God's Great Gifts, and the Devil's Snares

1. "The Holy Ghost, which is given to us"

The greatest gift that God has given to us is the Holy Ghost, and we desire to speak of Him with deepest reverence, knowing that He is the Eternal Spirit, equal in glory to the Father and the Son. His greatness and eternal glory make the fact that He has been given to us, to dwell in us, and be with us, stupendously wonderful; a fact that surpasses all human thought, and that should profoundly affect us. "What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?" (1 Cor. 6:19).

This great gift was necessary for the carrying out of God's will, just as the foundation for the fulfilment of all His purposes was laid by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, and could not have been laid by any other person, or in any other way, so now are those purposes, as a result of Christ's work, being effectuated in men by the Holy Ghost, whose power and wisdom are alone sufficient for this. We are willing to confess that the work of redemption was entirely beyond us; let us be equally persuaded that a true answer in the souls of men to that work of redemption can only be produced by the Holy Spirit of God. Human wisdom and power can only mar and hinder here.

So we thank God for the presence of the Holy Ghost. It is by Him that we are able to pray aright, for we are exhorted to be "praying in the Holy Ghost" (Jude 20). It is by Him that we are able to understand the Word of God, for, "the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11). It is by Him that we are able to enter intelligently and joyously into our relationship as children with the Father, for, "because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father" (Gal. 4:6). It is also by the Spirit that we are led into the knowledge of Christ, for the Lord has said, "He, the Spirit of truth … will guide you into all truth … He shall glorify me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it to you" (John 16:13-14).

Indeed, there is no department of the Christian life in which the Spirit of God can be dispensed with, whether it be individual communion with God, and growth in the truth; the private life lived under the eye of God, or public witness and service; or the saints' relationships one to another, and their gatherings together in the name of the Lord; or, on the deeper side of things, in which we learn that it is by the Spirit that Jew and Gentile, reconciled to God in one body by the cross, have access to the Father; and that they are builded together, an habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2). Every right activity is from Himself, and there is nothing right in divine things that is not maintained by His power and energy.

It is here, however, that great danger threatens unwary souls. Realizing the necessity for divine power, many have turned to praying to the Holy Ghost, which Scripture nowhere warrants; others have laid themselves out to obtain "power" for public service and testimony, and "victory over sin," by seeking what is called "the Baptism of the Holy Spirit." It is to be feared that SELF-GLORIFICATION often lurks darkly behind these desires, though doubtless many of these seekers are honest and without guile, but, being uninstructed in the Word, and self-centred instead of having Christ as the controlling object of the soul, they are deceived by the devil's wiles, and some of them have been carried away into the extravagance of the "Tongues" and so-called "Pentecostal" gatherings, where it is to be feared that other spirits than the Holy Ghost have played a part in the excesses of those who have yielded themselves to they know not what. "God is not the Author of confusion."

From a contemporary magazine which is largely devoted to pressing "the Baptism of the Spirit" as something to be sought after, we learn that the track of this kind of ministry is strewed with the wreckage of "many of the brightest and most fully-surrendered children of God." It is there stated that "the number of the best and brightest believers who are deceived by the subtle spirits of Satan is far too large for the leaders of God's people to ignore them." This is a most solemn and serious admission to make, and it should cause great heart-searching amongst those who have given themselves to this line of things. We believe the cause of it is that the whole tendency of the ministry to which they have listened is to turn them in upon themselves, and make them self-occupied, thereby producing disappointment, depression, darkness, and often despair in the earnest and true souls; and this has given them over as an easy prey to the wiles of Satan.

Deliverance from such a condition, and restoration to normal Christian life can only come through the ministry of Christ. No rose ever unfolded its beauty or disclosed its fragrance by being occupied with the life-sap within it; it looks out towards the sun in the heavens, and, as it absorbs those glorious rays, it lives its God-appointed life. So the Christian cannot produce Christ-likeness by self-occupation, or by striving after a subjective condition; he must behold the glory of the Lord, and as he does this he is transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).

To set Christians seeking for "the Baptism of the Holy Ghost," is to start them upon an unscriptural quest, and if unscriptural, then false, for all must be false in divine things that is not scriptural, and if false, then of the devil, for the devil is behind every movement and teaching that tends to turn souls from Christ, however little we may suspect it. We must awake to his wiles, and not be deceived into thinking that all must be well if the desires are pious, and earnest, and right, for Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, and his ministers into ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-15), and he will endeavour to use even the holiest desires and things to turn the saints of God from the one great Christian pursuit — CHRIST — "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."

It is clear from many passages in the Epistles that all saints are indwelt by the Holy Ghost, that is, all those who have received the gospel, which has the Lord Jesus Christ raised from the dead as its great subject (Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:13-14). In none of Paul's Epistles did he exhort the saints to whom he wrote to seek "the Baptism of the Holy Ghost." He refers to this once, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, to instruct us in the fact that we, all believers, whoever we are, are already baptized by the Holy Spirit into one body. The exact words are, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." And the Corinthians to whom these words were written were not patterns of Christian grace and power, but worldly, carnal, pleasure-loving, and self-seeking The presence of the Spirit in and with them was not dependent upon their condition, but upon their reception of the gospel of God concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout all Paul's Epistles it is taken for granted that those to whom he wrote, having believed the gospel, were indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

It is right that we should be instructed in all the activities of the Holy Spirit on earth, and these are made known to us in the Scriptures; but the apostles of the Lord were not sent forth to preach the Holy Spirit but CHRIST, and that they might do this with unction and power the Holy Spirit was given to them. The Holy Spirit is not presented in the Scriptures as the subject of ministry, but CHRIST; He is not the object of faith, but CHRIST. The Scriptures are concerning CHRIST, God's purpose is that every knee shall bow to CHRIST, and the Holy Spirit of God is engaged today in bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of CHRIST; and it is as the soul is absorbed with CHRIST that the Holy Spirit is able to proceed with His gracious work in us, and through us, silently and unseen.

The Spirit of God has come into this world to be the untiring Servant of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is His mission to keep Christ, in His manifold glories, before the saints of God. As the Lord Himself declared, "He shall not speak of [or from] Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He shall show you things to come. HE SHALL GLORIFY ME: for He shall receive of mine, and show it to you" (John 16:13-14). Yet, amongst many Christians, how little ministry of Christ there seems to be — of Christ, the beloved Son of the Father; the infinitely tender Son of Man who came into the world not to be ministered to, but to minister, to be the Servant of man's necessity; the holy Sacrifice for sin upon the cross; the risen Victor over death; the glorious and all-sufficient Head of His body the church; the quickly coming Lord, King of kings and Lord of lords. This dearth of the ministry of Christ is positive proof that the Holy Spirit is grieved and quenched, and nothing can grieve and quench Him more completely than that Himself and His work should be made the prominent subject of ministry instead of Christ. May God pardon His servants in this matter, and mightily stir their hearts by the surpassing glories of Christ that they may preach Him — the centre of heaven's praise, and the one adorable and ever-blessed portion of the saints of God; who is also the wisdom and the power of God, and who is made to us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

Obedience is a great necessity, the sine qua non of a life of spiritual power and blessing, but it is obedience to God and our Lord Jesus Christ, whose will is expressed in the Scriptures; and the Holy Ghost is here to bring about this obedience in us. If we are conscious of the lack of joy and blessing and power (and how rare these things are) the remedy is not to seek "a Baptism of the Holy Spirit," but to adjust our relations with the Lord. The deplorably helpless condition of the servants and saints of God in the presence of the inrolling tide of apostasy and evil is a consequence of indifference to the claims of the Lord and disobedience to His Word.

In the letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3), where the failure and declension of the church is prophetically outlined, there is no command to seek a baptism of the Holy Ghost, but to remember from whence they had fallen, and to repent and return. They had fallen from a full-hearted response to the love of Christ; it was not power that they had lost in the first instance, but LOVE AND DEVOTION TO THE PERSON OF CHRIST; anything and everything is possible to him whose heart is true to his Lord. In these chapters the Spirit brings the Lord into prominence; it is His will, His word, His name; He commands, searches the heart, loves, rebukes, chastens, and He, alas, is outside the door, and the door shut upon Him in the Laodicean Church — the last phase of Christendom before the fierce judgment of the Lord is poured out upon it. But they are not there commanded to open the door to the Spirit, but to the Lord, to give Him His rights, and His desires. This is the voice of the Spirit to the churches: "Open wide the door and give Christ His rightful place."

Questions may arise as to the passages in Ephesians 5:18, "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit" But this is just the normal Christian life; fleshly excitement they were not to run after but they were to let the Holy Ghost pervade their being, the result of which would be that they would be speaking to themselves "in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts TO THE LORD giving thanks always for all things to the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (vv 19-20). If the Lord is to be the subject of our praise, and the object of our adoration, He must be the portion of our cup, and the one who is filled with the Spirit is Christ-centred. It is not himself, or his service, or his victories over sin, that are the subjects of his thoughts or the theme of his testimony, but Christ; He is everything; and all to whom Christ is everything shall be always victorious over evil, useful to men, and delightful to the Lord.

2. The Object of the Gospel

We talked to a man at the close of a gospel preaching who had sunk as low and become as wretched as a life of sin could make him. Indeed, so low and wretched was he that he had only been kept back from suicide by the thought of the judgment that follows death. He was undoubtedly a fit subject for the grace of God, and he felt his need of it too. This, thank God, is all the fitness He requires in men, and the great sinner was saved that day. He was saved, for he yielded to the Saviour, looked up to Him as his only hope, and believed God's testimony concerning Him.

He told us the next evening that God was very good to him, for He had found suitable work early in the day, and at this he stuck well, and soon showed the result of his conversion in a decidedly changed appearance. Some time afterwards a friend of ours met him, but did not at first recognize him, so altered was he from the dissipated wreck that he was when first we made his acquaintance. "You see," he explained to our friend, "when the Lord took me in hand He made a good job of me. He not only saved my soul, but He washed and brushed me up." We were very glad to know that he had been washed and brushed up; we should not have believed in the reality of has conversion if these things had not accompanied it, but that was not the end that the Lord had in view when He took him in hand. God does not save men to make their lives more respectable, or their homes happier, though these things will surely be amongst the results produced by His grace wherever it is received, for the grace of God which brings salvation teaches men how to behave; but that is not the great end that He has in view when He saves them. He saves them that they might be a people separated from the world and ready for the coming again of Christ, that they might, as the Scripture says, "serve the living and true God; and wait for His Son from heaven" (1 Thess. 1:9-10). The main purpose of the gospel is to gather out of this world a people for Christ, who in self-forgetful devotion to Him shall earnestly look for His coming again.

If the gospel does not separate those who receive it from the world and make Christ supreme in affections it has failed in its present great purpose. We feel that we must press this upon our readers, for so many earnest Christians seem to have got the notion that the gospel is a philanthropic scheme for the betterment of the world, and for the uplifting of humanity. They make the benefit of men their sole object, and the glory of Christ is thereby obscured, and this, we believe, is a snare of the devil.

God's philanthropy is undoubtedly made manifest in the gospel, for He loves men and desires that they should be happy, but true and unalloyed happiness is not the result of the amelioration of the conditions of life, but of turning to Christ in complete surrender, and in making Him the supreme object of faith and love.

An infidel may seek the uplifting of humanity, and a Christ-hater may labour for easier conditions and cleaner lives for the masses, and they may attempt to prove to the Christian that their schemes are better adapted to this end than the gospel We should not trouble to argue the point with them, but should go on preaching the gospel, for we know that nothing can uplift men more surely and lastingly than the gospel, and we would not make little of this, but rejoice in at. Yet we must always keep its great purpose in view.

Many Christians are working only for the betterment of the world, which is waxing "worse and worse" in spite of their efforts, and is fast ripening for the judgments of God. In order to accomplish their purpose they are adopting worldly methods, mixing world schemes with the gospel they preach, and associating with those who despise and reject the beloved Son of God. They have fallen into this snare of the enemy, and are disobedient to the Word, and grieving the Holy Ghost, and dishonouring Christ. "We do not war after the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds), casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

The gospel is concerning Christ (Rom. 1:3), and those who are saved by it are saved for His praise, and that He might be glorified in them. They have professed to own His lordship over them, and if they reason rightly they will say, "The love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live to themselves, BUT UNTO HIM which died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

We do not state these things as our opinion, and we have no special views to uphold; all we seek is that we, and all our readers, should read the Word of God intelligently and be governed by it. Here are some outstanding passages from its pages: —

"Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father" (Gal. 1:3-4).

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; LOOKING FOR THAT BLESSED HOPE, and GLORIOUS APPEARING OF THE GREAT GOD AND OUR SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and PURIFY UNTO HIMSELF A PECULIAR PEOPLE, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:11-14).

"Simeon has declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles TO TAKE OUT OF THEM A PEOPLE FOR HIS NAME" (Acts 15:14) And all, so taken out by the grace of God, are indwelt by the Holy Ghost; they are part of the church which Christ loved and for which He gave Himself.

He is waiting for the moment, plainly foretold in the Scriptures, when He shall catch up His blood-bought church to be His wife on the great marriage day (Rev. 19). And while the world, grown hoary in its persistent rebellion against God, will remain in the power of the devil, ready for the wrath to come, the church, the Lamb's wife, all fair and glorious, will be seen in heaven, the true and mighty and final result of the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God in the world.

If we get a glimpse of this glorious future, by faith, we shall not be one less delighted to see the lives of men changed here, but we shall be looking the more earnestly for the consummation of God's eternal purpose by the gospel.

"The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely … He which testifies these things says, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:17, 20).

3 — The Word of God and Prayer

i. The Word of God

What a great gift is this to men! It is God's communication to them, expressing His solicitude, His compassion, His gracious intentions towards them. In it He declares to them, also, how all His thoughts for blessing towards them are made effectual for them in Christ; in such words as these this comes out: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

It is common in these loose days, in which God's thoughts are of small account, and in which the vain reasonings of men are exalted to the place of the oracle, to speak of the Bible as the product of the murky past: good men, no doubt, they were who wrote it, and well-meaning, but often mistaken, and who never in their most exalted moments conceived the advance that humanity would make. But the Book is the Word of God, and His servants were holy men of God moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21). God knows the thoughts and the imaginations of the hearts of men, and He saw the end from the beginning. He has declared in the Word that all the progress in which men boast, yea, all their glory, is but as the gaudy poppy of the summer fields. He has told us that the earth and all the works of men within it are to be burnt up, and He has also told us in the same Word of an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and which fadeth not away. This inheritance is in Christ for all who will believe the report of it, which report is given to us in the Bible.

With the Word of God, every jot and tittle of which must be fulfilled, in our possession we can ignore the critics; having its pure gold we can refuse their gilded dross; having it to feed upon, we may be well satisfied to pass by the husks of "science — falsely so called" without regret. But here we must beware, for the devil is subtle, and we may hold the Bible to be the Word of God, reverence it as such, search its pages and become conversant with every word of it, and yet miss its great purpose. We may become puffed up by our knowledge of it; we may be satisfied with the letter of it, and be utterly alien to its spirit; we may become so conscience-seared as to handle it deceitfully for place or gain; and, worse than all, we may use its unchanging truths as the sword of the executioner with which to destroy our brethren. We need to pray that God will preserve us in the right spirit while we read it; that our ears may be kept open and our hearts unhardened, so that what we hear may be mixed with faith and become profitable to us, being reduced to practice; for it is not the hearer only, nor yet the expounder, but the exponent, the doer, who is blest in his deed.

The Scriptures have been given to us, not to make us self-occupied or to put a halo about our own heads, but that we might learn of Christ, and that He might be great in our thoughts; they are to testify of Him. "Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27). As He becomes better known to us, we shall grow in our appreciation of His preciousness. As we behold the glory of the Lord we shall be transformed into the same image; and as we learn of Him we shall become like Him — meek and lowly of heart. It is as we are in this attitude before God that we shall find His word to be our delight and our counsellor, a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. By it we shall be kept from the snares of the destroyer, and in the right ways of the Lord.

In its own sphere the Word of God is all-sufficient; given by inspiration of God it meets the dawning intelligence of the child and is able to make him wise to salvation (2 Tim 3:15) by taking heed to it he will cleanse his way as he grows up to manhood, and by it he may be throughly furnished to every good work as a man of God.

ii. Prayer

We speak of prayer as a gift, for what an extraordinary favour it is that we insignificant and sinful men should be permitted to speak intimately with the almighty and eternal God; and that we should be able to do this as children speaking to a father, by the Spirit of adoption that dwells within us; knowing that He, the Father, Himself loves us, because we love the Lord Jesus; and that our prayers presented to Him in the name of Christ shall never meet refusal. The contemplation of this favour, this most wonderful gift of sovereign grace, should fill us with thanksgiving to God from whom it comes, and inspire us with a holy determination to be found earnestly and often in prayer to Him.

We, however, need watchfulness with our praying, for the devil may so deceive us by his subtlety, that the very best favours may become a snare to us, and, indeed, the higher the favour the more subtle the snare. It is easy for us, so foolish are we, to rest satisfied with the act of praying, to secretly congratulate ourselves upon a devotional exercise, and to think we have accomplished something because we have spent a certain time upon our knees or uttered certain words before God. It is true that the fervent effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much, but such a prayer is THE PRAYER OF FAITH, and faith must have an object; it is not introspective, but looks outward to God, and while feeling the helplessness and nothingness of self, it glories in the all-sufficiency and power of the God to whom prayer is made. This is right, and if we so pray we shall be subjectively affected by it, for prayer puts us into the presence of God, and we shall as a result bear some trace, morally, of the glory of that presence. But to be satisfied with the means instead of the end, to rest in the mere exercise of prayer instead of in the God to whom the prayer is directed, will result in a self-satisfied state of mind, and in the exaltation of the flesh religiously, and nothing can bring about the paralysis of all true spirituality more completely than this.

How extraordinary is that grace on God's part which invites our confidence, which calls us to cast all our burden upon Him, to make known our every need to Him, and which gives us the assurance that no matter in our lives is too small for His notice, and none too great for His wisdom and power. How above all our thoughts is His thought that having relieved us of our burdens, and turned our sighing into thanksgiving, we should hold intercourse with Him, be made acquainted with His thoughts, and become intercessors before Him for others according to His will. The spirit of prayer, said John Bunyan, is worth more than thousands of gold and silver, and so say all who know the blessedness of it.