My dear brethren - I greatly value your prayers, and I feel intensely grateful for that Benjamin's share in them which is ever my portion. I never consciously needed your intercessions more than I do just now, for I may say with the psalmist, "He weakened my strength in the way." After my severe illness, I am trembling like a child who is only just commencing to use his feet. It is with difficulty that I keep myself up; what can you expect from one who can scarcely stand? During the last six weeks, I have considered from day to day what to say to you, but nothing has come of my consideration. My meditations have been a failure. I have gone to the pits and found no water, and returned with my vessel empty. My brain has been so occupied with sympathy for the poor body that it has not been able to mount aloft with the eagle, nor even to plume its wings for the lower flight which I must needs attempt this morning One thing, however, is clear,I am in special communion with my subject, and can speak, as the good old people used to say, "experimentally." I cannot, however, draw much aid from that fact; but I cast myself upon the power Divine, which has so many times been displayed in weakness. "The Lord hath been mindful of us: He will bless us."
I draw my subject from the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:10. "When I am weak, then am I strong." I shall not be guilty of uttering anything fresh upon my theme, neither shall I be able to say anything forcible upon it. The weak side of the experience will come out most observably; I can only pray that the strong side may not be hidden. My own feelings supply me with a commentary upon the text, and that is all the exposition I shall aim at. Our text is not only written in the Bible, but it is inscribed upon the lives of the saints. Though we are not apostles, and shall never be able to claim the inspiration of Paul,.yet in this one particular we are as instructed as he was, for we have learned by experience, "When I am weak, then am I strong." This sentence has passed into a Christian proverb; it is a paradox which has; ceased to perplex any child of God; it is at once a warning and a consolation, bidding the strong behold. the weakness of power, and setting before the feeble the strength of weakness.
Let it be understood, at the commencement, that OUR TEXT IS NOT TRUE IN EVERY SENSE IN WHICH IT MIGHT BE READ. Some brethren are weak with an emphasis, and always so; but I have never yet discovered that they are strong, except in the sense of being headstrong and willful. If obstinacy be strength, they are champions; and if conceit be strength, they are gigantic; but in no other respect are they strong.
Many are weak, and yet not strong: we must alter the text concerning them, and say, "When they are weak, they are weakness itself." There is a kind of weakness which we may well dread, it may steal over us insensibly; but it brings no strength, no honor, no virtue with it; it is evil, only evil, and that continually. With it; come unfitness for holy service and want of success; and unless infinite grace shall avert the calamity, there will arise out of it failure of character and defeat in life. May we never know the weakness which befell Samson after he had told his secret, and had lost his locks! He could not say, "When I am weak, then am I strong;" but rather, "When I am shorn, I am weak as other men." See what befalls him! "The Philistines be upon thee, Samson!" He cannot now smite them; he cannot protect his own limbs; he cannot guard his own eyes; he cannot obtain his own liberty. Blinded, he toils at the mill; the hero of Israel is become a slave to the uncircumcised Philistines! Alas, that such weakness should be possible to a man who had slain his thousands, and laid them heaps upon heaps! Oh, that such weakness should be possible to a man who had carried the gates of Gaza away on his shoulders, posts, and bars, and all! And yet it was so, and it may be so with us. "Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen!"
Brethren, we must strive against all weakness which leads to sin, lest to us also some Delilah should bring destruction. Samson's unshorn locks denoted his Nazarite consecration, and if we ever become weak through failure of consecration, such weakness will be fatal to true usefulness. If the man who had "none of self, and all of God," grows downward till he craves for "some of self, and some of God," he is in a sad condition. If he, who once lived to win souls, now lives to win silver and gold, his money shall perish with him; if he, who once was famous for devotion to his Master, becomes his own master, he shall be infamous; for I trow that, even if we do nothing wrong in the eyes of man, it is wrong enough to have declined from whole-hearted service for God. It is this that demons laugh at, and that angels marvel at;a man of God living like a man of the world! Even the Lord Himself stays a while to ask, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" The holy and the zealous grieve if they see a minister of Christ ministering to his own ambition. We are only strong as our consecration is perfect. Unless we live wholly for God, Gut strength will suffer serious leakage, and our weakness will be of that kind which degrades the believer till the ungodly scornfully inquire, "Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?"
We must, dear friends, never become weak in another sense, namely, in our communion with God David slackened his fellowship with God, and Satan vanquished him through Bathsheba; Peter followed afar off, and soon denied his Lord. Communion with God is the right arm of our strength; and if this be broken, we are weak as water. Without God, we can do nothing; and in proportion as we attempt to live without Him, we ruin ourselves. Alas! that the man who has seen the face of the Strong One, and has been made mighty, should forget where his great strength lieth, and so become sick and enfeebled! He who has suspended his visits to the banqueting-house of hallowed fellowship will be ill-fed, and will have to cry out, "My leanness! My leanness! Woe unto me!" He who walks not with the Well-beloved will soon be a Mephibosheth in the feet, and a Bartimaeus in the eyes; timorous in heart, and trembling at his knees. If we are weak in communion with God, we are weak everywhere. If a man can be strong without God, such dangerous strength may fall to the lot of the man who is out of communion; but if it be true that only as we hang upon the Lord are we strong, then broken fellowship will soon bring broken strength.
And, dear friends, there is a kind of weakness which I hope none of you will ever cultivate, though it seems greatly in favor at the present day, namely, weakness of faith; for when I am weak in faith, then I am not strong in the Lord. When a man doubts his God, he weakens himself. A little time ago, persons who were full of distrust and unbelief were regarded as the possessors of a deep experience; but I hope the age has for ever gone by in which unbelief shall be regarded as a qualification for eminent saintship. If the gospel message were, "He that doubteth, and is not baptized, shall be saved;" there are many who have made their calling and election sure; but while ours is a gospel of faith, unbelief can never be regarded with complacency. Faith is our battle-axe and weapon of war; woe to the warrior who forgets it! Therefore, brethren, let us separate between weakness and weakness,the weakness which is the token of strength, and weakness in faith which is the indication of spiritual decay.
I pray that we may' never be weak in love, but that we may become like Basil, "pillars of fire." Love is the greatest of all the powers which can possess the human breast. I must not compare love with other graces so as to depreciate any virtue; yet, of all active powers, love is the most forceful; for even faith worketh by love. Faith does not overcome men's hearts for Jesus until it takes to itself this wondrous weapon, and then believingly loves them to Christ. Oh, for a passionate love, a love which shall be a pure flame, burning to a white heat, and consuming us! May this sacred fire burn in the very center of our being! May we love our God intensely, and love the people for His sake! Brethren, be strong there! Depend upon it, if you leave off loving the people to whom you preach, and the truth you are ordained to proclaim, the state of the church will be "as when a standard-bearer fainteth." There may remain to you strength of passionate temper, strength to offend, and strength to scatter; but: the power of God will be withdrawn. You will, like Phaeton, try to drive the horses of the chariot of the sun; but they shall only hurry you to swift destruction...