THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT BEFORE THE DAY OF PENTECOST.
This is an inquiry into an obscure subject, but necessary for the clear setting forth of His contrasted work as the Paraclete.
1. The conviction for sin does not seem to have been so pungent. Men were driven back from their apostasies by repentance, more through the scourge of divine judgments, wars, locusts, plagues, captivities, than by an inner sense of the exceeding turpitude of sin.
2. The Old Testament conversion was a moral change wrought by the will of the penitent, influenced by the Spirit of God, rather than a new creation or a new birth. The very surprise of Nicodemus indicates that the idea of regeneration as a radical spiritual transformation was unfamiliar to the Jewish mind. The predominant purpose may be changed from vice to virtue in reliance on divine help, as in the case of reformed drunkards, without regeneration. This is our idea of conversion during the period of Mosaism and under the preaching of John the Baptist. To assert that John's converts were spiritually changed is to declare that John lost in a few months more regenerated probationers for Jesus than Methodism ever lost in her entire history of a hundred and fifty years. There are many Old Testament converts in our modern churches.
3. There was no assurance of acceptance with God certified to the penitent soul, no witness of the Spirit, in fact no pardon, but rather the pretermission of sins, as Paul teaches in Rom. iii. 25, where he uses paresis, passing by, for aphesis, forgiveness.
4. Old Testament piety was characterized by bondage, the New by freedom. Those who were as children under tutors and governors were made free by Christ, free indeed. For where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, the dungeon doors swing open and the fetters fall.
5. It naturally follows that there was no permanent' state of reconciliation, because there was no permanent basis for it in an atonement made once for all and all-sufficient during all time. (See the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the failure of the altar offerings to remove the consciousness of sin is emphatically announced.) There was, through the offerings, a temporary peace of mind attained, but no satisfaction concerning the whole standing of the sinner before God. Full pardon was in the future. 0 Israel, wait for the Lord. He will redeem Israel from all his sins. The legal sacrifices of the sincere and penitent Israelite availed to maintain his corporate membership in the Old Testament covenant, and to secure an operation of grace; but still the Holy of Holies remained closed to him, and he was destitute of that knowledge of personal salvation without which he was not "made perfect as pertaining to the conscience." He could not attain that inward consciousness of perfect reconciliation with God and perfectly satisfied longings after salvation and that undisturbed peace which is enjoyed by the genuine believer in Christ under the dispensation of the Comforter.
6. There was no conscious indwelling of the Spirit in Old Testament saints because there was no new or spiritual man in which He could abide. Hence their experiences, with a few extraordinary exceptions like David, were sombre, not sunny. Outside the Psalms and Isaiah there is little gladness and less exultation. The fruit of the Spirit is joy. They had not the tree, the abiding Comforter, how could they have the fruit? The kingdom of God is righteousness and joy in the Holy Ghost. They had in imperfection two thirds of the kingdom, ceremonial purity and legal righteousness, an intermittent peace, but to the joy of the Holy Ghost they were strangers because He did not dwell in their hearts. The notion of divine sonship as conferred upon Israel as a nation, and then upon the anointed king, is found in the Old Testament. But the sonship of individuals is a glorious gospel promise, the distinctive prerogative of believers in Christ. John i. 12: "To as many as received him gave he power to become the sons of God." For this reason one such believer is greater than John, whose spiritual stature overtopped all the saints before him, even Abraham, the founder, and Moses, the lawgiver, of the Hebrew commonwealth.
7. Of course entire sanctification except in a ceremonial sense was not enjoyed by the Old Testament saints. This could not be in the absence of the indwelling sanctifier. This again is held up as an attainment in Messianic times. Ezek. xxxvi. 25-29: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you." In enumerating these defects in Old Testament saints I have spoken of them generally. It will be easy to find an exception to each point which I have made, as Enoch, who had assurance; David, the joy of forgiveness; and Isaiah, who was sanctified by the symbolic coal of fire laid upon his lips. But the exception proves the rule.
To the objection that I have given the Holy Spirit no eminent place in Old Testament experiences, I answer that He has all the place that can be assigned to strong outward influence, but not a conscious indwelling in the individual. In fact, the gifts of the Spirit before Pentecost were largely external rather than internal, rather gifts than grace; such as skill to Bezaleel, prescience to the prophets, strength to Samson, valor and administrative ability to the Judges and the kingly instinct to Saul. After Pentecost there were outward gifts arbitrarily bestowed; as charismata, distributed by the Spirit severally to whomsoever He will; but the chief gift was the Spirit Himself permanently abiding in the soul as the sanctifier, the endowment of power, the wellspring of joy and the inspirer of all gracious dispositions. The graces of the Spirit, especially the grace that leads the choral procession, Love, are infinitely superior to all the outward gifts of tongues, interpretation, healing, etc.
The operations of the Spirit on the world at large and on impenitent Hebrews before Pentecost effected little more than to create a basis of responsibility. Few seem to have been savingly influenced. His striving with sinners before the flood (Gen. vi. 3) was a signal failure, only one family being saved. Nehemiah (ix. 20) says of the vast host of disobedient Israelites in the wilderness, "Thou gavest also thy good Spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth." They seem, like modern sinners, to have appropriated the manna, but to have rejected the instructions of the good Spirit, for only two or three adult men who left Egypt out of a million got into Canaan. We do not say that all except these failed to attain eternal life, for Moses is certainly in heaven. Nor is this failure a matter of surprise when we consider that the distinct mission of the Spirit had not begun, and that in pre-Pentecostal times He had very poor tools to work with –– the light of natural religion in pagan minds and the types and shadows of Mosaism with which to move the Hebrew heart. But since the ascension He has had all the facts and wonderful realities of the gospel of Christ.
The distinctness of the Spirit's work since the ascension of Christ is apparent to all readers of the New Testament. Dean Alford is so impressed with this fact that he writes in capitals these words descriptive of the office of the Comforter, that it is TOTALLY DISTINCT from all His previous working. These are some of the characteristics of His mission:
- Distinct promise; the Spirit of promise, the promise of the Father.
- An instantaneous coming, an event as sharply defined in history as the birth of Christ.
- Permanence; He came to stay, to abide forever.
- He enters into the interior personality of the believer, and dwells within him, putting the law of God, the law of love, into his innermost heart, the source and nutriment of a new life interpenetrating his soul in a manner as mysterious as the coexistence of the Trinity of persons in one divine nature.
- His whole work has a most intimate relation to the person of Christ, as if to hold up a mirror to reflect the form of the invisible and glorified Saviour into the consciousness of the believer, affording a spiritual manifestation of Christ.
When I say that pious Jews and our Lord's disciples before the day of Pentecost were strangers to the great outpouring of the Spirit, I do not mean that they were strangers to His directing, sanctifying and enlivening influences according to their dispensation. . . . Nevertheless they were not fully baptized. The Comforter who visited them did not properly dwell in them. Although they had wrought miracles by His power, 'the promise of the Father' was not yet fulfilled to them. They would have been puzzled with such questions as these: 'Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? 'Is he fallen upon you?' 'Is the love of God shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto you?' 'Is the fountain springing up into everlasting life opened in your breast?' . . . If these and like questions would have perplexed the apostles before Christ had opened His spiritual baptism and set up His kingdom with power in their hearts, we ought not to be surprised that professors who knew only the baptism of John should ingenuously confess they 'never heard there was a Holy Ghost (to be received) since they believed.' Nor should we wonder if devout Jews and easy Laodiceans should even mock and say, 'You would have us filled with new wine;' but 'we are rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing.' 'The water of our old cisterns is preferable to the new wine of your enthusiastic doctrine, and our baptismal ponds to your baptismal flames. (Fletcher.)