And it came to pass that Paul came to Ephesus and found certain disciples: and he said unto them, Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? " ACTS xix. 1-2.
TT was about twenty years after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that the incident which is referred to in the beginning of this chapter of the Acts took place. In the course of his journey Paul came to Ephesus, and found in the Christian church there some disciples in whom he observed that there was something lacking in their belief or experience. Accordingly he put to them the question: " Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? " Their reply was that they had not yet heard
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of the Holy Spirit. They had been baptized by disciples of John the Baptist with the baptism of repentance with a view to faith in Jesus as One who was to come; but with the great event of the outpouring of the Spirit or the significance of it they were still un acquainted. They came from a region of the country into which the full Pentecostal preaching of the exalted Saviour had not yet penetrated. Accordingly, Paul took them at once under his care, made them conversant with the full gospel of the glorified Lord, who had received the Spirit from the Father and had sent Him down to this world, that every one of His believing disciples might also receive Him. Hearing this glad tidings and consenting to it, they were baptized into the name of this Saviour, who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Thereupon Paul prayed for them and laid his hands upon them, and they received the Holy Spirit; and then, in token of the fact that this whole transaction was a heavenly reality, they obtained a share in the Pentecostal miracle, and spake " with other tongues."
In these chapters it is my desire to bring to the children of God the message that there
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is a twofold Christian life. The one is that in which we experience something of the operations of the Holy Spirit, just as many did under the old covenant, but do not yet receive Him as the Pentecostal Spirit, as the personal indwelling Guest, concerning whom w r e know that He has come to abide permanently in the heart. On the other hand, there is a more abundant life, in which the indwelling just referred to is known and the full joy and power of redemption are facts of personal experience. It will be only when Christians come to understand fully the distinction betwixt these two conditions, and discern that the second of these is in very deed the will of God concerning them, and therefore a possible experience for each believer; when with shame and confusion of face they shall confess the sinful and inconsistent elements that still mark their life: that we shall dare to hope that the Christian community will once more be restored to its Pentecostal power. It is with our eye fixed on this distinction that we desire to ponder the lessons presented to us in the record of this incident at Ephesus.
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For a healthful Christian life, it is indispensable that we should be fully conscious that we have received the Holy Spirit to dwell in us.
Had it been otherwise, Paul would never have put the question: " Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? " These disciples were recognised as believers. This position, however, was not enough for them. The disciples who walked with the Lord Jesus on earth were also true believers, yet He commanded them not to rest satisfied until they had received the Holy Spirit from Himself in heaven. Paul too had seen the Lord in His heavenly glory and was by that vision led to conversion; yet even in his case the spiritual work he required to have done in him was not thereby completed. Ananias had to go to him and lay his hands upon him that he might receive the Holy Spirit. Only then could he become a witness for Christ. All these facts teach us that there are two ways in which the Holy Spirit works in us. The first is the preparatory operation in which He simply acts on us but does not yet take up His abode within
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us, though leading us to conversion and faith and ever urging us to all that is good and holy. The second is the higher and more advanced phase of His working when we receive Him as an abiding gift, as an indwelling Person, concerning whom we know that He assumes responsibility for our whole inner being, working in it both to will and to do. This is the ideal of the full Christian life.
There are disciples of Christ who know little or nothing of this conscious indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
It is of the utmost importance to understand and hold fast this statement. The more fully we come under the conviction of its truth, the better shall we understand the condition of the Church in our times and be at last enabled to discover where we ourselves really stand.
The condition I refer to becomes very plain to us when we consider what took place at Samaria. Philip the evangelist had preached there; many had been led to believe in Jesus and were baptized into His name; and there was great joy in that city. When the apostles
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heard this news, they sent down Peter and John, who, when they came to Samaria, prayed that these new converts might receive the Holy Spirit. 1 This gift was thus something quite different from the working of the Spirit that led them to conversion and faith and joy in Jesus as a Saviour. It was something higher: for now from heaven, and by the glorified Lord Himself, the Holy Spirit was imparted in power with His abiding indwelling, to consecrate and fill their hearts.
If this new experience had not been bestowed, the Samaritan disciples would still indeed have been Christians, but they would have remained weak, defective, and sickly; and thus it is that in our own days there is still many a Christian life that knows nothing of this bestowment of the Holy Spirit. Amidst much that is good and amiable, with even much earnestness and zeal, the life of such Christians is still hampered by weakness and stumbling and disappointment, simply because it has never been brought into vitalising contact with power from on high, because such souls have not received the Holy Spirit as the Pentecostal gift, to be possessed, and kept, and filled by Him. 1 Acts viii. 16, 17.
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It is the great work of the gospel ministry to lead believers to the Holy Spirit.
Was it not the great aim of the Lord Jesus, after He had educated and trained His disciples for three years by His intercourse with them, to lead them up to the point of waiting for the promise of the Father and receiving the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven? Was not this the chief object of Peter on the day of Pentecost, when, after summoning those who were pricked in their hearts to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, he assured them that they should then receive the Holy Spirit? l Was it not this also that Paul aimed at when in his Epistles he asked his fellow- Christians if they did not know > that they were each one " a temple of the Holy Spirit," or reminded them that they had to be " filled with the Holy Spirit "? 2 Yes: the supreme need of the Christian life is to receive the Holy Spirit, and when we have it, to be conscious of the fact and live in harmony with it. An evangelical minister must not merely preach about
1 Acts ii. 38. 2 1 Cor. vi. 19; Eph. v. 18.
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the Holy Spirit from time to time or even often times, but also direct all his efforts towards teaching his congregation that there can be no true worship save through the indwelling and unceasing operation of the Holy Spirit.
To lead believers to the Holy Spirit, the great lack in their life must be pointed out to them.
This was manifestly the intention in Paul’s question: " Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? " Just as only those that are thirsty will drink water with eagerness and only those that are sick will desire a physician, so it is only when believers are prepared to acknowledge the defective and sinful character of their spiritual condition, that the preaching of the full blessing of Pentecost will find an entrance into their hearts. So long as Christians imagine that the only thing lacking in their life is more earnestness, or more importunity, or more strength, and that if they only obtain these benefits they themselves will become all they ought to be, the preaching of a full salvation will be of little avail. It is only when the discovery is
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made that they are not standing in a right attitude towards the Holy Spirit, that they have only His preparatory operations, but do not yet know and honour Him in His indwelling, that the way to something higher will ever be open or even be desired. For this discovery, it is indispensable that the question should be put to each, man by man, as pointedly and as personally as may be: " Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? " When the answer shall take the shape of a deeply felt and utterly sincere Alas! the time of revival is not far off.
Believers must receive help to appropriate this Messing in faith.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read often about laying on of hands and prayer. Even a man like Paul whose conversion was due to the direct interposition of the Lord, and was there fore so effectual had to receive the Spirit through laying on of hands and prayer on the part of Ananias. 1 This implies that there must be amongst ministers of the gospel and believers 1 Acts ix. 17
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generally a power of the Spirit which makes them the channel of faith and courage to others. Those who are weak must be helped to appropriate the blessing for themselves. But those who have and bring this blessing, as well as those who desire to have it, must realise and acknowledge their absolute dependence on the Lord and expect all from Him.
The gift of the Spirit is imparted only by God Himself. Every fresh bestowment of the Spirit comes from above. There must be frequent personal dealing with God. The minister of the Spirit whom God is to use for communicating the blessing, as well as the believer who is to receive it, must meet with God in immediate and closest intercourse. Every good gift comes from above: it is faith in this truth that will give us courage to expect with confidence and gladness that the full Pentecostal blessing may confidently be looked for, and that a life under the continual leading of the Holy Spirit is within our reach.
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The proclamation and appropriation of this blessing will restore the Christian community to the primary Pentecostal power.
On the day of Pentecost the speaking " with other tongues " and the prophesying was the result of being filled with the Spirit. Here at Ephesus, twenty years later, the very same miracle is again witnessed, as the visible token and pledge of the other glorious gifts of the Spirit. We may reckon upon it that where the reception of the Holy Spirit and the possibility of being filled with Him are proclaimed and appropriated, the blessed life of the Pentecostal community will be restored in all its pristine power.
In our days there is an increasing acknowledgment of the lack of power in the Church of the Lord. In spite of all the multiplication of the means of grace, there is neither the power of the divine salvation in believers, nor the power for conversion in preaching, nor the power in the conflict of the Church with worldliness and unbelief and unrighteousness that, according to
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God’s Word, we are bound to look for. The complaint is made with justice. Would that the expression of it became so strong that the children of God, driven by a keen sense of need, might be led to cast themselves upon the great truth which the Word of God teaches namely, that it is only when faith in the full Pentecostal blessing and the full enjoyment of it are found in the Christian Church that the members of it shall again find their strength and be able to do their first works.
VII. The most urgent need of the Church is that of men who shall be able to bear testimony to this blessing.
Whether it be of teachers like Peter and Paul, of deacons like Philip, or of ordinary believers like Ananias who came to Paul, this is our first need. It furnishes abundant reason why teachers and members of congregations should unitedly call upon God, that alike in preaching and pastoral intercourse there may be more manifest proof that those who preach Christ Jesus may preach Him as John the
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Baptist did, as the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. It is only the minister that stands forth as a personal witness and living proof of the ministry of the Spirit whose word will have full entrance into the hearts of the people and exercise full sway over them. The first disciples obtained the baptism on their knees; on their knees they obtained it for others. It will be on our knees also that the full blessing will be won to-day. On our knees: let this be the attitude in which we await the full blessing of our God, alike in our individual and collective life.
Have ye received the Holy Spirit since ye believed? Let every reader submit himself to this heart-searching question. To be filled with the Holy Spirit of God, to have the full enjoyment of the Pentecostal blessing, is the will of God concerning us. Let us judge our life and our work before the Lord in the light of this question, and return the answer to God. do not be afraid, my brother, to confess before your Lord what is still lacking in you. Do not keep back, although you do not as yet fully understand what the blessing is or how it comes. The early
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disciples did not know that, yet they called upon their Lord and waited for it with prayer and supplications. Let but your heart be filled with a deep conviction of what you lack, a desire for what God offers, a willingness to sacrifice everything for it, and you may rest assured that the marvel of Jerusalem and of Samaria, of Cesarea and Ephesus, will once again be repeated. We may, we shall, be filled with the Spirit. Amen.
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II How glorious it is
"They were all filled with the Holy Spirit." ACTS ii. 4.
1ITHENEVER we speak of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and desire to know what it precisely is, our thoughts always turn back to the clay of Pentecost. There we see as in a mirror how glorious the blessing is that is brought from heaven by the Holy Spirit and with which He can fill the hearts of men.
There is one fact which makes the great event of the day of Pentecost doubly instructive this, namely, that we have learned to know very intimately the men who were then filled with the Spirit, by their intercourse for three years
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with the Lord Jesus. Their infirmities and defects, their sins and perversities, all stand open to our view. But the blessing of Pentecost wrought a complete transformation. They became entirely new men, so that one might say of them with truth: " Old things have passed away: behold, all is become new." Close study of them and their example helps us in more than one way. It shows us to what weak and sinful men the Spirit will come. It teaches us how they were prepared for the blessing. It teaches us also and this is the principal thing how mighty and complete the revolution is that is brought to pass when the Holy Spirit is received in His fulness. It lets us see how glorious the grace that awaits us is if we press on to the full blessing of Pentecost.