The Spirit of God: Part 4

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But there is another blessed work that John refers to here in the verses we have read, and what is that? “The same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” Yet the Lord Jesus never baptized with the Holy Ghost till He went to heaven. It is from heaven that He does so, and this is clearly brought before us in the Acts of the Apostles, to which you can now refer. You may see it for yourselves clearly promised for the last time in chap. 1:4, 5, “And being assembled together with [them], commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which [saith he] ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” Do not suppose that this was confined to the apostles, or to those who were Christ's immediate disciples. The apostles were prominently before His mind, but not exclusively.
Accordingly in the next chapter we find that, when they were all with one accord in one place, suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty rushing wind, which filled all the house. Just as the wind did then fill the house, so the Holy Ghost came to constitute them God's house. Cloven tongues, like as of fire, sat upon each of them. There was the personal as well as the general presence of the Spirit of God. He did not appear like a dove, but like cloven tongues of fire. He came like a dove on the Lord Jesus; for the Lord Jesus had no sin: not a taint of evil was in the flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was a perfect man—, not even knowing sin; and, that this might be, He was conceived of the Holy Ghost.
If He had been born in a natural way, He must have had sin; but the power of the Highest counteracted this, so that He should be born of woman, yet “A body hast thou prepared me” without sin. This wonderful truth was set forth in the peace offering, where the flour was mingled with oil, without leaven, which represents the corruption of our nature. But there was no leaven in the meat-offering. Oil, the constant symbol of the Holy Ghost, was mingled with the flour to make the cake, and, when the cake was made, oil was poured upon it. This was admirably fulfilled in our Lord Jesus. First, the Holy Ghost came upon the virgin, and the power of the Highest overshadowed her; and next, when He was about thirty years of age, the Holy Ghost descended upon Him without blood, because He was without sin. And God the Holy Ghost comes down on us.
But see how strikingly our case resembles, and yet is differentiated from, our Lord Jesus Christ. We are of a sinful nature, but born of the Spirit. There is by the word of God the action of the Holy Ghost: we are born of water and of the Spirit. The Holy Ghost does not come on us until we rest on Christ's redemption. The problem was, How could the Holy Ghost come and dwell in what was unclean? Now the efficacy of the blood of Christ is to make us perfectly clean in the sight of God. This is what redemption does. The precious blood of Christ “cleanseth us,” it is said in Scripture, “from all sin.” Do you believe it? Do you really bow to what God declares, that “the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin"? We see the reason why the Holy Ghost was never before given to a sinful man. I do not say He never operated on such; on the contrary He did so in every believer since Abel. But He never was given, never sealed a believer, till the blood of Christ left him without spot or stain. There is the Spirit of God quickening the soul when a man is a sinner; and there is the Spirit of God now sealing him, when he, a believer, rests on the work of Christ. So our Lord Jesus told the disciples that they were to be baptized with the Holy Ghost. They were already quickened, being for years true believers, but they were not yet baptized in the Holy Ghost. But now He goes up to heaven to send down the Holy Ghost; and this is most distinctly shown in the second chapter of Acts, vers. 32, 33, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.”
The Holy Ghost was given to Christ twice—for Himself while He was upon the earth, for us when He went to heaven: and this is the reason why the Holy Ghost never leaves the church, because He is given to the church in virtue of Christ, and not because of our good behavior. The Holy Ghost is given to Him, and it is through Him and because of Him that the Holy Ghost always abides. If the Holy Ghost were to leave the church, it would be as good as saying that Christ was no longer worthy of the Holy Ghost abiding. God could not say so; and this is what makes the Holy Ghost so precious. And so the Lord told them in the fourteenth chapter of John, “He shall abide with you forever” (ver. 16).
To be sure there are people who do not believe this. I do not know whether it is the case now, but some forty years ago it used to be a regular practice for known evangelical men to put forth a little document every year calling for united prayer that the Holy Spirit should be shed forth again on the church—that we should have a fresh effusion of the Spirit of God. Is not this a very serious thing? Suppose that people were to begin to pray at the end of the year that Christ should die again! Everybody would look aghast, thinking it a denial of the faith. But is it less really preposterous, is it not equally unbelieving, to pray for the Holy Ghost to be given again? He is shed, and being shed, He abides forever.
Do you tell me, that the Spirit is to be shed again in this world's history? I grant it; but this will be for Israel, and for the Gentiles when Israel believes, as it is beautifully shown in the High Priest going into the sanctuary and coming out. Perhaps you recollect that the hells which were on the vestments of the High Priest gave forth a sound when he went into the most holy place, and when he came out. The hells ringing when he went in would answer to the gift of the Spirit of God to us, the church, when our Lord went up on high; and the bells ringing when he came out, to the fresh testimony of the Holy Spirit when Israel shall be brought in. But there is no such doctrine as the Holy Ghost shed repeatedly for the church. When He was sent down, He was given to abide with us forever. I am aware of all the darkness in the middle ages—of the revived superstition and the fresh and abounding rationalism in the present age; nevertheless, the Holy Ghost abides. Yet I do say that the Holy Ghost abides, because Christ said it, after He obtained eternal redemption, as it was because of this that He went up into heaven itself. It was not a temporary redemption, like that of the Jews, who were taken out of Egypt, but might be carried off to Babylon. It is otherwise with the church of God. The Lord Jesus brought in eternal redemption, and the consequence is that the Holy Ghost comes down and abides forever.
So far our Lord's case differs, on Whom the Spirit came down like a dove, because there was a perfect absence of evil; no question of the smallest sin or taint, or anything to indicate corruption in our Lord. This could not be said about us, and therefore did the Holy Ghost descend in the form which He assumed for the disciples, “like as of fire.” Fire always marks the judgment of God. The Holy Ghost could not have come upon the disciples if there had not been God's judgment dealing with their sin in the work of Christ. But there was more than this. There appeared cloven tongues, because it was to be a question of testimony. Not so in Christ's case; for He is the One testified of. We are called to be witnesses of Him. We know but are not the truth; He only and emphatically is the truth to be witnessed to. Cloven tongues formed a beautiful emblem of the power of the Holy Ghost put forth in making believers witnesses to our Lord Jesus Christ. Cloven tongues—no longer one language as of Canaan, but more, every tongue of every nation under heaven—point not to Jew only but to Gentile, so that the expressiveness of the symbol seems unmistakable.
Such then is the fact: let us now enter a little into the doctrine. Notice, first, that the Spirit of God, and we are speaking of the gift of the Spirit, is never mentioned until a man has already believed. Always bear this in mind. The new birth makes a man a believer; the gift of the Spirit comes when he is a believer. The gift of the Spirit brings him into liberty—not into life. The truth of Christ brings him life, and the Spirit of God takes His part in quickening; but the Holy Ghost is given to him already a believer; and this seals him in perfect liberty. For this reason you will observe that in the earlier chapters of the Epistle to the Romans we have the sinner looking to Christ and His blood, and not one word about the Holy Ghost yet, because the idea is to present Christ, not to distract him with what works within him. The Spirit does work in order that he may look to the true object, but the Holy Ghost is never an object of faith, which Christ is. When a man has received the gospel, when he rests upon the blood of Christ, the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given. This is the first mention of the Holy Ghost in the Epistle to the Romans. We come to no less than the fifth chapter before there is any allusion to the working of the Holy Ghost in the believer; and then we hear of the love of God shed abroad in the believer's heart by the Holy Ghost.
“Perfect love casteth out fear.” But it is God's. Whenever we turn upon our own love, or take any satisfaction from it, it is a poor sign of state or faith. Real love always has a high ideal of the object that is loved, but never of itself. God's love in Jesus is a perfect love, and casteth out fear. There is no perfect love except the love of God in our case, not ours to God, but His to us. His is perfect love, and only so; and this alone casts out fear. I know that He loves me so perfectly that He not only gave His Son to come down and bear my sins on the cross, but that I should be as He is in heaven. There are two ways in which Christ shows perfect love: first, by coming down to bear all my sins and stripes; secondly, by going up to heaven to give me His glory. Meanwhile He sheds on me the Spirit, that God may dwell in me and I in God. Such is the perfect love of God. Christ was carrying out God's mind, God's affections, God's great purposes; and all this is exactly what the Holy Ghost bears witness to. “For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God, who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”
Passing over some most instructive chapters in the Epistle to the Romans we come to the eighth, where we are told— “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” We need not read the next clause, because it ought not to be there; and one may safely venture to predict that, when the new version of the Scriptures comes out, none will find it there. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus; for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” This is the first reason assigned why there is no condemnation—sin and death are no longer a law to the believer, because the Spirit of life in Christ risen has liberated him. He has a new life; and the Holy Ghost has been given to him. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” The allusion is to what the Lord did on the day that He rose from the dead. He told Mary Magdalene to go and tell His disciples, “I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.” This was His message. He put the disciples, as far as could be, in precisely the same relationship with God as Himself. He could give them (not Godhead, but) the place He had as the risen man before God. Up to that time He had to hear sin, and death in rejection and atonement were always before Him. Now everything evil was behind Him, and glory in heaven before Him. Now He says, this is your position as well as Mine: “I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.” And that message brought the disciples together, “the doors being shut for fear of the Jews,” and the Lord entered the closed doors just as easily as if they had been open.
You will notice that the first thing He did—after giving them the comforting announcement of peace, peace for them, and peace for others—was to breathe upon them. And what breath was that? His resurrection breath — life in resurrection power — “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” It was the resurrection life of Christ breathed into the souls of the disciples. I do not say that it was a thing that could be felt physically, or seen, of course. Such is not the nature of the spiritual life. The wind may be a figure of it, but it is not a material thing palpable in an outward way. Yet it is a reality—a present reality—much more so than the old life, which itself is quite impalpable. The wisest who cry up the present time are no wiser on this point Than the sages of former times. Yet life is not more momentous than wonderful; and how solemn to think that, when it leaves the body, all efforts to restore it fail! You may galvanize a dead body and make the limbs move, but electricity is not life. Even in natural life you come to a barrier that no science can penetrate—no microscope can discern, no tests can analyze; but there it is, an inexplicable secret to man—a thing that shows the finger of God, where all the discoveries of science only bring out more clearly the fact that man cannot solve its enigma.
If such is the case with natural life, how much more so is it with the spiritual—that life that comes from Christ and enjoys Him forever! With this law the Christian has to do, as the Jew with the ministry of death and condemnation written on stones: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Death, of course, was the end of the first man. The resurrection of Christ is the believer's power of entrance into the new condition where there is no change, or sin whatever. You may tell me the Christian may sin, and quote passages from Scripture to prove that; but they do not mean that the new life has sinned. It is because a man has not kept the old life in order. The old man is like a wild beast, which you have to keep like a wild beast under lock and key. We are responsible to do so. Nothing can be more shameless than to hear a man who has broken out into sin say, “Oh, it was not I that sinned, it was the weakness of the flesh.” If you live in the Spirit, you are bound to mortify the flesh with its affections and lusts. It is unchristian-like for any man to excuse his wickedness by talking about the flesh. No doubt it is the fact; but he is bound to keep the flesh under, and there is power in the Holy Ghost given him to deal with the old man.
(Continued from page 89)
(To be continued)
[W. K. ]