by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Acts 19:1-7.
In meditating in the Word we have been impressed with the striking absence of that in the New Testament which is in the nature of a declaration that the Holy Spirit is indispensible. There is very little indeed in the New Testament in the nature of a definite statement that the Holy Spirit is indispensible. That may sound strange, but it is very significant, for it is all so much in the nature of assumption. It is taken for granted. The Lord Jesus, for instance, begins to give definite teaching on the coming of the Holy Spirit. He speaks after this manner: "It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you" (John 16:7). The rejoinder might be: 'Well, we would sooner have You! We are quite satisfied with You! Why should we want another?' But in the very statement of the Lord there is clearly an indication that it was supremely important that the Holy Spirit should come, and that He was coming. He did not say definitely and positively: 'You can never do without the Holy Spirit!' He took it for granted. It was assumed.
Take these words again, from Acts 19. Paul came to Ephesus and found certain disciples, and said to them: "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" (Acts 19:2). It is taken for granted that that is the natural course of things. It is assumed that the life of believers is a life in the Spirit, and the question was clearly prompted by what was to the apostle a very manifest absence of what ought to be in the normal course.
This attitude, shall we say, of the New Testament toward the matter of not declaring in a downright way the necessity, but assuming the necessity of the Holy Spirit surely implies one or two things.
In the first place it implies that the promise of the Holy Spirit must have been well known among the Jews. That means that, so far as the Jews were concerned, the Old Testament must have created in them the knowledge that the Holy Spirit would come one day as their essential, indispensable Life. That is, that everything was hanging upon that day when the promise should be fulfilled. That would lead us back to the Old Testament and a study of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.
On the other hand, it implies that there must have been in the main, definite teaching on the matter among the Gentiles; for if the thing were taken for granted in this way, and surprise is felt when another state of things is found in one place at least, that must imply that it was the general thing, the rule, to bring before the Gentiles the fact that the Christian life is a life in the Holy Spirit, and that the Christian life falls far short of its real meaning if the Holy Spirit is not there and in evidence.
So that what we are led to from both of these implications, as to the Jews and as to the Gentiles, is that the Christian life in the New Testament is represented as a life in the Spirit, and it is clearly shown that anything else is not really the Christ life. In the case of the Corinthians and the Romans the contrast is presented between walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh, and it is made perfectly clear in those letters that a walk in the flesh is not the Christ life. Or, on the other hand, the Christ life is the life in the Spirit, and to speak of the Christ life is only a stronger way of speaking of the Christian life, or the Christ life is the Christian life.
Having that as our foundation, we come to look at a few things of a primary character and importance pointed out in the New Testament and made very clear in connection with the Holy Spirit.
Christ Known and Glorified by the Holy Sprit
The first, perhaps the most important thing, is that Christ will be known and glorified in the measure in which the Holy Spirit is in possession and operation. That is very simple, but it forms the foundation to all else. We may put it in another way: the measure in which Christ will be made glorified is the measure in which the Holy Spirit is in possession and in operation. In our individual lives, and in the life of the church there will be no more manifestation of the great heavenly fact of Christ being glorified than there is the possession of us, and the operation in us, by the Holy Spirit. His all-inclusive and supreme object is to express in believers and in the church what actually exists in heaven, so far as the Lord Jesus is concerned. He is glorified there. The Holy Spirit cannot make Him any more glorified than He is, but the Holy Spirit has come to express the fact that Christ is glorified in believers and in the church.
The day of Pentecost saw the expression of the great heavenly fact of Christ being glorified in the church. What took place at Sinai fifty days after the redemption from Egypt, when the completed tabernacle was filled with the Shekinah Glory, took place in spiritual reality on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover in Jerusalem. The glory descended and filled the house.
We are not looking for further descents of the Holy Spirit; in that sense He is here. When the glory filled the tabernacle in the wilderness all that remained for the eye of the people was not the glory but a cloud. The glory was within, concealed, and, so far as that was concerned, they had to move in faith. That glory, as we know, sometimes manifested itself. In judgement the glory appeared at the door. The result of the appearance of the glory at the door of the tabernacle was very terrible, as a rule in awful judgement of some sin that had crept in. It was a terrible thing to see the glory in that dispensation. But for the greater part of their history they had to go on believing that the glory was inside, and not seen; that it was concealed, And very largely through this dispensation we have to move in faith as to the presence of the glory, the Spirit of glory. Faith is the means by which we know the glory.
We have said that the presence of the Holy Spirit even in power does not always mean that we are taken off the plain of a life of faith. Some people are asking the question: All this teaching has been in the church for a long time, and many have enjoyed something of the experience of it, but what about the manifest evidence and results? The answer to that question has already been given, that very often the greatest manifestation of the working of the Holy Spirit is entirely concealed from our senses, and we are not conscious of it. Things are done, and we only discover years afterwards that they were done in some lives. We did not know at the time. Mighty things, revolutionary things, were done in lives, things which demanded the infinite power of the Holy Spirit to do them, and we knew absolutely nothing about it at the time. Perhaps you say: 'Then how am I to know whether I have the Holy Spirit or not?' What we are seeking to do through this exhortation is to bring home to our hearts, as the Lord enables, or as the Lord will do through His Word, firstly, the absolute necessity of our lives being completely governed by the Holy Spirit, then what that means, and then what the basis of such a life is. The rest remains with us as an exercise before the Lord, to see to it that we stand on the Lord's ground in this matter.
The first, and the all-pervading fact brought into view by the New Testament in connection with the Holy Spirit, is that Christ in glory will only be expressed in us in the measure in which the Holy Spirit has possession of us, and is allowed free operation in our lives.
The Holy Spirit Making Essential Truth Become Clear and Living
The function of the Holy Spirit is that illumination by which all essential truth becomes clear and living. The Lord Jesus said quite distinctly that that is what would happen when the Holy Spirit came. This is of great importance, that all essential truth should be made clear in our hearts, and living. That is the function of the Holy Spirit. We shall not get far without that, and one of the great results of that will be this: the bringing about of oneness of mind upon all vital matters. In spite of the situation as it is in the world today, in spite of the diversity of mind, interpretation, and things so diverse that it seems a hopeless situation, in spite of it all, though there may be ten thousand different and contradictory opinions on, and interpretations of, vital truths, we nevertheless affirm without any hesitation, that where the Holy Spirit is absolutely dominant there will be oneness of mind upon vital truths; absolute oneness.
It is necessary that it should be so for the constituting of a distinctive and definite testimony. It is the Holy Spirit who is in charge of the testimony, and today one of the characteristic weaknesses of Christendom is its diversity of opinion upon vital matters. It has no solid face to present to the world upon vital matters. It is divided and broken up into innumerable fractions and pieces upon things which are of primary importance, and that simply means that the Holy Spirit, for some reason, has not absolute sway, or absolute government. We cannot hope to remedy it, and we are under no illusions that what we are saying may clear that world situation up. But we speak within a certain compass, within perhaps a very limited range. If you and I are completely under the government and dominion of the Holy Spirit, we will come to the same position on all things that are of vital importance, and coming there, there will be a testimony in definiteness, and distinctiveness, and in power, by reason of that oneness which cannot be by just one or two being in that position. It must be the work of the Holy Spirit. It is His work. He would do that, and if He gets hold of us, what is wrong and erroneous will go, and what is right and true will become our mutual position, and we shall have one voice and one mind on those things which really do matter to the Lord. That is no small thing.
Perhaps we do not know the tremendous value of the apostles being of one mind at the beginning; that is, the spiritual impact of it, not just that men listening to them were listening to men who were all agreed upon certain things and prepared to say exactly the same things. There was in the realm of spiritual intelligences, and in the whole spiritual realm, the registration of something done by the Holy Spirit. It was represented by a spiritual oneness of mind; and spiritual oneness of mind is something which has power in it. You can get a dozen people together to discuss certain things, and after a process of elimination to arrive at certain conclusions to which they all subscribe; and then say that you have got a state of oneness, and begin to work upon a common platform. That may lack a mighty impact as out from God. But when the Holy Spirit does a thing like that, there is something behind it which brings heaven in, brings God in. You cannot come to a position like that by saying: "I agree with certain terms of expression, certain conclusions, a certain position, certain statements, certain doctrines; I agree to such-and-such a testimony!" No! You must come into that by the Holy Spirit, and unless you are there as the result of the Holy Spirit's bringing you there, and bringing you together on that basis, that element will always be lacking. Yes, things are being said, and so far as the language and the terms are concerned, it is all the same; but there is a difference, and that difference represents a hole in the bag, through which there is a leakage of power.
If you are not able to appropriate and appreciate that, do ask the Lord at any rate that, so far as all vital truth is concerned, you may be absolutely under the government of the Holy Spirit, and wherever there is another one in that position you will find yourself in spiritual agreement, and that is going to count for the Lord. Oh, that the Lord should secure today in all parts of the world yet a company of those who have come to oneness concerning the truth by the Holy Spirit!
This is one function of the Holy Spirit among other things: the making of one mind on all vital matters.
The Holy Spirit Bringing Elevation
The result of the Holy Spirit being in possession is manifested in an elevation. That needs explaining.
We see in the book of the Acts that when the Holy Spirit possessed these men and women who comprised the church, then they were lifted above all the natural, human elements of unsaved men and women. That elevation was unaffected by all the differences of nationality, disposition, character, or any other difference. That elevation was unaffected by persecution, threats of death, or any other thing. You notice this happened: that whereas there had been national prejudices - Jews could not tolerate Gentiles, and Gentiles could not tolerate Jews and then in a whole series of other differences of constitution, temperament, make-up, disposition, outlook, likes and dislikes - you find that that whole realm of things was transcended when the Holy Spirit ruled in the lives of these people. Jew loved Gentile, and Gentile loved Jew, and it was as though they had moved into another realm altogether where they were unaffected by these things. They are lifted above the ordinary human elements of unsaved men and women. And if they went into a place utterly hostile to them, and to which by nature they would have been hostile before, and if that hostility against them showed itself and they were persecuted, threatened, and made to suffer, they were still above it all. That is, they did not come down to meet that on its own level. They never answered back on that plane at all. They were above it.
They acted as though they had swept that whole thing on one side and were after one definite object. That object necessitated their ignoring all this. Supposing they had taken it on, as the way. As Jews they went into Gentile cities, and the Gentiles said: 'These hateful Jews have come here!' And supposing those Jews had taken that on, and said: 'They hate us Jews!' and then they had reacted from that natural point of view. What hope would there have been? The fact that they triumphed is a mark of their having come entirely out of that realm, and they were lifted above all human considerations. It was a moral ascendency, and so they were able to go right on without being affected by the activity and the operation of all these natural elements in unsaved men and women.
That operates today when a man or a woman, with the love of God shed abroad in their heart, goes to a country where the people by reason of their history, social conditions, religious state and all other conditions, would be naturally hostile, and such a one is nevertheless unaffected by it, but goes on. That does not mean that they are unconscious of it, but they are unaffected by it. Even when the thing breaks out upon them in persecutions, in open antagonism, the natural features are not allowed to rise up and influence conduct, but there is a movement as above it, and a winning through because of that.
We know quite well that if we are going to live upon the natural level of differences of make-up, temperament and all that sort of thing, and be constantly taking that into account, there will be no glory for the Lord Jesus, and there will be no spiritual progress. The necessity for us, even as Christians among ourselves, is that we should know something of that moral elevation, that we should be unaffected to the point of reaction on that level by those things. This is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is a marvellous thing as you look at it.
National prejudice is a very strong thing, and it can go a long way, even with Christians. But the Holy Spirit lifts right above all those things, and it is necessary. The thing may work out in other directions, where even among ourselves it is necessary constantly for fresh energisings of the Holy Spirit to get on top of what is human nature in one another. There will be no spiritual progress otherwise, and no glory to the Lord. That is exactly what is in the book of the Acts. The Holy Spirit getting possession lifted them onto a level where these natural, human elements did not touch them or in any way cause them to react wrongly. That is one of the great secrets of their victory in all these places where they were met by the flesh.
That is exactly what the apostle means when he says: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2 Cor. 10:4, AV). What is that? A mighty ascendency above what is natural. It is a mighty weapon! Think of how the enemy strives to get us down to the place where we answer back in the flesh, and take things on their own level, and be even with them. The devil is always trying to get us down there and when he does, it means defeat every time. While we remain in the Spirit, which means to be above that, what a tremendous weapon it is! It means that the enemy is robbed of his power; he is disarmed.
That is a work of the Spirit, and who shall say that that is not necessary? We are all conscious of the necessity of that everywhere, in all directions. That was a mark of the church at the beginning. The Lord bring a fresh, mighty inflow of the Spirit to that end among us all.
The Elevation by the Holy Spirit Bringing Unity
The chief glory of that elevation is seen in the spiritual unity of believers. There will never be any real spiritual unity in any expression, in any enjoyment, in any manifestation or concrete way, only on that level, in that spiritual elevation above human nature; in other words, only insofar as the Holy Spirit has full possession and government. But the chief glory of that work of the Holy Spirit of lifting us above the level of natural and unregenerate humanity, is seen in the spiritual unity of believers in which there is displayed a reconstituting of human relationships; for the Holy Spirit reconstitutes human relationships. He disposes of one constitution of human relationships, which is no relationship at all - it is all clash, strife, friction and consciousness of limitation in the realm of fellowship - and He reconstitutes human relationships upon a basis of fellowship, love and brotherhood in the purest sense, as differing from the human relationships which are selfish, individualistic in outlook, and competitive in action.
The Holy Spirit takes up the whole matter of human relationships within the company of God's people, and reconstitutes those relationships upon this basis of love and fellowship; and that is the chief glory of this new level, this elevation. Perhaps that seems a very technical or academic way of saying what could be said in simpler language. It just amounts to this, that when the Holy Spirit really has His way in us, He brings about a glorious family life, a holy family life, where what is merely personal is dismissed, what is merely individualistic goes, where what is selfish is ruled out, and the family lives for the family - for one another.
That is what is in the book of the Acts. What a company! Read the end of some of Paul's letters, and look at all the names and you will see that there are as many different temperaments as there are names. Not only are there different nationalities, but there are even more differences of temperament and constitution, outlook, make-up, and yet you have a family spirit marvellously displayed. In those first chapters of the book of the Acts, how wonderful is the display of that family spirit. It would be interesting to know exactly the former life condition of all those people of whom it is said that they sold their possessions, and had all things common, and met together in this fellowship, continuing in fellowship and breaking of bread. It would be interesting to know just what their former life was. It would be interesting to know what you could have done with them apart from the Holy Spirit having come upon them, how far you would have got in realising that position, coming to that ideal, without some mighty Divine activity outside of themselves. A lot of people have tried that sort of thing many times, but it does not last very long; it breaks down. But here you have it. It is a wonderful thing. Without any conference, discussion, arrangement, it simply happened by one Divine act. That is a work of the Holy Spirit, and that needs to be recovered. When the Lord can get that, He has a display of His glory, He has an expression of the triumph of His Cross, He has something which speaks very audibly and eloquently of that which no man can bring about.
We are saying all this in order that we shall be led definitely to the Lord about having our lives governed by the Holy Spirit. Give the Lord no rest until you are assured that your case has been placed quite definitely before Him, and that, so far as your side is concerned, the thing is understood by the Lord as to where you stand. Leave the rest to Him. We do not suggest that you reach out and strain after some great external manifestation of the Holy Spirit, but we do urge that there shall be a definite and continuous understanding with the Lord that our lives become Holy Spirit filled and dominated, to all these glorious ends which we are considering.
There are two things, one as to the individual and the other as to the church, which are marks of the Holy Spirit's real work within.
Assurance and Sealing as God's Testimony to Acceptance and Sonship
As to the individual, a basic work of the Holy Spirit is assurance and sealing as God's testimony to acceptance and sonship. That is a simple, and perhaps an elementary thing, and yet even here in so many the evidences of the Holy Spirit are lacking. Let us repeat that: a basic work of the Holy Spirit is to bring about assurance and the knowledge of sealing, as God's testimony to our acceptance and our sonship. For all uncertainty as to our acceptance, for all weakness of assurance as to our sonship, the need is the work of the Holy Spirit. That is His business; that is His work.
There are many of the Lord's children today (it must be said with regret and grief, but it is true) who lack that settled assurance of their acceptance, and that knowledge that they are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and that God has borne testimony in their heart to their acceptance and to their sonship. The Holy Spirit would do that work in us if we recognised that that is His work, and that we would definitely have a transaction with the Lord about it in faith. There is something wrong and the Holy Spirit has in some way been superseded, overruled, set aside, quenched, grieved, if any child of God comes to a place where they doubt their acceptance with God, and have no assurance of their sonship. It is made perfectly clear in the Word that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit becomes the seal in us of our acceptance, and the witness to our spirit that we are children of God. "Because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father". It is that uprising within our hearts from the Holy Spirit of the word "Father". It is a great thing really, out of your heart, to be able to say, "Father". We can speak about the Fatherhood; we can have a mental acceptance of Fatherhood; we can recite prayers which call God our Father; we can move in that realm religiously, but there is something mighty in the coming right out from our inner being, with that strength of assurance and rest, and the real expression of our spirit: "Father!" You hear that in the cross of the Lord Jesus. Oh! what a mighty triumph that was, that, "Father..."! If ever there was a triumph in this universe, it was represented by that one word as uttered by Christ on the cross. He had just passed through the full judgement of sin; the wrath of God, all the waves and billows passed over Him. He had gone out into the wilderness. He had gone out from the presence of God, excluded, God-forsaken, to all the terrors of the lost. He had tasted that cup, drinking it to the dregs, the cup of God's wrath only just before, then there broke from the depths of His Being one word: "Father... into Thy hands I commit My spirit." There is triumph in that one word when it comes in that way. There is something matchless in it.
It is in exactly the same realm that the apostle says: "No man can call Jesus, "Lord" except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3). We can call Him the Lord Jesus, speak about the Lord Jesus, believe He is the Lord Jesus, but there is something more in that being borne right out from our innermost being with Holy Spirit meaning: "Lord Jesus" just as Christ said: "Father"! There is something in the Holy Spirit utterance of this kind that is more than all our religion, doctrine and theology.
The Holy Spirit would establish in us that assurance, and give us the knowledge of our acceptance and our sonship. Lay hold of that by faith! Make it yours! Do not argue! Do not stand outside wondering if perhaps it may be. It is! It is yours! Stand into it! He has come to do that for you.
Qualification, Equipment and Power for World Ministry
As to the church, the Holy Spirit represents qualification, equipment, and power for world ministry. That is a subject in itself, but it is clearly revealed in the New Testament.
The Holy Spirit Moving in Closest Relation to the Cross
The Holy Spirit always moves in closest relation to the cross. That means, for our present purpose, that none of these things can be true, we can have the knowledge of none of them, only on the ground that what Calvary represents is the position in which we stand. The Cross does represent our end, our death in Christ, and until we have really accepted that position quite definitely and deliberately, facing all that it means, with the great comprehensive, many-sided: "no longer I", all that we have said about the Holy Spirit has no meaning for us.
We said that something has happened if our assurance has been shaken; the Holy Spirit has been set aside. How do you set the Holy Spirit aside? By setting aside the ground upon which the Holy Spirit works, that is, the Cross. That is making the Cross of none effect in some way or another in our lives. The Holy Spirit must have the Cross as His basis of activity.
I am a profound believer in baptismal regeneration, and I found my position upon John 3:5. But what do you mean by baptismal regeneration? What is the water? It is the testimony to your sharing a grave with Jesus Christ, your being baptized into His death. Then subsequently comes the question of the Spirit. First the death, then the Spirit. That is the order in the New Testament. Baptismal regeneration is not that you are regenerated by going into a bath of water, but by going spiritually into that which is represented thereby. There is no regeneration until you have shared Christ's death, been planted together with Him in the likeness of His death. The Holy Spirit works always in relation to the Cross: "Except a man be born of water..." (that is the symbol; that is the type of your birth with Christ, your sharing His death) "...and of the Spirit". (That is subsequent, because the Spirit comes after the Cross, upon resurrection ground). These two things go together: "Behold the Lamb..." - "He shall baptise you with the Spirit".
The Basic Thing is Death and Burial Union with Christ
Our last emphasis is an old one, but it is the indispensable one. You may struggle after the true expression of the Holy Spirit in any of His ways of ministry and blessing, but you will struggle in vain unless you have accepted once and for all this basic position of death and burial union with Christ as to the entirety of your Adam relationship and life. When that is accepted as much by faith as anything else is accepted, and there is the understanding with the Lord that there is the driving of a stake clean through that old life, you know quite well that he has been struck his mortal blow. Although that old life may wriggle, it knows the stake is through; although that old life may sometimes let you know that he is still there, you know quite well that something has happened to you, and you cannot do as you once did. You are not free to do as you once did; you dare not. Every time you move in that realm, or toward that realm, you find yourself smitten again. You come under something that you cry to be delivered from, and you are glad to flee from that ground. Thus you are made to know that something has happened, that the sword of God has gone clean through that Adam life, and God is against it.
That must be our position. Before the Holy Spirit can take up His work we have to come to an understanding with the Lord that He makes us know that. The Holy Spirit will act upon that, and for ever after will make us very sensitive to what is of the Lord and what is of ourselves. We shall not need to be told; we shall know. The amazing thing is that so many of the Lord's people do not recognise what is themselves and what is the Lord. A real problem is how many good Christian people there are who can accept what is obviously and manifestly untrue, and never in their own hearts hear the Holy Spirit say to them: 'That is not true! Do not believe it!' They take it, and carry it on, and use it. But the answer to that and all such problems is a life more utterly lived in the Spirit. If we were moving as governed by the Holy Spirit I do not believe that we could believe a lie about anybody without knowing somehow that it was a lie; that we could accept a report about anyone which was false, and the Holy Spirit not say in us: "Be careful; that is false, against one of My own." Would to God there were more of the regulating ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is willing and wants to do that, and it is necessary.
Herein is the force of the appeal. Do let us ask the Lord to bring these lives of ours to that place where the Holy Spirit really does dominate them, and that we shall never move in any way contrary to the Lord's mind without knowing it. That is a high level! Let us aspire to it. It is not impossible. If we know it a little (most of us can testify that we know it a little), we do know that if we have heard something which was not true, the Holy Spirit has said: 'Prove it first; make sure; do not take that as it stands, there is another side to that.' If we know it in that measure, surely we can know it more. If the Holy Spirit will go that far with us, surely He will go farther still. Let us ask the Lord that this may be.