The Work of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is not an aggressive, overbearing presence at all, but is quiet and gentle. He knocks, woos, and persuades all who will listen to His still, quiet voice. His persistence in drawing men to Christ is beyond the power of human speech to portray. From the first realization of sin to the end of our time of probation, He deals with and pricks the heart, reproves the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.
He will withdraw if resisted or ignored, and He can be grieved with the response (or lack thereof) of an individual to the extent that He will stop dealing with that person. If this happens, the doom of that person is certain, for no man can come unto Jesus except the Father draw him (John 6:44), and God does this through the working of the Holy Spirit. “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30) This is a terrible condition, indeed; although many have probably concluded that this was their condition, and that there was no hope for them, when actually they had caused the Spirit of God to withdraw from them for a season.
How important it is to be sensitive to the dealings of the Holy Spirit! I am persuaded that the enemy of our soul works very hard indeed to induce those who love the Lord to be careless and insensitive to the leadings of the Gentle Spirit. A little stiffness and slowness to humble down, a preoccupation with some distraction, and the voice of our Guide is missed, and thus the children of God make mistakes and the devil gains an advantage over them. It is not that the heart motive is wrong, or that willful transgression is given a place in the soul. It is the same as when one of two humans who love each other fails to listen and understand the other, and so friction enters into the relationship, along with bearing and forbearing, and the potential for problems.
It takes a close and humble walk for a soul to stay right in step with God, and one can walk with the Lord for quite a ways without the keenness and sensitivity of the first love and without giving way to rebellion and breaking fellowship with the Lord. Such is a condition of leanness and is very dangerous and easily leads once more to sin.
It is the most natural and normal thing in the world, when a soul has truly repented and been down to the depths of Bible “carefulness” and “clearing of themselves” (2 Corinthians 7:11), for the humbled and forgiven heart to look for guidance and instruction from above. The inability of the heart to direct the steps is a proven matter, fresh and poignant. The acknowledgment of failure hushes and subdues the soul. Having tried one’s own way and having made a miserable mess of it, there is now a great desire to be guided and taught of God. In short, the first steps have been taken in living for God, instead of self. The same Spirit of God that first drew us to a reconciliation with God through His dear Son is there to lead the newly-saved soul to a more comprehensive consecration and a definite experience which is described in the Bible as a baptism of the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:5), a coming upon you of the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:8), the giving of another Comforter—besides Jesus—even the Spirit of truth, a sealing of that Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13), etc. He is with the justified believer, and is in the sanctified believer (John 14:17). In all this, there is sound hope of a better future, for the man has surrendered to God, and God is able to take that first surrender and “do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” (Ephesians 3:20) “He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.” (Ephesians 3:16) “Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
It is the immediate focal point of the Holy Spirit in the life of the newly-saved to lead to an absolute surrender and an infilling. There is a needed purging from inward depravity that is absolutely necessary if the soul is to be established unblameable in holiness. And now, since the forgiven soul is washed from his iniquity, and peace with God is the happy result, there is a real need to voluntarily and whole-heartedly offer back to the Lord the good things which He has given. When in sin, we have nothing to offer God but a ruined and blasted life, defiled and shameful, but since He forgave us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, we have what He gave us in the washing of regeneration to give back to Him. Accordingly we read that we can now present our bodies “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1) This was not possible when we came to God for forgiveness from sin, for then we did not possess a holy, acceptable-unto-God sacrifice.
And so we find that the Holy Spirit leads unerringly to an upper-room experience which is followed by a Pentecostal infilling.
It is this absolute consecration and complete infilling which is so necessary to walk with God, both at the individual level and at the congregational level. We observe the happy result of individuals filled with the Spirit comprising congregations filled with the Holy Spirit in the record of the New Testament. It was and is a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27). It fulfilled perfectly the prophecy of a kingdom cut out of a mountain without hands (Daniel 2:34,44), a kingdom set up by the God of heaven, which shall not be left to other people. It was not left to other people because it is governed by God Himself. “Now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.” (2 Corinthians 12:18) And this is done through the agency of the Holy Spirit working in each member’s life. “All these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” (1 Corinthians 12:11) The wonderful unity and glorious power that we read of in the New Testament came because “we… have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)
We observe that because men surrendered absolutely to the Holy Spirit, He set them in the body and kept them in their God-appointed place. The Holy Spirit did that then, and He will do that now. He is ready, willing, and able. If we will let Him, He will produce exactly the same result today.
Every historical blessing of true unity and power has come about in this way. Nor can it come any other way. For this is how God does it. He starts at the individual level. If God can get a number of individuals wholly consecrated and filled with the Holy Ghost, He will have a congregation wholly consecrated and filled. If He can lead an individual because that individual has surrendered absolutely and has been filled, then He can guide and govern a collective group of those individuals.
Most of the people who have started out for God have not gone on to Christian perfection (Hebrews 6:1; 2 Corinthians 13:9; Luke 8:14). This is not because they willingly drew back in the majority of cases, we are persuaded; but because the adversary effectively hides the truth from their eyes in spite of the dealings of the Holy Spirit. Or makes it fuzzy and indistinct to the extent that they are unable to get a hold of it. God knew that we needed a full salvation, and the devil knows we need it, too.
The lack of supreme consecration and Holy Spirit purging in the heart is at the bottom of all the divisions between those who profess to love God. It is accountable for the “I think” spirit, for the debating and strife that is so disgusting and discouraging. The unpurged carnality of men’s hearts prompts them to hero worship, to heights of ambition, to fair shows in the flesh. It holds men’s person in admiration because of advantage. “This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:15-16)
Now God has something for His little children. He has a work, even the work of the Holy Ghost, which will change you and your outlook. It purifies the heart and anoints the eyes so that you can see God (Matthew 5:8; Revelations 3:18; Proverbs 29:18). It will enable you to trust God completely with a perfected trust, even as the brethren of the New Testament church rested and relied upon God. How vital to be able to do so! God wants you to hear the quiet, still voice of the Holy Spirit, to distinguish it from all other voices, and to obey willingly and wholeheartedly. You can see all things working together for your good and the good of others who love God. You can find that you work your trials, rather than your trials working you. Dear children of God, you need and must have a Canaan experience. To be workers together with God, you must have it. You will get out of harmony, out of synchronization with God, if you attempt to live for God without it.
In the sixth chapter of 2 Samuel, we read of the error of Uzzah. He meant well, for the ark of God was shaking as the oxen drew it. He was afraid for the ark and felt compelled to take action. How common is Perezuzzah (“The breach of Uzzah”)! Men build their systems (“for God”); they promulgate their creeds (“for God”); they discipline themselves (“for God”). It is not done right. The oxen were not supposed to move the ark. Men overreach themselves and usurp the place of the Holy Spirit in the work of God. They labor and sacrifice (“for God”); they exert themselves; but it is for God, not of Him.
We could fill a book with what we have seen of men laying hands on the ark and the fatal results. We have seen it done over and over. At great cost, we fled a group of people among whom we had labored for years, to keep clear with God on this point of laying hands on the ark. We have prayed earnestly (and continue to pray earnestly) that God will help us not to do it. Oh, to stay in the order of God! To neither be a lord over God’s heritage or an unfaithful hireling! We want to meet Jesus with a clear conscience and an acceptable record. To be clear from the blood of all men (having not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God) and to be abusive to none! To abhor fleshly wisdom—rather to exercise the wisdom that cometh from above. For “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)
The definite infilling of the Holy Ghost was one of the great truths which was lost in the enormous apostasy of the third century. It was not rediscovered and taught in a general sense until the seventeen hundreds. Even then, men were hindered from obtaining the experience; for the Bible teaching on this point was discovered by men who already were under the influence of an idol. Perfect consecration to God means the breaking of every other yoke, and attempts to hold and teach the experience were frustrated by the inherent contradiction in being part of something that was the work of men’s hands, yet consecrating to be all the Lord’s without reservation. Yet individuals pressed forward and found the experience of perfect love, and so occurred the holiness agitation of the following century which resulted in a group of people who took a stand consistent with total loyalty to God, whatever the cost. They taught a coming out of everything not of God, and paid the price to do so. They were greatly blessed of God in precisely the same way and to the same degree as the New Testament church back in the first 270 years or so of Christianity.
What does it mean to be totally loyal to God, whatever the cost? First, there is an unquenchable desire to know what is right. This is rare, sad to say. Most folks are like children who don’t want to hear Mother or Father clearly. If they don’t hear it clearly, then they can do as they please. “I didn’t hear you calling me, Mother.” (I didn’t want to hear you calling me….) But those who are truly Christ’s, they want to hear; they want to know. They want to be as sure as possible that they are really pleasing God, and they will pursue a matter to the nth degree to make certain that they are walking unto all pleasing. No price is too great to buy the truth. Everything else is esteemed as worthless. “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” (Philippians 3:8) Secondly, there is a doing of what is known. The hunger to perform the Word of the Lord drives the thirst to know. “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” (1 John 3:18-19) Thirdly, there is a great thankfulness and gratitude to know the will of God which manifests itself in praise of Him and His wondrous ways. Fourthly, there is a great humbling of the soul, and a clear understanding that, “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10)
A loss of this hunger and thirst for right-eousness will result in losing what is already possessed, whether this be at the individual level or a group of individuals. As one brother put it, “Brethren, we must love this truth. If we do not love this truth, we will lose it.” There must be a depth of sincerity, a disavowal of lip service and a form of godliness, a consecration, and a careful and wholehearted measuring to all divine leading to keep the truth and please the Lord. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:10. At a glance, you can comprehend the awful result of not receiving a love for the truth. We will tell you in all love that it means a great deal to walk in the light as He is in the light. It is a great deal more than just a profession. How we would that all who “talked the talk” would “walk the walk”!
There is so much more to this matter than just making up your mind and setting your will. You can do that without the work of the Holy Ghost within you. Making up your mind and setting your will, in themselves, are necessary to do the works of man; but, if you want to do the works of God (John 6:28), the work of God must be done in you first, in all its completeness. It takes all you can do, plus what God does in and through you, to work the works of God.
A man who has been purged by the Holy Spirit is crippled in his self-confidence and liberated in his confidence in God. They go together. It was a handicapped Jacob with a shrunken thigh, after wrestling with the angel all night, that went in the confidence that God would help him to meet Esau. Jacob was not a possessor of New Testament sanctification, but his experience was a shadow and type of what God does in the hearts of his children in this dispensation of the Holy Spirit. Please take note that he both obtained help and was disabled because he tarried.
I was raised by my parents to excel, to rise among men, to assume leadership, to exercise executive authority, to mastery; but God leveled this high-minded mountain to the plain of holiness. I died to all that, and the Spirit of God brought forth a headstone upon my living grave, “crying, Grace, grace unto it.” (Zechariah 4:7) Yes, grace—the unmerited favor of God. That is all I have now, but it is sufficient; yea, more than sufficient. The whole experience leaves one with no confidence in the flesh. See Philippians 3:3-9. After the flesh, I find myself at disadvantage in seeking a job, etc., but alive unto God through the Spirit. Yea, “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.” (Proverbs 10:22)
It is this experience—the purging, sanctifying fire of the Holy Ghost—that makes it possible for one to know how to behave ones self in the House of God. It is so totally different from how most people, including ministers, view religion and religious work.
It was this experience in the heart that produced the New Testament church we read about in the scriptures. The pages of the history of these brethren are full of exhortations, teachings, and warnings that all flow from the fullness of the Comforter in their hearts. There is a strong sense of an ever-present Christ. They saw Him and were governed by Him constantly, both individually and collectively, in an intimate way that is glaringly lacking in almost all of professed Christendom around us. In the individual hearts and collective assemblies of the wholly sanctified, it is exactly the same today as it was back then. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) The government is still on His shoulder (Isaiah 9:6). Not only do we plainly see Jesus right now in the midst of His children in the year 2002, but every other aspect of the New Testament church matches as well. And one of the results of that identicalness is an amazing relevance. The New Testament (and the Old Testament in type and shadow) are so appropriate and fitting to us. Every detail is pertinent, incredibly so, considering the distance involved in the times and human thought.
“King Jehoshaphat and Ahab are moldering in their graves,” a brother said. “What do they have to do with us now, today?” The reply is: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) The problems of human nature in their many manifestations are the same today as they have been all down through the centuries. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring all who now will into the unity of the faith as God has established it all along. To produce a perfect unity of judgment and outlook with all the saints of old as well as the saints of our current time. To produce a sense of kinship between the saints of all ages. To give to each one now “the same spirit of faith” (2 Corinthians 4:13) that God’s people have already possessed. So that we can “fit in” with all the saints who have lived before us. How natural it seems to think of them as “Brother Paul” and “Brother Peter”! Members of the family. Those of the Old Testament dispensation as well as those of the new. “Brother Elijah,” “Brother David.” They walked in the light of their day and pleased God, according to their privileges. How they wished to see the things that we are privileged to see! And now (in the glory world) they see and rejoice! (John 8:56; Matthew 13:16-17; Revelations 6:10-11).
There are many professed Christians and some possessing ones, too, who are doubtful and unseeing; who question and lament. They do not see the unity, the power, or the glory. It all seems Ichabod (1 Samuel 4:21) to them.
We wish to reply to you dear ones. We do not despise you. You cannot see until God opens your eyes (2 Kings 6:17). It is not the fields of waving grain that you need to see. It is the life of the seed. Oh, do not despise the day of small things! (Zechariah 4:10). God is still saving and sanctifying people. As quickly as people yield to Him, He works in them and begins to produce the same unity, power, and glory that we read of in the New Testament. At first, there was just Jesus. The only man in the entire world with a pure heart, the new Adam. Then others got saved. Then the Holy Ghost came upon them and in them. There was still just a handful. There has always been a handful, even when the New Testament church reached its zenith in numbers. At times in the history of God’s church, there have been more, and then the tides have receded, and there were less. But the family of God is both in heaven and on earth (Ephesians 3:15), and the gates of hell have never prevailed against the church. We need to see it as God sees it. Jesus would like to walk to Emmaus with you (Luke 24:13-36). He would like to open the scriptures to you while your heart burns like fire within you. He would like to convince you of the reasonableness and appropriateness of all the Divine doings in the great war between right and wrong until you cry from the depths of a persuaded heart, “He hath done all things well.” (Mark 7:37)
It is disheartening to look at the backsliders and those with a-name-to-live-while-dead, but God has better things for us to see. There are those who are responding; there are those who need seed sown among them. There is much to do of God’s scheduling and appointment, and it is such a privilege to labor in the Lord’s vineyard. There are barren trees to dig about, and the everlasting gospel to proclaim. There are pure minds to stir by way of remembrance; there are those things which God would have strengthened, which are ready to die. There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun.
Take courage, thou who lovest God truly! The time is short. God knows what He is doing. Seek Him for all that He has to bestow. Tarry till you be endued. Then let Him labor within you as He wills and chooses till faith is lost in sight.
By the promise of the Father,
Comes the spirit from on high,
Into hearts redeemed from evil,
By His power to sanctify.
Reigning there without a rival,
Paradise is now restored.
Perfect peace, abiding pleasure,
Bliss the world cannot afford;
Power to overcome He gives us,
Power to reign through Jesus’ race.
Holy boldness in each conflict,
Entrance to that heavenly place.
Since the Comforter abideth,
Naught my spirit can molest.
I am sanctified and happy,
Sweet and peaceful is my rest.
Holy Spirit, faithful teacher,
In my trusting heart abide,
By Thy sacred holy presence,
Be my Comforter and Guide.*