The Ministry of the Spirit

C. H. Mackintosh.

I desire to call the attention of the Christian reader to a glorious truth, plainly revealed in the pages of the New Testament, but sadly lost sight of in the professing church. I refer to the presence of the Holy Spirit on the earth. For more than eighteen centuries there has been a divine Person working in the midst of all the moral darkness, ruin, and confusion of this scene where Satan rules. The Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost, sent by the Father in the name of the Son; and He has been here ever since, patiently, graciously toiling-grieved, hindered and quenched-but still working, blessed be His holy name.

This is a stupendous fact, not a mere doctrine or principle for the mind, but a living divine reality for the heart - a great practical, formative truth, designed and eminently fitted to affect the whole moral being, to govern the conduct and form the character. There is a divine Person - God the Spirit - present on the earth, just as there was a divine Person - God the Son - present on the earth for thirty-three years, going up and down through the cities, towns, and villages of Israel, teaching, preaching, and working, in matchless grace and patience. And this blessed One, when challenged by the great religious authorities of the day, as to what He was doing, gave the striking and suggestive answer, “My Father works hitherto, and I work”.

Thus we have the divine and eternal Trinity presented to our hearts, as working, for well-nigh six thousand years, in infinite grace and patience, amid the wreck, ruin, and moral misery of this world. Can anything exceed, in moral grandeur, this magnificent fact? God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit working, in the midst of a world of ruined, miserable, hell-deserving sinners. Surely in contemplating such a fact as this, we can only exclaim with the blessed apostle, “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been his counsellor? or who has first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be the glory for ever. Amen.”

But our very special object in this brief paper, is to present to the reader, for his prayerful study, the deeply interesting and important truth of the ministry of the Spirit, as unfolded in the Acts and the epistles. In the former, we find Him as an evangelist; in the latter as a pastor and teacher, acting by human agents, no doubt; but He is the great Worker. He cannot be seen by human eyes; but He has been the source and spring of every single act of true ministry in the church and in the world for the last eighteen hundred years.

Every true evangelist that has gone forth into the world to tell the glad tidings of God’s salvation to perishing sinners, has been fitted and filled and used by Him. Every true teacher that has sought to teach the church of God, has been qualified, energised, and guided by Him. Every true pastor that has come forth to feed and shepherd the lambs and sheep of the beloved flock of Christ, has been gifted, governed, and animated by Him. There is not a single atom of true ministry, beneath the canopy of heaven, save what springs from the presence and power of God the Spirit. He may use an unlettered fisherman, an ignorant ploughman, or a cultivated scholar; the instrument is nothing; the gift, the grace, the power - all is His. All the education and all the human authority in the world could not make a man an evangelist, a pastor, or a teacher. The gift of ministry and the authority to minister must be divine. All else is a sham, a vanity, a delusion.

But we shall not, just now, occupy our time with what is merely human, but rather delight our heart by dwelling upon the glorious fact that there is a divine Person on this earth, yea, in our midst, doing all the work that is really done. This is most precious, most comforting, most assuring to the heart. Indeed, it is not possible for human language adequately to set forth the deep blessedness and practical importance of this grand fact. If it be true that God the Spirit is in our midst, saving souls and ministering to the saints, is it not our solemn duty to inquire how are we comporting ourselves in the reference to this august Person? Are we grieving Him by our ways, or quenching him by our ecclesiastical systems, or our congregational arrangements? This is a serious inquiry for every soul throughout the length and breadth of Christendom.

In looking through the Acts of the Apostles, or, as another has more correctly styled it, the Acts of the Holy Spirit, we see the lovely way in which the Lord the Spirit carried on His glorious evangelistic work. We find Him speaking, through Peter, to thousands; we find Him, in Philip, going after a solitary traveller, and getting up beside him in his chariot, and preaching to him Jesus. We see Him, in the blessed activities of His love, making His way, through Peter, beyond the bounds of Judaism, to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and bring them into the kingdom. We listen to Him, through the prisoner at Philippi, telling the poor broken-hearted jailer to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved with all his house. We find Him energizing Paul on Mars’ Hill, unfolding to the learned yet ignorant Athenians the only true God whom they were ignorantly worshipping. We find the same at Corinth - preaching Christ and gathering a large assembly round that peerless name.

In a word, we see Him through the whole of this marvellous missionary record, the indefatigable, earnest, diligent Worker, through the evangelists who travelled up and down, hither and thither, through the hedges and highways, streets and lanes, to tell out the precious story of divine love.

How refreshing is all this! It is precious beyond expression. It reminds of the exquisite parable of the woman and her lost piece of silver, which indeed specially sets forth the work of the Holy Spirit. She lights a candle, sweeps the house, and searches diligently, till she finds her lost piece. Reader, think of this. Dwell upon it with delight. Hang, with all your heart, over the inspired page which presents to your gaze the Holy Spirit, the unseen Worker, ministering to precious souls.

And remember, this blessed and glorious One is still here. Wherever the pure and precious gospel is faithfully preached, in public or in private, to large audiences or to lonely individuals, by word of mouth or by the silent tract, there you have the Spirit evangelizing.

It is not only interesting and edifying but most affecting to trace the precious ministry of the Spirit, in pastorship and teaching, in the epistles. True, He uses Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude; but it is Himself we reverently and adoringly recognize in each and all. It is he who fills the vessel, guides the pen, gives the word. It is He who instructs, admonishes, exhorts, comforts, warns, and edifies.

Precious ministry, precious beyond expression! How we should bless our God for it, and seek to profit by it. What grace shines in every branch of the Spirit’s ministry - the evangelizing, the teaching, the pastoral care! How blessed to be the object of such ministry! May we bend our whole moral being to it! And let us never for a moment lose sight of the fact, that all true ministry in the assembly is by the Spirit. “If any man speak, let him speak” - not merely according to, but - “as oracles of God”. Weighty words for all who minister. If any man attempts to speak in the assembly otherwise than as the mouthpiece of God the Spirit, he is out of place, he is dishonoring the Holy Spirit, and injuring the assembly. Solemn consideration for all whom it may concern! May we all lay it to heart, with reverence and godly fear!

Now, this great fact has a double bearing: it speaks to us of two things: privilege and responsibility. To have the assurance that there is a divine Person actually present amongst us, in ministry, is a privilege of the very highest order. It sustains and encourages the heart, in the midst of all the difficulties and hindrances which surround on every hand. The Spirit is carrying on His precious work, and He will continue to do so until the last member is incorporated into the body of Christ. Not all the powers of earth and hell, men and devils combined, can interfere with the accomplishment of the blessed purpose of the divine Worker in His present mission on earth.

But then there is the other side to be looked at. We have to ponder the question of responsibility - a question of the deepest solemnity. We are often called to mourn over the little result of the preaching, writing, and working. There is an immense amount of activity on all hands. There are many agencies and many instruments employed and yet we see but little fruit. How is this? May it not be that we are trusting too much to agencies and leaning too much on instruments, instead of depending exclusively on the divine Worker? We are occupied with our efforts, our arrangements, our organizations, our ministers, our gifted men, instead of leaning, in simple faith and self-emptied dependence, upon the Spirit. Thus He is grieved, quenched, and hindered.

All this is most serious, and should lead us to profound exercise of heart and conscience before the Lord. We read in the gospel of a certain place in which the Lord Jesus could do no mighty works because of their unbelief. What a solemn act! They actually hindered the blessed Workman by their unbelief! Has this no voice for us? Assuredly it has. We, too, may hinder the work by our unbelief. We may limit the Holy One. We little know how much we lose, through lack of simple, earnest, believing dependence upon the Spirit.

Oh, that all the Lord’s beloved people may lay these things to heart; and give themselves to earnest, believing prayer for the progress of the Spirit’s work in the gospel and in the assembly. May we fling away all carnal confidence, all looking to men and human effort and machinery; and lean exclusively upon the power of the Holy Spirit!