THE holy spirit gifts
These miraculous powers were necessary to qualify the apostles for the performance of the work they had to do. That work was to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:22), as the basis of the truth built upon that fact. Now, how could they have done this with any effect if their testimony had not been miraculously confirmed? How could they have obtained credence to the naturally incredible announcement that a man publicly executed by the Romans had been secretly raised from the dead, unless their words had been confirmed by the power alleged to be on their side? It is true the apostles were witnesses, in a natural sense, of the fact that Christ was alive, and would have steadily maintained their testimony to the fact, even if God had not worked with them, but how could the work of getting many to believe their testimony have been accomplished? The earnest protestation of belief on the part of the apostles, though it might have influenced a few, would not have produced that wide-spread conviction which was necessary to the creation of the Body of Christ.
The effusion of the Holy Spirit did this. By the manifestation of supernatural powers, it bore witness to the truth of what the apostles declared. It is said, “They went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20). Paul describes the case in similar terms: The great salvation “which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him, God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with diverse miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Heb 2:14). In this sense, the Holy Spirit is styled a witness of Christ’s resurrection; “the God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree … and we are his witnesses of these things, and so also is the HOLY SPIRIT, whom God had given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:30-32). This is in accordance with what Christ had said: “When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:27).
The power granted to the apostles for the confirmation of their testimony was deposited in them as heavenly treasure in an earthen vessel, and they had the power of imparting it to others. This is evident from an incident recorded in Acts 8. Philip, the evangelist, went down to Samaria, and so proclaimed the truth (of which miraculous attestation was produced by him), that many believed and were baptised; but these did not at the time receive the gift of the Holy Spirit:
“Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John, who, when they were come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy spirit (for as yet he had fallen upon none of them: only they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8: 14-19).
This power of bestowing the Spirit was exercised where truth was received. In almost every case recorded, the reception of the Spirit followed the reception of the truth. It was, indeed, a matter of promise that this should be so. On the day of Pentecost, Peter said, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39). This promise was realised in the experience of the churches founded in the days of the apostles. The Spirit distributed to believers its preternatural powers in different forms and degrees. Paul says:
“There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit, the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gift of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another diverse kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the self-same spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (1Cor 12:6-11).
The object of this general diffusion of spiritual power in apostolic times, is thus stated by Paul:
“He gave some, apostles; and some prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for that edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the Faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, and to a perfect man, unto the measure of the Stature of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with it every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph 4:11-14).
This is perfectly intelligible. If the early churches, consisting of men and women fresh from the abominations and immoralities of heathenism, and without the authoritative standard of the completed Scripture which now exists, had been left to the mere power of Apostolic tradition intellectually received, they could not have held together. The winds of doctrine, blowing about through the activities of “men of corrupt minds”, would have broken them from their moorings, and they would have been tossed to and fro in the billows of uncertain and conflicting report and opinion, and finally stranded in hopeless shipwreck. This catastrophe was prevented by the gifts of the spirit. Properly qualified men, as to moral and intellectual parts, were made the repositories of these gifts, and empowered to “speak and exhort, and rebuke with all authority”. They “ruled” the communities over which they were placed, feeding the flock of God over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind, neither has been lords over God’s Heritage, but being ensamples to the flock (Acts 20:28,1Pet 5:2,3). In this way the early churches were built up and edified. The work on the apostles was conserved, improved, and carried to a consummation. The faith was completed and consolidated by the voice of inspiration, speaking through the spiritually-appointed leaders of the churches. By this means the results of gospel-preaching in the first century, when there were no railways, telegraph’s, or other means of a rapid situation of ideas, instead of evaporating to nothing, as otherwise they would have done, was secured and made permanent, both as regards that generation and succeeding centuries.
But it must be obvious that the case stands very differently now. There is no manifestation of the Spirit in these days. The power of continuing the manifestation doubtless died with the apostles; not that God could not have transferred it to others, but that He selected them as the channels of its bestowment in their age, and never, so far as we have any evidence, appointed “successors”. There are many who claim to be their successors; but it is not the word but the power of a man but must be taken as the test in this matter. Let those who think they have the Spirit produce their evidences. There is a great outcry about the Holy Spirit in popular preaching; but nothing more. There are phenomena which are considered outpourings of the Holy Spirit; but they bear no resemblance to those of Apostolic experience, and, therefore, must be rejected. They are explicable on natural principles.
When an exciting and highly mesmeric preacher gets a crowded audience, it is not a great wonder if his inflammatory exertions are successful in stimulating the susceptible among his hearers, to a state of mind corresponding with his own. He but uses a natural means, which evokes a natural result. If any of the natural conditions are wanting, the result is impaired to that extent. The “spirit”, for instance, never descends to the same extent at an out-door meeting as in the crowded chapel, especially if the day be windy. It is not dispensed so liberally to half-filled as to well occupied pews. It does not come so quickly at the bidding of a dull temperament and barren imagination, especially if the man be of small stature – as it does at that of a lusty, excitable, well-built man, or a nervous, wiry, emphatic man. The reason is, that all these conditions are unfavourable to the play of the latent magnetism of the human system.
Were it the Holy Spirit that attended these operations, it would over leap all barriers, and not only so, but it’s result would be of a more worthy and permanent character than the impressions made at “revival meetings”, and rather more in harmony with what the Spirit has said through its ancient media, than the sentiments induced at these gatherings. But the fact is, it is not the Holy Spirit at all. It is the mere spirit of the flesh worked up into a religious excitement, through the influence of fear – an excitement which subsides as rapidly as the agency of its inception is withdrawn.
The result of an intelligent appreciation of what the word of God teaches and requires, is different from this; this has its seat in the judgement, and lays hold of the entire mental man, creating new ideas and new affections, and, in general, evolving a “new man”. In this work, the Spirit operates through the written word. This is the product of the Spirit – the ideas of God reduced to writing by the ancient men who were moved by it. It is, therefore, the instrumentality of the Spirit , historically wielded: the sword of the Spirit by a metaphor which contemplates the Spirit in prophets and apostles in ancient times, as the warrior. By this, men may be subdued to God – that is, enlightened, purified, and saved, if they receive the word into good and honest hearts, and “bring forth fruits, some thirty – fold, some at sixty, and some a hundred”. By this they may become “spiritually minded”, which is “life and peace” (Rom 8:6). The present days are barren days, as regards the Spirit’s direct operations. These are days such as were predicted in the following language:
“I will send a famine in the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, AND SHALL NOT FIND IT” (Amos 8:11-12)
“Therefore, night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the days shall be dark over them. Then shall the seers be confounded; yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God” (Mic 3:6,7).
Robert Roberts (1862)