I have observed a sad principle in my life and travels, at home and abroad, in relation to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I want to share a few thoughts concerning this and use the words of some well-known ministers and theologians from one hundred or more years back.
Basically what I’ve observed is that there seems to be a universal law of decay that affects not only the natural realm but also the spiritual side of life as well. We see death and decay all around us. Everything that is built or born is destined to decline. This same law of sin and death works against the moves of God’s Spirit. Every move of God in any given location or generation will sooner or later tend toward either dead formalism or the errors of fanaticism. In either case the usual result is a slow death. Great moves of God that spawned life-changing ministries, churches, organizations, seminaries, and even denominations usually fade away after a generation or two, leaving the organizations as “museums” of their former vitality.
Fortunately, if the work of God’s Spirit wanes in one place, He is certainly on the move in another. But the challenge to us today is not only to recognize our present need of the Spirit’s ministry and to secure His empowerment and blessing, but to carry on and finish our lives and ministries in His power. There is also the great need to pass on this same conviction (and experience) to those who follow us!
Following are some quotes from some famous preachers and theologians of a hundred years or more back. These quotes come from various publications these men wrote, which have been compiled in a sort of interview format in Powerlines: What Great Evangelicals Believed about the Holy Spirit, by L.F. Choy. As an example of the principle I stated above, see if you think the views of these famous Evangelicals would be embraced today by the institutions that bear their names. Click on their names to go to the theological schools that they founded or led in their day. Would you find the same emphasis on the present day need of baptism/enfilling/infilling of the Holy Spirit? Or do you find schools that do not emphasize the need for the Holy Spirit’s power, or worse, do you find schools that are suspicious of the power of the Holy Spirit? Institutions, like individuals, grow and develop, and sadly often decay over time. How have these schools done in relation to fostering and cultivating the spiritual vitality of their founders?
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) on the need for the Spirit’s power in the church:
If we do not have the Spirit of God, it is better to shut the churches, to nail up the doors, to put a black cross on them and say, “God have mercy on us!” If ministers do not have the Spirit of God, they had better not preach, and the people would do better to stay home. I think I do not speak too strongly when I say than any church without the Spirit of God is a curse rather than a blessing.
If a Christian worker does not have the Spirit of God, he is standing in somebody else’s way; he is a tree bearing no fruit but standing where another fruitful tree might grow. This is solemn work. It must be the Holy Spirit or nothing. Death and condemnation is preferable to a church that is not yearning after the Spirit, crying and groaning until the Spirit has worked mightily in her midst.
Dr. A.J. Gordon (1836-1895) on receiving the empowering of the Holy Spirit subsequent to receiving Christ as Savior:
It seems clear from the Scriptures that the duty and privilege of believers is to receive the Holy spirit by a conscious, definite act of appropriating faith, just as they received Jesus Christ. To say that when we received Christ we necessarily in the same act received the gift of the Spirit seems to confuse the distinction which the Scriptures make. I believe that logically and chronologically the gift of the Spirit comes after repentance. We must appropriate the Spirit as sons in the same way we appropriate Christ as sinners…
If we conceive of the Christian life as only a gradual growth in grace, we fall into the danger of regarding growth as both invisible and inevitable and so take little responsibility to accomplish it. Let the believer receive the Holy Ghost by a definite act of faith for consecration, as he received Christ by faith for his justification, and he will be sure he acts in a safe and scriptural way. I know of no plainer way to state the matter than to say it is simple acceptance by faith. it is a fact that Christ has made atonement of sin; in conversion faith appropriates this fact to our justification. It is a fact that the Holy Ghost has been given; in consecration faith appropriates this fact for our sanctification…
I realize I expose myself to the arrows of theological archers when I declare my position. I desire nothing but the advancement of the truth. Human opinion does not matter; scriptural testimony does. I wish my argument to lean its heaviest weight, therefore, on the Word of God. To state it clearly, I believe the church in every direction needs to reshape itself on the apostolic model and be reinvested with its apostolic powers. The indignant clamor of skeptics against primitive miracles has frightened the Lord’s people out of their faith in the supernatural. The church is drifting into an inappropriate cautiousness concerning the miraculous.
D.L. Moody (1837-1899) on the baptism of the Spirit as an experience distinct from conversion:
The Holy Ghost coming upon us with power is distinct and separate from conversion. If the Scripture doesn’t teach it, I am ready to stand corrected. There are a great many sons and daughters of God without power. I believe we would accomplish more in one week than we could in years, if we only had this fresh baptism. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us is one thing; the Holy Spirit upon us is another…
I do want to make this point clearly understood: If any man has been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, redeemed by His blood, and then sealed by the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost is dwelling in him. But I want to call your attention to this — that God has a good many children who have just barely received life but have no power for service. You might safely say, I think, without exaggeration, that 19 out of every 20 professing Christians are of no earthly account so far as building up Christ’s kingdom. On the contrary, they are standing in the way. They have eternal life but have settled down and not sought for power…We all need it, and let us not rest day or night until we possess it…
Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) concerning the baptism of the Spirit subsequent to conversion:
Every Christian possesses a measure of the Spirit of Christ already. In conversion to Christ, the soul has to relate directly and personally to Christ. In the baptism of the Holy Spirit there is an enduement of power for ministry, for the great work of the world’s conversion, which is the commission upon us all…
The reception of this enduement of power is instantaneous. I do not mean to assert that in every instance the recipient is aware of the precise time at which the power commences to work mightily within him. It may commence like the dew and increase to a shower…
I have often been surprised and pained that to this day so little stress is laid upon this qualification for preaching Christ to a sinful world. Without the direct teaching of the Holy Spirit, a man will never make much progress in preaching the gospel.
So what do you think? Are the views of these famous preachers and theologians still widely held and communicated by the institutions that bear their names? For the most part the answer is “no”.
And here’s the rub: the same will be true of each of us if we do not keep “fanning into flame the gift that is in us” and keep hungering and thirsting for the communion of the Holy Spirit in our lives and ministries. We all must face the same challenge in our own lives. Will we finish with the same fervor with which we began? Time will tell. In the meanwhile let us continually be filled with the Spirit!
(If this article has piqued your interest and you would like to read more on this subject click here. Also, if you’d like to hear some recent sermons I’ve preached on the enfilling or baptism of the Holy Spirit, then click here.)