on Conversion, the Surrender of Faith, and Sanctification * (J.H. Rose, Cape Town), chapter third and following of the third part.
2. The complaint about weakness is often nothing else than an apology for our idleness. There is power to be obtained in Christ for those who will take the pains to have it.
3. `Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.' Mind that. I must abide in the Lord and in the power of His might, then I become strong. To have His power I must have Himself. The strength is His, and continues His; the weakness continues mine. He, the Strong, works in me, the weak; I, the weak, abide by faith in Him, the Strong; so that I, in the self-same moment, know myself to be weak and strong.
4. Strength is for work. He who would be strong simply to be pious, will not be so. He who in his weakness begins to work for the Lord, shall become strong.
* Professor N.J. Hofmeyr is senior professor of the Theological College of the Dutch Reformed Church, Stellenbosch, Cape Colony. The volume referred to has been recently published in English under the title, The Blessed Life: How to Find and Live It (J. Nisbet & Co.), (vide P. 185). -- Translator