When Eberhard Arnold gave a talk to members of his community on the occasion of his 50th birthday on July 26, 1933, he didn’t dwell on his accomplishments. Instead, he marveled at how God works in our lives even though we often stand in his way.
On this day I have been especially conscious of my lack of ability, of how unsuited my own nature is to the work I have been given. I have remembered how God called me when I was only sixteen, and how I have stood in his way - with the result that so much of what he wanted to do has been left unfinished. It remains a miracle nevertheless that his work has been revealed and testified to in us feeble human beings - not through our merits, but because we have been accepted again and again through the grace of Jesus and his forgiveness of sins.
I have had to think of Hermas, that early Christian writer who describes the building of the great temple how he refers to the many stones that must be thrown away. The masons try to use them, but if they do not fit, even after their corners have been chiseled down, then they must be thrown away - as far away as possible. And even the stones that are used must first be chiseled very sharply before they can be set into the wall...
What concerns me most of all is the powerlessness of man, even of the man who has been entrusted with some task. Only God is mighty; we are completely powerless. Even for the work that has been given us, we are wholly without power. We cannot fit a single stone into the church community. We can provide no protection whatsoever for the community when it has been built up. We cannot even devote anything to the cause by our own power. We are completely without power. But just this is why God has called us: because we know we are powerless.
It is hard to describe how our own power must be stripped off us, how our own power must be dropped, dismantled, torn down, and put away. But it must happen, and it will not happen easily - nor through any single heroic decision. Rather, it must be done in us by God.
This is the root of grace: the dismantling of our own power. Only to the degree that our own power is dismantled will God give us his Spirit. If a little power of our own rises up amongst us, the Spirit and authority of God retreats in the same moment and to the corresponding degree. This is the single most important insight regarding the kingdom of God...
The Holy Spirit produces effects that are deadly for the old life and that at the same time have a wakening and rousing power for the new. So let us use this day to give glory to God. Let us pledge to him the dismantling of our own power. Let us declare our dependence upon grace.
Excerpted from Eberhard Arnold: Writings Selected.
Read the full text of Eberhard Arnold’s remarks at EberhardArnold.com.