The Holy Spirit for Power — Filled with the Spirit; Confession; Boldness; Guidance; Ministry.
"Love divine, all praise excelling,
Joy of heaven, to earth come down!
Bless us with Thy rich indwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown!
Saviour, Thee we'd still be blessing,
Serve Thee here, as soon above,
Praise Thee, Saviour, without ceasing,
Glory in Thy dying love.
First-fruits of Thy new creation —
Faithful, holy, may we be,
Joyful in Thy full salvation,
More and more conformed to Thee!
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Then to worship and adore Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise!"
The subject which occupied us two evenings ago was the Spirit in sanctification, and on the last evening it was the Spirit in the Church. In these we considered the Spirit's work in the individual and in the entire body of believers respectively. We were more particularly engaged with what was subjective in both. Tonight we take an outward look; it is the outflow of divine life that is before us, and whether in individual or Church it is of the greatest importance. What are we — what is all knowledge without power?
In all probability, the first conception man has of God is that He is a Being of power. Even the heathen, though they early lost sight of His holiness and truth retained, and in a sense do still, the sense of His power. When God revealed Himself to Abraham it was as "El Shaddai" God Almighty — even before the meaning of His Covenant name, Jehovah, was made known (Ex. 6:3). Thus power was one of the first attributes of God revealed, and with every fresh revelation of Himself, there will be a fresh manifestation of His power. God's power reaches out, as it were, and lays hold of man.
We will, as has been our custom throughout, present little else but the Scriptures upon this subject, simply linking them together with a few words of explanation. For what can speak more clearly than the pure word of God itself? We will first speak of the Spirit for power, then for guidance, and lastly a little as to ministry.
There are four general heads under which I will collect the Scriptures as to power: The promise of power in the gift of the Spirit; filling with the Spirit for power; the manner of His working; and the conditions upon which we are to have this fulness.
First, as to the promise of power. "And, behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). Similarly, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). In these two passages we have the distinct promise of our Lord, after His resurrection, that the disciples should receive the Spirit, promise of the Father, and should thus be endued with power from on high, which would enable them to be witnesses, bearers of the gospel, first in Jerusalem and then in ever widening circles until they reached the uttermost ends of the earth. They were to tarry at Jerusalem until they received this power. And we know they did this, continuing in expectant prayer from the time of our Lord's ascension until the day of Pentecost; and the power came in connection with the promised gift of the Spirit.
Perhaps I had better here speak of this tarrying. Many earnest seekers for power have taken it as the example for us now, and have practised and taught that we should tarry, waiting on God for a distinct enduement from on high. With many this is even confounded with the baptism of the Spirit, sealing and all the rest; while some who are clear enough as to there being but one baptism for the believer, so soon as he accepts Christ, still think that there is a special outpouring of power for the waiting, praying saint. Far be it from me, dear brethren, to cast a slight upon faith and prayer. God forbid. And without question God does answer the sincere prayers of His people, even when not intelligently offered. But our object is to get clear and scriptural conceptions of the truth, which will surely help and not hinder faith and prayer.
Are we warranted then by this scripture in expecting a definite and well-known enduement in answer to distinct waiting and prayer for it? The answer seems most clear and simple. What were they waiting for? not power primarily, but the descent of the Holy Spirit, and with Him came power and all else. Now we have seen abundantly that the Spirit has come from heaven once for all; that He comes to every believer, once for all, sealing, baptizing, indwelling. What then are we to tarry for and pray for? not surely for that Spirit whom we already have. Prayer and waiting always have their place, but not in connection with the gift of the Spirit, nor can this passage be used in the way mentioned.
But to return to our main theme. The power was promised by our Lord, and they were to wait for it. I quote a few scriptures to show how fully He fulfilled His promise — merely indicating the presence of the power. "Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?" (Acts 3:12). "And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?" (Acts 4:7). Peter and John had found a poor crippled beggar — lame from birth — laid at the beautiful gate of the temple. What a striking picture of the helplessness of the law to deliver man. Here under the very shadow of the temple, with all its gorgeous adornment and splendid ritual, lay a man helpless from birth. He begs; how can he give that which the law demands?
But power comes to him through these two men. He is delivered from his helplessness, and walking, leaping, and praising God, in the ecstasy of a newly found blessing, he enters into the place of worship. Surely a power had been put forth, and all the people had to acknowledge it. Even the priests were compelled to recognize the fact, and ask “by what power," and, as though fearing to speak the Name — "by what name have ye done this?" Here, then, is the promised power shown in the miracle, but that was only a type of delivering power from sin and all else. Nor was this confined to a few. All might not work miracles, but all had divine power for the work for which they were used.
I mention but one other verse in this connection, merely dwelling now upon the fact that power was characteristic of the new work, by the Spirit. "And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. . . . And they (the opposing Jews) were not able to resist the wisdom and spirit by which he spake" (Acts 6:8, 10). Here both in extraordinary work, and in the usual testimony of the truth, we see the power vouchsafed. May we not truly say that power was the mark of all that time?
Of Stephen it was said that he was full of faith and power; it is also said that he was full of faith and of the Holy Ghost (Acts 6:5), and thus we can take up the subject of filling with the Spirit for power. This is an expression of frequent use in connection with the Holy Spirit, and it will be of much interest to trace it through some of the New Testament Scriptures. There are three or more effects of this filling: we have filling for service, filling for joy, and filling for testimony. I do not mean that these are mutually exclusive, on the contrary they are closely linked together, but each of these features is prominent in certain scriptures.
"For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). This is said of John the Baptist. Now we know he was not in the Church, but the forerunner of our Lord. He was not sealed with the Spirit nor baptized by the Spirit, but he was filled with the Spirit. Filling has to do with power and service, and John was endowed for his service from earliest childhood.
"And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness" (Luke 4:1). It is not ordinarily remembered that our blessed Lord was filled with the Spirit for service — in some sense as His people have to be. It becomes us to tread with unshod feet when we come near the person of our holy Lord; but if we speak reverently, we will be helped by a clearer understanding of His perfections. "The Word was God." Our blessed Saviour was eternally divine, the Son of God, equal with the Father in glory, power and being. He was, and is "God over all blessed forever." Then He was also Man. "The Word became flesh." He was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost. Thus His human nature was due to the direct act of the Holy Spirit. In type this is seen in the meat-offering, where the fine flour was mingled with oil. (See Lev. 2:4, etc.) But when the meat-offering was baked, prepared for man's use, it was also anointed with oil. This typifies His anointing by the Spirit and preparation for His public ministry.
In the thirty years of retirement at Nazareth, our Lord was the perfect One, truly and absolutely the Father's delight; but when He came forth to serve, the Spirit was sent, not only as the seal of approval upon Him for what He had been during His retirement, but to empower Him for His special ministry. Our blessed Lord's life we must remember, was one of perfect dependence; He did not use His divine prerogatives directly, but did all by the Spirit of God who filled Him. Thus we read, "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). Thus our blessed Lord was filled with the Spirit for service.
Of Stephen we have already spoken. He was a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost (Acts 6:3, 8). But I want you to notice the service for which Stephen was thus fitted by the filling of the Spirit. The poor of the flock needed to be fed, not alone with the bread of life, but with bodily food as well. Now it is freely conceded that all spiritual service must be rendered through the Spirit's power. And in the churches, the spiritual office-bearers are selected for their piety and general devotedness. But when it comes to what are termed temporal affairs, the same care is not taken. In these things any person of good moral character, though he may not be a professing Christian, is encouraged to take part. If he has good business capacity, that is the main qualification.
First of all, let us remember that God never accepts the services of an unsaved man. Until he bows to the grace and love of God and accepts the free gift of salvation, he cannot render any service in any connection. There is no such thing as "temporal affairs" in the Church of Christ. All things are sacred. What an object lesson! A man must be filled with the Spirit rightly to minister to the necessities of the saints. Let us remember this.
At the close of his brief career, we are again told that Stephen was full of the Holy Ghost. It was after his fearless arraignment of the Jews, and their conviction of resisting the Holy Ghost, that we read, "But he being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55). The Spirit opened his eyes to heavenly glories, and while the stones were crushing the life out of his body he beholds Jesus in the glory and soon departs to be with Him. But I have referred to this as linking together, by this one term, the lowliest service and the highest glories. He was filled with the Spirit for attending upon the widows; he was full of the Holy Ghost as he gazed upon Jesus in glory. Well do we know it was all one in the eyes of our blessed Master who said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of them, ye have done it unto Me."
In the same way we have Barnabas spoken of: "He was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost, and much people was added unto the Lord" (Acts 11:24). This is the result of the ministry of a man full of the Spirit. Power is exhibited in results, and one may be coldly accurate without a particle of spiritual strength, and no blessing resulting from constant labor. The reason is evident: for believers to be added to the Lord, the servant must, in some measure at least, be full of the Spirit. Thus we have three instances of the fulness of the Spirit for service, and our blessed Lord's which I had rather speak of singly, though He humbled Himself to take the servant's place, and like His servants, engaged in His Father's work in the power of the Spirit of God.
We have next several scriptures where being filled with the Spirit is connected with joy and praise. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice and said, Blessed art thou among women" (Luke 1:41). Similarly, at the close of the chapter we read, "And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel" (Luke 1:67). Here again we have as you notice, filling with the Spirit before Pentecost, showing how distinct it is from sealing and baptism. In the cases of Elizabeth and Zacharias it was evidently similar to prophesy; indeed it is said of Zacharias that he prophesied. It was a special visitation of the Spirit, endowing them for the time with the faculty of expressing their joy and praise in inspired language. This emphasizes what we have already seen as to the filling. There was something special which gave occasion to it, as appears from nearly all the scriptures we shall examine.
In a few cases we have the word "full" of the Spirit, but in most it is "filled." The difference seems to be this: "full of the Spirit" indicates the habitual state of soul — one constantly controlled by the Spirit, as our blessed Lord, and in their measure Stephen and Barnabas. "Filled with the Spirit" is very frequently, as I have already said, for some special service, prophesy, or testimony. I do not think that the opposite to "filled" is necessarily "empty." For instance, as we shall see presently, the apostles were filled again and again. It would not be a fair inference to think that in the interval they were in a lower spiritual state, but that special power was given as special emergencies arose.
Returning for a moment to Zacharias and Elizabeth, how beautiful it is to see this outburst of praise, under the impulse of the Spirit of God. It was upon the occasion of Mary's visit to her that Elizabeth breaks out in joyful strain, and it was after long silence, caused by his own unbelief, that Zacharias has his mouth opened to set to his seal that God is true. But all centers about Christ. He is the centre of all true joy, the object of the highest praise.
Passing now to the book of Acts, so full of illustrations of our subject, we read, "And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 13:52). The connection here is of much interest. They had, after faithfully preaching the gospel at Antioch, been expelled from the city. This is what the servant of Christ may expect, according to his Master's word. But what was the effect of this persecution upon the minds of these devoted servants? Were they depressed and discouraged? Did they meditate giving up and returning to their homes? Ah no! they were filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost. Thus the night only causes the pillar of fire to gleam out brightly. "We glory in tribulations also."
The word used here for "filled" is different from the one usually so translated, though a similar root. It occurs here and in the next scripture I shall quote, and in both cases I think you will notice a shade of different meaning from the ordinary word. That, as we saw, seems to be for special emergencies; this would not exactly be that here. The joy was to be, surely, a constant thing, though specially manifested as occasion required. It is the usual word for "filled with wisdom" and similar expressions, describing a habitual state, but capable of particular application.
We see the same in the following scripture: "Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:18, 19). Without question we have here a warning against actual drunkenness; but I am sure you will agree with me that far more than that is suggested. Wine is that which exhilarates the natural man. It is a stimulant. It is also a type of joy. Here then we are warned against mere earthly joy, anything that merely exhilarates the natural man.
We have it in type in the history of Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10), the priests who offered strange fire to the Lord, and who fell under the penalty of God's anger. You will observe in that chapter, in immediate connection with the sin of the priests, that God prohibits any priest from using wine or strong drink when engaged in worship. The inference has been drawn, not without great probability, that these priests were under the influence of wine and thus offered strange fire.
Applying it to ourselves, how often is there the mere exhilaration of nature in the professed worship of God. How often is feeling, excitement, fleshly energy, made to take the place of the Holy Spirit. It seems that this is the very connection of the passage. They were to sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord. Filled with the Spirit there would be neither room nor need for the empty frivolities of nature; the joy of the Lord would eclipse it all.
And this brings me to say a few words as to praise, which will serve as a connecting link with the next branch of our subject. When our blessed Lord, by His Spirit, was expressing the sorrows of the cross in the twenty-second psalm, He answers His own question — "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" — in the words, "Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel" (Ps. 22:3). It was because of the holiness of God, who cannot endure sin, that He was compelled to forsake the spotless sin-bearer. But another thought is added, God inhabits, or dwells amid, the praises of His people. He must be known in such a way that His very presence produces praise. Most beautifully does this accord with the former fact. Our Lord was forsaken, in order that redemption might be accomplished, and as a result praise issue forth from hearts forever delivered by grace. God must have a willing and a joyful people, and it is only as this is the case that there can be power.
So we read, "Judah is My lawgiver" (Ps 108:8). Judah means praise. It was the leading tribe of Israel, occupying the forefront in the march through the wilderness (Num. 10:14), and taking the lead in the conflicts in Canaan (Judges 1:1, 2). The kingship belonged to this tribe — in the family of David — and Jerusalem, the city of the great King, was upon its border. But the significance of the name suggests what we have been seeing already. "Judah is My lawgiver." Praise, flowing from a satisfied heart, occupied with the glories of God— this is His sceptre! What a rule, where not compulsion, but joy has sway, and the only constraint is that of love.
Thus to be filled with joy and praise by the Spirit is the only way of securing a bold and faithful testimony for Christ. The singers are to be in the forefront of the battle. The joy of the Lord is our strength, and it abides. When the emergency arises, the strength is there, and the victory is assured.
This brings us to dwell for a little upon a third feature or object of being filled with the Spirit — to give boldness for confession and testimony. We will read Acts 2:4; "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." The promised time had come and the Spirit had been poured out. His presence was visible and audible, though more yet, it was personal and abiding. It is noticeable and significant that the form in which the Spirit appeared in coming upon the disciples and upon our Lord was entirely different. Upon Him He came as a dove; upon the disciples, as a tongue of fire, upon each one. The reason is simple and beautiful.
The dove in Scripture is the bird of sacrifice. In the burnt-offering more particularly it was used. Further it was the bird of love, and of sorrow. Our blessed Lord was taking His place publicly as the sacrifice. He was, we may say, at His baptism offering Himself to God. What more fitting than that the eternal Spirit through whom that offering was to be exhibited, should come upon Him in the form which set forth the sacrifice, the love which led Him to it, and the sorrow over the sins of men which made it necessary.
With the disciples it was different. The service to which they were called was chiefly testimony, and so, most fittingly, the Spirit of truth comes upon them as a tongue. The fire speaks of the holiness of God in judgment, and you will remember the Spirit's work in conviction included the judgment. But the beautiful part of it is that, if men bow now to the judgment of God and accept His salvation, they will be saved from judgment to come.
Thus this filling with the Spirit was directly connected with the testimony which they all began immediately to give, in the various languages of those who were assembled. As has already been remarked this manifestation of the Spirit's presence must be distinguished from the presence itself. He is always present, but He does not always manifest it — may we not say He never now does so? — in the supernatural gift of tongues. Extravagant claims have been made to this gift. But in all cases the "tongue" is some unintelligible jargon. Here, however, the tongues were the well-known languages of the various nations represented at Jerusalem. The wonder of it was that untutored men, heretofore ignorant of the languages, should be able to declare in them "the wonderful works of God."
I do not limit His power, but for reasons already given, I do not expect — would you desire it? — to see this manifestation at the present day. But, thanks be to God, we have the living Person who has united us to a glorified Christ, and who is as ready as at Pentecost to fill us with all boldness for testimony, as for all else.
I will ask you to contrast the apostle Peter before and after the gift of the Spirit. You well know the sad details which culminated in his open denial of his Lord — the sleep in the garden, the following afar off, the sitting down in the judgment hall to warm himself at a fire kindled by Christ's enemies. Ah, dear brethren, let us beware of fires, of warmth and comfort and pleasure, created by the enemies of the Lord Jesus. How many young Christians have forgotten this, and paid most dearly for it. Peter identified himself with the world. He is now ashamed to identify himself with a rejected Master. Look at him — at yourself, too — in the priest's palace. A little girl can make him tremble; he is ashamed to confess that Holy One who was Himself making such a good confession, and at last the cock crew. Truly a strange contrast; it seemed blackest night, so far as Peter was concerned, but already it was dawn, for with that cock's crow Peter reached the end of himself.
But look at this same man fifty days later, now not with a maid to face, but the whole mass of Christ's rejectors. Without a tremor, he, the spokesman for all, stands up and lays at their doors the awful crime of Christ's death: "Ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." What made this difference? Was it merely that Peter was restored in his soul? Ah, he was filled with the Spirit, and knew no fear.
Let us trace it a little further, in the fourth chapter. In reply to the question of the priests, which we have already looked at, as an admission on their part that a mighty power was at work, mark the noble boldness of Peter's reply: "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people and elders of Israel, if we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole" (verses 8-10).
They were compelled to own the courage of this reply: "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled." They recognized them as Galileans, companions of Jesus, but whence this power? Ah, they knew not of the presence of that Spirit who fills the faintest with a boldness none can deny.
But they are not softened. Their wretched pride would make even acknowledgment of the power of God but a fresh occasion for forbidding Peter and John to speak again in this name of Jesus. Here is simply another opportunity for the apostles' boldness to show itself: "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (verses 19, 20). Not for one moment would they give place to man when God was in question. The Holy Ghost cannot be cowed, dear brethren, and when one is speaking as led by Him, he has all the power of God on his side. What are chief priests and scribes and elders to one who has the Spirit of God with him?
But now we see another side. These same men, victors in the presence of the enemy, return to their own company. Is it with flying colors and boasts of what they had said and done? Ah, no; but they return to Gilgal. They ,realize that the power was not their own, and that they are as weak as ever. So they pour out their souls unitedly, imploring the help of Him who was the Almighty and who had foreseen this very raging of the people. They ask Him to behold the threatenings, and to grant unto them that "with all boldness they may speak thy Word." Quickly comes the response: "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and they spake the word of God with boldness" (verse 31). Now, this is an illustration of what we have seen as to filling with the Spirit. It is a special manifestation of His power for special cases. You would not say the disciples were in a wrong state prior to this response, or that they had lapsed from a previous good state. On the contrary, they are evidently in the enjoyment of uninterrupted communion, as shown by their lowly, dependent spirit.
You will notice also that they did not pray to be filled with the Spirit; they prayed that they might speak the word of God with all boldness. Now, this, I am sure, is of great importance, and in keeping with the entire subject. We never find the disciples waiting for an enduement of the Spirit or anything of the kind after Pentecost. They had the Spirit; He dwelt in them; they were full of the Spirit, so to speak, and needed but to realize the necessity constantly for the power of God. Then, as the occasion arose, the Spirit took possession of them and used them as the instruments of His mighty energy. Is there not much instruction for us here?
But we will look at a few other similar uses of filling. "Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Ghost, fixed his eyes on him, and said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil," etc. (Acts 13:9). Paul had at his conversion been filled with the Spirit (Acts 9:17). This seems to have answered to the Pentecostal filling of the others, for he straightway began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. Here, again, we see him filled, as he meets this enemy of the truth. This Bar-Jesus was evidently a Jew, and type of the whole nation, who persistently resisted the truth of God. But Paul goes further than Peter and John, in that he not merely withstands, but pronounces judgment upon the false prophet. This judgment of blindness is a striking illustration of what has happened to the nation — blind for a season. He was filled with the Spirit as he thus withstood Satan's power, another illustration of what we have already seen. What boldness! what faith it involved! And yet the power was not his own. In the next chapter (Acts 14:3) we see this boldness as marking his entire ministry at Iconium, where there was special opposition. "Long time, therefore, they abode, speaking boldly in the Lord."
A humility similar to that which we have already remarked is seen in the apostle's request for the prayers of the saints. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit . . . and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, . . that therein I may speak boldly as I ought to speak" (Eph. 6:18-20). It is beautiful, thus to see the apostle not counting upon his having been again and again filled with the Spirit for special testimony, but asking that he may with all boldness, as always, so now also magnify Christ in his body (Phil. 1:20). You notice, again, that he does not ask them to pray that he may be filled with the Spirit, but that he may speak the Word with boldness.
Now, this brings us to see the manner of the Spirit's working, which will also furnish a reason why we are not to ask to be filled with the Spirit. I turn to a familiar passage in the gospel of John: "He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive, for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:38, 39). This is the last of the three passages in the gospel of John that speak of the Spirit under the simile of water. We have new birth by water in John 3:3, 5; we have the well of water springing up unto everlasting life in John 4:14; and here you have the rivers of water flowing out. The volume has, as it were, increased until it cannot be confined within. It must find an outlet.
Now, new birth, as we saw, is the impartation of life to the soul; the well of water speaks of that full supply of the Spirit for all our needs, and here the stream reaches to those without. How amazing the contrast with the natural man! Man is ever craving, ever hungering; he is seeking selfishly to satisfy his hunger and thirst. This was what the woman of Samaria was doing, and our Lord tells her whoever drank of human wells would thirst again; they could never fill their craving with earth's wells. Here, however, the craving has not only been met, but there is such an abundance that the outflow goes to the needy ones outside. It is a beautiful picture of the Spirit's ministry.
The first thing, I think, that strikes us is the absence of all effort; or, perhaps, to speak more correctly, the very opposite of effort. Effort would have to be put forth to check the outflow. You may rest assured that any thing requiring urging or goading is not the mark of the Spirit. Whenever a service or testimony is entered upon in imitation of others, or in dependence upon the arm of flesh, it is not the Spirit filling and overflowing. He never needs, if I may use such language, the assistance of man. But how much restless Martha service this cuts off at once! How much of the planning and contriving, the studying of "methods of work" and much else would slip from us as Saul's armor did from David, were this outflow unchecked!
For we must face that. We are told to "quench not the Spirit" (1 Thess. 5:19), and immediately following it, "Despise not prophesyings." It is possible to hinder — to quench the Spirit. Just as in private communion we may "grieve the Spirit" by bitterness and anger, so we may quench the Spirit by despising His work, and thus putting obstacles in His way. Those very expedients of which I was just speaking, are they not, in most cases, the efforts of unbelief to go on without the Spirit, and therefore despising Him? Let us see to it that no barriers are put in His way, and soon will there be a realizing sense of the fulfilment of this precious promise of our Lord's.
But let us recur to the subject of filling in connection with this outflow. I think that the thoughts of most of us are very vague, if not mystical, as to filling. Have we not some material, physical thoughts, and do we not forget that filling, when applied to a person, is very different from the use of the word in connection with a material substance? This last may be used as an illustration, but must never go beyond the point intended to be illustrated. Thus, in the beautiful simile we have been looking at, water is the type of refreshing — of that which meets the desires — the thirst of man. So far we use the figure.
When we come to speak, however, of a Person filling us — a Person, as it were, flowing out, we must ask ourselves how a person fills. I am quite aware that we can easily get beyond our limits here, but a few simple thoughts may prove helpful. God fills everything; He is omnipresent. So is the Holy Spirit. Christ has ascended up that he might fill all things (Eph. 4:10). We have no material thoughts in connection with these profound truths. By God's omnipresence we simply understand that He is Himself, in His divine completeness, everywhere present. He puts forth all his power throughout infinity constantly. So when we speak of Christ filling all things, we think simply that His glory, honor, power are to be everywhere manifest.
Thus, when we speak of being filled with the Holy Spirit, we simply mean that He has complete, entire control of our whole being. He occupies the entire man. An illustration may help here. We speak of a family filling a house, and we mean they have entire and undisputed control of it. In fact, we can speak of an individual as filling the house, when he makes his presence and influence felt everywhere. We could carry the illustration further. A person is received as a guest into our home. He is a person of beautiful character, and singularly helpful. He is received into our guest-rooms, but is tacitly excluded from the more private parts of the house, where the work is done. Such a person would be said to be dwelling in our home, but you could not say he was filling the house. He is limited to certain parts of it. Perhaps he feels he is not welcome in the very part where his help would be greatest.
But, at last, through a fuller acquaintance, a sense of confidence, a realization of help already, and, above all, an increasing sense of utter incompetence in ourselves, we admit him, gradually, perhaps, to all the house. He makes his presence and his help felt everywhere. He fills the house.
I need scarcely apply the illustration. The Holy Spirit has taken up His abode with us forever, not only as guest, but, did we know it, as sovereign disposer, ruler and guide. And yet, with what divine tenderness — gentleness — does he dwell in us! He allows us to treat Him as a guest — yea, as we would treat no other guest. He permits us to thrust Him out of the way, perhaps; at any rate, to exclude Him from the every-day part of our lives. However, a sense of the blessedness of His presence, of His help where we have yielded up to Him, above all, His own power working through these means and making us realize our helplessness, compel us at last, step by step, perhaps, to give Him His place in all things. He fills us.
This will explain the exhortation of the apostle to which we have already alluded: "Be filled with the Spirit." We are not to "give place to the devil"; we are to give place to the Spirit — to let Him be ungrieved, unchecked in His complete administration of our entire life. We can see thus the constant fulness of the Spirit, and the special filling for this or that service. In one sense, we are to be always, as we have seen, full of the Spirit; in another, as occasion arises for testimony or service, we see that fulness manifested in the special filling and overflow of which we have had examples.
We are now prepared to look at our last point in connection with the Spirit for power — the conditions upon which we are to enjoy this power; and to this I ask your prayerful attention. Here, as everywhere, I simply present the word of God.
Let us see what this power is, slightly different and yet not to be severed from the Spirit's, and therefore in place here. The apostle prays that the Ephesians may know "what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand" (Eph. 1:19, 20). Now, here is a stupendous statement. We see Christ in His tomb raised and elevated to the throne of God. Could any power be greater? And yet this same power has wrought to us-ward, not merely for our benefit in Christ, but we, too, have been quickened — raised with Christ — as the second chapter shows. The power that wrought in Him has wrought in us. How amazing!
Look next at the vessel in which this power is displayed. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us" (2 Cor. 4:7). The verse preceding, in connection with this one, recalls what was doubtless in the Spirit's mind — the earthen pitchers of Gideon's men, in which the lights were concealed. They were then to break the pitcher and the light would shine out. Beloved, I want you to notice that what was necessary for the display of the excellency of the power was not an adorned pitcher, not a surrendered pitcher, not a discarded pitcher, but a broken pitcher. Let us see how Paul treated his earthen vessel. It was a goodly one to look at — a beautiful Hebrew vase, with delicate tracery and ornamentation upon it. "If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law a Pharisee; concerning zeal persecuting the Church; touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless." Surely, a goodly and beautiful vessel to admire. What did Paul do with it? He broke it to pieces. "What things were gain to me those I counted loss for Christ." But, you say, this was for salvation. Notice, however, the continuance of it: "Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:4-8).
Returning to second Corinthians, we see a further illustration of the same, in the twelfth chapter. In the previous chapter he had narrated the various sufferings he had passed through in carrying out his ministry. He does this, as he says, foolishly, not to boast, but for their sakes, to show the emptiness of the false boasts of some who were seeking to subvert them. In the twelfth chapter he tells of his experiences as a man in Christ, caught up into heaven, there beholding things impossible to be uttered. Think of the privilege — the honor of being thus permitted to behold the glories that shall be! And yet, dear brethren, it was simply as a man in Christ he was introduced into these scenes. His title was that he was in Christ; and is not that our title? and by the Spirit have not the spiritual glories of our place in the heavenlies been unfolded to our minds? So that the lesson which follows is for ourselves. May we mark it well.
"Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure" (2 Cor. 12:7). Here is a man who has seen the glories of heaven. He comes to earth, and what does he find? Not glories and honors, but the thorn in his flesh, Satan's messenger. He is to learn that the only vessel out of which such glories can shine is a broken vessel. Otherwise he would be puffed up by the revelations. And there is great danger lest the precious truths appropriate to us as men in Christ may simply feed our natural pride. Hence, in order to rightly enjoy and truly give out these truths, there must be that which answers to the thorn in the flesh. The vessel must be broken, and it is the cross, learned in its reality, that breaks the vessel.
Let us dwell upon this. The cross is the secret of power. The cross is what we can glory in. It sets us aside, breaks us to pieces, writes upon us the sentence of death, in order that the power of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, may rest upon us. The one who has learned death, who has the sentence of death in himself, is the one who will have power. We can thus understand the Lord's word to Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness"; and his reply — may it be ours as well! — “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
You speak of conditions upon which power will be given you. You are to make a complete surrender of your will, strength, time, talents — all that you are and have to be put upon the altar. But who makes this surrender, and what is the altar? If you make the surrender, it is self surrendering self, a most subtle form of self-righteousness. But when we see it is the cross of our Lord — that cross by which I am, I was crucified, in His death; that "I am crucified with Christ" — when we see this, I say, we find that it is not a question of surrender for me, but of the cross which has set me aside, that Christ may be all. Anything short of the cross but fosters pride, and pride in its worst form.
But we look a little further. We have seen the nature of the power — the same which wrought in Christ; we have seen the suited vessel for the display of this power — a vessel broken by the cross that the light may shine out. Now, let us see the working of that power in us practically. "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory," etc. (Eph. 3:20, 21). This is the doxology following the wondrous prayer of the apostle — a prayer for the very thing we are speaking of, power. He asks that they may be "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man." He sets no limits to the fulness of blessing, except the fulness of God! Then we are assured that the power which worketh in us is all-sufficient to do exceeding abundantly above all our desire or thought. We have the power; we do not have to get it.
But let us remember ever that this power is not ours. It is the power of Christ. Further, this power is never bestowed upon us, if I may so speak, in bulk. We have not a great mass of power given to us; we have no storage batteries, to use an illustration familiar to us. We have not strength in ourselves for a single moment. More than this, I am sure we are not to expect to be conscious of power. We will be conscious of weakness, and the Spirit's power works through our weakness. We never feel as spiritual giants, ready to perform wonderful feats of strength. Ah, no! such was not Paul. His speech was not with enticing words of man's wisdom. His bodily presence was weak, and his speech contemptible; but the faith of those who heard him was established in the power of God.
God's great men are servants; God's mighty men are weak; God's noble men are base and despised — that no flesh might glory in His presence.
Such, beloved brethren, I believe to be the teaching of the word of God upon this all-important theme. It has been put briefly and meagerly, but if you are convinced that the way of power lies in just the opposite direction from that which is ordinarily supposed, I shall have hope that you will go on to learn the secret of it — "Not I, but Christ."
I add an illustration, which may simplify the subject and make it practical to the youngest saint: A train is drawn into the station by an immense engine, and comes to a stop. We are told that this engine is capable of drawing the heaviest trains at the rate of fifty miles an hour. At present it is standing quite still. We go up to it and try to push it along; we try to force the wheels to revolve; we call ten, twenty, a hundred, to our assistance, but the train stands motionless. All the men who could get their hands upon it could do no more than push it along at a snail's pace for a few feet. But now the engineer takes his place, and, with one hand upon the lever, he opens the throttle-valve, and the train glides lightly out of the station and flies, tireless, with the speed of the wind, along the hundred miles of its appointed journey. What a mighty hand the engineer has! Ah, no! but he has released the mighty power in the engine, but held back by the throttle. Steam was the power that was working in, and he removes the hindrance to its working out.
The resurrection life of Christ, in the power of the Spirit of God, is the "power that worketh in us." When that power is checked from entering into our daily life we come to a standstill — the Church of God comes to a standstill. All the power of all the saints upon earth cannot push it forward. We may resort to all sorts of expedients — "methods of work" and what not — but the snail-like progress of things shows how unavailing it all is. But now the Spirit of God, if we may use such imagery, as the engineer, applies the lever — the cross of Christ — and the throttle is removed. What is that throttle? It is self in all its forms; not naughty self merely, but religious self as well. The cross has brought in the sentence of death upon me, and when the blessed Spirit of God applies that, all His own energy and power passes into our every-day life, and we shall speed along as on the wings of the wind — "mount up with wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint." Was any new power obtained? No, but "the power that worketh in us" was permitted to work out as well.
You may apply the illustration to questions of detail as well, no doubt. The Spirit of God may be laying upon your conscience some specific obstruction, some self-will, disobedience, association, sin. By all means, yield to what He says. But after all, the cross is the lever, and self — all self — is the obstruction that stands in the way of a divine energy that dwells in every child of God.
Does it not make you weep to think of all this hindered power in the Church of Christ? Sad it would be if we had no power — if we had to call it down from heaven. But to be indwelt by the Spirit of God — omnipotent power — and yet to be idle and helpless! Oh, beloved brethren! Let us awake; let us make sharp knives — yea, let us know the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, that thus also we may learn the power of His resurrection. May our God awaken us, for the responsibility is ours; we must enter into these divine facts for our own souls. Soon, soon would shouts of victory and rejoicing sound throughout the army of the Lord.
To complete the subject laid out for us, it remains now to look a little at guidance. Misdirected energy is sometimes more fatal than quiescence. The swifter the train is moving, the more harm would result from its leaving the tracks. It is impossible to think of the energy of the Spirit without His guidance also. A few passages will suggest a line of research which will prove interesting and helpful.
"And as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13:2). The occasion was momentous. It was the first regular going forth from the assembly, of messengers who would carry the gospel to Gentiles, as well as Jews. There are doubtless features here which are apostolic only, and yet, in the main, it is a simple picture of the spirit of prayer, self-denial, dependence and fellowship which should mark the Church of God at all times. There may be, and, in the highest sense, are, no "prophets" who can prefix the infallible "thus saith the Lord" to their specific utterance; but we have the "thus saith the Lord" in His all-sufficient and infallible word, and we have the same sovereign Spirit, who surely can make known His will.
The one feature I wish you to notice is the sovereign direction of the Spirit. They were all waiting upon God in the exercise of their various gifts, making faithful use of the opportunities at hand, when the Spirit shows them an open door. Twice is fasting mentioned, and it must be specially significant. I do not speak of the mere abstinence from food, but of that spirit of earnest longing, of self-denial, of absorption, which lies back of the actual neglect of food. Fasting is not an end, scarcely a means to an end, but an indication of the purpose of a soul that has lost its natural inclinations in the one mastering desire. It is to such souls, emptied of self, that the Spirit makes known His will.
How little there is of that among God's saints. How little conviction of the direction of the Spirit of God. New work is undertaken, special meetings are held, various activities started, but has it been "the Holy Ghost said"? If there were more the attitude of these servants, would not the Spirit still definitely make known His will? They go forth, guided, helped, sustained by that blessed One. We have seen His energy in Paul on this very journey, and the joy filling their hearts in the privations endured.
In line with this work of direction is the other side of the Spirit's work in guidance. We read they, "were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia," — the small province of that name on the west coast of Asia Minor, in which were situated Ephesus and other large cities. Then they attempted to pass into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not" (Acts 16:6, 7). Here we have the Spirit hindering. It is not providential hindrance, but a distinct prohibition clearly made known. Here again you will say, this was supernatural, and therefore not for us. While, however, we do not expect miraculous interposition, yet will not the indwelling Spirit make known His will? If there is the dependence upon God, the looking to Him for guidance, will He not give it? The reason for this hindering is soon apparent: a fresh start was to be made: the gospel was to be carried into Europe; and the next chapters give us the wonderful history of that journey from Troas to Philippi and the cities of Greece. Later on, Paul did a great work in Ephesus, now the Spirit hinders and forbids in order that they may go further.
This I think will explain how they were "forbidden." They had Asia on their mind, but were conscious of no freedom to go. There was no joy, no sense of the Spirit's guidance. So they must wait until clear, nor do they have to wait long, and the larger purpose of God is soon revealed.
Here again, we must confess little experience. We are so full of impulse, of our own thoughts and plans that there is not the quiet waiting upon God for His mind, and so we lose the sense of His approval, and the power of His Spirit. Need we wonder that little fruit attends our labors? And yet, do we not all know something of this hindering? There is a sense of constraint and uncertainty that surely should call us to further waiting on God. This is for the individual servant, and for companies of saints as well. Often doubtless, the Spirit would hinder us from a special line of service to turn us to another or in order to exercise the hearts of others, that the fellowship of all might be heartier, and the blessing correspondingly larger. "Wait on the Lord." The subject is full of interest and profit, and needs our constant and prayerful attention.
I quote a familiar passage to show that this guidance is not for the few merely, but the common privilege of every child of God, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). Here the badge of sonship is the leading of the Spirit. Primarily, of course, it refers to leading in paths of holiness, of assurance and all that we have already looked at — the opposite of the flesh. But can we exclude the widest use of the term? "He leadeth me in paths of righteousness," does not exclude the service to which the Lord calls us, nor anything where we need His guidance.
What a comfort then to have the leading of the Spirit in all that we do; not to be left to sight, "for we walk by faith, not by sight." Not to be left even to the example of godly saints, helpful as that is, but to be led by the blessed Spirit, in each detail of life, in the use of time, as to our intercourse, as to duties, as to expenditure of money, as to service — all that we need, — to be led of the Spirit of God. What a comfort! Are you thus led?
I quote another scripture bearing upon guidance, and a wholesome corrective of that tendency to mysticism so attractive to many. "He that is spiritual discerneth all things" (1 Cor. 2:15). The Spirit of God has in His Holy Person the intelligence of God; that is what is emphasized in Him. You will understand that I do not mean, of course, to limit this attribute to Him, or to make it more prominent than other attributes as of love and power. But the chapter from which I have quoted emphasizes knowledge, intelligence, as the characteristic of the Spirit. "The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God."
So in one led of the Spirit, intelligence in divine things will be prominent. He will discern, understand what the will of the Lord is. Here we are at the mercy of no vague impressions which we are blindly to follow. Our patience and faith may be tested by the lack of guidance, as we have seen; but we will not be left to uncertainty, or to unintelligent impressions. Paul's vision of the man of Macedonia formed the basis of a clear discernment of what the mind of the Spirit was.
But to be intelligent in the things of God means to have a knowledge of His mind as given in His Word. To discern, we must have those principles of truth only found in the Scriptures, and the spiritual man is ever a lover of the word of God. With that Word dwelling in him, not in a coldly intellectual way, but as controlling his thoughts, enlightening his conscience and guiding his affections, he has placed at the disposal of the Holy Spirit, the instrument by which he will be made of quick understanding. He will know the mind of the Spirit and thus be guided. How immensely important is this.
I add a word which seems in place here. Nothing is more repulsive to a truly spiritual mind, and grieving to the Spirit of God than a lofty assumption of spiritual guidance. A sanctified walk is ever a walk of retirement. The man who is most subject to the guidance is the one who will lay the least claims to being guided. He will be very slow to say, "The Lord led me here, or there." Guidance is largely for the closet and as we look into the eye of God. There are things to be enjoyed rather than talked about. How sad to hear these sacred themes chatted about in a familiar way as though one had a remarkable experience, which had now become a sort of second nature to which he was quite accustomed. Such practices degrade these high and holy themes to us, and they lose their power over our souls. Is it not true, dear brethren, that for most of us guidance is the result of painful exercise, in which we have been compelled to see and confess much of pride and self-will, and other faults which we would not like to speak of publicly?
Our God is holy. Oh to realize that more deeply! How subdued and chastened we would be. We would not talk very much about our guidance, but better than that we would be guided. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him."
I had mentioned ministry in the power of the Spirit as a closing subject for this lecture, but that has practically been our theme all through. Little remains that I can say. All ministry is by the Spirit of God. I have already spoken of ordination, and will not recur to it here. The Spirit calls, selects, and sends forth whom He chooses. He also abundantly sustains and guides them.
Of preparation for ministry I need say little. The main preparation is in the secret life and with the word of God. An education, even an intellectual knowledge of Scripture, is not preparation for the ministry. Far be it from me to decry true knowledge. Let us covet to know more and more. Let us seek ability to read the Scriptures in the original tongues; let us study history, archaeology — everything that can illustrate the truths of God; let us know more of that world of nature all about us, that speaks of God and of Christ to the attentive and devout soul. But these are not necessarily the preparation for ministry. The Spirit of God may use any and all of these, but He and He alone can prepare a man for ministry.
How often has He done a vast work in the conversion of souls through some "unlearned and ignorant" man. How often has the humble artisan a deeper, broader knowledge of divine truth than the learned professor. Surely God will stain the pride of man, He will not let us boast. It ever remains that the Holy Spirit amply qualifies every vessel whom He may choose for the ministry. Do not be afraid that the ardent young evangelist, on fire with love to God and souls, will fail to be used because his grammar is not perfect and he knows but "one thing." Ah, brethren, the man who knows one thing is the man who will speak in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
But on the other hand every true minister of Christ will hunger for greater fitness, and a fuller knowledge. It will be, however, knowledge of the word of God which he craves, and to that he will give time and prayer beyond all else. I need hardly refer to educational institutions most of the secular, and alas many of the religious, are in the hands of the enemy. Where infidelity is taught, where the word of God is dissected and criticized — these are not places for godly youth to learn the truth and ways of God. If they go there, it should be as doubly armed against all the subtlety of the enemy. Sad, indeed, it is to give such a warning; sadder still the necessity for it.
Then too, as to reading of truly helpful books, of association with Christ's servants, of individual study under the eye of some one of experience — all this is of the greatest value and help, when once the one great fact is learned — the absolute necessity of the Spirit's presence and power. This is not the place for discussion of these matters. We do not find them treated in Scripture, though much is scriptural in them. My conviction is that large numbers of students in one institution, with nothing to engage their activities save study, will not develop so rapidly and so surely as smaller companies gathered less formally, for briefer seasons and with much work for the Lord interspersed between the times of study. We are living in days of great institutions, richly endowed, with brilliant professors and attractive courses of study. The danger is lest the Holy Person of whom we speak be forgotten. Let us pray that it may not be.
I have been speaking of preparation for ministry; the same principles apply in its exercise. Liberty must ever be left for the Spirit of God. Settled pastorates, as they are called, do not seem to be of His appointment, as a rule. The scriptural examples would point rather to a passing from one place to another of those with special gift, that room be left for the exercise of less prominent ones. The evangelist does his work and passes on to another field of labor; so with the teacher; leaving behind them others stirred and helped for exercise of similar gifts. Thus an assembly would profit by the varied gifts of the Spirit, one after another, and all would receive profit, while the activities would not be narrowed down to a few, to the weakening of the many. This but touches a subject I must leave to be pursued elsewhere.
I have been speaking, in ministry, of what is ordinarily understood by the term. It is hardly necessary to say that it includes all true service, the lowliest and most obscure, as well as the greatest. The ministry of women has a place and an importance as well as that of men — and every activity of the body of Christ is included in the term. All that is needed is, as I have endeavored to show, to be a broken vessel that the Spirit of God may use us.
I close with a thought as to gospel ministry to the unsaved. That has marked the Holy Spirit's work from the beginning and will do so till the Lord come. Any testimony which ignores this, or makes it optional will cease to have the Lord's approval. The gospel spirit is the spirit of Christ. I do not now speak of the evangelist, but rather of us all. Do we love souls? do we long to see them saved? then we will all be ready to give the gospel to others. This readiness shows the state of soul. It is hard to speak of Christ if we are not in communion; it is hard not to speak of Him when we are. How this searches us.
This is what is needed — hearts for the salvation of souls. Oh for us all to be soul winners! We would not wait for an evangelist; we would not wait for meetings. At work, in casual intercourse, by a little tract — in countless ways we would be seeking to win souls for Christ. Dear brethren, let us pray that the Spirit of God may arouse us to this — His great work in the salvation of souls.
"'PRAISE ye the Lord,' again, again,
The Spirit strikes the chord;
Nor toucheth He our hearts in vain;
We praise, we praise the Lord.
'Rejoice in Him,' again, again,
The Spirit speaks the word,
And faith takes up the happy strain;
Our joy is in the Lord.
'Stand fast in Christ,' ah, yet again
He teacheth all the band!
If human efforts are in vain,
In Christ it is we stand.
'Clean ev'ry whit;' Thou saidst it, Lord;
Shall one suspicion lurk?
Thine, surely, is a faithful word,
And Thine a finished work.
Forever be the glory given
To Thee, O Lamb of God!
Our ev'ry joy on earth, in heaven,
We owe it to Thy blood."