Are the sign gifts still in operation today? A friend sent me this study a few years ago. I found it useful. Perhaps you will also.
Signs and Wonders: Precise Definition Miracle Workers Sent From God: Old Testament Miracles Messianic Miracles Apostolic Miracles Is Scripture Complete? Gifts In The Early Church A Warning Principles About Gifts Gifts No Sign of Grace Love In Exercising Gifts Gifts Must Depart From the Church Supervision of Temporary Gifts One Purpose For Tongues Why Christians Seek The Gifts: Corinthian Appeal Biblical Response Baptism With The Spirit
Protestantism is being shaken seriously by the charismatic movement. Throughout Church History there have been small groups claiming to possess the gifts of prophecy and miraculous signs and wonders. But, historically Christians have looked upon these as false sects or extremists.
The dawn of the twentieth century served also as the dawn of the Pentecostal Churches. Due to the general apostasy to liberalism early in that century, Pentecostals received a reluctant and cautious acceptance as evangelicals. Their beliefs in a supernatural God and a divinely inspired Word made them helpful allies of fundamentalism.
Since the Second World War the experience of miraculous phenomena has spread beyond the Pentecostal Churches and the Charismatic Movement has rapidly gained momentum. What is frequently known as "Full Gospel" practices have now infiltrated most denomination. The "Charismatic Revival" has gained enormous prestige. Most Christians hesitate to label it unorthodox or unbiblical.
Few religious issues universally interest Americans, but the dramatic 'miracles' of today do. Secular news media have not failed to report the sensational claims to tongues and healing. Pastors frequently are asked their opinions on these phenomena even by those otherwise uninterested in religion. It is one of the first questions met during pastoral visitation. Even sceptics are curious.
In the churches large numbers of laymen have sought and received the 'gifts'. Their search has been encouraged by societies outside of the church. Yet in such groups they have found themselves next to clergymen who are spearheading the movement. Laymen who 'have gotten it' are delivering exciting reports to their Christian friends, encouraging them to share in 'the blessings'.
Those who have been Christians for years are suddenly claiming to have extraordinary gifts and experiences. Few churches have escaped this startling impact. Even the cautious are puzzled by the multiplied reports of supernatural events. What are church members to think of them?
Evangelical societies seem quite vulnerable to this neo-pentecostal thrust. Most have attempted to remain neutral on the issues of tongues and healing. Since societies which do not offically encourage the signs and wonders of this century do not resist them, they most often possess a few officers or leaders who testify to having gifts of miraculous quality, and recently many societies in the United States have moved decidedly towards a pentecostal position.
Certainly Protestantism is being challenged to answer serious questions. The Church, the world and perhaps your own conscience are asking, 'What about these things? What does the Bible teach us about tongues and healing?' It will not do to drift along in a vague neutrality. Nor will it do to rest in the seemingly pious but evasive pronouncement, 'I do not wish to oppose a genuine work of God.' The question to be answered is, 'Can this dramatic development of our time be from God?
The Charismatics are quite right when they contend that if these are works of the Spirit of God, you dare not shun them. Why not share in these mighty acts? Do you as a Christian not want all of God's blessings? Do you not want your church to be like the New Testament churches?
These are appeals which cannot be ignored. For it is obvious that tongues and miracles were evident in the churches of Biblical times. They were such ordinary occurrences that members wrote about miracles as a matter of course. And certainly supernatural gifts were beneficial to the early church. Why should they not be valuable now?
Again, this twentieth-century movement has adopted a name which demands your attention. It is a challenge. The term 'full gospel' implies that for years the church has been limping along with something like 80 percent of the gospel. Do you not want every benefit Christ has for you and your fellowship of saints? Is not the church most likely to have the presence of God which most resembles the churches of Peter and Paul in experience as well as doctrine?
You dare not ignore the modern claims to miracle working. You may have forced the subject from your mind; but this is not honest. Nor has the issue retreated. Are today's events parallel to those of the Acts? You must review the Scriptures on this pertinent subject to answer these questions.
Have you ever attempted to define the word 'miracle'? It is not difficult for the sanctified mind to see God's power everywhere. Creation unceasingly provides staggering displays of the Creator's might. Holy Scripture has taught us that this world is no independent mechanism. God's Son is 'upholding all things by the word of his power' (Hebrews 1:3). 'By him all things consist' (Colossians 1:17). All of the fascinating majesty of heaven and earth is a mural attesting his power.
Put a kernal of corn in the ground and it will multiply 5,000 fold. This is no less wonderful than five loaves of bread feeding 5,000 men. But since it is a common occurrence, men take little notice of it. The birth of a babe is as amazing as the raising of the dead by Jesus. A non-existent soul is brought into being by divine power in conception and birth. It is simply the rarity of resurrection that makes the rejoining of soul and body so marvellous to human eyes.
At times Christians use the word 'miracle' quite loosely as a synonym for 'the supernatural'. Men speak of 'the miracle of birth' or 'the miracle of Springtime', because we must stand in awe at the display of the Creator's power in such events. Believers also describe the invisible but mighty work of God's grace upon a soul as 'the miracle of the new birth'. This is acceptable as poetic language, for all these things are the direct results of the Almighty's working. Strictly speaking, however, they are not miracles. In a precise definition of the term, we must refer only to works of God which are in the physical realm, uncommon to human experience, and unexplainable in terms of the physical secondary agents. Usual workings of God in this world may be quite as much the effects of God's power as are miracles, but to be accurate we must refer to his normal acts as providence rather than miracles.
Normal events of providence reveal the glory of God, but sin has blinded mortal eyes to it. In wicked rebellion, sinners shut their eyes to this constant revelation of the supernatural. God, then, has done unusual works of power to startle sinners, demand attention and elicit admission of his greatness. The same power veiled in the regular operations of God in providence is unveiled in miracles.
But it is incorrect to say that miracles are violations of natural laws. Though miraculous powers are above or beyond the forces which our Maker employs in our daily experience, they are not in conflict with providential power. A miracle marks an interruption of God's normal pattern of working by his extraordinary act.
It is also wrong to say that a miracle is God's acting without means. Sometimes a miracle is the unveiling of God's power without an intermediate agent -- as when he destroyed Sodom. But sometimes it is the unveiling of his might by producing an effect wholly disproportionate to the normal result of a means -- as when he opened the Red Sea through Moses' lifting a rod above the water.
Miracles, then, are the extraordinary works of God's power which demand the awed attention of men. And there is no Biblical reason to limit God to performing miracles at certain seasons only. No doubt God is yet executing unusual feats of power. In response to the prayers of his people, God is healing in sovereign power some who modern medicine has pronounced hopeless. A few theologians prefer to call these events 'acts of extraordinary providence' rather than miracles. But this distinction is likely to escape most minds. Whatever way we choose to describe the fact, it is plain that God's working of wonders cannot be limited to ages past.
Charismatic enthusiasts, however, are not merely claiming that God is doing miracles in the twentieth-century. They are asserting that some twentieth-century men have power to perform miracles. No Christian denies that God is doing extraordinary things today, such as marvellously healing the sick. The point of debate is whether the church should have men able to work miracles.
In other ages God conferred upon certain men the power to perform miracles on his behalf. So enormous was this endowment in the case of Peter that anyone coming under his shadow was likely to be healed of disease. The question of our inquiry is not, 'Should God be working miracles today?' It is rather, 'Should men be doing miracles on behalf of God?' It is imperative that this distinction be kept in mind through any discussion of the Charismatic movement.
Miracle Workers Sent From God
Scripture has a great wealth of information about men endued with power to work wonders. Who were they? And why were they possessed of such amazing gifts? It is the Bible alone that can offer adequate guidelines to our thinking and enable us to evaluate modern claims of tongues and healing.
Old Testament Miracles
Joseph was the first person to receive extraordinary gifts from God, so far as the Biblical record is concerned. This man of God was evidently a prophet. He could give divinely-inspired interpretations of dreams, predicting the future course of history. All of his gifts were directly involved in prophezying, that is, in delivering divinely-revealed truth.
Moses was the first miracle-working man of whom we read in the Bible. As a matter of fact, he holds first place throughout the Old Testament in the elite school of those who worked miracles. 'And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses . . . in all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt . . . ' (Deuteronomy 34:10-11).
Why did God send Moses to do wonders? Exodus 4:1-5 gives us an explicit answer to that question. Moses was hesitant to approach the Hebrews in Egypt with the Word of God. After all, he had miserably failed to gain their respect as a leader when he killed an unjust taskmaster. His complaint to God was that they would not believe he was really a prophet sent from the Almighty. Moses could envisage the scene when he arrived in Egypt and said, 'The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you' (3:13). 'They won't believe it. They will think I'm an impostor', he thought. 'They will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee' (4:1).
It was for just such a contingency that God gave Moses the power to work miracles: 'That they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers . . . hath appeared unto thee' (4:5). Miracle-working powers were credentials to prove that Moses was a prophet sent from God with a divinely-revealed message. The wonders were God's testimonies that Moses indeed spoke the word of truth. This principle universally applies to Old Testament miracles. Only those who were inspired of God to speak his Word were wonder-workers. It was a gift exclusively held by prophets.
This is not to say that attesting to the divine commission of prophets is the only purpose of miracles. God's mighty works also reveal the nature of his saving work. Thus they contain a message in themselves. Yet primarily they were signs and wonders drawing attention to the word of the prophets, without which the marvellous events would puzzle rather than instruct.
Some have thought that judges, as Samson and Shamgar, are exceptions to the rule that only prophets had the power to work miracles. However, such a conclusion is by no means evident. Though sacred history records only the heroic, and at times miraculous, deeds of these men, the history is incomplete. While less fully recorded, we are told that these judges not only delivered the people from oppression, but also governed the people as well (Judges 2:16-19). The judges were national leaders (Deut. 17:9) to whom the populace was to resort in difficult matters of jurisprudence. At least in this sense judges like Samson were the heirs to a Mosaic position of national rule. When Joshua occupied such a position he was from time to time an instrument of divine communication, or prophecy, as when the sin of Achan had to be uncovered and when it was time to renew the covenant with Israel near his death. When Samuel, the last and greatest of the judges, appears on the stage of history, he is most notably a prophet. Those who had need of a divine revelation sought him out, as did Saul when he was searching for his father's asses. To say that all judges between Joshua and Samuel spoke prophetically would be to assert more than can be proved from Scripture. But to expect that the Lord had his prophets through this period of dim revelation is not an extravagant dream. That the people of God should have a strictly secular rule was a shocking concept to Samuel. Was this because all former judges were also prophets, though of lesser stature than he?
When Elijah stood on Mount Carmel to call fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice, he was interested in validating his prophetic ministry. He prayed, "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word' (1 Kings 18:36). He considered the miracle as a confirmation to the people that the man by whom it came was a prophet of God. Elijah was not motivated by personal ambition or desire for acclaim. But the prophet earnestly wanted the multitudes to hearken to the inspired Word which called them to repent.
Psalm 74:9 is an important text on this subject. In the midst of complaints that God's people were desolate, the psalmist said, "We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.' Hebrew poetry is known for its parallel phrases which express synonymous ideas in a slightly different way. The poetic verse before us has three parallel phrases, each expressing the same basic idea, but each adding a bit more to the thought. In other words, the absence of signs is equivalent to the absence of a prophet, which in turn is the same as having no authoritative answer to their question, 'How long will God be absent from us?' This is a striking endorsement of the principle that only prophets work miracles. Where miracles are performed we should expect to hear the inspired Word of God spoken. When there is no prophet, there are no signs.
New Testament miracles serve precisely the same end as those of the old covenant. The evidence for this is overwhelming. Jesus performed many miracles to prove that he was the great prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18:15: 'The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken'. Jesus alone was 'like unto Moses' in wonder-working. Indeed his signs surpassed even those mighty miracles of Moses. Though many mercies were conferred upon men through Christ's miracles, their primary purpose was not to bring compassionate aid to society. They served first and foremost to call attention to the divine authority of his teaching. Though great truths are wrapped up in Jesus' miraculous acts, they could not be understood without his prophetic utterances to which they attested.
John views his Gospel as a catalogue of the signs of Jesus Christ. 'Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written . . . ' (John 20:30-21). Why were his miracles recorded? 'That ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ.' That readers might see that he is the Messiah, the greatest of all prophets, and that they might receive his words as words of life.
In just this way our holy Lord spoke of his own wonders: 'If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.' (John 10:37-38). Our Lord directed attention to his mighty acts as a validation of his authority as a prophet.
Though many were blind in the face of the mighty signs performed by Jesus, many did conclude from them that he was a prophet. A man named Nicodemus had some theological questions which disturbed him and he decided that Jesus could give him authoritative answers. Thus he approached our Lord saying, 'Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God' (John 3:2). How did a scholar of Scripture come to such a conclusion? What led him to place confidence in the words of Jesus? The afore mentioned test gives us the ground of his conclusion: 'For no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him'. He was confident that Christ could clear up his questions with authoritative information because he worked miracles.
After Jesus fed 5,000 miraculously, the people who observed the sign concluded correctly, 'This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world' (John 6:14). They knew that only prophets performed miracles. A crowd reasoned in precisely the same way in John 7:31: 'Many of the people believe on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?' Having witnessed his mighty works, they were utterly convinced that he must speak the truth and be the Christ. The Christ would do the greatest miracles; for he was expected to speak truth most fully and most plainly. 'When he is come, he will tell us all things' (John 4:25).
That this was the central significance of Jesus' miracles in the minds of his disciples is clear from Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost. The apostle rebuked the Jews who crucified our Lord for not having believed in him. Their unbelief was inexcusable. 'Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you' (Acts 2:22). How did the Father testify to them that Christ was a messenger approved by God? 'By miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you.' Peter was saying to his vast audience that Jesus' miracles demanded that they sit at his feet for instruction. But refusing to acknowledge his evident credentials as a prophet, they crucified the Lord of Glory.
New Testament miracles performed by men other than Jesus also confirmed the authority of prophets who were spokesmen of God's infallible Word. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul calls miracles 'signs of an apostle'. In the context he is giving an apology for his own apostolic authority. 'Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.' He considered miraculous gifts as God-given proof of an apostolic ministry. Apostleship involved being an instrument of divine revelation; for apostles were authoritative spokesmen for God and authors of Scripture in the new covenant as prophets were in the old.<
In Galatians 3:5 Paul appeals to his miracle working powers as evidence that he, rather than the Judaizers, ought to be believed. He had come with the gospel working miracles. Those who sought to force the church back into the old covenant did no wonders. Thus the church was absurd in forsaking Paul for new teachers. Again in Romans 15:18-19 Paul rehearses God's wonders done through himself as proof of his apostleship.
Hebrews 2:1-4 is vital to an understanding of the Christian doctrine of miracles. In chapter 1 of the epistle it was shown that Jesus is a greater prophet than any other. In the past God had spoken at various times and in diverse ways; but now he has spoken in his own Son - a far superior revelation. Hence chapter 2 begins, 'Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard.' We ought to give careful attention and obedience to the message delivered to us. For if those who heard lesser prophets were judged for ignoring the Old Testament messages, how shall we escape condemnation for slighting the words of God's Son?
Then verse 4 brings miracles to our attention. The message to which we must give heed 'began to be spoken by the Lord' himself. However, it was 'confirmed unto us by them that heard him'. First hand witnesses or apostles who had personally 'companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us' (Acts 1:21) had a confirming ministry. And Hebrews 2:4 tells us, 'God also (was) bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.' Again New Testament miracles are viewed in Scripture itself as God's stamp of approval upon the message of the apostles, which was an inspired record of the things they had seen and heard while with Jesus. Recalling these wonders should deepen our respect for the authority of their words and prompt us to give the more careful heed.
But what of the ordinary Christians by whom miracles were done in the New Testament church? Though the apostles were the chief wonder-workers, many others shared in the gifts of prophecy, healing, etc. The Book of Acts and 1 Corinthians 12-14 indicate a great range of extrordinary gifts exercised by many in the early church.<
An incident recorded for us in the Book of Acts directly links wonders worked by Christians who were not apostles, with apostolic authority. In Acts 8:4-15 we find Philip doing miracles and preaching the gospel in Samaria. Many believed on Christ and were baptized in consequences of his ministry. When exciting reports of the conversions were published in Jerusalem, Peter and John were dispatched to strengthen the work.
After the apostles reached Samaria they prayed that the converts might receive the Holy Spirit. Certainly the true converts among them already had God's Spirit in their hearts, for 'If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his' (Romans 8:9). However, through prayer and the laying on of the apostles hands, the Spirit came upon the new converts with miraculous gifts. This interpretation may be borne out by the immediate reaction of Simon. He could see that they had received the Spirit. He sought to buy apostolic power to transmit the Spirit by the laying on of hands.
We must ask, 'Why could not Philip convey these extraordinary gifts?' He had miracle working powers himself. But it appears to have been the prerogative of apostles alone to minister these gifts to others. Every recorded instance of men in the church receiving such gifts occurred under the direct ministry of an apostle. Thus even the general exercise of miraculous powers within the church served as a testimony to the prophetic authority of the apostles.
Simon recognized at once that the mighty signs of others attested the unique authority of the apostles, and he sought to buy his way into that elite band. All who did miracles by the power of God did so by the laying on of apostles' hands. Other miracle workers such as Philip could not transmit the gifts.Scripture does tell us of miraculous works done by false prophets. But even in Satan's realm, the wonders are intended to secure belief of a message spoken by the worker. That is why they are called 'lying wonders' (2 Thessalonians 2:9). They deceive men into believing the lies of false teachers. The New Testament indicates that we may expect a continuation of false prophets with their deceitful signs. There shall even be many false christs.
It is an inescapable conclusion of Biblical study that no true servant of Christ will be given power to work miracles unless he is directly associated with prophecy. Whenever we see men working miracles by the Spirit of God, we will expect an inspired communication of God's words to attend them. Miracles are God's attestation to the divine mission of those who bring his fresh revelations to us. We are compelled to look upon the men who work wonders and transmit the ability to others not merely as preachers, but as the very prophets of God.
The Biblical evidence requires us to amend our question. We may not merely ask, 'Should men be doing miracles in the church today?' To ask that question is in reality to ask, 'Should there be prophets in the church today?' Should men be directly delivering the revealed thruth of God to us? Certainly we expect men to preach the Word revealed by the apostles and prophets. But are we to look for further revelation in our day?
Is Scripture Complete?
Let there be no mistaking the central thrust of the Charismatic Revival, it is offering the Church a new approach to authority and absolute truth. Most prominent among the wonders of the movement are 'speaking in tongues', 'prophecy', 'dreams', and 'visions'. None of these gifts may be conceived of apart from the concept of an infallible revelation from God delivered to us through those who are experiencing the gifts.
'Speaking in tongues' is nothing less than to have one's speech faculties so completely controlled by the Holy Spirit that a man utters a language unknown to himself. The words are not consciously chosen by the speaker, rather he speaks the very words of God. Regardless of the language used, speaking in tongues is a form of prophecy. Because King Saul once uttered ecstatic speech, it became a proverb in Israel, 'Is Saul also among the prophets?' (1 Samuel 10:12). Anyone who speaks in this manner must be indentified as an agent of divine revelation. Certainly visions and dreams from God are claims to receiving inspired communication of God's truth.
In the contemporary Charismatic movement even the gift of healing serves to enhance the authority of the one who has the gift. Great numbers believe the opinions of those who perform wonders because their 'gifts' indicate that 'they are filled with the Spirit.' The implications of such logic is clear. How can anyone question the doctrines of miracle workers? Even if one were to reason from the Scriptures, he would have no miracles to support his position. Many prefer to trust the teachings of men because of their 'gifts'. Can a man be teaching false doctrine when he does such mighty things?, ask the captivated.
A survey of charismatic meetings reveals a very low esteem for God's Word. Those who attend are more elated over the words of the twentieth-century prophets than over the inscripturated words of Christ and his apostles. It is the message in tongues or of prophecy that thrills participants with the conviction that God has spoken to them in their meeting.
As the 'gifts' increase, exposition of God's Word decreases. Meetings are filled with 'sharing experiences' but with only an occasional reference to the holy Word of God. Many who have been drawn after this movement are woefully untaught in the first things of the faith through a neglect of the Word. They live on visible, emotional experiences and not upon truth. Even some who spend hours perusing the Bible do so not for the purpose of grasping truth but in the hope of inducing a new thrill in their truth parched souls.
There is no question but that the charismatic groups have added their new revelations to the Bible as infallible truth revealed from God, as is seen in the testimony of David J. du Plessis, who for years was secretary of the World Conference of Pentecostal Churches, which gathers representatibes of the vest majority of Pentecostals throughout the world. Probably there is no one more directly responsible for the proliferation of charismatic influence in denominational circles. He begins his book The Spirit Bade Me Go (Logos International Foundation Trust, London, 1970) with the explanation that his book is basically tape recorded messages which he later edited. His attitude towards his own book is revealed in such statements as these: 'It was my privilege to edit and prepare for publication in this form those revelations that I received from Him while ministering in conferences ...' 'Friends have pleaded with me to put into print the things I have said, or rather those things that the Holy Ghost has said through me. To attempt to write about these things would not be quite the same as quoting more directly the utterances made under the unction of the Spirit.' Although he notes that the Lord intended his messages for specific conferences, and thus I suppose he would deny that they are to be canonized, he remarks: 'I am sure we can all learn from what the Spirit has had to say to others.' Where the leaders so forthrightly claim to speak a 'Thus saith the Lord', it is not surprising that their young followers do not hestiate to impose their sayings upon brethren with insistence that their discernment, knowledge, guidance, judgment, or exhortation comes directly from the Spirit with all the authority and incontrovertible force of heaven. Furthermore, without such claims, there can be no pretending to possess many of the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12.
I know some Word of Faith leaders would heartily deny that contemporary revelations are infallible truth to be equated with Scripture in their authority, but it is the essential impression necessarily conveyed by any claim to the 'gifts'.
Historically Christians have believed that the Bible is the only standard of faith and practice. Opposition to miracle working, tongue speaking cults has been based upon this high regard for Scripture. Our doctrine of Scripture gives us confidence in the unique authority and absolute sufficiency of Scripture whereby the Holy Spirit guides our minds into truth, directs our lives in this world, and brings us to satisfying heart-communication that God is not giving further revelation through propets today.
As the Westminster Confession of Faith so accurately states the view of most Protestants through the centuries -- 'The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or tradition of men.' (Chapter 1, Article VI) - we believe that no futher revelation from God is to be expected. The Old Testament and New Testament are complete and sufficient for all our needs. The Bible alone is our authority!
'Word of Faith' enthusiasts are undermining confidence in the sufficency of Scripture. Direct revelation in prophecy and tongues is sought for edification. Some would deny that these new messages add anything to the existing canon of Scripture. They only receive direction as to what portion of God's Word should be called to the attention of the church at the moment. Or they only receive warnings of providential calamity. Or they only receive specific guidance in personal or church affairs. Nevertheless it is a fresh message from heaven which provides the desired guidance, not the Scriptures.
Charismatic/Word of Faith practice is a de facto denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. Neo-pentecostal enthusiasts are implying that the Bible is not able to make a man 'thoroughly furnished unto all good works' (2 Timothy 3:17). They are not simply seeking the Spirit's enlightenment in the study of God's Word. They are seeking an additional word from God, a further source of truth. For them the Bible is not enough. Expecting a new message from heaven, Charismatics believe that new prophets are abroad in the land today.
Even amongest those who have not reached that conclusion there is sometimes to be found an attitude towards miracles which amounts to a lack of confidence in God's Word. This may be seen, for instance, in Henry W. Frost's book Miraculous Healing. Discussing his expectation that miracles will increase, that Christ will manifest his deity and lordship in increasing measure through miracle-signs, including healings. `We are not to say, therefore, that the Word is sufficient. It is so to those who know and believe it; but it is not so to those who have never heard it, or who, having heard, have disbelieved it. To these persons, a dramatic appeal may have to be made, and on the plane where such will most easily be understood, namely, the physical. The missionary abroad, therefore, may have it in mind, in a case of the sickness of others, that God may choose to make him a miracle-worker.' (pp. 109-110).
Few adherents to modern miracle working by men have been so mild in their views as Dr. Frost. Yet here is an explicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture for evangelism. It is to be feared that such attitudes run very deep within the entire 'charismatic revival.' Men have forgotten that it was our Lord who said, 'If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead' (Luke 16:31). Many today go beyond Dr. Frost in seeking an additional word, not merely a fresh sign to make the Bible believable. But in either case there is a definite lack of confidence in God's holy Word.
As is clearly evident, our Protestant forefathers drew their dogma directly from the New Testament. Hebrews 1:1-3 contrasts Old Testament prophecy with New Testament revelation. The comparison is intended to display the superiority of New Testament disclosures of truth. Old Testament truth was written at various times during a lengthy era of human history. There was a progressive unfolding of truth through many messengers who lived in widely distant centuries. Again, the Old Testament is marked by differing methods of communicating God's message to man. There were dreams, voices from heaven, angels speaking, etc.
All of this is in marked contrast with the new era of revelation into which we have entered. We have come to 'these last days'. In the first century A.D., when the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, the 'last days' had arrived. The contrast drawn between how the revelation will no more come gradually through centuries of unfolding, nor through a great host of messengers. As we shall see as we proceed, the revelation of these last days came in one generation; indeed it all came by one Person.
God's revelation of truth reached a glorious climax when Christ was on earth. 'God hath spoken unto us by his Son.' In the person of Jesus Christ revelation had been brought to completion with a dramatic suddenness. God's Son embodies all that the Father has to say to men. Nothing needful was held back for a later time. No greater revelation can be imagined. Christ is the ultimate truth and reveals it fully. He is the brightness of the Father's glory personified. All coverings are removed. He is the express image of the Father's Person - fully and perfectly revealed. He is the grand period or full stop at the conclusion of God's report to men. The passage breathes unreserved finality. Christ, the Son of God, is the grand finale of revelation.
So complete is he as God's revelation, and so sufficient was his work as a prophet that the apostles and their New Testament books are viewed in Hebrews 2:1-4 as merely confirming what the Great Prophet had already said. Apostolic writings are echoes of what was heard from the lips of our holy Lord. When the Holy Spirit of inspiration came upon them, it was to bring back to their memories what Jesus had taught beforehand and to illumine them concerning the significance of his sayings (John 14:26). The sun of revelation shone in Jesus Christ. The apostles' writings were not new beams of light, but reflections of the glory that shone in the Son of God.
This view of revelation coming to an end in Jesus Christ pervades other passages in the New Testament. John's Gospel is especially replete with this theme. John 1:1 identifies Jesus as 'The Word' of God. He is God. He is the fullest and most exhaustive expression of God. He is the complete truth of God. Thus he could say in John 14:6 'I am the truth'. He is the whole truth, the last word. John 1:14 indicates that when this Word was made flesh, the apostles saw his glory, 'full of truth'. Other prophets had given us particles of truth. He was full of truth. No man has seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son who eternally dwells in the bosom of the Father, he has fully declared the Father (John 1:18). Anything after the words of Jesus Christ would be anticlimactical. He was the only one qualified to tell men all the truth they can receive about the Father. And he perfectly fulfilled that mission.
John 14:7-10 has a very instructive incident from the life of our Master. Jesus was breaking the news to his disciples that he was going away. To console his devoted friends who had sacrificed everything for the privilege of being with him, our Lord noted that they knew the Father and had seen him. But Philip was not satisfied. In verse 8 he begged for one glorious glimpse of the Father and that would suffice. Perhaps he felt that they had not yet reached the heights of former saints like Moses who gazed on the back parts of the Almighty. If only they could have some such ecstatic experience!
Jesus was most disturbed with Philip's request. 'Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.' What a withering rebuke! Ought not Philip to have seen all that was to be seen of God's glory? How eagerly Moses would have exchanged his vision to listen to the words of the Son of God! Jesus is the living glory of God, the walking embodiment of his person. Philip's search for something more was an insult to the Son of God.
A similar insult is given by the modern desire for further revelations. It is an indication that seekers of 'charisma' are failing to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Though the infallible words of Jesus Christ have been so long time with them, they look for something more in order to know the living God. They are missing the wonder of the truth that the Scripture is the all-sufficient revelation given by the Spirit of God. Some blinded eyes read the very sayings of the Son of God and look away to more exciting prospects.
Would not a vision be more thrilling to Philip than merely talking to God's Son? Would not tongues and dreams be more satisfying today than merely to give attention to the words of the Savior? We must be as distressed as our Lord. Pentecostals and Charismatics are unconsciously despising the revelation of God in Christ as insufficient. Too often their real life comes apart from His Word. Their practices carry out, 'There must be something more', or they would give the Word of Christ their devoted attention in their meetings and pray for the Spirit's aid to comprehend it.
When Jesus was about to leave this earth, he prayed to the Father, 'I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do' (John 17:4). What was the task he had perfectly accomplished? Verse 8 tells us in part, 'I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me.' The indication is that there are no more unspoken words held in reserve for another era. John 15:15 says it more explicitly, 'All things that I have heard of my Father I have made known to you.' Just as his cry from the cross, 'It is finished', signified that nothing more needed to be done as priest to secure redemption for his flock, so these comments herald the conclusion of his perfect prophetic ministry.
Before Pentecost the apostles had a deficiency which kept them from the truth. The brightness of the Father's glory shone before them, but they were unprepared to grasp such fulness and finality of truth. They could not comprehend the ultimate in revelation though it was before their eyes. There was no lack in the tranmission of truth. The difficulty was in their personal ability to receive the truth. But the Holy Spirit would come to teach them the things which they had learned from Christ and enable them infallibly to record the same in Scripture. As Jesus promised, 'When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth' (John 16:13). The Lord kept his promise by giving all revelation to his apostles. Today the church does need a greater measure of the Spirit to understand the words of Christ. For this we must all pray. But the church does not have need of new messages from heaven.
As our hymn so fittingly remarks:
Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?
What indeed is to be added to Christ, the embodiment of all truth? The church is built upon the sure foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). But the modern 'charismatic' people seem to believe that much was left unsaid by the apostles. 'The foundation of truth must be expanded if the church is to flourish', they tell us.
Absence of a singular esteem for the Scriptures is no slight matter. The lack of complete confidence in the Bible on the part of neo-pentecostals is to be greatly deplored. Failure to see Jesus Christ as the final revelation of truth is a major error that will open the door of the church to a multitude of heresies, taught in the name of truth. Every true movement initiated by the Spirit of God leads men back to the words of Christ which were inscripurated by his own inspiration.
Some men have ridiculed an appeal to Revelation 22:18-19 when discussing the close of the canon (the end to divine messsages from the Lord). However, in the context of all that the Bible says about Jesus being the final prophet, the climax of revelation, the words are most significant. It is this same Jesus Christ who speaks in the last chapter of the Bible, 'If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.' Our Lord makes this comment in the closing verses of the last confirming witness to his revelation. The Savior gave his warning through the last living apostle at the conclusion of his ministry.
Some would prefer to weaken our Lord's warning signal by saying that it only applies to the Book of Revelation. But such strong and unusual language must be more than a prohibition to tamper with that one writing. We must see it as did Matthew Henry. He wrote, 'This sanction is like a flaming sword to guard the canon of the Scripture from profane hands.'
Revelation is no usual book. it is a sweeping analysis of history from the first advent of Christ to the second. Jesus had promised that the Spirit would teach his apostles 'all things' (John 14:26). The Spirit had come and fulfilled the promise. Apostles had communicated the authoritative word. The task of revelation was finished. The Book of Revelation is the last apostolic word to the church. The Almighty Savior, seated at God's right hand, opens his sovereign lips personally to declare that nothing is to be added to what has been recorded. Beware of meddling with Christ's revelation! All modern prophecy is spurious! God's truth has come to us in a fixed and finished objective revelation. We must not accept the new 'revelation' of neo-pentecostalism.
Gifts In The Early Church
Participation in the 'charismatic' trend involves denying the vital doctrine of the unique authority and sufficiency of Scripture. But this conclusion may prompt definite questions in your mind. Why then were charismatic practices in evidence in New Testament churches? Was the early church despising the revelation received from Christ when it practiced prophesying and tongues speaking? Was it denying the unique authority and sufficiency of Scripture? If so, why is it so vital now? And does not an important passage in the Bible, namely 1 Corinthians 12-14, indicate that such practices are normal for a true church?
Answers to some of these questions have been implied, and they will become more plain by a survey of the Corinthian passage. It is agreed that in the church at Corinth many supernatural or miraculous gifts were exercised. There was 'the word of wisdom', 'the word of knowledge', 'faith', 'healing', 'working of miracles', prophecy', 'discerning of spirits', 'divers kinds of tongues', 'interpretation of tongues' (1 Corinthians 12_8-10) most of which involved divine revelation. They were manifestations of the Spirit. Indeed this did deny the unique verbally inspired word to that church, which also received God's truth through these gifts.
Furthermore such a method of edifying the saints at Corinth denied the sufficiency of Scripture as it then existed, and for good reason. The Savior had come. The New Testament Church had been formed. The children of God were no longer living under the Old Covenant. Yet the New Testament had not been written. The full revelation of truth in Jesus had not yet been given to the church in writing by 'them that heard him' (Hebrews 2:3). It was not good for an entire generation of the servants of God to live isolated from the magnificent grace and truth which come by Jesus Christ, while the various books of the New Testament were being written and collected. Hence stop gap revelations were given to edify the church while the Holy Spirit brought all things of Christ to the remembrance of the Apostles (John 14:26). Believers must live on Christ before the apostles could make him fully known.
During the period when the New Testament was being written, the above mentioned gifts exercised in the apostolic churches would serve as signs by which God bore witness to the divine authority of the apostles. It was they who brought extraordinary spiritual gifts to the churches through the laying on of hands, and as exercised in the churches the gifts in turn witnessed to the authority of those who wrote the New Testament.
The gifts of prophecy and tongues in apostolic time had an opposite effect from their modern counterparts. The existence of miraculous gifts in the early church pays honor to the completed Scriptures. The apostolic message inscripturated in the New Testament is so vital that the church cannot live without it. While it was being written, the same truths must more or less be given in another fashion to edify the church. And the miraculous exercise of gifts bears witness to the profound importance of the apostolic mission in confirming what Jesus began to speak (Hebrews 2:3). Hence those miracles witnessed to the unique authority and sufficiency of the Scripture when complete.
However, since the completion of the New Testament and the death of the apostles, miracles and revelation have another implication altogether. They now suggest that even the apostolic word is insufficient, as tongues and prophecy in the early church did imply that the Old Testament scriptures were insufficient. Since the apostles themselves tell us that they fully revealed Christ, desire for revelation beyond Scripture is a desire to go beyond Christ; it is a declaration that the apostles failed in their mission and that the Holy Spirit by tongues and prophecy must compensate for the deficiencies of the apostolic word. The clear implication is that the church must be founded upon apostles and prophets and modern messages as well. If additional revelation is unnecessary, why should the Spirit give revelatory gifts? Since then Scripture was completed, its authority is unique and its message sufficient. And the Epistles to the Corinthians bear this out.
Paul began his lesson on gifts to the Corinthian church with an interesting warning. 'I would not have you ignorant'. This is very simple and basic matter. It is the foundation stone upon which much will be built. No one will deny that it is possible to approach the subject of miracles and extraordinary gifts in the thoughtless manner. The wiser among Charismatics themselves recognize that many are swept away with mindless emotion in so-called 'charismatic' meetings. But the Christian must be a thinking man. God does not dull the intellect. He quickens the mind. Believers must not be ignorant on the subject of spiritual manifestations.
Support for this warning comes by way of contrast. Paul reminds the Corinthians of their past experience in occult heathenism. They worshipped idols, lifeless stocks. But Satanic powers were present with a controlling influence over men. Many were compelled to yield. It was an irrational force. That is the significance of the terms 'carried away' and 'led' in the light of the contrast. Meetings swayed by senseless emotion are not of God. It is the way of devils to give men unintelligent feelings and to carry them along in extraordinary activity which the mind cannot comprehend. Here is a solemn warning to any Christian in a confused generation. At all meetings keep an intelligent, discerning mind about you. Some will suggest that logic is cold. But the senseless is Satanic.
A scale is given us in verse 3 by which to evaluate various spirits. Note that it is a doctrinal yardstick. Particularly ask what a spirit says concerning Jesus Christ. Immediately 1 John 4:1-2 will comes to mind: 'Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God . . .' The test is not feelings but scrutiny by truth. David J. du Plessis forgot this. In The Spirit Bade Me Go, Logos, 1970, he testified: 'Twenty-four ecumenical leaders were comfortably seated around me . . . I could remember days when I had wished I could have set my eyes upon such men to denounce their theology and pray the judgment of God upon them for what I considered their heresies and false doctrines. Here was such an opportunity and they said, "Be devastatingly frank." I prayed, "Lord, what would you have me to do?"
'That morning something happened to me. After a few introductory words I suddenly felt a warm glow come over me. I knew this was the Holy Spirit taking over, but what was He doing to me? Instead of the old harsh spirit of criticism and condemnation in my heart, I now felt such love and compassion for these ecclesiastical leaders that I would rather have died for them than pass sentence upon them. All at once I knew that the Holy Spirit was in control and I was beside myself and yet sober as a judge. (2 Cor. 5:13). Thank God, from that day one I knew what it meant to minister along the "more excellent way" (1 Cor. 12:31). This indeed is the technique of the Holy Spirit.' (p. 16). From that day du Plessis never appeared to rebuke liberals for departures from the truth. He became their friend and told them, 'the church does not need better theologians but rather men full of faith and the Holy Ghost.' (p. 18). This calls to mind the sad word of Psalm 78:9: 'The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.'
With doctrinal alertness, most charismatic meetings would be quickly shunned. It is through ignorance that this tide gains momentum. May it echo in believers' ears, 'I would not have you ignorant!
Principles About Gifts
Through the rest of chapter 12 the church is likened to one body, with Jesus Christ the common Head, the Holy Spirit enlivening each member. All manifestations of the Spirit and all ministries are for the common good (v. 7). Next Paul stresses the diversity of members, a teaching that effectively undermines a major premise of the Charismatic movement.
Many charismatics believe it is possible for a person to be baptized in the Spirit without speaking in tongues. Any of the gifts listed in the chapter may signify the baptism. Charismatics insist that tongues is the proof of having received this experience. At least on this point Charismatics are nearer to the Biblical position. In verse 30 Paul asks, 'Do all speak with tongues?' The obvious answer is 'No, all do not speak with tongues'. The 'all' in view are all the members of the Spirit baptized body (verse 13). Charismatics attempt to skirt this clear declaration of Paul by saying that the question is really, 'Do all speak with tongues in church gatherings?' But that is not the question. Paul does not even address himself to public services until chapter 14. The 'all' of verse 30 signifies the members of the body, which Christians continue to be whether gathered for public worship or not. This text alone makes unbiblical the doctrine of Charismatics that all Spirit baptized believers manifest their baptism by speaking in tongues. Charismatics are in direct conflict with Paul's point that the manifestations of the Spirit in the body are quite varied. All do not speak with tongues any more than all exercise the office of apostle (verse 29).
Gifts No Sign of Grace
Upon reaching 1 Corinthians 13, Paul sets forth a truth which strikes at the root of all branches of modern charismatic teaching. Here the father of the Corinthian Church teaches that miraculous gifts are no sign whatsoever of spiritual health in the one who possesses them. It is possible to speak with tongues, prophesy, exercise faith (the gift), sacrificially give and suffer, and yet be nothing. There are examples in Scripture of men who had extraordinary gifts but who were utterly void of God's grace. Judas is a prime example. Our Lord emphasized the sad delusion which arises from imagining that spiritual gifts evidence spiritual well being in a man's soul. This he did in Matthew 7:22-23: 'Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in they name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity'. Many perform miracles in this world only to perish in the next.
Paul alluded to this possibility in 12:2 by reminded the Corinthians that even pagans have amazing manifestations of power. Now in 13:1-3 he nails down the point that outward spiritual gifts furnish no index whatsoever to the spiritual state of a man. Rather, inward spiritual graces, carved upon the soul, are the signs of spiritual greatness. Not the Spirit's gifts but the Spirit's fruits are the gauge of holiness, of usefulness to the Lord, and of spiritual prosperity in the soul. Pre-eminently love is the test. Gifts at Corinth were not given as signs to assure the church of its health and vigor. They were given, as Paul said in chapter 12, to edify the whole body.
What would happen to the charismatic trend if it no longer taught and suggested that miraculous gifts were a sign of spiritual well being? This is the key to the whole outlook of the movement. David du Plessis himself admits that Pentecostals lose their effectiveness when they stop insisting that tongues are a sign of spiritual blessedness, a sign of the baptism of the Spirit. All charismatics, including the most mild, look upon various acts of power and public gifts as sign of a special presence of the Spirit. God's Word tells us it is possible to produce all the gifts without love. It is possible to have gifts and be nothing. Grace, not gifts, are signs of spiritual vitality. they are found within, not in any outward demonstration of charismata.
Love in Exercising Gifts
As Paul describes love in verses 4-7, he is not speaking in the context of marital love. He has no general reference. His specific application is to a confused church exercising many spiritual gifts, but more in need of spiritual grace. You can find love by watching for patience and meekness (verse 4). Love will never act in a fanatical manner (the meaning of 'behave itself unseemly') nor seek merely personal ends (v. 5). Love hates sin and rejoices in the truth (v. 6). It is interested in holiness and doctrine (remember 12:3). Again we have profound tests for all charismatic meetings, or Reformed meetings for that matter. Is there shameful behavior, the promoting of men, the presence of sin, the absence of truth? If so, these meetings are lacking love. Whatever the gifts, the essence is missing. However spectacular the powers displayed, the loveless gathering or the loveless person is marked by failure.
Gifts Must Depart From the Church
Verses 8-12 directly address themselves to the impermanence of miraculous gifts in the Church. What we have seen in the rest of Scripture leads us to expect this. But here it is simply and firmly stated. Love is enduring; it will not cease. Never will love depart from the church. But 'prophecies', 'tongues' and 'knowledge' will certainly depart. These are the gifts mentioned in 12:8-10 as 'prophecy,' 'the word of knowledge', and 'divers kinds of tongues'. That is what the apostle has in mind. He is comparing miraculous gifts with inward graces. It would be foolish to think that knowledge, language, and truth would ever disappear in the absolute sense of the word. Rather Paul states that the gifts will vanish from the church.
When and why they must disappear from the church is clearly stated in verse 9-12. Knowledge and prophecy were only partial and imperfect forms of revelation. But there is something 'perfect' coming. At once our minds think of heaven. That is the perfect state. But the word translated 'perfect', in its New Testament usage, does not always mean ideally perfect. The very same word is used again in 1 Corinthians 14:20, where it is translated 'men'. The idea is 'mature' in contrast with 'childish'. That this meaning of the word is intended in 13:10 is quite clear from the continuation of the contrast with 'childish' in verse 11. When fully matured or adult revelation comes, then the partial revelations of a childish state will be put away.
Certainly the thought of this text must be seen in the light of 2 Timothy 3:16-17. 'All scripture is given by inspiration of God .. that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.' In neither passages does 'perfect' have in view the glorified man in heaven. It refers to the man completely equipped for life in this world, the man come to full maturity. When Scripture is completed, then the church will have revelation thoroughly suited to her condition on earth. Our complete Bible is perfect in the sense that it is utterly sufficient revelation for all our needs. Paul is saying, 'When the sufficient comes, the inadequate and partial will be done away. Tongues will vanish away, knowledge will cease at the time that the New Testament is finished.'
The amazing gifts catalogued in chapter 12 would only serve for an inferior situation. Their partial usefulness consigned them to a temporary state. But there is no need to cling to these gifts. Does a full grown man cling to childish speech, understanding and thought (v. 11)? When the man is mature he puts away childish things. Similarly the manly words, thoughts, and satisfying insight of a completed Scripture will cause the church to outgrow the childhood of charismatic revelation.
Furthermore, many have been led astray in commenting on v. 12. Because the contrast appears so stark, they have thought that the reference is to heaven once more. Many commentators have said that Paul is contrasting present knowledge with heavenly understanding. But it is not his concern here to speak of glory. There is no indication that he is talking of heaven. No, the subject is the time and reason for miraculous gifts to cease; 'now' and 'then' have this continual frame of reference.
The fact is that the contrasts of verse 12 are not so absolute as is often supposed. Bible margins have recognized a dependence here on Numbers 12:6-8. Language is quite similar in both passages. The occasion is Jehovah rebuking Miriam and Aaron for speaking against his servant Moses. 'And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold.' At once we recognize the figures used in 1 Corinthians 13:12, a contrast between dim, partial revelation and open, full-faced display of the Lord. Not a contrast between prophet and heaven is before us, but a contrast between lesser and greater prophet.
In the Old Testament, Moses stood as the great prophet who spoke to God 'mouth to mouth, even apparently'. Other prophets received 'dark speeches' and 'similitudes' by the obscure means of 'visions' and 'dreams'. In the New Testament Jesus Christ stands as the great prophet who dwelt in the bosom of the Father and has declared him. His full and complete revelation of the Father was inscripurated by the apostles. Other 'charismatic' revelations were the equivalent of seeing through a glass imperfectly transparent (like Old Testament dreams and visions). They gave only partial disclosure, 'darkly' (that is, 'in a riddle'). By comparision, receiving Scripture was coming 'face to face' with God. It is the 'familiar' approach to God by his Son, Jesus Christ. Verse 12 summarizes the necessity for miraculous gifts to cease! Though cessation was still future when Paul wrote this epistle, it became a thing of the past after John wrote the book of Revelation. Then the gifts of Chapter 12 were done away with!
Chapter 13 concludes with a comment which further shows that verses 8-13 are not contrasting earthly knowledge with heavenly. For even after prophecy and tongues cease, faith and hope will abide. There will be no hope in heaven. 'Hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?' (Romans 8:24). But after Scripture is completed, hope will continue in the church until the day of Jesus Christ.
Upon examining the present day church, one is often distressed with its weakness and 'failure', its sin and coldness. There is no lack of voices saying, 'What we need is to return to the state of the church in apostolic times.' Just such reasoning has led to a longing for miraculous gifts. They existed in the infant church. If only we had them now! 'Quite the contrary!', says the apostle. 'You must not desire to return to the childish.' Until Scripture was written, the church was in an inferior position regarding truth. Believers must not seek to go back beyond 100 A.D. and the completed Bible. They must not desire the dark utterances when they have face-to-face truth in Scripture!
First Corinthians 12-14 is not a passage asserting miraculous gifts as a norm for the church of all ages. It prepares the church for these manifestations of the Spirit to cease with the completion of Scripture. What man would revert to a child's apprehension of truth, after tasting the mature and gracious revelation of truth in Scripture? Yet that is what the charismatics ask us to do. They invite us to child's talk and dark riddles after our Lord by his apostles has given us 'face to face' revelation of the Father. Tongues, prophecies, the word of wisdom, and faith were useful enough for the childhood days. But the perfectly suited has come; the manly is here. The temporary gifts have ceased.
Supervision of Temporary Gifts
Meanwhile the generation in which the Corinthians lived required guidance for the use and exercise of their temporary gifts; so Chapter 14. After the instruction of Chapter 13, it seems rather anti-climactic to study this chapter for this present purpose. Yet some truths bear repetition.
Some Pentecostals have tught that speaking in tongues, whether private or public, is always an act of prayer, usually of praise to God. Whether this is true or not, verses 5, 27, and 28 indicate definitely that tongues must not be used in a public gathering without an interpreter. The great reason for this is the absolute necessity of common edification in worship (vv. 2-19). And for edification there must be understanding. Paul has uncovered again the foundation stone of 12:1-3. No work of the Spirit in edifying is senseless or mindless. That is the devil's way to carry men along. To be built up there must be understanding, however darkly and through glass.
We are never led to expect the Spirit of God graciously to perform his offices in a soul, except in close conjunction with truth. The sovereign and mysterious work of regeneration is itself performed by truth: 'Being born again . . . by the word of God' (1 Peter 1:23). For this reason Paul is repetitiously insistent that 'words easy to be understood' are a sine qua non of edification. It is possible to think upon truth without the Spirit's gracious influence; but we are never encouraged to expect to receive the Spirit's gracious influence without truth meeting the mind.
Remembering the Biblical stress upon intelligent communication of information for edification, what reason have we to believe that one who spoke in tongues was unaware of the mysteries spoken (v. 2)? If all others were dependent upon clear and intelligible truth for their edification, how could a man speaking in tongues even build up himself (v. 4) unless there was some dim intellectual perception of the mystery being spoken by his lips? Perhaps his grasp was not sufficient to interpret. Nevertheless there must be an intelligent comprehension on the part of the tongues-speaker if he is to benefit. If this conclusion is not valid, the responsiblity to produce Biblical proof must rest with those of the contrary opinion.
Those who say that to speak in tongues in private devotion is edifying must ask themselves a number of questions. Is there anything intelligible in the tongues message? Are the messages based upon an emotional experience that has bypassed the mind? If so, what Biblical warrant is there for such a form of worship? It is criticized even by 1 Corinthians 14.
If 1 Corinthians 14:1-19 urges anything, it is to keep central the most plain and intelligent form of truth. Today it must not even be prophecy but the completely suited, face-to-face revelation which came by Jesus Christ. What could be more edifying than the clear notes (vv.7-8) of gospel exposition? The word of Christ plainly taught is the supreme height of spiritual edification to believers alive upon the earth.
One Purpose For Tongues
A mountain of Scripture has already buried 'tongues' under a heap of prohibition. But these verses hold another argument against their modern use. Already we have seen from Scripture that tongues were one of the signs of an apostle, accrediting him as an agent of divine revelation. While the childhood state of affairs continued, tongues also served temporarily to edify believers, partially and dimly. Yet the apostle wants believers fully informed about tongues. He urges in v. 20, 'In understanding be men'. Do not be like some charismatics who want to escape doctrinal discussions or close Bible study. Be men in understanding. Dig into the mine of the Old Testament.
Isaiah 28:11 and 12 are the verses that Paul quotes at this point. Foundation test for tongues! Such words were spoken while the majority of God's prophets had been sent speaking Hebrew. All truth was delivered in their language. What a privilege! It was to continue so until the days of Jesus Christ. Suddenly at Pentecost the truth of God would be spoken in men's ears in Gentile languages. This was no promising sign to the Jewish nation; rather was it a sign of condemnation. Even with Galileans speaking in languages of the nations, Israel would not repent, but would display hardness of heart. 'For all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.' Tongues were a sign to the Jews of impending doom, the destruction of 70 A.D.
A conclusion is reached at verse 22. Tongues are a sign to unbelievers, but not a sign which will convince them of unbelief to bring about conversion! Verse 23 shows that tongues will only make unbelievers think the gifted 'mad'. Tongues are a sign of God's displeasure and hastening wrath, especially upon his negligent firstborn, Israel.
Again we ask, what purpose could tongues serve today? The apostles are dead, so tongues speaking cannot credit them with divine authority any longer. Face-to-face revelation has come, there is no need for dim, partial edification as children by tongues. Tongues never did signify spiritual depth and reality in the speaker. The Jews came under the hand of awful wrath long ago. The terrible collapse has taken place. If anything, we now look for blessing to return to Israel (Romans 11). Tongues will not serve that purpose. Why should tongues continue today? They do not. They have ceased.
'And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.' (1 Corinthians 14:32). Some saints will read vv. 23-29 with a puzzled look. Being used to a 'hit or miss' fastening upon individual verses they will ask, 'Doesn't it say, "Covet to prophesy"? Haven't you read, "Forbid not to speak with tongues"? How then can you exclude these things today?' Anyone who has followed the apostle's argument to this point will at once see the fallacy of ignoring all the prior premises. Conclusions are simple in a syllogism without premises. So is the isolated text approach to tongues. Those unwilling to follow through all that is said must wander in darkness. We can only shout to them, 'I would not have you ignorant' (12:1). If they will not bring their minds to think the problem through, they will wrest the Scriptures they cite.
There is one subsidiary point worth noting in verses 28-32. When the Holy Spirit came upon men in New Testament times, this never resulted in the loss of self-control. Again this is an implication of 12:1-2. When the spirit of tongues entered a man, he had the ability to think rationally about his situation, and he maintained the power to keep quiet. The spirits of the prophets were always subject to the prophets. The more careful and sober charismatics loathe wild and disorderly meetings where folks are 'out of control' and where confusion exists. God's Spirit always works in a way consistent with the use of man's intelligence and self-control.
Still, the chief aim is not to distinguish between degrees of charismatic wisdom. 1 Corinthians 12-14 demonstrates the indefensibility of the entire modern movement in all its shades and forms. It denies that the miraculous is any indication of spiritual grace. It insists that revelatory gifts must cease when the Scriptures are complete.
Why Christians Seek 'The Gifts'
Ignorant of the force of New Testament views on miraculous gifts, many true Christians have been attracted to the Charismatic Movement. Consequently they have been turned aside from the firm foundation of Scripture as sole authority for their lives. If this is not the case, then they are ignoring the prophecies which they claim have come from God. But this distrust of Holy Scripture insinuates itself unconsciously into the believer's heart and life. Attention has been fixed on issues other than the unique authority and sufficiency of the Word. It is important to analyse the force of gravity which pulls God's people into the orbit of neo-pentecostalism. What is it that attracts sober disciples of Christ into the unbiblical beliefs and practices of the Charismatic movement?
So rapid and so wide has been the spread of 'the charismatic' in the past decades, that it is difficult to characterize the entire movement. Many who participate in 'miraculous gifts' refuse to be called 'Pentecostal' or 'charismatic'. They have seen so many wild-fire abuses that they wish no association with the popular label. Their aim is to keep 'charismata' in a place subordinate to Bible study, holy living, communion with God, and evangelism. At the opposite extreme are the flagrantly immoral and heretical, who evidence the same 'charismata' in the name of Christianity. In between lie the masses of Pentecostals who have a well defined doctrine of the baptism in the Spirit. There are also the neo-pentecostals of general evangelical allegiance and denominational affiliation, who may or may not agree with the pentecostal theory. And we cannot forget the churchless crowd that knows its only religion in a charismatic society or house fellowship. All are seeking for or exercising or sitting under the ministry of what they would call 'gifts of the Spirit' or 'miraculous manifestations of the Spirit.'
Though the mutations are infinite in number, the species is one. Its identifying marks are clear. All run dangerously counter to the New Testament doctrine of revelation, by claiming revelatory gifts to be in existence in modern times. A second common mark has been alluded to already, but will now hold your attention more fully. For it is this element which captivates the minds of believers who are drawn to the 'charismatic'. The second mark is a search for something more from God, this 'something more' being identified in some way with 'supernatural manifestations of the Spirit'. Most often the 'charismata' are mentally linked with a second work of grace, or with a momentary experience which supplies the 'something more' sought after.
Testimonies of charismatics glow with records of something more from God in connection with their 'miraculous' experiences. How wide is the range of desire which these testimonies appeal to in the Christian! 'More of success', on a very low level. 'More of a holy walk', 'more of intimate communion with God', 'more of power to glorify the Lord effectively in service', at the high end of the scale. 'More love for men', 'more satisfaction with life', 'more warmth of personality', in between low and high. The list can grow and the combinations of what the 'more' holds are as varied as the testimonies, or at least as varied as the groups in which they are given. Usually there is something of greater spiritual depth, holiness and power, whether these are conceived of Biblically or otherwise.
Finally all the blessed desires are generally indentified with the exercise of miraculous gifts. Most Pentecostals hold as an article of faith that 'speaking in tongues' is the initial sign of baptism in the Spirit, which experience brings a deeper life than mere conversion. The gift sought is the Spirit. All other miraculous gifts are possessed only by those who have climbed to this higher plane of Christianity, though manifestations other than tongues need not follow. Thus spiritual gifts are clearly associated with possessing more spiritually. Some neo-pentecostals would say that the possession of any of the gifts may initially signify entrance to the deeper spiritual standing. A very few would say that no miraculous gift is necessary as a sign of entering the fullness of blessing they advocate. Yet in their minds there is an admiration for the miracle worker, a conviction that one who really manifests the Holy Spirit in 'doing wonders' must be a person very near to the Lord.
It is certainly this combination of thought which attracts outsiders to Pentecostalism and keeps those who have been converted under its ministry. There is 'something more' to be had spiritually, and 'miraculous gifts' evidence that the miracle worker has gotten it. His advice is then sought at public meetings or in private interview, which confirms the identity of spiritual gifts with spiritual man.
Need we return to the example of Judas, to Matthew 7:21-23, to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 to demolish this fallacy? Have we not concluded that spiritual gifts do not identify a spiritual man? Many miracle workers will be disowned by Christ in the judgment. Inward grace or fruits of the Spirit, not outward displays of gifts, are the signs of spirituality. Why must this ignorant and erroneous opinion continue? Many without showing much of the fruit of the Spirit are performing what modern men accept as miracles. Others in the charismatic movement are godly men. But it is not their 'charismatic gifts' which lead us to that conclusion. It is solely the marks of grace in their characters. Whether they speak with tongues or head contributes nothing to our opinion. Amazing and spectacular 'charismata' were never given to identify their possessors as spiritual men. They were given as credentials to apostolic authority and as a temporary means of edifying the whole body of the church. They could not be an indication of deeper spiritual vitality.
Furthermore if the ear and eye were keenly alert to charismatic words and literature, great doubt would be cast on the whole thesis. In spite of phenomenal growth in numbers Pentecostals are involved in as much confusion as are other branches of Christianity. Their sober and wise spiritual leaders call attention to the same appalling ignorance, immorality, coldness of heart and impotence within their ranks that many have sought to escape by their experiences. A few voices are calling for more concentration upon the inscripturated Word of God. That is far more to the point. If this second blessing and 'charismtic gifts' are shared by the weaklings in their midst, then the 'more' we seek must come by the Word and the Spirit, not by some identification with their gifts. Is their movement properly called a revival? Not at all!
Apart from the gifts themselves, what of another distinct experience which will lift a believer from one level of grace to another? After all, it is this strand of evangelical thinking which paved the way for Pentecostalism. All knowledgeable charismatics pay honorable respect to teachers of the Keswick or deeper life movement. Too often this movement has led directly to the attitude of seeking to return to a church like that of apostolic days and to the simplistic identity of spiritual gift with spiritual man. But how is the approach made?
Advocates of the second experience of grace invite our attention to their survey of today's church. They rightly point to her impotence in the face of the world and the flesh. Every true believer must admit that the twentieth- century church desperately needs heavenly assistance to resist the forces of paganism. God must be sought after if we are to regain the moral and spiritual ground which has been lost in a depraved society.
A cure is then suggested for the church's ills. Her condition requires some super-Christians, men who live on a higher plane of sanctification, who are endued with dynamic forces. In other ages the church has had extraordinary men - a Luther, a Whitefield, an Edwards. It is often implied that these revered figures of church history embraced the teaching which is being promoted. There is, however, no historic support for such assertions. Luther, Edwards, and other such heroes of the past never espoused a 'second-work-of- grace doctrine'. (See Edward's work The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.) The optimistic reports of spiritual giants of this decade and of their feats are recounted in order to drive home the lesson that one need not struggle on in the weakness of only one work of grace.
How is the humble saint to react? There he is, wrestling with sin and moral weakness. His service to Christ seems so fruitless. He can only pant in his soul for such victory in sanctification and such success in bringing honor to his God as is set before him from the past and the present. When a way is offered to join the ranks of the mighty, the poor Christian leaps with his heart before his head can think of the issue of Biblical authority.
If ever the appeal for a second work of grace has tugged at your soul, you ought to study carefully the last four chapters of Second Corinthians. There Paul was addressing the patriarchs who begat Pentecostalism and every other second-work-of-grace movement. Much can be lost through poor habits of reading Scripture. It is common to read one chapter and to fix attention chiefly upon favorite verses -- verses which the reader may have long interpreted apart from the context. Read 2 Corinthians, chapters 10-13 all at once. Make a definite effort to observe the unity of the passage and to grasp Paul's main argument
The apostle to the Gentiles is addressing a party in the church of Corinth which questioned his apostolic authority. In 13:3 Paul notes, 'Ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me.' They doubted the authority of the man who planted their church. With boldness they openly challenged him to prove his apostleship. It is clear that the proof they sought was a testimony to extraordinary experiences of visions and revelations. In 12:1, Paul reluctantly said in effect, 'I will come to the matter of visions and revelation; for that is what you are demanding.' The opposition party at Corinth was convinced that spectacular mystical experiences were signs of super-spiritual individuals. Only such persons would be able to lead the church on to victory, revival, and success. Remarkable prophets would be worthy teachers!
This opinion was fostered at Corinth by certain dynamic leaders who were 'transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ' (11:13). But they really preached 'another Jesus'; they had 'another spirit'; they taught 'another gospel' (11:4). Yet by their stunning performances they would 'commend themselves' (10:12, 18).
New men were presenting themselves as hyper-apostles or higher-apostles. That is the literal meaning of the words translated 'chiefest apostle' in 11:5, 'For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles'. In this text Paul is not comparing himself to Peter and James, but to the new super-apostles. His reference was to men who were parading visions, revelations, and dynamic mystical experience before the church. They boasted themselves to be God's gift to the church. Since they were a superior breed of apostles, they offered to take the church on to higher ground.
Consequently the people at Corinth began to compare Paul to the great mystics (much as the average pastor today may be compared with spectacular miracle men). The new leaders were impressive, dynamic ministers. Paul appeared as an almost comic figure when placed next to them. He had no magnetic personality, no commanding appearance, no reports of smashing success. His churches were small, struggling, and problem ridden. His own life was contantly beset by trial and tragedy. They recalled that Paul was not eloquent. In 11:6 the apostle takes note of their opinion that he was 'rude in speech'. He brings their total evaluation into clear forcus in 10:10: 'For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.'
No doubt there are some modern counterparts to the Corinthian super-apostles. Elements of their arrogance and showmanship are found in charismatic circles. However, this is not meant to suggest that all or even the majority of Pentecostals fit this aspect of the description. Nor are such displays of the flesh limited to neo-pentecostalism. They are sadly found in all wings of the modern church, especially in America. But the basic elements common throughout Pentecostalism are all here, though others might be far less crass in their presentation. There is 'something more' spiritual for the Corinthians. The higher life of true religion is associated with phenomenal 'gifts'. Paul's response will give some indication of his attitude toward second-work-of-grace ideas.
A direct answer to this challenge, begins in 11:18: 'Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also.' Paul will boast as do the super-apostles. However as his boast begins there is a biting irony in his words which mocks his enemies' foolish pride. Any claim to having arrived on a higher plane of grace reflects an element of vainglory. However much one may wish to assist the unfortunate 'mere converts', there is an air of esteeming one self better than others. This is true whether the new standing is a deeper life or a baptism in the Spirit. It is reflected in the argument that those who have not received the full blessing of the second work suffer church ills and personal failure because they have not taken the all important second step. Whereas if a church has troubles and the believer's life reflects impotence, what is needed is revival of, or a fresh portion of the 'more' already possessed.
A paraphrase of the apostles main argument in 11:25-33 could well be put in the following terms: 'I work hard, sweating, toiling, struggling. What has such labor accomplished? I have been beaten, imprisoned, nearly killed. I have been shipwrecked, stoned, robbed, conspired against. I have been tired, aching, hungry, thirsty, cold, naked. I am constantly concerned about the churches.' Verse 29 reaches the climax; he could well sympathize with the weakness of others: 'Who is weak and I am not weak?' It certainly does not appear to be a very forceful defence, addressed as it was to people who were already prepared to say, 'This apostle is a weakling'!
In verses 32 and 33 the final knife of ridicule is thrust into the sides of his boasting counterparts in Corinth. It is as if Paul were saying, 'I can picture the church in a fascinating testimony meeting. You have just been hearing the triumphant deeds of the super-apostles. There has been no lack of dreams, visions, miracles. The air is charged with expectations of hearing further reports of the astounding power of God. Well, here is my experience to read at your meeting. 'You may picture me as a little man that I am. There is Paul, frightened, and huddled in a basket. He is furtively lowered over the wall of Damascus, running for his life. The incident, which you well remember, is most characteristic of my life experiences. That is how I deserve to be remembered. There you have the real Paul.'
In chapter 12 Paul continues his defence: 'I will come to visions and revelations' (v. 1). It was the current fashion at Corinth. The people would hang on to the edges of their seats to hear of such things. But again there is cutting sarcasm. We may justly read between the lines of the first six verses of chapter 12 in this manner: 'I had an extraordinary revelation fourteen years ago. Your new apostles have them daily and parade new visions at every meeting. But I am afraid that I must go back in my memory fourteen years to recall a significant mystical experience involving revelations. I hope it does not disappoint your keen curiosity, but I must be very negative. I am not certain what state I was in. And I cannot tell you anything that I saw. (How that must injure your raging thirst for the sensational!) As a matter of fact I am going to change the subject quickly.'
Nevertheless there was a vital lesson for the church to be drawn from Paul's revelaton experience. Verse 7 of chapter 12 teaches us that the apostle's surpassing revelation was followed by dreadful struggles with his own flesh and with Satan. A thorn in the flesh was given to Paul, a goad to stir up his remaining flesh. It was a messenger of the devil.
Far from transporting Paul to a plane of victory and grand sanctification, extraordinary revelation signalled the start of a more desperate struggle against sin and the flesh. God had permitted his apostle to fall into this time of grievous temptaton lest he become proud. After Paul witnessed the glories of the 'third heaven', God would make him vividly aware of the flesh which remained in his own bosom. It would prevent a haughty spirit in the Lord's servant.
Verse 8 reminds us how wretched was Paul's struggle after his extraordinary experience. He noted his temptation, and three times he assaulted the gates of heaven with determined petitions to have the cursed messenger of Satan taken from him. But it was not God's will. Was the revelation given to Paul a sign of special sanctification? No, the struggle with the flesh increased. Was Paul by his exotic experience a more forceful individual? To the contrary, more time had to be given to this personal battle against temptation. He saw more clearly his flesh and felt that he was weaker.
Verses 9-12 of chapter 12 emerge from the heavy atmosphere of irony into the clear air of stated principle. In these few verses the apostle hurls a dart which strikes at the advocate of all second-work-of-grace teaching. It is a straight forward and masterful handling of the issue. Verse 9 sounds the true spirit of the Christian: 'Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.'
Paul feels a deep satisfaction in calling attention to his personal weakness. He has already told us of his constant awareness of the natural and moral weakness. He knows that he is a man in one desperate crisis after another. He feels a dreadful war with the flesh and the devil. But he delights in his infirmities because when something happens through his ministry, it is evident to all the world that it has happened by the power of Christ. His Lord will receive all the glory.
The apostle Paul lays no claim to being a superman. His readers should recall the spirit in which he had first come to Corinth. He had come to them with neither eloquence nor confidence, but he did know fear and trembling (1 Corinthians 2:1-4). Yet sinners were converted and a church was begun. How could they explain it? Was the explanation that he was a mighty super-Christian who had taken a second step and reached a victorious plane of living? Paul knew that this would be an absurd suggestion to any who knew him personally. God's Spirit prospered his ministry for one reason - it pleased God. Certainly Paul possessed a remarkable intellect. Yet there were, no doubt, greater minds than his which never shook the world. It was God's grace attending the apostle's work which alone explains his effectiveness. He was still only a weak thing called to confound the mighty of the world. The lesson is that God's power is glorified in using weak Christians.
Certainly the modern church should long for and pray for revival. She should petition God for a wider spread of his truth. She should ask for a restoration of a generally higher level of righteousness in his people and in society at large. God's people should request that greater numbers be brought to know his gracious salvation. Nevertheless they must realize that there is no necessity of having men of super-sanctification as a means to revival.
God uses rather ordinary Christians who are engaged in a desperate struggle against their own flesh and against the devil to magnify his greatness in revival. Instruments greatly used of God must be actively fighting temptation and praying for the removal of sin from their hearts, even as Paul cried to God against his thorn in the flesh. But the apostle is showing that God does greatly use men who yet have personal problems in wrestling with sin. And our mighty Lord receives more glory because it is evident that the power has come sovereignly from him.
Super-sanctified Christians would be lacking in a major qualification which God requires of his servants, namely, a deep sense of personal unworthiness and uncleanness. Without a very low evaluation of himself, the servant of Christ cannot be meek in approaching sinners. Nor can he heartily give all praise to God for all success granted to him.
In Luke 5 Peter saw the fish miraculously brought to his net by our Lord. At that moment 'he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me: for I am a sinful man, O Lord.' He knew he was unworthy to stand in the presence of the Savior; he was too unclean to be associated with him. Our Master immediately responded, 'Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men.' It is as if Christ had said, 'Now that you are fully aware of your moral impurity, you are prepared to serve me, Simon.'
When prophets of the Old Testament were called to a mighty work, their calls usually began with a conscious awareness of their personal impurity and importance. Just so, God would rather keep Paul buffeted with some Satanic temptation stirring up his flesh, than allow his servant to think himself exalted above others. The greatness of Paul's work came by the measure of God's mighty Spirit attending his ministry, not through the moral excellence of the instrument God used.
In our Biblical desire for revival, we must refuse to seek any experience which proposes to eliminate our natural weakness. God did not spread the Gospel of Christ through the world by means of extrovert personalities. Christ did not choose apostles for their native strength of character. The church was not begun by twelve emperors but by twelve political slaves of Rome. Our Lord had no special use for scholars. Most of the apostles were far from learned. His choice of evangelists included no warriors, nor 'Madison Avenue' publicity men. As a group, the apostles had no outstanding personal strength which can explain their impact on the world.
In various ways Christians reveal their suspicion that only extraordinary men can be used for great works of God. Some place a great emphasis on academic skills. They think, 'If we send men with respected academic honors though the world, the nations will recognize genius and come to Christ.' Others advertise football players, theatre stars, and politicians, expecting that the world will run to their meetings. Unfortunately, though the crowds come they are not changed. Why should they not remain worldly after this appeal to human greatness?
At times we may say too much of Whitefield's eloquence and Edward's scholarship. We sometimes romanticize the lives of leaders in revivals. John Knox, so remarkably used in the Reformation of the 16 Century, declared before his death, 'In youth, mid-age, and now after many battles, I find nothing in me but vanity and corruption'. Such was Whitefield's sense of personal unfitness that he said he could not enter a pulpit but for the imputed righteousness of Christ.The last words of that burning light, William Grimshaw of Yorkshire, were, 'Here goes an unprofitable servant'. It was grace which made these Christians what they were, and had it not been for the Spirit of God attending their ministries they would have remained as obscure as many another who was equal to them in natural ability.
Some of the most profound acts of witnessing and successful evangelism have been performed by the most unlikely, and unprepossessing individuals. Great numbers believed on Christ through the immoral Samaritian woman on the day she first met the Savior. God did not wait until she had established a super-holy reputation among them. The blind man of John 9 was called upon to witness before the greatest Bible scholars in the world during the week of his conversion. God did not need someone who had mastered sound doctrine. The young believer bore a fine testimony.
God does not need your talents, wisdom, holiness, and strength. But rather you, in weakness, desperately need the power of his Spirit in your labors. You need not be wonderfully transformed by a second work of grace to be a suitable instrument of God's Spirit. The Lord delights in exalting his gracious power by using weak instruments.
Revival depends upon the sovereign blessing of God. Why should you be taken in by gimmicks? Why should you be turned aside by talk of a second work of grace? It is diverting attention from the penitent waiting upon God which should mark today's church. God revives his church through humble people who have real flaws, but who rely upon his grace alone as they diligently labor according to his Word. Of course we are all incompetent to be used by God in any work. We always will be. 'Who is sufficient for these things?' (2 Corinthians 2:16). No one! It is foolish to labor for sufficiency to serve God. If it were achieved, one would need no continuing grace. Rather note that at every moment his grace is sufficient for thee as it was for Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9). You will be in desperate need of grace throughout your life. In the midst of conscious weakness, rely on the grace of God. Spirituality must not be equated with personal power. Being weak is not to be construed as being carnal.
Charismata is diverting men from admitting their weakness and relying on God's grace as sufficient. It has rather prompted men to seek personal sufficiency. As we have seen, neo-pentecostalism directs men away from truth to achieve sufficiency. The unique authority of the Scripture is undermined in the process. Experience is offered which is realized apart from the divinely appointed means of truth.
Baptism With The Spirit
'Charismatic' forces have influenced Christians by addressing themselves to inward longings which always will attend the saints on earth. In their offer of immediate entrance upon a new plane of spirituality, they have used a Biblical phrase which has made their solution seem credible. 'Baptism with the Spirit' is proposed as a second experience to be sought by believers.
Hungry Christians are often strangers to sound Biblical instruction on this subject. 'Charismatic' interpretation of the phrase is the only explanation ever to reach their ears. When truth is silent, false views seem plausible. Therefore it is necessary to understanding something of the Scriptural meaning of this popular phrase.
'Baptism with the Holy Ghost' are words used on only three historic occasions in the Bible. All four Gospels record John the Baptist's testimony to Christ in much the same way as Mark 1:8: 'I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.' Then on the last occasion that our Lord talked with his disciples, on the day of his ascension, he said, 'For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.' (Acts 1:5). Finally, in Acts 11:16, Peter used the following to describe his reaction to events at Cornelius' house, 'Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.' By examining Acts 1 and 2 we can see the fulfillment of the prophecy of John and Jesus. Acts 1:4-5 uses the phrases 'The promise of the Father' and 'baptized with the Holy Ghost' to identify one of the same blessings. The disciples were to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. Then Jesus reminds them of John's contrast as containing the promise they are to expect. It is important to recognize this identity of reference for these two phrases as we observe the fulfillment of both in chapter two.
In Acts 2:1-4 we read an account of the disciples being 'filled with the Holy Ghost'. There was a sound from heaven like a rushing, mighty wind. Cloven tongues as of fire visibly appeared and rested upon each of them. They spoke with tongues. When objections were made to the strange behavior of the disciples, Peter rose to explain the dramatic and unique incident of history and to apply its lesson to the crowds which had gathered.
At once Peter called attention to a promise of the Father by his prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32). In the last days the Spirit would be poured out upon God's servants. When this occurred, his servants would prophesy. Notice again the clear Scriptural teaching that those who spoke in tongues on the day of Pentecost were prophesying. That was Peter's explanation of their speaking in tongues (Acts 2:15-18). More central to our present discussion however is Peter's recognition of the day's events as the fulfillment of the Father's promise.
Peter's sermon did not turn to another topic when he began to speak of Jesus of Nazareth in verse 22. The apostle by divine inspiration was preaching the death, resurrection, and enthronement of Jesus Christ as the necessary preparation for the giving of the Holy Spirit. Verse 33 connects 'baptism with the Spirit' directly to the exaltation of our Lord. '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 work of the Spirit is not something in addition to the work of Christ. There is no separation between the saving work of God's Son and the sanctifying, empowering work of God's Spirit. Christ's atoning work secured the promise of the Spirit, and part of Christ's reigning work is to dispense the Spirit to his church. Men cn be baptized with the Holy Ghost only after the enthronement of the risen Messiah. As John 7:39 teaches, the Son must be glorified for the Spirit to be given. As his first act of state, the newly crowned Ruler of the universe poured out his Spirit upon the church. This is the significance of Pentecost.
When the hearts of Peter's audience were smitten with alarm, the apostle said: 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your chlidren, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.' The 'gift of the Holy Ghost' could mean only the filling with the Spirit mentioned in verse 4. Their whole attention had been riveted on those who were baptized with the Spirit. Peter's whole sermon explained the experience of the disciples who had captured the crowd's attention. To offer them now another gift of the Spirit without a clear distinction would be the height of deception.
Verse 39 speaks of a promise. What promise could Peter mean? Their thoughts had been directed to only one promise for some time. It was the promise of the Holy Spirit cited in verse 33, explained by Joel 2:28-32. It was the very same promise to which Christ had called Peter's attention in 1:4 and for which Peter had waited at Jerusalem! To introduce some second or lesser promise, now that there souls were in distress for their sin of crucifying the Son of God, would have been the lowest form of opportunism. There is but one promise of the Father and one gift of the Holy Spirit throughout Acts 1 and 2.
Now, who was to receive this promise of the Father? What was required of them to be 'baptized with the Spirit'? Verse 39 quite clearly answers the first question and verse 38 the second. The promise discussed thoughout Acts 1 and 2 was not made to an elite corps of extraordinary believers, but to 'as many as the Lord our God shall call'. The promise was not reserved for a more advanced breed of Christians. It applies to all who were and are effectually called into saving union with the exalted Christ.
Every convert shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. After Pentecost there is no second-stage experience, no requirement beyond conversion, demanded as a condition for receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. There is nothing waiting, preparing or experiencing a second work of grace. It is simply, 'Repent, and be baptized . . . and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.' John 7:39 indicates that after Christ was glorified, the Spirit (which flows from men in rivers for abundance) was to be given to them 'that believe'. No qualification beyond simple, saving faith is suggested.
When Peter observed the Spirit fall on the household of Cornelius, it signified to him that 'God hath also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life' (Acts 11:18). His logic was, 'The promise belonged to converts. They have received the promise. Therefore they must be converts'. It ws a radical conclusion for a Jew. But the logic was compelling. Jesus had baptized them with his Spirit; therefore Peter must baptize them with water in the name of Christ, though they were not circumcised. Again our main interest is in the coincidence of conversion and baptism with the Spirit.
In every Bible passage which mentions Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit, there is a contrast with John's water baptism. John was the last prophet of the old covenant. Jesus baptized with the Spirit as the new covenant Prophet. Old Testament Scriptures had predicted the baptism with the Spirit would be a distinctive blessing of the new covenant. Baptism with the Spirit then must bring to every member of Christ's church all the blessings comprehended in the essential distinction between old covenant blessings and new covenant experience.
The Spirit poured forth by the exalted Savior has brought all believers to a higher plane of spiritual life and understanding than that which was experienced by Old Testament saints. Of this we are told in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:10-13. Baptism with the Spirit certainly involves a greater cleasning of the heart, and writing of God's law upon the heart, and the abiding of the Spirit in believers as foretold in Ezekiel 36:22-27.
The contrast is not absolute; for the Spirit was present and working in the lives of believers before Pentecost. As Jesus declared before his death, in John 14:17, the Spirit already dwelt with his disciples. But there is a decided contrast. Because of Christ's exaltation there is a fulness of blessing, an effusion of the Spirit, and a presence of the Spirit unknown in times past. Since Pentecost, all of God's promises in the covenant of grace have come to fuller realization in men's hearts by the Spirit.
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