The Energy of the Holy Ghost

Acts 4:31-33.

It must be very evident, even to the uninstructed believer, that the state of things described in this scripture is no longer existent; and it is also certain, from the Word of God itself, that it will never again be reproduced in this world. For a brief moment the Spirit of God had full sway over the hearts of His people, and the consequence was that the Lord's expressed desire for the displayed oneness of His people (John 17:20-21) was entirely realized. But in the very next chapter Satan is seen to have found an entrance among the saints of God, and the dark cloud of sin and judgment overshadowed the assembly. True that the Holy Spirit still wrought with marvellous energy through chosen vessels; but from the first moment of failure the tides of blessing began to recede, and never from that day to this have they reached the high-water mark of our chapter. There have undoubtedly, as the annals of the Church abundantly testify, been flows as well as ebbs; nevertheless, it cannot be contested that the signs of the Spirit's power have become fewer ever since Pentecostal days. While admitting this without reserve, it is a consolation to remember that the principles of the Spirit's working, the conditions for the manifestation of His activities, remain the same; and we can, therefore, gather for our edification most important lessons from these early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles.

We may then call attention, first of all, to the fact that the power of the Spirit came into the midst of this company in answer to prayer. Peter, with John, filled with the Holy Ghost, had boldly testified before the Sanhedrim of the resurrection of Christ, whom they had crucified, declared their guilt in setting at naught the Stone, which had in resurrection become the Head of the corner; and, moreover, the apostles courageously refused compliance, fearless of the threatening of the authorities, with the command "not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus." Avowing their responsibility to God, they said, "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." Being let go, they went to their own company, and gave the account of what had taken place. With one accord they turned to God in prayer, committed the whole matter to Him, and besought Him to give the answer to the threatenings of men in increased power in testimony, and in healing, and "that signs and wonders may be done by [through] the name of Thy holy Child Jesus." The blessing sought came immediately, and "the place was shaken where they were assembled together." There are many divine reasons why there will not be now similar exhibitions of miraculous "signs and wonders"; but let us not for one moment doubt that, if prepared for its exercise, there might be power as real as in this remarkable instance. And there would be, and this continuously, if we could be found with one accord waiting, if any company could thus perseveringly wait, upon God. The first beginnings of spiritual power are seen in the increased realization of absolute dependence, and this again will express itself in continuing instant in prayer. In such a case the Lord will work as surely through these waiting saints as through the Pentecostal company.

Condition of soul was the first thing vouchsafed - "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost." This is an abiding principle in God's ways with His people; and consequently their only concern should be to be in a state in which they can be used, vessels unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work. We may well challenge ourselves as to whether this has been our chief concern, whether oftentimes service and activity have not come before our fitness, our state; and whether, because we have been accustomed to a line of service, we have not frequently gone on, assuming that our condition was suitable. Why, the men of the world have periodical examinations of their machinery in factories to discover defects and to ascertain if it is fitted for its work. So should it be (and we are sure that it is so with the majority) with the Lord's vessels, so that nothing may be allowed to impair their efficiency when called upon to be ready at His bidding. The gain, moreover, is immense when it is perceived that the right state can only be formed in the Spirit, and that He is the only power for service. The temptation abounds, on every hand because the practice is so common to depend upon human means, human influences, the help and countenance of the world in some shape or other, that we grieve the Holy Spirit and limit His energy. That He is the only qualification and power for the Lord's work is an accepted doctrine; but in practice, as may be everywhere seen, the doctrine is sadly overlooked, if not denied. We have much need, therefore, to weigh the statement that this company were all filled with the Holy Ghost, as the divine response to their prayers.

The next thing to be observed is that, as a consequence of being thus filled, they spake the word of God with boldness. There is the same connection in 2 Timothy, though it is the other side of the subject. Timothy was timid, and had evidently been shrinking from the cross connected with the testimony; but Paul reminded him that "God hath not given us the spirit of fear [cowardice]; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." To be controlled by the Holy Spirit is, in other words, to be empowered for service. There may be a natural courage in facing difficulties; but when the servant is governed by the Holy Ghost, be he naturally the most timid of men, he will, superior to fear, dare any difficulty or danger. It has thus often been the case that timid women and children have made the most undaunted of martyrs. Courage begotten of the fulness of the indwelling Spirit quails indeed before no foe, and the reason is that the enemy is then measured not by the resources of the vessel, but rather by the omnipotence of Him who deigns to commission and to employ it. The lesson is then learnt which was taught to Joshua, "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage: be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." (Joshua 1:9.) If we would, therefore, be divinely wise, as well as divinely qualified for whatever the Lord gives us to do, we shall seek it all, and seek it alone, in the power of the Holy Ghost. There is no truth more plainly taught in the Scriptures, and none in practice more readily forgotten.

Unity, unity in manifestation, is the next effect produced: "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul"; and thus, as already remarked, the Lord's desire for His people, that they all might be one, was for the moment answered. Blessed spectacle, we might well say, surrounded as we are, on every side, with schisms, divisions, and schools of opinion. And it is good to consider it, even though we are rebuked and humbled by our failure. Nor does the sorrow spring solely, nor even chiefly, from the divisions of Christendom, but it is caused most of all from the state of those who profess to have received the light of the mystery of the one body of Christ. The root, then, of all discords in the Church of God is the lack of the Spirit's power. Where He works unhinderedly in any company of saints, because ungrieved, there must be unity - unity in feeling, unity in thought and judgment, and unity in display. (See 1 Cor. 1:10, Eph. 4:1-3, Philippians 2:1-4, etc.) When once we apprehend this we shall be humbled to the dust at the occurrence of the least difference or strife amongst our fellow-believers; and if we ourselves should be in any wise at variance with our brethren, we shall spare no pains to effect a reconciliation, in order that we may not be obstacles to the blessed activities of the Holy Spirit. Let it, then, be again earnestly affirmed that the lack of enjoyed unity in any company is due to the absence of the power of the Holy Ghost.

Following upon unity there is fellowship, here of a special kind, but the principle remains. For if the hearts of these Pentecostal saints had been so drawn out in love one towards another that self had practically disappeared (for "neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own"), it could only be the consequence of their common enjoyment of the love of Christ. As the Lord Himself said: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:34-35.) And where is it that we learn the character of the Lord's love to His own? It is, as repeated again and again in Scripture, in His death; and hence it is that, as often remarked, the Lord's Supper is the ground of Christian fellowship. There are thus four elements in the fellowship of saints: the Lord Himself is its bond, His supper is its ground, the Holy Ghost is the power for its enjoyment, and love one to another is its expression. The question may be put whether it may still be realized? The Lord's own words quoted above show that it may be entered into in a very simple way. We say a "simple way"; but let it not be forgotten that there are two indispensable conditions for its enjoyment - first, that we possess an ungrieved Spirit, and secondly, that we love one another fervently, for it is love that knits us together (Colossians 2:2), and which, in its expression, becomes our testimony in the world. Meeting and breaking bread together is not necessarily fellowship, for its home circle is the light, as God is in the light; and the atmosphere of that circle is love and nothing but love. (See 1 John 1:7 and 4:11-12.)

Two other things are mentioned. The first is that with great power the apostles gave witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and the second is that great grace was upon them all - two things of immense importance. From the first we learn that the power seen in the apostles' testimony was connected with, we might say, the result of the state of the assembly. To seek special servants, and to have special prayer meetings for the gospel, may be excellent things; but while God may sovereignly use His word for the moment, the continuous power of the testimony will ever depend upon the state of God's people whence it proceeds. We read accordingly in Acts 9 that the assemblies, walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. By the words, "and great grace was upon them all," we understand that God's favour manifestly rested upon His people, and in such a way that those outside could acknowledge it. (See Acts 5:13.) What varied and what searching instruction is thus conveyed to us! And how we need, in a day like this, to ponder upon it in the presence of God! May the opened ear and heart be vouchsafed to us, that we may attentively listen to the voice of this divine record!