The Power of God unto Salvation – Romans 1:14-17; I Corinthians 1:17-18

Did you know that the coronavirus is a relatively large molecule as viruses go? And yet, I have read, a hundred million corona particles can sit on the head of a pin. And by the way, it usually takes a hundred million of those particles to begin to infect someone. When that virus does infect and multiply, the effects are devastating to a human respiratory system. The point is: powerful things – and terrible effects – can be contained in tiny packages.
Our subject this morning is the power of God. Now, the God to whom I refer is “Elohim,” the Almighty God – not some imitation or make-believe God. The power of Elohim is unlimited, and it is uncontainable when men get it in their heads to try to thwart it. Just as science hasn’t come up with a way to stop a hurricane out in the Atlantic Ocean, and there is no cork, or fountain of water, or atomic bomb which can stop a raging volcano, even so when God flexes his little finger – things happen, and mankind has to step back or die.
Just as God’s power can be seen in the hurricane and earthquake, it can also be seen in the virus and mosquito. Sometimes God’s power can be seen by the eye, and it can be felt by the flesh. But at other times, it is as silent and incidental as a thought of the heart. I have quoted Proverbs 21:1 many times over the last few weeks – “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” That speaks of God’s sovereign omnipotence. And it speaks of your heart as well as the king’s.
Paul refers to the power of God in his letters to the Christians both in Rome and in Corinth. ( I wonder if it means something that both references come in the introduction – the first chapters.) While Paul speaks of God’s dynamic, life changing power – His “dunamis” – His dynamite – the subject is not about geologic or continental-size changes – caused by earthquakes and tsunamis. His subject is the good news of salvation through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
The faithful gospel preacher may be aware of that divine power working in the heart of someone. And he may refer to it by pointing to the Holy Spirit’s conviction of the sinner – that broken heart, that surrender to God which was so impossible a week before. Generally speaking, the power of God in the gospel is not obvious to the person being regenerated until after the fact and the person can look back on it. And not only is the power of God seen in the actual new birth of a saint, the resurrection of a once sin-dead heart, with the provision of a new love, a new hope, and a new destiny… But God’s power can often be seen in the steps the Lord takes in bringing that sinner to the point of salvation.
Some Biblical examples of the power of God in the saving of souls.
Saul of Tarsus was instantly changed from a Satanic rebel to a humble child of God through the power of the new birth. It is undeniable in Acts 9 that Saul was not seeking the truth; but He who is the Truth sought him – and crushed him. Furthermore, looking back we can also see the sovereign power of God working through a number of steps to eventually bring Saul to his knees – the cross, Gamaliel, Stephen, even Satanic victories.
We could take a similar stroll through the Bible to see the power of God working unto salvation in the lives of others. There is the history of Lydia, whom God had chosen to save before the foundation of the world. Look at the way God directed her to Philippi and then in sending Paul to the same place, when it was not his desire to go there. Her Jewish heart was then opened to the gospel whereas so many of her kinswomen were not. “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” It was the power of God, which opened that heart, that power and is a part of Paul’s statements in Romans and Corinthians.
We could talk about the Ethiopian Eunich, whom Philip led to Christ, and about many others, who you probably know.
Earlier this morning, I asked Brother Fulton to read from John 9. I had two reasons for choosing this scripture. First, that blind man experienced the miraculous power of God – both in being physically cured, but also in his salvation. He had apparently known nothing of the Lord until that day. I believe that the man was born from above. And he was brought to faith in Christ through the wisdom of God’s providence. The second thing I wanted you to see is that when asked about the change in his life, he responded the only way he knew how. He said, “When it comes to these theological questions you have about the man who healed me, I’m not smart enough to answer at the moment, but there is one thing I know for sure.” “He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”
This is where the tires of our Christian ministry meet the road. Those Jewish Pharisees, like all Pharisees, were not interested in the man’s theology, even though they asked about it. They wouldn’t have listened to a dozen scriptures, if the man had them, because their mind’s were made up. But he gave them the best possible answer – “One thing I know… whereas I was blind, now I see.” “I was a lost, hell-bound sinner, but the power of God fell on me and now I have a new heart, and I love the One who saved me.” As Christians our best witness is to “speak the things which we have (personally) seen and heard.”
Some non-Biblical examples of the power of God unto salvation.
For the rest of our message this morning, I am going to break one of my personal rules for preaching. In order to illustrate the power of God which is unto salvation, I’m going to give you illustrations. Over the last several years, I’ve read through thousands of pages of biography, and I’ve gone through the testimonies of several hundred saints of God. I am hoping that as I share some of those testimonies with you, one or two will touch your hearts and point you to “the power of God which is unto salvation.”
Burgiss Allison was born in 1753 in Bordentown, New Jersey. As a child he devoted himself to prayer and Bible study, but his life changed while at boarding school. Because of the teasing and persecution of other kids, he abandoned his religious routine, and among other things began “desecrating the Lord’s day” with games and excursions. On one of his Sunday frolics he and some friends were out on a boat when a God-directed storm came up – they capsized and nearly drowned. He announced to his friends that he was dedicating himself to God – but unfortunately it was all in the flesh. Over time, he felt unable to merit Heaven so he decided to trust the Saviour to make up the difference – He let Christ save him where he came up short and couldn’t save himself. He worked for eternal life, but continually fell under the power of temptation and sin. He knew that genuine Christians had something which he lacked, but he had no power to see it.
And then in his own words, “As I was taking a solitary walk, more disturbed in mind than usual, all at once a ray of Divine light broke into my soul, and I was filled with wonder and joy. I beheld in my imagination the blessed Saviour, full of compassion, and ready to receive me, notwithstanding the vileness I now saw in myself. Immediately I cast myself upon Him. I felt emptied of self. The demands of the law I saw to be answered in Him. My feet seemed to placed on a rock, and a new song put into my mouth. I stood astonished – so wonderful did the way of salvation through a Redeemer appear, and so utterly different from any views I had ever before experienced.”
There was no preacher present, no tract in his hand, no Bible – just the power of God unto salvation.
The testimony of Joshua Callaway is no more theological than that of the man born blind, but, after all, he was only eleven. “My soul was troubled, because I had sinned, and I was a sinner against a good and holy God. These troubles more or less, continued with me until December 1800. When one night, I was laying on my bed, afraid to go to sleep… for fear that I should be lost, both soul and body, it did appear to me that I saw a way by which I could be saved, and the way of salvation through Jesus Christ did appear so complete and glorious. I did verily think that any and all might be saved if they would only look to that blessed Saviour. Here my troubles were all banished.”
The Callaway family were Baptists, and Joshua had often heard the gospel. But until that cold night in December, the gospel was just words, until the power of God made them live. He had been prepared by the providence of God, and he was saved by the power of God.
Are you familiar with the conversion of Adoniram Judson? Judson attended the Baptist college of Rhode Island, but while there he and a friend, Jacob Eames, embraced the unchristian doctrines of Deism. Despite his lack of faith he earned the position of class valedictorian – proving he had a sharp mind. After graduation he opened a school of his own, but he didn’t have the self-discipline to keep it operating. While jobless, he traveled somewhat, and one night found himself in an Connecticut inn. His room was separated by only curtain from the next room, from which he could hear the disturbing sounds of a dying man. The next morning, he asked about the man and was told that he had passed away. When he asked the man’s name, he heard that it was his unbelieving friend Jacob Eames. God raised up the words, “dead” and “lost” in his heart. They began ringing in his ears. He couldn’t escape them. The inescapable power of God brought him to his knees, and he was converted to Christ in December 1808.
Here is the testimony of Morgan Edwards to the power of the gospel. “I was formerly as wild and as worthless as any other; and should have been so yet had not the unmerited love of God laid hold of me, and raised me to the state I am in now.” He is referring to the power of God. “I can remember my convictions and conversion: I know how God in kindness broke in upon me when I, like the Israelites at Mount Sinai feared and trembled; when the pains of hell got hold of me He then said to me, ‘fear not for I am thy God, be not dismayed for I am with thee:’ He then said to me thy sins are forgiven be of good cheer; He then seals his love to me and in the interim my heart filled with love to him, all my soul was kindness and affection, and tho’ a little before I was in such bondage that [if] all the world were to tell me that God would not forgive me I would not believe; but then again if the world were to tell me that I should die eternally I could not credit them.” The power of the gospel was so strong upon that man, the thought that he could still be lost was totally beyond him.
Silas Mercer was saved by the power of God unto salvation. Silas was raised to be an Episcopalian like his father. At the age of 18 he became sick – so sick it was feared he would die, so he asked his father to pray for him. James Mercer opened up his “Book of Common Prayer” and found a few appropriate words to read. Silas closed his eyes with a misery in his heart, expecting never to open them again. But he did. As the sickness began the young man made promise after promise to God, but once he regained his health he broke them all, and in the process became more and more miserable. Eventually, he gave up any hope in finding Spiritual peace. It would take a miracle of power and grace. But slowly his personal opinions of sin became a conviction from the Holy Spirit – there is a difference. It was a year and a half before he had any peace. He pictured himself to be like Moses who “viewed the beautiful hills, valleys and rivers of the earthly Canaan, without permission to enter it.” It wasn’t by education; it wasn’t by preaching; it wasn’t by personal insight, but after months and months, the love of God finally became real to him. While thinking about the phrase, “unto you who believe he is precious” he found that the Lord Jesus was indeed precious.
“I then had my first discovery of JEHOVAH’S being self-moved to save lost souls, destitute of a claim on a single attribute of his nature. I saw that it was pure, and sovereign love in GOD, that caused his dear SON, to leave his shining seat above, and come with joyful haste, to save those who might have been justly left to the eternal consequences of their rebellion, though he knew he must be made a sacrifice for their sins, by the ignominious death of the cross. I saw that CHRIST, by obeying the precepts, and bearing the penalty of the divine law, triumphing over death and hell, ascending to glory, and interceding for his people, had removed every obstacle to their salvation.”
From where do dreams come? James Ireland was born in Scotland in 1745. He was about 18 when he settled in Northern Virginia. About that time he began to have a recurring dream in which the Devil laid hold on him and dragged him toward hell. Just as he was about to open its iron gates and Ireland could feel its intense heat, a long silver rope wrapped him under his arms and pulled him back to the place where the dream began. He had this same dream over and over again.
The vividness of the dream caused him to reform his life, but inevitably he’d return to his sinful ways. Over and over again, just like the dream, the circle was repeated – reform, sin – reform, sin – until he began to successfully see more religion and less sin. He later said, “if heaven could have been obtained by the exercise of human endeavors, and self-sufficiency, I perhaps, might have laid in for a claim.” While his piety, his religiousness, increased over the next few months, he remained unconvinced of his salvation – as should have been the case, because moral righteousness does not save. Eventually, while prayer with some Christian acquaintances, “it pleased God to shed abroad His rich love and grace in my heart; I view then the glorious Redeemer as my Saviour.” James Ireland was intrenched in his man-based salvation, but it rendered him miserable. And then suddently, in stepped God and his powerful salvation, and the man was born again.
Elisha Hutchinson was born in 1749 in Sharon Connecticut; He was born again at the age of 20. “At this period, being at work alone in the field, I had suddenly a view of the beauty, and glory, and goodness of the Divine character, and at the same time such an affecting view of the hatefulness of myself and the dreadful evil of sin, that my heart was filled with inexpressible shame and sorrow. At length I recovered my consciousness, and found myself upon my hands and knees drenched in tears. Upon this, a new scene was before me. My future misery were removed; the world and all its pleasures appeared empty and worthless; the saints appeared lovely; the Bible was a new book, full of wonders and glories. I had a disposition to pray to God, and to bless his name. I had a deep sense of the deplorably dangerous condition of sinners, and a great desire for their conversion to God. I had also a view of the ability and willingness of Christ to save sinners; and hence the burden of my prayer was, that they might be saved, and that I might in some way become and instrument of their salvation.” One of the effects of the great power of the gospel is to give new believers a desire to serve the Saviour.
Can God reach into a 90-year-old heart and save that wicked soul? It does not happen often, but it does happen. At how early an age can the power of God in the gospel save a soul? Eight, six, five? Mary Elizabeth Blain was five-years-old when the Holy Spirit began convicting her of sin. She would often go to her parents, weeping, pleading with them to pray that God would forgive her sins. Her biographer says that two years later she was born again.
“Alone one day with her mother, they together prostrated themselves before God, and wept, and prayed, and wrestled, as did the patriarch at the ford of Jabbock, until Mary Elizabeth’s strength was nearly exhausted. But He who hears the contrite sinner’s cry, was near at this solemn hour, (chronicled forever in the heart of both parent and child,) and his kind hand lifted up the bowed spirit, and whispered peace and hope. Fear, remorse, and anguish, were at once swallowed up in an overwhelming tide of joy and love. Rising from her knees, she turned to a window. A new world seemed to have opened before her. The glory of the Lord, which, before, her unrenewed heart had not perceived, was shining in every thing the eye beheld. All nature proclaimed his goodness and love; and her young heart broke forth in gratitude and praise. “
As Mary matured she began to teach and write. Those who knew her had no doubt that she was a child of God, and the power of God came on her when she was only 7 years old.
One of the great mysteries of God’s power is how at times the Lord uses another person to strike at a sinner’s heart without either person knowing what is taking place. Elisha Williams and his bride lived in the wilds of Maine. Settling into his new home, he ran into a new sect of people who called themselves “Baptists.” Hoping to be entertained, he went to the school house where Eliphalet Smith was to preach. The man’s sermon text shot at the heart of the very doctrines Williams most highly hated. His message came from “Matthew 3:7 – “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Point by point the minister intellectually destroyed the opinions of the hearer. As he later said, “His refuge of lies was battered down over his head,” and he hated the preacher more and more with every sentence he spoke.
His biographer, citing Williams’ later testimony, put it this way – “On this occasion, the good man drawing his bow at a venture, drove an arrow into his heart. So vividly, as in transparencies of ingratitude and rebellion against God, did he paint the scenes of his own life, that his knees smote together and his spirit sunk within him. With a deep conviction of his destitution of any hope in the mercy of God, only as it beamed from the face of the crucified Saviour, he returned home with convictions almost too painful to be endured, and a heart too full for utterance. Strange as it seemed to him, those doctrines which he once hated, he now loved. He now contentedly believed, what he could not, in all its parts, comprehend, and received, as his faith what he could not fully explain, and as in a fast anchorage, cast his hopes in those doctrines which he once supposed had not the permanency of the morning vapor.”
God had given him a new heart. That is the power of the gospel
It is not the logic of the preacher, or even the simple Biblical words of God, which brings a sinner to his knees before the Lord. It isn’t the will or the mind of a man which brings him to the Saviour. It is the power of the Holy Spirit working on the rock solid heart of the sinner.
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” And as is so often the case, those whom the Lord saves were once among those who earlier called the preaching of the cross “foolishness.” Not only is God’s power seen in the actual regeneration of the dead soul, but also in the circumstances which brought that lost soul into a position to receive God’s eternal blessing. I hope that one day, you all might be able to look back, like Paul, or Lydia, or any of these others and see the omnipotent hand of God moving to bring you to faith in Christ. In the mean time – at this point in time – I plead with you to repent before God and to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. “Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”