It is an interesting question, and one that sets a certain other question at rest, Ought we not to distinguish between the actings of the Holy Ghost in the world generally and His actings in the midst of the separated people of God?
I see the Spirit of God testifying to God's thoughts of such a separated company, and acting in them, in Mal. 3 "They spake often one to another . . . for they feared the Lord, and thought upon HIS NAME." Was not that of the Spirit? However far away Israel might have been as to the knowledge of the mind of God at that moment, there was no mixture among them; they had the same desire and object. There was no stranger among them; they knew each other well, this is evident, and they were in Israel just what Israel should have been as a whole among the nations; viz., "The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations." Such words described this little company, and the Spirit of God tells of God's delight in them as His "jewels."
I see them again, and the Spirit of God drawing attention to them, in Luke 2. There was Anna, and Simeon, and those that "looked for redemption in Jerusalem." There was distinct action of the Holy Ghost among them. As to Simeon the "Holy Ghost was upon him." "It was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost" about the coming One, and again Simeon "came by the Spirit into the temple." And Anna came in at the same moment. There was this special favour of God shown to them, that they were instructed and brought into fellowship with His mind and purposes at that moment, a moment of especial interest with Him as to this world. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. They learnt it from Himself. It was a wondrous moment, one that stands alone in the history of this world, when God was bringing in the second Man the Lord from heaven, and the favour of learning His mind about Him was theirs, and that little company to whom they belonged, "who looked for redemption in Jerusalem." Who can overestimate the wondrous favour of being thus brought at any time into a knowledge of the present thoughts and purposes of God?
But while this was the action of the Holy Ghost towards this little separated company, the "poor of the flock," He was at the same time acting elsewhere, and entirely apart from them. John the Baptist was to be the vessel whom the Spirit would use in another work, and John was "filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb." It was not the secrets of the Lord that were to be revealed to him in the same way as to the little remnant; for John had to confess, "I knew Him not." But there was to be a mighty public wave of blessing for Israel, that was to prepare the way of the coming Messiah; and this wondrous wave of' blessing, which reached even the throne of the heathen king, was as much the work of the Spirit of God as was the song of praise and thanksgiving raised by old Simeon, when he held in his arms Him whom by revelation he knew as "The Salvation" of Israel - God's SALVATION.
There may be a similar public work of the Spirit just prior to our Lord's second coming. But notice the effect of being thus brought into communion with the present mind of God. It is quietness, contentment, satisfaction. Simeon desired NOTHING MORE; and Anna's work thenceforward was but to speak "of HIM" wherever a hearing ear was found in Jerusalem. But these quiet, contented, satisfied ones, the feeble few who possessed by special instruction of the Holy Ghost the present "secret of the Lord," are not made the instruments of the public activity of the Holy Ghost in the land; but John is, as we have observed, and it was a wondrous and stirring moment of God's activity: "Then went out to meet him [John] Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan." Pharisees and Sadducees, publicans and soldiers, the real and the unreal, the "generation of vipers" and those who boasted, "We have Abraham to our father," all were moved; for God was moving among His people, and who could resist Him? But what was the testimony? It was but for them to prepare for Him, whom this little company had already got; John's testimony being the need of the confession of sins, and baptism unto repentance, and of the Coming One, who was to baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. I have no doubt that they bowed to the testimony too, and so far went with Israel in this public movement; but they had already more, even Himself, and the deep, deep satisfaction and contentment and joy that He gave, which Simeon's thanksgiving and Anna's expressed; and did it diminish as He lived and walked before them day by day, God's Christ, revealed to them as such by the Holy Ghost? When drawn to Him, there is ever this in the true heart that contemplates Him, an increased binding of bonds that can never break; and Peter's simple testimony, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life," will answer this question as to whether their delight in Him diminished.
I might also have drawn attention to Paul, the "prisoner of the Lord." The especial depositary of the mind of God as taught of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13) as this apostle was, he was shut up in a prison at Home, whence we have received those wondrous epistles (the dictates of the Holy Ghost), Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Hebrews. But in the public testimony (save in the palace, I suppose) the apostle had then no share; yet it went on, and he rejoiced that it did: "Nevertheless, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." In it too - i.e. in the public testimony - at that time Peter and John and others had their share; but to none of them was unfolded the secrets of the mind of God as to Paul, as Peter himself will admit (2 Peter 3:16), and as their own writings prove. It was his wonderful solace to know that the Lord stood with him. Here again then the actings of the Holy Ghost in the world generally, and His actings to a faithful servant, have to be distinguished, and not confounded.
In view of what has been here said, I cannot expect any but a separated people or a separated servant to be instructed in the present mind of God, and it appears to me that it has been always so: "He made known His ways unto Moses, His acts unto the children of Israel." "If thou take forth the precious from the vile, then thou shalt be as my mouth." God is sovereign, and in a day of ruin like the present (and it is this as to the Church and the truth in the hands of man) He can work, and does, by whom He will. But we must not depart from obedience and the Word. The question set at rest, as I said at the beginning (if these things are so, as to which we must "search the Scriptures"), is, Why does not the Lord use us more in His public testimony in this world? There are new movements of the Spirit of God in the world - salvation armies, gospel armies, and the like. The believer should rejoice that "Christ is preached," and that the Holy Ghost is working in this world in this way. But if in a day of ruin we have not both these actings of the Spirit carried on through us, then I covet, for myself and for others with whom God has been pleased to associate me, to be more distinctly of that separated and satisfied company to whom He has revealed His present mind, rather than to be the more public and apparently more used instrument who is not of that company, but who is as much USED of the Spirit in a public sphere (and one must remember it, though not in it) as the others are blessed in a private one. H.C.Anstey.