POWER LOST AND RECOVERED

 

By

 

D. M. PANTON, M. A.

 

A constant phase of today is the going down of leader after leader into a bankruptcy of power, or even into complete spiritual extinction: something hidden perhaps, of which none knows the secret but God, and there is a sudden fading of the old splendid glow.  So Samson is perhaps the most vivid example in the Bible of giant power, accompanied by an utter unconsciousness of danger - always the greatest danger of all - sinking in a moment into total moral bankruptcy.  Samson is an example etched in lightnings of what all of us may become: at first a spiritual giant; a doer of exploits vivid, dashing, marvellous; a solitary hero dominating a nation; a lonely warrior of God in his race and generation: then, a secret passion; a fearful public collapse; and only in the far sunset, a going out in a sudden burst of the old splendid power, after years of lost vision (the eyes put out) and a manacled life.

 

Samson is the summary of power resting on consecration; and his huge muscular strength is the Old Testament counterpart of spiritual dynamic in the New.  For Samson was not born strong: apart from the Spirit of God his stature was no more colossal, nor his muscle iron, than any other man's; but with him the on-fall of the Spirit was such, as was the clothing of the human with the naked power of the Holy Ghost, that one man - and that man unarmed - could rout three thousand.  And the symbolism is extraordinarily striking.  Unshorn locks falling down picture the descent of the Spirit, drenching him as the sacred Oil did Aaron; seven locks (Judges 16: 19), the plenitude of power; and locks untouchable, as the God-given symbol of his Nazarite consecration and the sole secret of his strength. The Nazarite who put a razor to his head knew that he had lost his consecration.  'Nazarite' means 'separated,' separated to God, a man whose power dwells solely in his separation; and the power remains so long as (contact with a corpse being forbidden) he is 'out of touch' with a dead world.   And the name 'Samson' means 'the sun,' or strength - the sun as it shineth in its strength; the chief receptacle and transmitter of the Light of the World.*  So Samson was no mere prodigy of brute force, but, as a unique example of Holy Ghost power, the very choice of his weapons, ridiculously inadequate, designedly revealed a power purely of God.

 

[* Our Lord's sevenfold unction (Is. 11: 2) in the perfect antitype of God's limitless deposited Light.]

 

Now Delilah appears upon the scene.  'Delilah' - meaning 'languishing,' seductive - is the embodiment and summary of all that is fair covering all that is false.  The Lion which Samson encountered and slew had nothing like the peril for him that Delilah had: it is safer to face open martyrdom than concealed lust: Delilah and Samson are always seen alone.  A secret passion mastered and threw him.  Delilah comes in many shapes: impurity; drunkenness; notoriety; reputation; popularity; power; money: and where drink or fornication slays its hundreds, money or popularity slays its tens of thousands.  Delilah is most dangerous when she is most concealed.  Already, earlier, this fatal self-indulgence had been foreshadowed when Samson, a Nazarite, had eaten honey out of the carcass of a dead world he had overcome.  Now another stage has been reached when, instead of using his power in routing God's enemies, he begins displaying it at the bidding of a harlot world.  On behalf of the Powers of Darkness behind her, Delilah now plies him, again and again, with the question of the source of his strength - "wherein his strength was great" - not that she might share it, but that she might steal it. No prayer; no alarm; no self-examination; no self-distrust; no self-denial: resting on a blind presumption of privilege, Samson confronts Delilah.

 

Now we get a parallel that could not be closer to the sapping seductions that bring down the loftiest spiritual characters with a crash. Three times Samson eludes the questioning of Delilah: three times she probes his secret, each time getting closer to its heart: yet all the time the power continues.  God never leaves His worker at the first sin; but interposes delays, warnings, and opportunities of repentance; and may even continue to use him mightily.* Broken withers, snapped cords, a dragged frame prove that nothing is yet irrevocably gone.  But each time, unheeding the red lights, Samson drew nearer betraying his trust, and each time he drew nearer with a lie - ever skating on thin ice, as when he wound his hair about the beam that might, if sharp-edged, have severed it.  All indulgence in sin is like feeding a tiger - each sop thrown has to be succeeded by a bigger.  And all the time, beneath the mighty iceberg the warm waters of temptation, dallied with and encouraged, are eating away the foundations of the glittering pinnacles, until suddenly - without a moment's warning - the huge berg gives one mighty heave, and is gone.

 

[* It is a striking proof that the baptism of power (Acts 1: 8) is not primarily in intent, nor necessarily in effect, a transmission of sanctity.  The idea, therefore, that the baptism of the Spirit produces an eradication of sin is a pure illusion. Corinth, the most miracle-gifted, was also the least sanctified Church.]

 

For now that moment has arrived for Samson.  What must never leave our memory is that, in exercising power we are dealing with a Person, who will act as He chooses, and when He chooses, and may stop the power at any moment: and we must also remember that the Spirit in power (as distinct from the Spirit in regeneration) is granted to Samson, not on the ground that he is an Israelite, but that he is a Nazarite; and therefore that power was not his inalienable possession, whether he used it or abused it, but was only sent to him for combating God's enemies.  The power seized him only when he was fighting the battles of God: rest, and we rust.  But how solemn Samson's ignorance of the Spirit's departure!  The machinery may still run for a little after the dynamo has ceased throbbing.  God can come in earthquake, but He can leave in shoes of silk"Samson wist not THAT THE LORD HAD DEPARTED FROM HIM." [*See footnote.]   Faculties that get numbed by sin, get numbed also 'sensing' the Spirit.  No outward event announced it; no great convulsion, no ringing alarum: while he was asleep the power departed.  A Christian worker can flatter himself, in the midst of his lusts, that his power is as it was in his consecration; but in the agony of the supreme need of the power, with everything at stake, in full view of a lifework's ruin, on the edge of a scandal to the world of the first magnitude, Samson shakes himself - and the power is gone.  For alas, how keen is the world's razor on the locks of consecration!  Samson never shaved his locks; he allowed himself in company where, falling into profound slumber, they were shaved for him: he had power to keep out of Delilah's company; but we can trifle once too often; we can sin away our freedom; the tide may have ebbed beyond recall while we slept.  Lock after lock falls, power ebbs with every slash, and Samson awakes to agony.  A picture follows of almost intolerable pathos.  God's mighty judge, the supreme leader of the only people of God in the world at that moment, is filling the office of a public buffoon, and dancing, in blundering blindness, to make sport for a hating, scorning, laughing mob.  Oh, the tragedy to which a backslider can come!  "And Samson made sport before them" (Judges 16: 25)

 

But now there rises before us as supreme a beacon-light against despair in the child of God as perhaps the whole Bible contains.  God preaches hope where the devil preaches despair.  "Howbeit the hair of his dead began to grow again AFTER he was shaven": the thick shaggy locks - sign-manual of the Nazarite - slowly reappeared in the long agony of the lonely vigil in the prison in Gaza. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew THEIR STRENGTH" (Isa. 60: 31): the broken consecration, which he realised had been his ruin, is now slowly restored: the controversy between God and his soul is over: the old power comes back with the old sanctity, and the old obedience.  It is true that Samson's eyesight was never restored.  Through his eyes he had sinned, and through his eyes he is punished; and the sight is gone for life.  There are scars that will never leave our backsliding souls: there are things we have lost - the freshness, the purity, the stainlessness, the blameless walk before men for a lifetime, which, in the nature of things, once lost, can never be restored; sin is always a horrible and bitter thing, and it is always most dangerous.  There are backsliders made permanent spiritual cripples by too prolonged a sojourn in the prodigal's Land.  Nevertheless the shaggy locks that mean the power of the Holy Ghost can grow again; for the discipline of sorrow can be the restoration of power; and the fountain of restoration lies in a burst of prayer - the first mention of Samson praying since he named the fountain (Judges 15: 19).  "And Samson called unto the Lord and said, O Lord God, remember me!"  It is a prayer wrung from his very heart.  He does not ask for the old life, or the old possibilities - those have gone never to return: nor does he plead the old consecration, for a razor has passed upon his head; and blinded eyes could no longer lead Israel's hosts into battle: nay, he actually asks that God will not save his life by any miracle - "Let me die," if only Thou wilt come back to me this once: "ONLY THIS ONCE, O God!"  It is the cry of Paul a thousand years later: "I hold not my life of any account, as dear unto myself, so that I may accomplish my course" (Acts 20: 24).  Victory at the last is dearer to Samson than life itself: it is ruin by lust,* restoration by prayer, and victory by martyrdom.

 

[* A razor could have slit Samson's throat as easily as his locks: it is solemn to remember that a Spirit-forsaken backslider can be more valuable to Satan than a dead saint.]

 

So we arrive at last at one of the most wonderful sunsets in Scripture.  In the thrilling words of Napoleon: "There is time to win a victory before the sun goes down."  As soon as Samson can pray, he is the hero again; the strength he lost by sin he regains by prayer; and lo, the Spirit of God falls once more upon the wrecked life!  "And he bowed himself with all his might" - it is the servant of God once more pouring his whole soul and strength into the work of God, using "the weapons of our warfare which are mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds" (2 Cor. 10: 4): "AND THE HOUSE FELL."  How marvellously God's grace can retrieve the fearful error of a lifetime!  The roof and galleries, crowded with their thousands, crash down upon the masses below: princes and priests, with the idol-cups to their lips, and the mockery of Jehovah in their songs, are snowed under by an avalanche of falling stone: a terrific crash, a fearful cry, and the temple is one vast sepulchre.  His last heroism cost Samson his life, but he instantly takes his place on the Gallery of God's Immortals (Heb. 11: 32): he stands once more, and for the last time, a giant among the enemies of God. "For the dead which he slew at his death were MORE than they which he slew in his life.The fearfully overcome can become the mighty overcomer: Samson gains the supreme victory of his life AFTER his great fall: the last evidence of strength was the greatest he ever displayed: the Spirit was never more with him than in his final fight for God: he leapt into the Glory from the tragic spectacle of a public shame. "A troop shall overcome him: BUT HE SHALL OVERCOME AT THE LAST" (Gen. 49: 19).

 

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FOOTNOTE

 

Does the Holy Spirit indwell a regenerate believer at all times, and regardless of his behaviour?  Many Christians believe so!  But, according to the Scriptures, this is not the case.  G. H. Lang has rightly written the following:-

 

" Twice in the history of Israel the visible house of God was destroyed and that thereupon Israel as a people ceased to have Him [God] dwelling among them.  Ps. 78: 56-61, stresses that the idolatries of Israel angered their God, "so that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which He had placed among men, and delivered His strength into captivity, and His beauty into the adversary's hand," whereupon the people themselves were destroyed by fire and sword.  The order is to be noted: first God forsook the house, then followed its destruction and that of the people.

 

Four centuries later this terrible double event was used by Jeremiah to warn the then people that their sins would bring a like recompense of reward and wrath: "Go ye now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I caused My name to dwell at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of My people Israel" (Jer. 7: 12; 26: 6).  Though wicked they are still acknowledged by God as His people.  Ezekiel saw the fulfilment of this warning (Ezek. 10: 18, 19; 11: 23). Reluctantly, by stages, the presence of God withdrew from the temple and the city, and destruction followed.

 

It were impossible, inconceivable, that Philistines could have destroyed the tabernacle or Caldeans the temple so long as the God of glory was in residence. It is equally inconceivable that Satan could have destroyed the body of the incestuous brother at Corinth, or other carnal Christians there, so long as the Spirit of God was in residence in them (1 Cor. 5: 5; 11: 30).  Types and histories agree to teach a withdrawal of the Spirit followed by the destruction deserved.  Twice it is affirmed in the Epistles that covetousness is idolatry (Eph. 5: 5; Col. 3: 5).  Covetousness is simply the longing to have more, whether much or little more being immaterial to the nature of the sin.  It implies dissatisfaction with the present ordering of God.  Shall this idolatry be less offensive to the holy and loving Father than the other form of idolatry that provoked His anger against Israel?

 

Nor can it be questioned that upon many a once Spirit-energised life there stands the dread notice "Ichabod," the glory is departed (1Sam. 4: 21).  As with an individual Christian so with a church.  To the Laodiceans the Lord speaks as from outside the house knocking for admission (Rev. 3: 20).  The Ephesians were warned of impending destruction as a church: "I come unto thee" (so that He was not then dwelling among them), "and will move thy lampstand out of its place, except thou repent" (Rev. 2: 5).

 

"Except thou repent": therefore restoration was possible as it was to Israel of old ... "As many as I love I reprove and chasten," which shows that it is real children of God who are thus reproved and chastened in order that they may "become zealous and repent" (Rev. 3: 19).  Carnal churches have been quickened and backslidden individuals have been restored, whereupon the Spirit of God has reoccupied the house and beautified it afresh."

 

"For this son of mine was DEAD and is alive AGAIN" (Luke 15: 24). The parable is one of restoration: not regeneration.

 

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