The Subduing Power of the Holy Ghost

1 Samuel 19:20-24; 1 Corinthians 14:24-25.

The similarity of the effect of the action of the Spirit of God through prophets in these two scriptures is very remarkable. Before, however, considering this, attention may be called to the divine order which was observed or enjoined. In Samuel we read that the company of the prophets were prophesying, and that Samuel (we give the translation of the Revised Version) was standing as "head" over them; and in the Corinthians the apostle, after giving certain directions for the regulation of gifts in the assembly, says: "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." Samuel, therefore, when standing as head over the prophets, did but prefigure the Lordship of Christ, or His Headship over His saints when gathered in assembly. To teach, therefore, "for doctrines the commandments of men" will necessarily subvert God's order, ignore the authority of Christ, and produce confusion; for the very ground on which the saints are gathered supposes that man has passed away for ever under judgment, and that the saints, as a consequence, will see no man save Jesus only.

What, however, is to be insisted upon is that the condition for the activity of the Holy Spirit is the acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ. We may learn this individually in our own spiritual experience. When, for example, we grieve the Holy Spirit of God by any allowance of the flesh, or by any insubordination to Christ, His blessed activities in leading out our hearts in occupation with Christ and with heavenly things will immediately cease. Another character of His activity is then needed: He must occupy us with ourselves, with our own state and condition; and it is in vain for us to expect His former ministry of Christ to our souls, until He has produced self-judgment and re-established us in the enjoyment of the love of Christ, and in subjection to His rule. So also in the assembly. If there be unjudged sin, or if there be the setting aside of the place of Christ as Head, the Spirit must call attention to our state or to our insubjection to the authority of the Lord before He could lead out our hearts in worship or in "prophecy." It becomes, therefore, exceedingly important that we should challenge ourselves on this point: whether the Lord is really standing over us as Head when we are gathered together, whether we have taken our place at His feet, looking to Him to order for us, even in the smallest details, when in assembly.

We see plainly, then, that the maintenance of divine order, the subjection, that is, of the assembled saints to the Lord, is the indispensable condition for the manifestation of the Spirit's power. This is a very distinct lesson from the scene in Samuel. And remark, moreover, that the power is exercised in subduing hostility. Saul had sent messengers to take David, who had fled from the enmity of the king and taken refuge with Samuel in Ramah and Naioth. Observe also that when the messengers came no mention is made of David. It is not even said that he was present when the company of the prophets were prophesying. It was no longer, at least while David was at Naioth, a question between Saul and David, but one between God and Satan. The messengers truly came to take David, but being in the place where the Spirit of God dwelt (we speak of the type) and acted, they themselves were taken, subdued, and turned into the vessels of His power; for the Spirit of God was upon them "and they also prophesied." What a rebuke to us who possess, as neither Samuel nor the prophets possessed, the indwelling Spirit, when we trust to an arm of flesh, worldly influence or means, when in conflict with the enmity and power of Satan. "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world," writes the apostle John. Ah! if we had but the abiding conviction of this, how calmly we  might rest before every demonstration of the power of the enemy.

In Corinthians, while the instruction is of the same kind, the case is somewhat different. There had been some disorder in this assembly, and the apostle is seeking to correct it, and to bring back those who had been magnifying the importance of their gifts into subjection to Christ as Lord. They had loved to use the gift which exalted themselves, but Paul taught them that if they would be vessels of the Holy Ghost they must speak to edification, exhortation, and comfort. (v. 3.) Then, coming to our scripture, he says: "If all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in [better 'among'] you of a truth." The case here supposed is not like that of Saul's messengers, not that of one who was animated by any hostility; on the other hand, it might be concluded that the person was under some desire to know the truth, although as yet not a believer, or he would not be found as a spectator in the place where the saints were assembled. On the other side, the saints, if in the state described by Paul, would be in divine order, and the willing vessels of the Spirit. Will-less themselves, and sitting before the Lord, waiting on Him, they would become the organs for the expression of His mind for the edification of the assembly. Two things indeed would mark them: subjection to the Lord and the activity of an ungrieved Spirit.

And now ponder upon the effect. It cannot be conceived that the prophets would have any thought of "being used" to the unbeliever. No! their only desire would be to express the Lord's mind for the moment: that would be, as it should be with every servant, their only object. But the power acting through them in the case supposed, travelled outside, and searched the unbeliever through and through, and, subduing him, bowed him on his face before God; and thus thoroughly exposed and judged in His presence he worships God, and testifies that God is in the midst of His gathered saints. And while we cannot forget the confusion and departure from the truth that have come in and marred the testimony of the Lord since that time, who can doubt that similar effects would follow wherever the saints are in holy separation from evil, gathered according to the Lord's mind, and controlled in their assemblies by the Holy Spirit? That it is a day of weakness, and consequently of small things, all know; but the arm of the Lord, the power of the Holy Ghost, remains the same, and will never fail to respond to the expectation of faith. There may not be the same displays of power now; but the effects will be produced, however silently and unseen, wherever the conditions are fulfilled.

Surely then the question may well be asked whether sufficient attention has been given to the teaching of these scriptures. A striking illustration of the same truth may be gathered from the reign of Asa, King of Judah. Having put away the abominable idols out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and out of the cities which he had taken from Mount Ephraim, and renewed the altar of the Lord, it is said of the northern tribes that "they fell to him out of Israel in abundance, when they saw that the Lord his God was with him." (2 Chron. 15:8-9.) So now wherever there is the demonstration of the Lord's power and presence, souls will be attracted. It is not the truth in and by itself that convinces souls, but it is rather the evidence afforded in the undoubted presence of God, and in the holy lives of His people. Once accepting this, we shall cease from looking to man, or to any human influences whatever, and we shall depend alone upon the mighty power of the Spirit of God. It cannot, therefore, be too earnestly insisted upon that the enlightenment and conversion of souls is largely connected with the state of the assembly. This, in other words, is the lesson given by our blessed Lord to His disciples, when He says, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."