THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT.
In the Epistle to the Romans Paul speaks of the two laws or uniform and controlling forces — the law of sin producing spiritual death, and the law of the Spirit inspiring spiritual life which becomes eternal on the condition of persevering faith. In the thought of many people the Spirit is capricious in His action, and sovereign in the sense that He is a law unto Himself, observing no conditions and establishing no regular order of sequences by which His aid may be secured. Perhaps this error may be truthfully ascribed to that religious teaching which magnifies the sovereignty of God as exercised unconditionally. In some instances it may be traced to a misunderstanding of Christ's comparison of the mystery of the new birth to "the wind blowing as it listeth," He did not intimate that the winds are not under physical laws, but rather that science had not then, as it has not now, a knowledge of pneumatics sufficient to predict with infallible certainty what will be the direction and intensity of the wind an hour hence. Some infer that the Holy Spirit acts on men in promoting revivals of religion with the same uncertainty and apparent lawlessness. Hence revivals come to a church like thunderstorms, without regard to any human conditions. This idea is confirmed by a faulty translation of a sentence in Peter's sermon in Solomon's porch, Acts iii. 19, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." This rendering of the text commands sinners to be ready for the blotting out of their sins whenever it may please God to send the times of refreshing. The correct rendering makes the times of refreshing or revival depend on the commanded human condition of repentance, "Repent . . . that so there may come seasons," etc. (Revised Version). In fact the Spirit is endeavoring to produce in every sinner penitence for sin and faith in Christ, in order that He may impart spiritual life and be God's messenger of adoption, inspiring the joyful cry, "Abba, Father." This is the purpose for which He is reproving the world. He yearns to inspire in every human soul the gladness of the filial feeling in place of the dread and foreboding of punishment which haunt conscious guilt. He delights to take up His abode in the believer. His personality interpenetrates ours just in proportion to the perfectness of our self-surrender. It is a wise remark of Dr. A. J. Gordon that the Spirit, like the wind, always moves toward a vacuum. By entire consecration make your heart vacant of all love of the world, and the Holy Spirit will come in Pentecostal power and fill the vacuum.
The reasons why so few are thus filled are various.
1. Many do not know that this fullness of the Spirit is the privilege of all Christians. They think it is an exceptional experience of a favored few, "the elect of the elect." They think it is not modest to assume that they belong to this small company. This narrow view of the gift of the abiding Paraclete weakens faith. They dare not appropriate the gift which may not belong to them, and so they fail to realize their full heritage in Christ.
2. Others imagine that they must always have a propensity to sin, and that they must sin a little to keep them humble. As the fulness of the Spirit would not be consistent with depravity and occasional sins, they deem it not a normal experience, and abstain from effort to receive it.
3. Many fail because they do not know the law of the Spirit, the conditions by which He works His wonders in human hearts. Till within a very few years the whole race of men failed to utilize a mighty force in nature, the power of electricity, to light, heat and transport men, move the world's machinery and convey intelligence with the speed of lightening under the seas and over the continents. As we look back upon it what a slow and sleepy world it was, simply because it did not know the law of electricity or the conditions of all these utilities. But men began to study and to experiment, conforming to the ascertained qualities of this mysterious agent and gaining more and more power to harness this tremendous force to the chariot of human progress. What new electrical discoveries and inventions are in the future we cannot tell because we have not reached the end of the chapter of electrical knowledge. John Wesley used to tell his people that as believers they were weak because they were not more knowing. This is the cause of much of the weakness of modern Christians. They do not by day and by night study the law of the Spirit as Edison studied the law of electricity in the production of light and the reproduction of articulate sounds. Many nominal Christians "have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost" consciously receivable by the individual believer in Jesus Christ. When by the diligent study of the Word of God they believe that the Spirit has a personal existence and that He stands at the door of their hearts and knocks, they will be able to fulfil the conditions of His full incoming and permanent -abiding. What hinders such a universal experience? Ignorance, unbelief, worldly pleasures, neglect of Bible study and prayer, satisfaction with mere formalism, unwillingness to be identified with the so-called spiritual extremists and cranks, and dislike to stand alone with Christ or to be crucified with Him. It is the law of the Spirit to enter in where the door is opened and He is cordially welcomed with His scourge of small cords to drive out everything which profanes the temple of the human soul and body. "For the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."
4. But some are not consciously filled with the Holy Spirit because He comes as a refiner and purifier. They are unwilling to submit themselves to this painful purgation. They shrink from the crucible by which the divine Refiner sits till He can see His own perfect image in the mirror of molten gold purified of any dross. They admire the Son of God and desire to be conformed to His image, but they dislike the process of total and irreversible self-surrender and self-crucifixion. They cannot truthfully sing:
"O that in me the sacred fire
Might now begin to glow,
Burn up the dross of base desire,
And make the mountains flow!"
God can do His perfect work in a soul only when the will is in the attitude of complete, trustful submission. Only when the will thus bows to God's will does faith in His promises mount up to its climax. For this Paul prayed, "that ye may know what is the exceeding greatness of his Power to us-ward who believe." Then he adds the measure of that power which stands ready to transfigure believers, "according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead." The greatest miracle in the universe, the miracle attested by men, by angels and by God, is the resurrection of His Son. Even the creation of the world was not so striking an exhibition of omnipotence. Yet Paul assures us that the same resurrection power in "its exceeding greatness" stands ready to work its wonders in "us who believe" with that faith which appropriates the largest promises of God. This highest up-reaching of faith is possible only to the deepest submission of the human will. To this point of entire self-surrender every believer has the gracious ability to descend without the incentive of outward adversities, losses, bereavements, disappointments, persecutions and bodily afflictions. These, as in the case of Job, are necessary to the revelation to the world of our perfect trust, loyalty and submission to God, but not to the production of these virtues. Many have had the spirit of the martyrs who were never led to the stake. The axe and block were once deemed necessary to Christian perfection. But this is a mistake. God takes the will for the deed. We 'can climb to as high spiritual altitudes in the sunshine as In the storm; yes, to higher. There is such a thing as an equation of spiritual advantages. Those who are on the verge of the twentieth century may achieve as lofty Christian excellences as the believers who listened to the preaching of Peter at Pentecost. The gift of the Holy Spirit has suffered no diminution because of the intervening centuries. Like Christ, the giver of the Paraclete, He is the same yesterday, to-day and forever. Fulfill the conditions, and the humblest modern believer may receive Him in the perfect performance of His offices as graciously and as effectively as did the company in the upper room. The externals of sound and tongues of fire were no part of the essential and inward grace bestowed in the Comforter.
When any local church, any company of believers associated for spiritual ends, fulfills the social conditions, — all of one accord in one place making the reception of the Holy Spirit their only business for at least ten days, Pentecost will be repeated in every essential particular. Their hearts will be purified by faith, and they will be endowed with a marvelous spiritual insight and courage and utterance.
It is not the law of the Spirit that His transfiguring power should decrease with the lapse of ages, nor with the spread of education and the growth of intelligence and culture. It is true that there is an intellectual pride with a pretense to culture which boasts that it has outgrown such so-called crudities as disfigured Christianity on the day of Pentecost. These over-wise philosophers insist that the doctrine that one personality, even though divine, can interpenetrate a human personality and consciously abide therein, violates all the known principles of mental philosophy and lays the foundation of various forms of fanaticism, in the end destructive of all morality and sound piety. Our reply to this is that the greater the value of a coin the greater its liability to be counterfeited. The highest possible experience for men dwelling in houses of clay is to be inhabited by God in the person of His Spirit. This is a mystery next to the incarnation of the Son of God in human form.
It is natural that the proclamation that both the body and soul of every believer may through simple faith become the habitation of God through the Spirit, should awaken the hostility of the great adversary of all goodness, and that he should endeavor to discredit this glorious privilege of the indwelling Paraclete by inspiring counterfeits grossly defective in moral character or greatly unbalanced in mental equipoise. This he has done in every revival of genuine spirituality since the first effusion of the Spirit of promise, as in the days of Luther and also in Wesley's times. But as men of common sense still continue to put gold in their purses despite the spurious coin occasionally uttered, so wise men and women will by the prayer of faith receive, as the greatest boon possible to mortals, the Holy Spirit as a distinct and permanently abiding blessing. Such wise people, if asked how the divine can thus dwell in the human, the infinite in the finite, and both personalities be preserved, will no more attempt to explain this mystery than they will the enigma of electricity filling a mass of iron while both remain unchanged, and that of the immaterial spirit inhabiting the material body while both retain their identity. The rays of the sun after passing through a double convex lens of ice will kindle a fire. So the Holy Spirit has kindled an inextinguishable fire in many an icy heart. The facts in both the natural and the spiritual realm, must stand, though our poor philosophy is baffled in accounting for the manner of the facts. It is enough for us to know the conditions by which the facts are produced, where the fact itself is of transcendent value, as that man may be indwelt by God. This honor and blessedness, unknown to the patriarchs, to the Israelites, the chosen people of God, and even to the twelve apostles before Pentecost, is now offered to the most illiterate and obscure believer in Jesus Christ who will comply with the conditions by which a personal Pentecost may be experienced.
In answer to our exposition of "the law of the Spirit" as invariably cleansing and filling all who exercise an all-surrendering faith, it may be alleged that Paul teaches that the Spirit performs the work of His offices in "every man severally as he will." This is said, not of the graces of the Spirit, but of the distribution of His nine extraordinary gifts enumerated in I Cor. xii. 8-11. The Spirit Himself is Christ's gift to every one "who loves him and keeps his commandments." He is to be in us, and we are to "know him;" i. e., to be conscious of His abiding in us "forever." Not only the Spirit but also the Father and the Son "make their abode" with us. All this is promised in John xiv. 15-23; not sovereignly to whomsoever the Spirit wills, but universally without exception wherever there is evangelical love to Christ evidenced by obedience. This it is which makes the least in the Pentecostal kingdom greater than Christ's forerunner, who was ranked by Him as superior to Abraham, the founder of God's earthly church, and to Moses, the lawgiver of the world.
Many people are so dazzled by the splendor of the outward and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit that they undervalue the infinitely superior boon of the indwelling of the giver Himself, imparting life and adorning with all the Christian graces. To put gifts above grace is an old mistake. Simon Magus is not the last instance of this kind. Many are now eager to possess the gift of healing who would not cross the street to receive the grace of perfected holiness. It is a very serious error to regard anything as superior to the fruit of the Spirit- Churches fall into it when, seeking after a pastor, they first ask, "Is he brilliant in the pulpit?" "Is he rhetorical, poetical, oratorical?" "If he is we must have him." The question respecting his piety, his fullness of the Spirit, his grip of faith, his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, the basis of faith, and the indispensable qualification for such preaching as saves and sanctifies, is not emphasized, and frequently is not asked at all. Occasionally we find a church inquiring for a Barnabas. "For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord." Yet his name, "son of exhortation," as in the Revision, Is not suggestive of pulpit oratory of the classical sort.
The doctrine of the law of the Spirit is very beautifully stated by Christ in His dialogue with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." The gift which He would have bestowed was the Holy Spirit, according to John vii. 38, 39, "This he spake of the Spirit, which they who believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not glorified." Note the invariable law of certain receiving following confident asking: If thou hadst asked, He would have given. There is the same invariable order of effect following cause in the spiritual realm as there is in the material realm. Turn the faucet, and you get a stream of water so long as the faucet is connected with the reservoir on a higher level. Try this a thousand times, and the same effect follows. Turn the spigot of true prayer, and the living water, the personal Holy Spirit, is poured out upon the thirsty soul. It has been well said that God answers all true prayer and wishes to receive more. In the bosom of the Infinite Father there is a shoreless and fathomless Lake Superior of living waters ready to fill millions and billions of human spirits when they supply the aqueducts. In fact, the main aqueduct was laid by God Himself on the day of Pentecost, and the water of life is brought to every door. To appropriate it we must lay the individual service-pipe.
"Angelic spirits, countless souls,
Of Thee have drunk their fill;
And to eternity will drink
Thy joy and glory still.
"0 little heart of mine! shall pain
Or sorrow make thee moan,
When all this God is all for thee,
A Father all thine own?"
Before leaving this charming scene of Jacob's well, we call attention to another spiritual law. Not only does receiving depend on asking, but asking depends on knowing. "If thou knewest thou wouldst have asked." Many souls wonder for years in painful thirst because no one tells them of the supply of water within their reach. Hence the need of ceaseless testimony by those who have found the unfailing fountain. Hence the pressure of the missionary motive upon all who "have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost." Interest in Christian missions in pagan lands and city slums is a fair gauge of the spirituality of an individual and of a church.
If knowing depends on testimony, the inquiry arises, How many witnesses have we among our readers who can attest the fulness of the Spirit?