Experiencing the Holy Spirit # 5
How Little the Blessing Is Enjoyed
"My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)
Paul spoke here of two kinds of preaching and two kinds of faith. The spirit of the preacher will determine the faith of the congregation. When the preaching of the Cross is given only in the words of human wisdom, then the faith of the hearers will be in the wisdom of men. When the preaching is in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, the faith of the Christian people will also be firm and strong in the power of God. Preaching in the demonstration of the Spirit will bring the double blessing of power in the Word and in the faith of those who receive that Word. If we desire to know the measure of the working of the Spirit, we must consider the preaching and the faith that spring from it. In this way alone can we see whether the full blessing of Pentecost is truly manifested in the church.
Very few individuals are prepared to say this is really the case. Everywhere among the children of God, we hear complaints of weakness and sin. Among those who do not complain is reason to fear that their silence is ascribed to ignorance or self-satisfaction. It is important that we concentrate on this fact until we come under the full conviction that the condition of the church is marked by powerlessness and that nothing can restore her except the return to a life in the full enjoyment of the blessing of Pentecost. The more deeply we feel our deficiency, the more speedily we will desire and obtain restoration. It will help to awaken longing for this blessing if we earnestly consider how little it is enjoyed in the church and how far the church is from being what her Lord has power to make her.
Power Over Sin
Think, for example, what little power over sin there is among the children of God.
The Spirit of Pentecost is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God's holiness. When He filled the hearts of the disciples, a transformation was brought about in them. Their carnal thoughts were changed into spiritual insight, their pride into humility, their selfishness into love, their fear of man into courage and fidelity. Sin was cast out by the inflowing of the life of Jesus and of heaven.
The life that the Lord has prepared for His people is a life of victory. It is not victory to such an extent that there will be no temptation to evil or inclination to sin. But there is to be victory of such a kind that the indwelling power of the Spirit who fills us, the presence of the indwelling Saviour, will keep sin in subjection as the light subdues the darkness.
Yet to what a small extent we see power for victory over sin in the church! Even among earnest Christians we see untruthfulness and lack of honor, pride and self-esteem, selfishness and lack of love. How little are the traces of the image of Jesus - obedience, humility, love, and entire surrender to the will of God - even among the people of God! The truth is that we have become so accustomed to the confession of sin and unfaithfulness, or disobedience and backsliding, that it is no longer regarded as a matter of shame.
We make the confession before each other; and then after the prayer, we rest comforted and contented. Brothers and sisters, let us feel humbled and mourn over it! It is because so little of the full blessing of the Spirit is enjoyed or sought that the children of God still commit so much sin and have so much to confess.
Let every sin, whether in ourselves or others, serve as a call to notice how much the Spirit of God is lacking among us. Let every instance of failure, in the fear of the Lord, in love, holiness, and entire surrender to the will of God, urge us to call on God to bring His Spirit to full dominion over the church once more.
Separation From the World
When the Lord Jesus promised the Comforter, He said, "Whom the world cannot receive" (John 14:17). The spirit of this world, which is devotion to the visible, is in irreconcilable antagonism with the Spirit of Jesus in heaven, where God and His will are everything. The world has rejected the Lord Jesus; and, to whatever extent it may now usurp the Christian name, the world is still the same untameable enemy.
For this reason Jesus said of His disciples, "They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:16). This, too, is the reason why Paul said, "We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God" (1 Corinthians 2:12). The two spirits, the spirit of the world and the Spirit of God, are engaged in a life-and-death conflict with one another.
This is why God has always called on His people to separate themselves from the world and to live as pilgrims whose treasure and hearts are in heaven. But is this what is really seen among Christians? Who will dare say so? When they have attained a measure of unblamableness in their walk and assurance of heaven, most Christians consider that they are at liberty to enjoy the world as fully as others. Little is seen of true heavenly mindedness in conversation and walk or in disposition and endeavor. Is this not the case because the search for spiritual excellence is so little enjoyed and sought?
Light drives out darkness. The Spirit of heaven expels the spirit of the world. Where a man does not surrender himself to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of heaven, though he may be very Christian, he must come under the power of the spirit of the world. Listen to the piercing cry that rises from the whole church, "Who will rescue us from the power of this spirit of the world?" Your answer should be, "Nothing, no one, except the Spirit of God. You must be filled with the Spirit."
Are We Steadfast?
Those who labor for the salvation of souls complain that there are many who are full of zeal for a time and then fall away. When professing Christians enter into another circle of influence and are put to the test of prosperity or temptation, they cease to persevere. What produces this unfortunate result? It comes from preaching with the wisdom of persuasive words rather than in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Hence their faith also stands in the wisdom and work of men rather than in the power of God.
As long as such people have the benefit of earnest and instructive preaching, they will continue to stand. If they lose it, they will begin to backslide. Because current preaching shows little demonstration of the Spirit, souls are not brought into contact with the living God. For the same reason, far too much of the current faith is not in the power of God.
The Word, preaching, and means of grace will become a hindrance instead of a help if they are not in demonstration of the Spirit. All external means of grace are things that inevitably change and fade. The Spirit alone works a faith that stands in the power of God and so remains strong and unwavering.
Why are there so many who do not continue to stand? The answer of God is a grave lack of the demonstration of the Spirit. Let every sad example serve as a summons to us to acknowledge that the full blessing of Pentecost is lost. This is what we long for and must have from God. Let all that is within us begin to thirst and cry out, "Come from the four winds, Spirit of God, and breathe on these dead souls so that they may live." Think how little there is of power for service among the unconverted.
What an immense host of workers there is in Christian countries. How varied and unceasing is the preaching of the Word. Sunday school teachers are numbered by the hundreds of thousands. Large numbers of Christian parents make their children acquainted with the Word of God and also bring them to the Lord as Saviour. Yet how little fruit springs from all this work.
Many who hear and are by no means indifferent never make a definite choice for salvation. Many who from youth to old age are familiar with the Word of God are never seized by it in the depths of their hearts. They find it good, pleasing, and instructive to attend church, but they have never felt the power of the Word as a hammer, a sword, or a fire. The reason they are so little disturbed is that the preaching they listen to is so little in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. This is evidence enough that there is a great lack of the full blessing of Pentecost.
Does the blame for this issue belong to preachers or to congregations? I feel it belongs to both. Preachers are the offspring of the Christian community. Through children we are enabled to see whether parents are spiritually healthy or not. Likewise, preachers are dependent on the life that is in their congregations.
When a congregation finds satisfaction in the merely acceptable and instructive preaching of a young minister, it encourages him to go forward on the same path. He should rather be helped by its more advanced believers to seek earnestly the demonstration of the Spirit. When a minister does not lead his congregation to expect everything from the Spirit of God, then he is tempted to put confidence in the wisdom of man and the work of man.
The great cause of all worldliness and impenitence is the lack of the full blessing of Pentecost. This alone gives power from on high that can break down and revive the hard hearts of men.
The Source of Courage
Think how little preparedness there is for self-sacrifice on behalf of the extension of the kingdom of God.
When the Lord Jesus promised the Holy Spirit at His ascension, it was given as a power in us to work for Him. "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The aim of the Pentecostal blessing from the King in heaven was simply to complete the equipping of His servants for His work as King on the earth. No sooner did the Spirit descend on them than they began to witness for Him. The Spirit filled them with the desire, impulse, courage, and power to brave all hostility and danger and to endure all suffering and persecution in making Jesus known as a Saviour. The Spirit of Pentecost was the true missionary spirit that seeks to win the whole world for Jesus Christ.
It is often said in our days that the missionary spirit is on the increase. Yet when we reflect carefully how little effort is expended on the missionary enterprise in comparison with the time spent on our own interests, we will see at once how feebly this question is still kindled in our hearts: "What more can I still sacrifice for Jesus? He offered Himself for me. I will offer myself wholly for Him and His work."
I has been well said that the Lord measures our gifts not according to what we give, but according to what we retain. He who stands beside the treasury and observes what is cast into it still finds many who, like the widow, cast in their entire living. (Mark 12:41-44).
So many people have given only what they could never miss and what costs them little or no sacrifice. How different it would be if the full blessing of Pentecost began to flow in. How the hearts of men would burn with love for Jesus and, out of sheer joy, be impelled to give everything so that He might be known as Saviour and so that all might know His love.
Brother or sister, contemplate the condition of the church on earth, of the Christian community around you,and of your own heart. Then see why there is grave reason for the cry, "The full blessing of Pentecost - how little it is known!" Ponder the present lack of sanctification, of separation from the world, of steadfastness among professing Christians, of conversions among the unsaved, and of self-sacrifice for the kingdom of God. Let the sad reality deepen in your soul the conviction that the church is at present suffering from one great evil, and this is her lack of the blessing of Pentecost. There can be no healing of her breaches, no restoration from her fall, and no renewing of her power except by this one remedy - namely, her being filled with the Spirit of God.
Never cease to speak, think, mourn, and pray over this trouble until this one necessary thing becomes the one thing that occupies our hearts. Restoration is not easy. It may not come all at once. It may not come quickly. The disciples of Jesus required every day with Jesus for three long years to prepare them for it.
Let us not be unduly discouraged if the transformation we long for does not take place immediately. Let us feel the need and take it to heart. Let us continue to be steadfast in prayer. Let us stand fast in faith.
The blessing of Pentecost is the birthright of the church, the pledge of our inheritance, and something that belongs to us here on earth. Faith can never be put to shame. Cleaving to Jesus with purpose of heart can never be in vain. The hour will surely come when, if we believe perseveringly in Him, out of our hearts "will flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38).
(continued with # 6 - How the Blessing Is Hindered