In our days of national and ecclesiastical declension the evangelical pulpit needs the special ministry of the Holy Ghost, say, baptisms of the Spirit of grace and truth. To deny that would indicate enormous spiritual blindness. To report that certain evangelical preachers and ministries resist the quickening which the Spirit of God alone can provide so that they are quenching the Spirit would be a solemn allegation. If it is a slur then it comes from the pit. Its end would be to denigrate that preaching, and so encourage Christians who sit under that ministry to be indifferent to it. How different a ministry believed to be authenticated by the Spirit of God, so that a man and his hearers believe “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach.” How earnestly men heed that preaching.
Men of God today, as they always have, recognise the great need for Jesus Christ to baptize his pulpits with the Spirit and fire. J.K. Popham was speaking in 1912 describing his time – as World War I grew ever nearer – as “dark, discouraging and painful.” What would he think of today? He analysed the pulpit 90 years ago and said, “There is a lack of unction, life and power in the ministry. I suppose no ministerial brother present would deny that. Each will for himself be continually, as exercised, confessing and mourning over that sad fact and, as led and helped, be seeking fresh and increased supplies of grace and power, that he may be eminently useful in the ministry. No good ministry without Christ; no unction without him; no power or authority without Christ.”
Or one can find the same concern expressed by Edward Donnelly in his book, “Peter: Eyewitness of His Majesty” (Banner of Truth 1998). He has a chapter entitled “Spirit-filled Preaching” (chapter 11, pp.91-94), where he describes the coming of the Spirit on the pulpit thus, “Most true preachers have had experience of this marvellous enabling. Its coming is unpredictable, often unexpected. Suddenly the minister’s heart is aflame and his words seem clothed with a new power. The congregation is strangely hushed or moved. There is a palpable sense of the presence of God. The Spirit exercises a melting, penetrating influence, so that all are aware that momentous issues are before them . . . such an experience is unforgettable, addictive, a day of heaven on earth. Once a preacher has known the richness of God’s enabling, he can never again rest satisfied without it” (op cit, p.91). We can humbly thank God for many such occasions in our congregation as we have been under the word of the Lord, but we long for more.
I am simply making the introductory point that every gospel preacher will recognise the need of the Holy Spirit to come upon him; men may refer to this ministry as ‘baptisms of the Holy Spirit’. Their concern is that the church should be seeking more supplies of grace and power, and who can deny that? They sometimes use intemperate language, and their theology is not always as thoroughly biblical as it might be but their concern has been finely expressed thus, that “That preacher is in a pitiable condition who can continue year after year without the breath of God upon his ministry. He is not alive enough to know his own deadness. He knows too little of preaching to realise that he is not preaching. His lack of concern is his condemnation. God spare us from that awful futility!” (Edward Donnelly, op cit, p.92).
Of course, being full of the Spirit is not the prerogative or need of preachers alone. An aged Christian lady died last year. She spent her life loving the kingdom of God and working for his church. As a young believer she had a yearning for a closer walk with God, for a deeper knowledge of him, for more of the fulness of the Spirit, in order to be a more courageous and useful witness to him. How God answered that longing! She spent her days serving the gospel and labouring to advance God’s kingdom. When I think of how many Christians in our own congregation, young and old, seem so satisfied with a low level of attainment I yearn that they capture some of her dedication and are no longer novices, but filled with the Spirit of God. Will a special word in a sermon have a transforming effect on the tenor of their whole Christian walk? It can happen. God can say something that convicts and awakens them. Everything is different. Sometimes it takes an earthquake for doors to open and chains to be broken. Other times the quiet and gentle dove must do his work. If the Spirit works imperceptibly or if he comes like a rushing mighty wind it matters not. Oh that he would come and there be a new consecration and seriousness about the lives of our entire congregation.
1. THE WRONG APPROACH TO THE BAPTISMS OF THE SPIRIT.
There are a number of mistaken approaches to the ministry of the Spirit:
i] The first is the romanticisation of the New Testament church. There is extraordinary growth and vitality recorded in the book of Acts where the labours of just a few of the preachers are reported. In every direction from Jerusalem the disciples carried the message of the risen Christ. There was no need for seminars on evangelism. The Christians in Corinth didn’t have to be told to get out with the gospel. Rather they had to be exhorted to remain in the situation which they were in when God called them (I Cor. 7:20). Christian men and women, old and young, slave and free, were going around the city and out from Corinth taking the gospel of Jesus Christ everywhere, and family life, and financial obligations were being neglected. How different from our own sad situation. There was the growth and zeal of a new movement under the blessing of the Spirit.
Yet these were also days of confusion, immorality and immaturity. In Corinth there was no great conviction about the resurrection of the body. Paul needed to spell it out in fifty verses to assure them of the facticity of this event. Some men in the church were keeping ‘virgin wives’ knowing no union with them as though such a union were not possible for Spirit-filled people. Another man in that same congregation, at another extreme, had taken his father’s own wife. What a scandal. In Galatia the church quickly fell into insisting on circumcising new converts and the whole congregation keeping Old Testament food laws. In Colossae some were worshipping angels. In Thessalonica men had given up work to hang around for the second coming of Christ. In Asia Minor the congregations were troubled with leaving their first love, growing lukewarm, tolerating false teachers. The brethren in that whole area had turned against Paul and his teaching. There were tensions between strong Christians and weak in Rome. Some there preached Christ simply to spite the apostle Paul, envious of his position. There were prominent people in the Philippian church who could not be of the same mind. Many kinds of wickedness were rife, so Paul tells Timothy to be on guard and resist such a tide. People could lie and blaspheme against the Holy Spirit even in the Jerusalem church itself where apostles were their pastors. So, the first century had its problems. It was not unrecognisably different from the congregations of our own day. We may not set a chasm between it and today’s churches by romanticising it as some perfect time.
ii] The second wrong approach is the denigration of the Christians of our own day. It is estimated that there are today 600 million evangelical Christians in the world, and several million gospel churches. To make a single generalisation about the state of the 21st century church is virtually impossible. What we do know is that this is the church that Jesus Christ has built. All his elect have been saved during these years. Every one of them has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Christ has taken the responsibility of sanctifying them and keeping them so that not one of them has been or will be lost. He has been preparing them for heaven. This age has been characterised by the gospel being taken into all the world. Hundreds of tribes and tongues have had the Bible in their own language. Men and women have dedicated their whole lives to countries far from the ones in which they were raised where they have loved a different people. Tens of thousands have laid down their lives for the Saviour. Publishing houses have produced countless titles old and new. Hundreds of seminaries and Bible schools filled with dedicated staffs are training men for the ministry. Millions of Christian homes have raised children to know and love the Saviour. All this has been done and is going on today, even though there has been no such work of God as a 20th century awakening. Father, Son and Holy Spirit has chosen to adopt this manner of building the church in our age. Let us not disdain the bride of Christ. He loves her passionately and eternally.
iii] The third wrong approach is this. In exalting the visitations of the Holy Spirit this is accompanied by a downgrading of what the New Testament says about the status of every single Christian. We have all been blessed in the heavenly realms with every blessing of the Holy Spirit in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). That is the undeniable privilege of every mere believer, from the youngest lamb in the flock to the oldest ram. All alike blessed with every blessing of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that what the Word of God teaches? Aren’t they wonderful – the greatness of God’s blessings? Every Christian chosen in love by God from before the foundation of the world. The sins of every Christian atoned for by the Lamb of God so that all is well between us and the God who is light. Every Christian knowing a reconciled smiling Father. Every Christian given a new heart with the old stony heart removed. Every Christian made a new creation, the old things passed away. Every Christian receiving a birth from above. Every Christian indwelt by the Holy Spirit so that heart and mind and affections and body are touched by him. Every Christian justified freely by the grace of God, that is, God has imputed to them the obedience of his Son Jesus Christ and has declared them righteous in him. Every Christian has been adopted into the family of God and made his heirs and joint heirs with Christ. Every Christian has been united to Jesus Christ, put ‘in him.’ No Christian is any longer under the dominion of sin. Every Christian is seated in the heavenlies in Christ and effectively glorified. For every Christian Christ intercedes at the right hand of God, and the Father receives his intercession, so that each one is saved to the uttermost. For each one on Golgotha Christ purchased persevering grace and this is sealed to every Christian by the Holy Spirit so that no one can take a single Christian out from the Father’s hand. God supplies all their need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. These are not blessing which the super-Christian – the ‘Spirit-baptized Christian’ – alone knows.
That is the status of every Christian, isn’t it? That is what God does for every believer from regeneration. None realises all that has happened to him at the time. They made a simple confession of faith, a humble confused prayer – “God help me never to sin again” and God dealt with them so graciously, more than they could ask or even think. They felt some need of Jesus. They didn’t know that they actually needed regeneration, justification, the imputed righteousness, adoption into God’s family, union with Christ, the terminating of the reign of sin and glorification. God didn’t wait for them to realise all of this, and then he waited while they spelled it out back to God, agonizing in their desire for these things, one by one, and eventually, God gave each of these blessings to them – sometimes delaying the bestowal for years! It was not like that at all. They bowed before Christ, and mumbled their need for him, and in response they were flooded with this grace.
There is the long golden chain which was forged in Christ’s own body and soul as he hung in the naked flame of God’s rectitude on Golgotha. God has joined each of his people to one end of it, and the other end is joined to his own heart. The spiritual blessings I have mentioned are some of those immutable links. There must be many more, some of which we will never know, and others we will only appreciate on the Great Day.
“Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then how much I owe.” (Robert Murray M’Cheyne).
Any doctrine of the comings of the Spirit upon the Christian must begin by a growing wonder at the untold glories of what God has already done for us by the Spirit through Christ. Who would hesitate at this knowledge and say, “Yes, but . . .”? Who would dare? Rather let us take Paul’s doxology and make it our own: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephs. 1:9). He knew all about us; he knew the secret sins; the prayerlessness; the grudges and bitterness in our hearts; he knew how prone we were to wander and leave the God we loved. He still blessed us in all those ways. Whatever our uselessness and failure it is not because of any inadequacy on God’s part. We cannot say our status was second class, or our provision was limited, or that we had some cause for living at a sub-Christian standard. No such Christian exists or ever shall. Any doctrine of the baptism of the Spirit must honour what the word of God teaches as to the glorious redemptive achievements of Christ and the glorious redemptive applications of the Holy Spirit.
All the people of God are blessed with every spiritual blessing. There are not two classes of Christian, those who have such blessings and those who do not. Nothing that happens subsequent to regeneration, no further future experiences of the Spirit, can compare in their life-transforming wonder to what happens to every Christian at the new birth. Of course, the marvel of God’s blessing is this, that for some Christians the working of regeneration is so secret that they are not aware of even the year in which the Spirit gave them new life. They were passing through this enormous and eternal change of status. They were being blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, and yet they were not aware that that was happening to them. Certainly every future experience of God was bound to be more memorable for they had no memory of when regeneration occurred, but though future experiences were more stirring yet their significance pales compared to being put in Christ. Not even being put in glory is as great a change as being put in Christ.
Sadly, many Christians have never sat under ministry that explains the glories of the blessings of the new life. Even sadder is the fact that some Christians live on their pulpit’s refrain of what they don’t possess, and what they should agonise to get one day – if they agonize enough. If they haven’t got these blessings then it’s wholly because they are not in real earnest. That is their sanctification diet. How different from that grace which God bestows on every believer.
This picture of the glorious primary blessing bestowed on all the people of God is what we have throughout the Acts of the Apostles. It is very plain. On the day of Pentecost the whole church were all together in one place. The Spirit “came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:3&4). There was not a Christian in the whole world who was not blessed with every blessing of the Holy Spirit in Christ. It is not that some of them had this, maybe just a few of the super-preachers. No. He came to rest upon every single one of them and filled them all, body, soul, affections, heart and mind. They all had different backgrounds, and different experiences of Christ, with various levels of piety and seriousness, but each one was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then Peter tells the thousands listening to him what they must do to enjoy this blessing. He tells them to repent and be baptized, “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). He does not exhort them to agonize, and lay everything on the altar and keep crying until they have this blessing. No. “Repent and be baptized!” (Acts 2:38) is the formula.
That is the pattern throughout the book of Acts. When the apostles went to Samaria after the preaching of Philip and they laid their hands on the believers there every single one received the Holy Spirit. There is nothing at all about some selective Spirit baptisms, one Samaritan here, and half a dozen Samaritans there. When the apostles laid their hands on these people the apostolic blessing came effectually on each one. Not a Christian in Samaria was without the Spirit.
It is the same in Cornelius’ household as the Gospel has moved outside Jerusalem, then to Samaria and now to the Gentile home of Cornelius. The congregation pack into the room and no doubt around the windows and in the courtyard and doors to listen to Peter’s sermon. Then what happens? “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message” (Acts 10:44). Every single one received the Holy Spirit. It was not that he came on the leaders, or the most prayerful, or those who were very mature, just them. No, “on all who heard the message”. That is what the Holy Ghost says. Did they hear Peter’s word? Then the Spirit came upon them.
It is exactly the same with the twelve men in Ephesus who had never heard of the Holy Spirit and had received John’s baptism. When Peter told them of the one coming after John whom they should believe in, then after Peter had baptized them, the Holy Spirit came upon every single one of them. None of them was excluded. They catch up with the ordinary Christian in Ephesus. There is no case in the Acts of the Apostles of the Spirit by-passing some Christians while he falls upon other Christians. The Acts narrative is in perfect harmony with the New Testament definition of what a Christian is, someone who is blessed in the heavenly realms with every blessing of the Holy Spirit in Christ.
We do not serve the cause of revival, or the spiritual quickening of the church by failing to believe this, and omitting to declare such great realities. Rather we will put off the day of an awakening because such a slighting of the work of the Spirit grieves him. Think of a penniless criminal who has been taken from the streets and adopted by a multimillionaire lord, his debts all canceled, and his fines all paid. Now he lives in sheer luxury in unimaginable splendour with his every whim being met, adopted into his family as a son. The lord has made this man his heir. He’s got the inheritance. What would you think of such a man complaining because even more blessings had not been given to him? This wretched whinger is actually dissatisfied with what the lord has done for him! You would judge him to be an ungrateful and unthankful wretch. So it is with us. When we begin to speak of that needed assistance of the unction and empowering of the Holy Spirit – as we must – we always begin by reminding ourselves of the marvels of all that God has accomplished by his Son Jesus Christ for every single Christian, and applied to them by the Holy Spirit that is in them all. We continually thank God for the privileges of being a forgiven sinner. We honour and glorify Jesus Christ in this way and then we know that we are co-operating with the work of the Spirit.
There cannot and will not be a redemptive accomplishment of Christ which the Father refuses to impart to his children, because they are all joined to Christ, and he loves them all in the same way that he loves the Son. Each one is complete in him. In the Times this week there was quoted the case of a 60 year-old man in Bangladesh named Mohammed Ismail who in 1976 had applied to the Bangladesh Telephone and Telegraph Board for a line. He finally was connected last week. He is reported as saying, “It was a frustrating experience. I needed the telephone very badly 27 years ago” (Times, 25 June 2003). No preacher will ever go through his ministry earnestly asking the Father for some essential grace to glorify Christ effectively which the Father has refrained from giving to him for 27 years. No one when he appears before Christ will convincingly protest, “But why didn’t you give me the Spirit?”
iv] The fourth wrong approach is a failure to make a distinction in the operations of the Holy Spirit both individually and congregationally.
A] There is the distinction in spiritual maturity. Each Christian begins as a novice. That is how the Bible describes a beginner believer, as “a recent convert” (I Tim. 3:6). He is not instantly mature. His understanding of everything is inadequate; his understanding of himself is immature. God veils from him the full power of remaining sin or he would be crushed. I heard a preacher recently speak of his nine year old son who earnestly witnesses in his South Wales school about Jesus Christ. He has been tormented by a few children for this so that he came home recently to his mother quite disconsolately. She got her Bible and read to him verses from John 15 where the Lord tells his disciples about the fact that as he had been persecuted so they are going to be persecuted – as this little boy had experienced in this relatively mild way. Gareth listened and then said to his mother, “You mean it is always going to be like this?” Yes. That is one of the early lessons a recent convert learns; always needing courage to go on taking your stand for Christ, always doing battle with remaining sin; always growing in knowledge of the Scriptures; always growing in evangelistic earnestness and so on. Everyone starts as a novice. It is not that everyone starts without the Holy Spirit. We progress spiritually as we do physically by inches. We become men of God through the means of grace in a growing communion with God.
B] There is a distinction in spiritual gifts. There is the great picture of the church as a body in I Corinthians. There are different kinds of gifts . . . service . . . working (I Cor. 12:4-6) from the same Lord. “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (I Cor. 12:18). Some seem weaker, and others are unpresentable, while others are less honourable, but all are designed and given by God. Are all teachers? No. Do all speak in tongues? No. (I Cors. 12:29&30). It is simply that in the congregation there is planned diversity. The gifts of the Spirit are what make us different from one another so that we can minister to one another and receive ministry from one another. The fruit of the Spirit is what makes us like one another, and the chief of the fruit is love. So Paul never took one of the gifts of the Spirit and made the possession of that gift definitive for the presence of the Spirit. A New Testament congregation where every single person spoke in tongues would have been like one enormous nose rather than a body of various complementary organs. So too extraordinary preaching is not the infallible mark that a man is full of the Spirit and an heir of heaven. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Cor. 13:1).
C] There is a distinction in talents. Some Christians are ‘strong’ while others are ‘weak brethren’. In the parable of the Lord the master goes on a long journey and he gives to one servant five talents and tells him to be occupied in using these talents until his return. Another is given three and another one. They did not choose the number. That choice and bestowal was divine, but all three men had to put them to use. They would be judged if they hid them away and did nothing with them. Some Christians have been called to be preachers and pastors. That is their distinctive gift of the Holy Spirit, but there are five talent gifts of preaching, and three talent gifts, and one talent gifts. In other words, Martin Luther had a great gift of teaching, and so did John Bunyan, and so did Cornelius Van Til – five talent people. The grandeur of those men was that they were on full stretch in their use of those talents throughout their lives. There was no let up.
In that way they are our examples and we should seek to copy them, but we should not fret that we will never accomplish what they achieved. Most of us preachers are one talent men and it will be enough for us to answer to God in the great day how we employed that one. Were we steadfast and immovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord with the talent God gave us? No special empowering of the Spirit will change one talent into five talents. A baptism of the Spirit will not turn a John Bunyan into a John Owen. We need John Bunyan and we need John Owen just as they are. We ourselves will never do a metamorphosis into a Jonathan Edwards, but we need the Holy Spirit to enable us to work with our one talent just as he helped the five talent William Tyndale to labour. When I get to heaven the Lord will not ask me, “Geoff, why weren’t you Tyndale?” But he will ask me, “Geoff, why weren’t you the Geoff I gifted and blessed?” The pulpits all over the world are filled with humble men of one or two talents who by the ministry of the Spirit have given their gifts to the Lord and have been greatly used by him. If there is one evident pattern for 21st century church life it is that. There are no hyper-preachers in our day but thousands of faithful servants working by the Spirit’s enabling to advance God’s kingdom.
However, let no Christian feebly excuse his own laziness and cowardice and prayerlessness with the words, “But my name is not George Whitefield.” That is true, but you can go to the same God as Whitefield and ask for the same strengthening of your heart and soul in the Lord’s service. Let us dedicate the talent we have to God and seek the strength of the Spirit to employ it until the Saviour comes. As Edward Donnelly exhorts us, “We must seek unction. We must forsake every sin which might grieve or quench the Spirit. We need to feel, as never before, our utter dependence upon God. Without the power of the Holy Spirit, our preaching is ineffective. How often have we spoken lifelessly and coldly about the most glorious realities in the universe! Or perhaps we have entered into the pulpits with warm hearts and high expectations, only to be chilled and depressed by an indifferent audience. What a stale, unprofitable thing it is to preach only in our own strength or to apathetic people! How exhausted and miserable it makes us. Robert Murray M’Cheyne used to write ‘Master, help!’ on his sermon manuscripts. Nothing is more important, surely, than that we should pray for such help in preaching the gospel” (Edward Donnelly, op cit, p.92). Whatever our talents we need Holy Spirit aid for them to be used as they should be.
D] There is a distinction in the life of every congregation. Diversities of individual gifts of the Spirit and different individual degrees of talent mean that two identical Christians can never be found. The members of the cults are like postage stamps – the dark-suited and badged Mormons are the same the whole world over. That is what a cult achieves, but no true Christian is like his brother. He is different physically, psychologically, economically and racially. He is different in age and IQ and personality. Christians gather together in different blends and proportions. They reflect the manner of their conversion and the ministry they are sitting under. Perhaps the identity of the ‘angel’ of each of the seven churches in Asia Minor is in fact the corporate personality of each different congregation. All of them so different from one another with glaring weaknesses and singular virtues. None of them without the Holy Ghost; all of them the body of Christ, the elect of God, the fellowship of the Spirit, the pillar and ground of the truth, but all in different stages of declension and maturity. Each of them with the need of being filled with the Spirit. The mighty church in Ephesus needed that exhortation. They had him; they were blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ, but they needed more of his gifts, his love, his morale-boosting ministry, the strength to mortify their own sinful natures and the courage he instills to stand up for Jesus.
There is no model, virtually perfect congregation, but there are some whose corporate life has been more pervasively affected by the sword of the Spirit and which more fully reflects the grace of Christ. No church has all the gifts. Few churches have more than one pastor-preacher or need more than one. Few churches have the gift of theologian or the gift of church-planter. They freely give away such a treasure. There is no master key of some secret which can open up a church to the full presence of Christ. Each congregation must be aware of the possibility that they can be so busy or so dead that Christ is left outside knocking to be let in. It happened to the church in Laodicea. Each Christian in the church must constantly be asking him in. Every Sunday we must say, “Welcome Lord. We are so honoured and humbled to have you here again. You are the hub of our lives. We break up without you. Welcome to our assembly.” Then things will begin to hum! Then there is real worship and holy sermons.
2. THE RIGHT APPROACH TO THE BAPTISMS OF THE SPIRIT.
The phrase ‘baptism of the Spirit’ in Scripture is always used of the first definitive work of the Spirit in the birth of the New Testament church, or it is one of a number of terms emphasising an aspect of regeneration at the beginning of spiritual life in the believer. The whole people of God world-wide have been made such because Christ has rent the heavens and poured forth the regenerating spirit upon them all in a mighty baptism. So if we are concerned to be biblical (and I think that that is a very honourable desire) we’ll be a little reluctant to use the phrase ‘baptism of the Spirit’ for the unction of the Spirit on the preaching of the Word, especially in the light of its contemporary abuse, but ‘baptisms’. . . ? Surely we can use that plural form. We are talking about Christ pouring out abundantly his Spirit on men and churches as he has done at favoured times in history and reviving a declining testimony. It would be picky to quibble if we believe in this blessing and then never speak of Christ ‘baptizing’ his church with the Spirit. It is always good to be as faithful to what the Holy Spirit has written as possible. I long to hear that somewhere today Christ has visited a congregation by his Spirit reviving it and saving many. We are always listening out for such news of these blessings from the Head of the church and yet confess to a scepticism about reports of scenes that are always 7,000 miles away in an unvisitable place.
Let me describe again to you a revived church, even though I have already spoken about it. I believe that my main task in writing of Christ pouring forth his Spirit is to whet you appetite for such a blessing as that and persuade you of its reality so that you long for better days for the church. I want to open a window on new possibilities in the Christian life that you may not have grasped before. Let me quote some words of my friend Stephen Rees of Stockport, Manchester, from a recent church letter of his as he pictures some of the consequences of the coming of the Spirit. He describes them in two ways:
i] “The felt presence of God in our meetings. There are times when God’s Spirit descends upon a meeting – and everybody knows God is present. The unseen world becomes terribly, wonderfully close. At those times, the preaching is transformed. The preacher speaks with a boldness and an authority that is obviously supernatural. Hearers forget the preacher and hear only the voice of God speaking to their hearts. Familiar truths become real as they are preached. Those who listen tremble at the thought of God; they shake with fear as they are made aware of their sins, they are overwhelmed with wonder as they hear about the cross of the Lord Jesus, they are filled with a joy that can’t be put into words as they are reminded of heaven to come. The singing is transformed. People sing as they’ve never sung before, realising how wonderful the words are that they’re singing – and conscious that God is listening. The praying is transformed. God’s people pray with confidence, earnestness and with the wrestling spirit which says ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’. All of us, I hope, can remember meetings when we’ve had a taste of that. But we want all our meetings to be like that. We want to know that God is among his people whenever they meet.
ii] “Every member of the church filled with the Holy Spirit. I am not talking about one great crisis experience. I am saying that every one of us ought to be brim-full of the life of God every moment. If we were filled with the Spirit, we would have a great sense of the love of God towards us. We would be able to say, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5). And we on our side would love the Saviour with a warm, steady love. We would long for the day when he comes again. We would want to serve him with all our strength. If we were filled with the Spirit, we would love one another more warmly, more affectionately and more practically than we do. We would pray for one another more consistently. We would commit ourselves to the life of the church more thoroughly. We would be eager to be with our fellow-believers, listening to God’s Word, so we would do everything in our power to be at the meetings. We would look forward all month to being at the Lord’s Supper and feeding on Christ there. If we were filled with the Spirit, we’d be very careful to avoid anything sinful or even dubious. We’d turn away from worldly entertainments and distractions. In every situation our first question would be ‘How can I honour God?’ not ‘What do I want to do?’ We’d deal with our problems – especially our disagreements with other church-members – in a biblical way. We would be praying in the various church prayer meetings. We’d never let dislikes or grudges fester in our hearts. We’d learn to say sorry. We’d learn to be straight with people. We’d learn to talk to people who offend us, not talk about them behind their backs. The life of the church would be sweeter and happier.”
That is such a useful and happy description of what occurs when Christ pours out his Spirit on his people. It takes the results of the activity right out of the tongues context. Tongues, we have said, couldn’t have been the mark of a New Testament Christian being filled with the Spirit because tongues was one of those gifts by which Christians differed from one another. One had been given that spiritual gift while another person did not receive it.
That two-fold description is also useful because it takes it out of the ‘second blessing’ understanding of the coming of the Spirit. Fred Mitchell was a devout Christian pharmacist from Bradford, England, who was killed fifty years ago in the Comet air crash outside Calcutta. A Methodist, he was a godly man who became the chairman of the Keswick convention. He accepted its old teachings that by an act of faith and dedication the Christian could enter into a victorious life of Christian living. You moved from the life of defeat in Romans 7 to the life of victory in Romans 8, and so on, out of the desert and into the promised land by an action you had to choose to take. In such an act you entrusted yourself to God again. In Fred Mitchell’s biography we are told of a young nurse who longed to know how she could be filled with the Holy Spirit and she talked with Fred Mitchell about it. He told her about this full consecration, that is, keeping nothing back from God. This is how she remembered what happened:
“Before I left the room I was quite clear that as soon as a full consecration was made, God was waiting and willing to bestow the Gift I was seeking. . . . In the wisdom God gave him Mr. Mitchell didn’t press me to take the step of faith right then. Whether he discerned that there were yet reserves, I do not know. He didn’t probe – he wasn’t one of those who try to do the Holy Spirit’s work for Him! He had pointed the way, given me his testimony, which was confirmed by the testimony of his life, and he left it at that. During the days or weeks that followed the Holy Spirit Himself showed me what it was which was hindering His taking full possession of me. One day, while I was waiting in a room by myself for a friend, I let the last hindering thing I knew of go. God’s answer was immediate. I knew ‘He had come to His temple.’ A group of us nurses came into this blessing about the same time in different ways. There followed a period of blessing and witness, not only in the hospital, but in various chapels and missions in the town, which I shall never forget.” (Phyllis Thompson, “Climbing on Track,” CIM, London, 1954, p.83).
No one can fail to be moved at that hunger for God, and the waiting on God, and the blessing described, even if it is not in language we would use. We know that there can never be ‘full consecration’ or ‘full possession’ while remaining sin battles with our spirits. But a growing desire to live a more obedient Christian life is a mark of the new birth, and laying aside darling sins to serve more zealously the Lord is surely needed in all of us.
The Keswick view of full consecration was a consequence of decisionistic evangelism in which the claims of Christ and the new life in him had not been made plain. But the Keswick view also did not understand fully the definitive nature of the work of God in every single Christian so that we have all died to the reign of sin. That is what Paul teaches in Romans 6, every Christian having died to the dominion of sin and living henceforth to serve righteousness.
The Keswick second stage is often a rather clinical step. The blessing is named and claimed by an act of faith, without any reference to the affections; it is a bare decision. Persons are invited to come to the front and bow in prayer and then they are told they will ‘get entire sanctification’. So they get out of their seats and kneel before the pulpit and pray, and the preacher will assure them that this new height of consecration has occurred. This Bradford nurse’s description of the blessing she knew is different. It has a ring of truth and humility about it. There is a sovereignty about it. She wanted more of God, and she describes her experience according to the theology she had been given. She tells us of her new zeal as a life of service, and she knew more of God’s grace and love than she had known before as she laboured for him.
It is impossible to give, say, three rules to get Holy Spirit baptism. It would be as impossible as suggesting three ways in which you could make your unbelieving husband or teenage son regenerate. We say, “God may grant it, in his grace, and your duty is to live a wise and loving and holy life before them day by day, so that without the word they may be won by your meekness and graciousness.” Certainly don’t stop praying for them, that the Spirit will come into their hearts, and never stop doubting that God may save them if he chooses.
Consider the Lord Jesus preaching and performing miracles in unrepentant Korazin and Bethsaida. There had been no revival in those places, no outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but still Jesus thanked God, saying, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Matt. 11:25&26). He bows before the sovereignty of God. He can please his Father in all he does, resist sin, love his neighbour as himself and preach to the people all that God has given to him. There is no other secret, no nights of agonizing prayer, or months of fasting that will guarantee that Korazin or Bethsaida will receive the outpouring of the Spirit in revival. We submit to a Sovereign Lord, and we do our duty.
I have shown to you the wonderful possibilities of a new work of the Spirit coming upon a believer or a congregation. I have also reminded you of the great blessings that each Christian has received by the Spirit so that you can know God has been wonderfully gracious to you in providing for every believer a full salvation. I have sought to clear away some of the confusion that there is about this phrase ‘baptism of the Spirit’ and I have suggested a way ahead.
I was helped recently reading the counsels of Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in a sermon of his on the great words of Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). I believe that I was edified and a little surprised at what I found there. This is what he says: “No subject is discussed more often than power in preaching. ‘Oh, that I might have power in preaching,’ says the preacher and he goes on his knees and prays for power. I think that that may be quite wrong. It certainly is if it is the only thing that the preacher does. The way to have power is to prepare your message carefully. Study the word of God, think it out, analyse it, put it in order, do your utmost. That is the message God is most likely to bless – the indirect approach rather than the direct. It is exactly the same in this matter of power and ability to live the Christian life. In addition to our prayer for power and ability, we must obey certain primary rules and laws.
“I can summarise the teaching like this. The secret of power is to discover and to learn from the New Testament what is possible for us in Christ. What I have to do is go to Christ. I must spend my time with him, I must meditate upon him, I must get to know him. That was Paul’s ambition – ‘that I might know him’. I must maintain my contact and communion with Christ and I must concentrate on knowing him.
“What else? I must do exactly what he tells me. I must avoid things that would hamper. To use my illustration, if I want to be well, I mustn’t eat too much, I must not get into an atmosphere that is bad for me, I must not expose myself to chills. In the same way, if we don’t keep the spiritual rules we may pray endlessly for power but we’ll never get it. There are no short cuts in the Christian life. If in the midst of persecution we want to feel as Paul felt, we must live as Paul lived. I must do what he tells me, both to do and not to do. I must read the Bible, I must exercise, I must practise the Christian life, I must live the Christian life in all its fulness. In other words, I must implement all that Paul teaches. There is the New Testament doctrine of abiding in Christ. Now the word ‘abiding’ makes people become sentimental. They think of abiding as something passive and clinging, but to abide in Christ is to do what he tells you, positively, and to pray without ceasing. Abiding is a tremendously active thing.
“‘Well,’ says the Apostle, ‘if you do all that he will infuse his strength into you.’ What a wonderful idea. This is a kind of spiritual blood transfusion – that is what Paul is teaching here. That is the romance of the Christian life. Nowhere does one experience it more than in the Christian pulpit. There is certainly romance in preaching. I often say that the most romantic place on earth is the pulpit. I ascend the pulpit stairs Sunday after Sunday – and I never know what is going to happen. I confess that sometimes, for various reasons, I come expecting nothing; but suddenly the power is given. At other times I think I have a great deal because of my preparation; but, alas, I find there is no power in it. Thank God it is like that. I do my utmost, but he controls the supply and the power, he infuses it.
“He is the heavenly physician and he knows every variation in my condition. He sees my complexion, he feels my pulse. He knows my inadequate preaching, he knows everything. ‘That is it,’ says Paul, ‘and therefore I am able for all things through the One who is constantly infusing strength into me.’
“That, then, is the prescription. Do not agonise in prayer, beseeching him for power. Do what he has told you to do. Live the Christian life. Pray, and meditate upon him. Spend time with him and ask him to manifest himself to you. And as long as you do that, you can leave the rest to him. He will give you strength- ‘as thy days, so shall thy strength be’ (Deut. 33:25). He knows us better than we know ourselves, and according to our need so will be our supply. Do that and you will be able to say with the Apostle: ‘I am able [made strong] for all things through the One who is constantly infusing strength into me.'” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Life of Peace: Studies in Philippians 3 and 4”, Hodder and Stoughton, London 1990, pp. 225-227).
22nd June 2003 GEOFF THOMAS