Anyone who’s read C S Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia will recognize immediately that great spine-tingling line which comes from the lips of Mr Beaver – “They say Aslan is on the move.”
And something of the experience of the children in the book as they hear those words (“..each one of the children felt something jump in his inside..”) is felt by us as well when we catch the sense that the Lord, the great ‘Lion of Judah’, is on the move: because when the Lord is on the move, anything can happen!
History bears this out. From the mid 1730s onwards, for instance, and for the better part of half a century, there was a remarkable and prolonged period of revival in both Britain and America, during which all sorts of things started happening!
It came to be known as ‘The Great Awakening’, because, amidst sometimes astonishing scenes, literally tens of thousands of people, old and young alike, were .. well, ‘awakened’. Some were roused from their spiritual stupor, others were raised from their spiritual deadness, and all of them were brought to a pulsing, vibrant newness of life.
Jonathan Edwards was one of those who was on the spot to give an eye-witness account of all that took place. He got a bird’s eye view of it all from the pulpit as both a preacher and pastor: and as a theologian and philosopher of some considerable note, few were better placed in terms of biblical knowledge, pastoral experience, and intellectual acumen, to provide the sort of ‘expert analysis’ we look for from our pundits.
He’d already written his famous “Narrative of Surprising Conversions” (the full title runs to some 41 words, so if you’re OK with this shorter version we’ll stick with that!) in 1737. A few years later he’d had the opportunity not only to narrate, but also to reflect more fully on all that had been taking place. So in 1741 he wrote and published an essay called “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God” (again that’s the short title, though even that would have a publisher today twitchily clamouring for something rather snappier).
How can you tell when Aslan is on the move? That’s really the question the essay sought to address. How can you tell when the Spirit of God is at work? What are His regular ‘trademarks’? “The Holy Spirit’s Calling Cards” might well have been the title which a publisher today would choose.
Whatever you make of the title, however, the issue is important. If Aslan is on the move, well, you need to know: it’s never a time to be napping. So ‘discerning the signs’ is a skill we’re encouraged to foster: like the men of Issachar long, long ago, those men who, we’re told, had “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron.12.32), our task, as I said last month, is to watch what the Father is doing, and discern the ‘trademark’ pointers to the Lord being ‘on the move.’
For there are, indeed, certain characteristic hallmarks of the Holy Spirit, character traits, as it were, which are so very basic to all He is that they invariably distinguish a work as emphatically His. For those with eyes to see.
One of the most basic tell-tale signs of a work of the Spirit of God is the essentially ‘unifying’ or ‘reconciling’ nature of any such work. He delights to pull things together and put things together.
What’s He doing from ‘day one’, after all, if not precisely that? “Hovering over the waters..” back then when the earth was still formless, dark and void. Itching to get down to the work which is there to be done, and eager to get on with the business of bringing the whole thing together and orchestrating all the different pieces in this multi-sensual masterpiece we simply call ‘creation’.
And it is a masterpiece. Of course it is. Each and every individual strand across this massive, cosmic tapestry of life picked up, and woven with such matchless skill into a seamless, single whole.
Even the way we speak of it all reveals that basic truth. It’s so obviously a universe: not diverse at all. There’s a fundamental oneness, as the parts are all so wonderfully brought and pulled together.
Beautiful to behold, breath-taking in its splendour: while the Artist Himself, the unassuming, gracious Holy Spirit of the living God, steps humbly aside that our souls might savour this magisterial handiwork of God.
That’s Who the Holy Spirit always is: and that’s what He’s always about: so intent on, so adept at, so committed to, this work of both pulling and piecing together – bringing order where there’s only been a chaos and disorder, uniting where there’s hitherto been fracture and division, restoring where there’s only been a broken and disintegrated mess.
What was He doing from ‘day one’ of the church as well, if not precisely this? “Hovering over the waters..” all over again: hovering over the waters of the dark, disordered void of this now sin-stained earth, just itching to get started on the business of taking up the re-creative handiwork effected by the Son of God and pulling things together once again.
Isn’t that what Pentecost is really all about? Isn’t that what we see the Spirit doing? Pulling and piecing all the bits back together again.
First, the disciples of Jesus – a sizeable crowd of awkward, clumsy, mixed-up, messed-up, battered, bruised and jumpy individuals from all the ‘airts and pairts’ of ancient Israel – all of them there ‘in one place’. Not just physically there in one place, but relationally, too, at one. I mean, that’s got to be a miracle of Holy Spirit grace! You try doing that with a crowd of such hugely different learners, and you’d figure herding cats would be the simpler option.
And then in His own sovereign providence (oh, He knows what He’s doing, does the Spirit of God!) He’s gathered together in this one single place a huge big crowd of folk from right across the Roman Empire, people groups from .. well, “from every nation under heaven.”
Co-incidence? Of course not! This is the Spirit of God orchestrating each and every circumstance and sounding out the melody of the music of renewal, in a way that’s quite unmissable. This, on a sizeable canvas, is what the Spirit of the living God delights to do!
He’s pulling these people together from all over the place. People who don’t even speak the same language, pulled so sovereignly together.
And don’t think the Spirit is done with them yet! Because gathered there in the city of Jerusalem, they’re then all coming yet closer together, drawn by the sound of the Spirit’s haunting music, and pulled in together by the power of the Spirit’s patient, reconciling grace, ‘til a crowd of some thousands is gathered together around the disciples of Jesus – and gathered together to Christ.
That’s what He does. And that’s what He’ll one day effect on a scale you’d find hard to take in – He’ll “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one Head, even Christ” (Eph.1.10). Massive. Absolutely massive. Bringing all things together. Under one Head. Jesus.
That’s the essence of the gospel.
One day everything will be wonderfully brought all together under the headship, and through the redemption, of Jesus. Sinners reconciled with their God, enemies reconciled with their foes, the former fragmentations all a long-forgotten feature of a past which will be buried in the tombs of time.
And what one day the Spirit of God will effect in this great and cosmic masterpiece of grace, He is presently doing on the smaller, tiny canvasses of our own lives. Bringing us back to our Maker. Binding us close to each other.
It’s miracle, always. “Hovering over the waters” of our penitent tears; “hovering over the waters” of the rivers of resentment which have flowed from all the hurts which we’ve received; “hovering over the waters” of chaotic, stormy ructions in relationships – and itching always to get on with His work of renewal, His pulling and piecing together, His bringing and binding together, His ministry of reconciling grace.
I was travelling back on the bus to Argyll the other day: and we got parked for a while behind a West Coast Motors bus which had the West Coast Motors tag-line spread across the back.
‘Bringing people together since 1923.’
Well, I had a job not to burst out laughing! Since 1923? As if that was some big deal, when the Spirit of God has been doing just that, in a far more profound and wonderful way – He’s been doing just that since ‘day one’.
So what are the tell-tale signs, the ‘distinguishing marks’ of a work of the Spirit of God? How can you tell when Aslan’s on the move?
When this sort of thing starts happening. That’s how.
Is it pure ‘co-incidence’ that our neighbours up the road at Mission Action Church have found themselves being drawn by some strange providence to join us in our Sunday morning worship here at Gilcomston? And is it just ‘co-incidence’ that come the early autumn, too, our Free Church neighbours up at Bon Accord will join us in our Sunday evening worship here at Gilcomston?
Speak your line once again, Mr. Beaver – and the Lord, I think, would have the words both bold and underlined!
“They say Aslan is on the move!”
Well, yes! And we’d better believe it! Because when Aslan’s on the move .. anything can happen: and almost certainly will!
This child of God is feeling ‘something jump in his inside.’ What a thrill it is to be here in such times!
Yours in Christ’s service