Reading: Acts 2:1-47.
With Acts 2 open before us, with no particular fragment for the moment, we shall seek by the Lord's enablement to enter into some of the deeper meaning of the great thing which is there recorded: the outpouring from on high of the Holy Spirit. We are all very much concerned with this matter, and our prayer is continually to the Lord that we might enter into this great reality experimentally, in a fuller and deeper way. I am quite sure that this chapter has all of our hearts.
I have been meditating upon some of the great differences between the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit in the New, and I think I find in that contemplation the answer to all our questions and the way for the satisfying of all of our desires, or the entrance into the enjoyment of that for which we are constantly stretching out to the Lord in the matter of the Life of the Spirit. And in this little while in which we are together, as the Lord gives His grace and help, I will seek to bring to you one, two, or three of these great, these vital differences upon which there hangs so much for us and the Lord's people. They are, of course, very simple and almost obvious. That does not take away from their importance.
And the first of these is in the aspect which both represent. We have much in the Old Testament about the Holy Spirit. We are told of the Holy Spirit coming upon people, and we are told of the Holy Spirit being in people. We are told of many things which people did by the power and the equipment of the Holy Spirit. But when we have summarised all that the Old Testament has to say in the matter, we find that there abides, as it were in the very atmosphere, a sense of incompleteness, a sense of things being imperfect, a sense of something which has yet to be in this connection. And as we move on towards the later history of the Old Testament and come to the prophets, we find that there is always the forward-looking aspect in this matter, looking on. Joel, quoted in Acts 2, is the forward look: "It shall come to pass afterward..." Isaiah has a great deal to say about the day when the Spirit comes and what will be the result. Ezekiel is full of the coming Spirit. And other prophets have the same note and the same aspect.
It is all looking on with a sense of the imperfectness, the incompleteness, the partial thing of their knowledge and experience of the Holy Spirit. We might almost say that it has been a fitful experience, nothing abiding, permanent, nothing settled; a coming and a going, a doing and a withdrawing, but an ever-onward pointing towards something more. And the people of God in the Old Testament had no background history which was complete, which was absolute. They could not look back to anything that was final, and so they longed for finality; finality for them, lay ahead. They had had great events in their history to which they did ever and always look back, but they were conscious that the thing was not something done once and for all, and so the heart was still left with longing.
Now, the difference in the aspect of the New Testament from the Old is just there, that in the New Testament everything looks back, everything has to do with a background of fulness and finality that the thing has been done, has been accomplished, and that the fulness has come and is established. And I fear that perhaps one of the weaknesses of our position which in measure hinders the Lord, is our failure to stand upon that; that we are in spirit and mind too often on Old Testament ground, looking on to something instead of apprehending something - looking for something instead of accepting something, craving for something instead of recognising that that something is ours. Now, I said that that is very simple, but it is very vital; it goes right to the heart and root of things. For we today do not stand in hope of something, we should be standing in the certainty of something already accomplished. And it seems to me that the Lord requires that position. He demands it.
I have been trying to enter into the mind and thoughts of the Lord. I doubt whether that is possible to man, but reverently I have this morning been trying to put myself in the Lord's place, and listen to my own prayers, and listen to the prayers of so many of the Lord's people in which I, with them, continually plead with and cry to the Lord for something, unto something, in relation to the Holy Spirit. And in the Lord's place I think I should feel like this: "Why don't these people recognise that it is all done? Why is it that they are so slow in realising that long ago I did the thing forever that they are asking Me to do now?" That is, the Holy Spirit has never in the history of this world before, and will never again in the history of this world, come forth from the Father. Whatever there may be of latter rain, whatever there may be of the activity of the Spirit at the end, beloved, there will never be another Pentecost in that essential sense that the dispensation of the advent of the Holy Spirit begins again.
The Holy Spirit came and He did not go to come again. He is abiding for the age and He is here, not in any more limited sense than He was when He came, for God is not narrowed, Deity is not straitened, the Lord is not curtailed, He does not lose volume or capacity or dimensions with time; He is the same forever. The Holy Spirit is here as much as ever He was here, and if we are failing to know the power and fulness of the Spirit, we have to look elsewhere for the explanation and not in the direction of a new advent of the Spirit. And perhaps one of the directions in which we should look is this very one: that we are on wrong ground, rather on Old Testament ground in mentality, in spirit, in heart, than upon New Testament ground.
Oh, does it not come home to our hearts with fresh force as we just reflect upon it afresh, the Holy Spirit has come, He came long ago and has not gone. The Spirit of the Lord has been poured out, this is the age of the Spirit's advent and abiding. In other words, the Lord is here, and we are constantly asking Him to come. It has been growing upon me for a long time that there is some weakness in our constantly asking the Lord to come. I am not referring to His coming again, but I mean when gathered together we ask the Lord to come into our midst. If only immediately we were together we said in all faith and conviction: "The Lord is here according to His Word that where two or three are gathered together in His Name 'there am I' and He has not to be invited". In that sense, if we were to more strongly believe and take the positive, for granted attitude, that this is the day of the Spirit, and the day of the Spirit is not future it is now, the day of the Holy Spirit is not a future dispensation, this is the day of the Holy Spirit and it is honouring to the Lord to take that position, because any other position in effect says the Lord has not done that which He has done. And that must be spread over all matters.
To begin with, in that simple way, that is a difference of a vital character which carries very much with it, and it must begin to adjust and rectify our attitude and our praying, and of course it must begin to make us look for the explanations of weakness and limitation in this matter in the right direction, and not in the direction of the Lord having failed, or failing now; the Lord not having done His part. He has. I know that there are fresh manifestations of the Spirit, fresh expressions, fresh fillings of the Spirit. For these we long and pray, but the all-inclusive thing is that the Spirit is here and that at any moment He may manifest Himself. You do not have to fix dates, and you do not have to look to any chronological chart. It may be now. Any moment the Spirit may show Himself because He is here. God does not have to open the heavens again in that special sense. He has to bring us into a place where we enter into the enjoyment of what He has already done for us.
We can go on from there with one or two other matters. We are speaking now out from perhaps the deeper content of Acts 2 and that is where we begin. The Spirit has come, and the Lord said about that coming: "He abides with you." Now there are three other great factors which come up as basic to this matter and which lie back of our knowledge and experience of the Holy Spirit.
The first of these three is that:
The Question of all Righteousness has been Fully and Finally Settled.
That also gives character to the difference between the dispensations. In the Old Testament that question was not fully settled and finally settled. It was only dealt with along the line of types and shadows, forecasting, but the real thing was not done. The question of all righteousness was constantly cropping up, and with every fresh daily sacrifice there was the declaration in the very sacrifice that the question of all righteousness was not yet settled. So day by day, week by week, and year by year through literally millions of sacrifices, the question of all righteousness was still unsettled. But the question of all righteousness is now settled, and finally so. Until that question was settled the Holy Spirit could not come to fulfil His peculiar and particular ministry, the age of the Spirit in fulness was not possible.
The ground of the Holy Spirit's coming to do His work is the ground of the final settlement of the whole question of righteousness. And I believe with all my heart that one of the things by which the Adversary of the eternal purpose of God in Christ seeks to frustrate the work of the Holy Spirit in perfecting that thing, is to constantly raise among the Lord's people a doubt about all righteousness, the question of all righteousness. It is a thrust at the very work of the Spirit. It is a thrust at the very character of the dispensation. It is a thrust at the very realisation of God's purpose in Christ when any soul has a doubt about the question of all righteousness being settled.
And this thing which is spreading, and coming up in the heart of so many of the Lord's own children, the question of their standing before God, the question of their acceptance with the Lord, some doubt as to the utterness of their justification with God, some coming in of the dark suggestion of sin unpardonable - all that kind of thing is the work of the other spirit against the Holy Spirit in this age, and the only ground upon which the Holy Spirit has absolute liberty and freedom for us is that we stand where for us the question of all righteousness is fully and finally settled in Christ.
(I am quite sure you are not grasping it or you would respond to that! Let me try and help you into it. Perhaps it is just my way of putting it, or, perhaps it is too familiar - God forbid!).
There is a difference between Adam before the fall, and the justified sinner, and such a difference as to make them absolutely have no correspondence or fellowship. A lot of people think the justified sinner is brought back to the position of Adam before he fell. It is not so. No, we are not brought back to the position of Adam before he fell. If so, we may fall again, and that will not be to the glory of God. The whole history may be repeated, and wherein has God transcended in His new creation, His old creation? Wherein has God attained a better thing in the new creation than in the first creation if He has but brought us back to the place where Adam was before he fell? The difference is such a fundamental one, as immediately we see it to be a mighty power of deliverance. Now, Adam had a righteousness before the fall which was an untested, untried righteousness, and when it was tried and tested it collapsed, it broke down. It was a righteousness that could not go through the test and it failed, and the whole race went down on an untested righteousness which could not stand the test.
The Lord Jesus possesses a righteousness which has been tested out far, far beyond any test that was ever applied to Adam. His righteousness has been subjected to such fires as Adam never dreamt of, but His righteousness has triumphed in the final test where there was no other test. And He has given us that righteousness, that is our righteousness, by faith; a tested, proved, established righteousness.
You see, Christ and Adam have no relationship. They are two realms, two different beings: one in utter weakness without any righteousness and one in supreme power of a righteousness tried and proved. And that righteousness is given to the redeemed sinner, the justified sinner, and he is on different ground altogether from Adam before the fall. And let us remember that the righteousness of Christ which is given to us through faith, never, never fails, never breaks down. It is incapable of breaking down because it has reached the point where there is nothing left that can break it down. What a wonderful position is ours through faith in the Lord Jesus!
Now you see why the Holy Spirit could not come on the old ground; why the dispensation of the fulness of the Spirit was postponed. Because, in the words of the Lord Jesus: "because that Jesus was not yet glorified". The glorifying of the Lord Jesus was upon the basis of the question of all righteousness having been finally settled, and then the Spirit could come.
When you and I begin to be in doubt about the sin and salvation matter, we begin to dispute what Christ has done and what God has offered us, and what the Holy Spirit has come to make good to us; and how can anybody with any kind of weakness on such matters expect to live in the fulness of the Spirit? It is necessary, if we are to enter into the full blessing of the Holy Spirit, that we enter into the full blessing of the all-righteousness question having once and for all been settled. In other words, to enter by faith into our full justification in Christ. That comes up in Acts 2. Read it through with that in your mind and you will see that something has been done, and that accomplishment is registered in heaven by the exaltation of the Lord Jesus, and because of that the Spirit comes, and in fulness. When we recognise that, and enter into that, we are in the way of the Spirit's greater fulness and life and liberty.
This harassing, pursuing, driving, tormenting accuser is always trying to fasten upon us some impingement of condemnation to get in between us and our Lord in the matter of sin. It does not matter what it is, the slightest little thing where we may quite truly, or even in our imagination, have made a mistake. It has only to be an imaginary thing and the enemy is at once there to jump in on that ground to smite us with dark and deadly condemnation: "You have done wrong" and to crush us out with his accusation, to smite us to the ground with a sense of sin. And we allow it to linger, and we go down in our spirit under it, and the Holy Spirit's work is suspended at that point, whereas if we instantly turned to the Lord and recognised that in the precious blood of the Lord Jesus there is our justification, because of our cleansing, and we appropriated that by faith instantly, not condoning sin but regretful, yet holding on to God by faith, the power of the accuser would be broken and the Spirit's life and victory would flow into us and we should rise again. The enemy uses the slightest little thing to create and set up, truly or falsely, to bring a saint under accusation. Ah, but he knows what is bound up with that. The whole meaning of the Spirit's presence, the purpose for which He has come, the whole meaning of Christ's Cross and exaltation, and the whole purpose of God upon this matter of all righteousness.
When the Lord Jesus went to the Jordan, John would have put Him back in his sense of unworthiness, and the Master said: "Suffer it now, for thus it becomes us to fulfil all righteousness." In those words He was pointing on to His cross, to the antitype of Jordan, where in His death, His burial, and His resurrection that question of all righteousness would be fully and finally settled. So this is basic.
This is very important, and you and I have to settle these very elementary things of our faith to give a place to the Holy Spirit. Very elementary, but it is a blessed thing for you and me to really comprehend in a way that we can enjoy it in our hearts, that once and for all the question of all righteousness has been settled for us. That is no small thing, but until we have it in our hearts as a settled thing the Holy Spirit is not free to go on with His work, neither to fill us. How can the Holy Spirit ever have a completely free way in a heart that is doubting its salvation (I am speaking of believers) in a heart that has questions about its justification, or faith to apprehend in an adequate way that it stands before God as just and righteous in Christ? It is the wonder of wonders but nevertheless it is true and we ought to be reassured in our hearts by every reminder of it. You and I, in all that we are in ourselves that we would not be, and all that we are not that we would be, are nevertheless accounted in Christ as utterly righteous by God. It requires a lot of theology to define and explain it, but there is the fact. The Lord Jesus before the very eye of God, in His sinlessness, is the state which you and I have now come to by faith. Let that get in. The Holy Spirit will work on that. The Holy Spirit will take advantage of that position. He will have that free way.
The second of these three things is:
The Exaltation of Christ.
The question of sin and all righteousness has been fully and finally settled and dealt with. That is not an Old Testament position; that is a New Testament position. And then the fact that Christ is exalted comes up out of Acts 2. The Holy Spirit never came until that took place, but when that took place He was not long in tarrying. Ten days - a number which carries its own significance of drawing out the heart and testing the faith in the Lord Jesus, and then the Spirit came, but it was upon the ground that Christ was exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high.
And do you notice that throughout the New Testament in all the preaching, these things are ever kept in view? This thing is brought to the fore invariably. The exalted place of the Christ is a thing which is always brought before the eyes of people there. It is a retrospect. It is something which has happened, something to which they look back, an accomplished fact. Christ is exalted. Christ is at the Father's right hand which is the place of honour and of power. Christ is there as Lord. And it was because that fact (which to us is commonplace in language) with its tremendous implications had come into their souls that they had such an enjoyment of the Spirit's life and fulness. And this matter tests us out, it tests me and it tests you. Sometimes things do seem to dispute that fact.
Very often the forces of evil, the assaults of the devil, and the course of circumstances seem very clearly and strongly to deny that fact, and then we are thrown into a conflict between two things. Are we going to accept things seen, the course of circumstances, the power of the devil, as the primary thing, the ultimate thing? Or do we immediately turn and say that in spite of this the Lord reigns and is on the throne? It is easy to say that on a platform, and for you to hear it and respond to it, but we do not always do it. We allow the swirl of things to hold us in its grip for days, perhaps for weeks before we leap with our affirmation that nevertheless the Lord is on the throne. But whenever we disentangle ourselves from our questionings, doubtings and fears, when we do extricate ourselves from that terrible impact which would swamp us, and make our full and complete affirmation and declaration which carries with it something of a determination that whatever is, we stand by the Lord, the Lord is on the throne, whenever we do that something happens, there is release at least in us if not in the conditions and we come into a new place.
It seems the Holy Spirit immediately takes advantage of that and we come out into a larger place, and now the way is open before us whereas we were hedged in. The Holy Spirit demands the ground of the exaltation of the Lord Jesus, and He could not come until that was established, and He comes on that ground; and He always requires it in us: a steady faith that the Lord Jesus has been exalted to the place of honour and power. There is much more bound up with that than I am able to mention now, but it is something for us to contemplate more fully as an essential for the knowledge of the Spirit in any commensurate and triumphant way.
The third thing is that:
The Church has been Brought into Being.
Now this represents something tremendous, because the church was in the forethought and foreknowledge and forecounselling of God before this world was; and in the thought of God before this world, the church was seen, chosen, predestinated, to be the very instrument and sphere of the realisation of God's eternal purpose - to be for God the satisfaction of His own heart in the thing which He was designing for this universe. And the church was to be the vehicle, means and vessel of the Holy Spirit's fulfilment of all the work of Christ, and the display thereof to the universe. And so, until the church is brought into being, the Holy Spirit does not have what He needs for the purpose of God to fulfil His ministry. And now the church is in being, and the Holy Spirit has got His vessel. But that for us carries a thing or two which I must mention before I close.
It means this, that you and I will only know the Holy Spirit's fulness and free action as we come into our vital place and position in the Body of Christ. The knowledge of the Spirit is bound up with the church which is His Body. That does not mean an institution on the earth which we join, but that does mean that we become spiritually a vital part of the Body of Christ. We have often said that the Holy Spirit is not given by God to a chain of individual units; the Holy Spirit is given to one Body. God never did create man as so many isolated units, He created a race as an organism: "and has made of one blood all nations of men". Now in this church, the Body of Christ, it is not so many links, so many individuals, so many units; it is to one Body that the Holy Spirit is given. It is in the one Body that the full purpose of God is going to be realised. Now set that aside and you are on the highway and main road to delusion and deception, and you will make the most ghastly blunders possible - and a great many have done that, "Oh, there is no time for anything corporate or anything along the line of fellowship. It is now every man for himself. It is for everyone to see they are all right. It is now an individual work." You cannot sweep the Bible away so easily.
You cannot set aside Ephesians with all its content like that. "But the word of the Lord endures forever", and you have to stand by the Word, and if you do not, you expose yourself to deception. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, but as the Spirit of truth He will operate in the vessel which has been chosen of God from all eternity to be the peculiar means and instrument for the revelation of Himself. And it is the church, the Body of Christ which is the peculiar vessel of the Holy Spirit. He was poured upon the Head for all the members, and all the members are anointed in Christ. That is familiar truth to most of you, but it may be we need a little more real spiritual recognition and discernment in relation to the Body of Christ before we come into a fuller knowledge of the Holy Spirit's work and life and fulness.
This is the age of the church, in that Divine and spiritual and eternal sense, and the Lord does not set that aside; He abides by it. Much of our "churchianity" may destroy the true church of the Word of God and overshadow it, but the relationship of the saints as members of one Body, joined to one Head, actuated together by one Spirit, is an essential basis for the fulfilment of the purpose of God by the Spirit. And if we begin to cut ourselves off and get out of fellowship, get into wrong places and so on, we immediately check the work of the Holy Spirit. For Him to have free course means we have to recognise this is the age of the foundation of righteousness fulfilled, the top stone, Christ exalted; and all that goes between, the church His Body. Resting upon all righteousness, crowned with the Head, the Exalted Christ, built together a habitation of God through the Spirit.
Now I will close there, with all the consciousness of the vastness and the range of that, and how much more ought to be said, but I close by one further stress upon the thing which must bring us to our arrest actually when we do not give the Holy Spirit His indispensable free course.
I want to remind you that Adam before the fall laboured, and then had rest; he worked and then had a Sabbath. We begin in a new system entirely, a new order. We start with rest and work out of the energies of that rest. Our rest is from sin, in full justification. Our rest is in the completed work of God. Our rest is in the fulness of Christ's accomplishment and our redemption, and we take our rest there, and then out of the energy of that rest we work.
And the difference, as you notice Paul says in the letter to the Galatians, is that in the Old Testament the Lord's people were servants working for wages. They brought their sacrifices every day, and that was their work for the wages of righteousness, their justification as every day went, depended upon their works. The New Testament position is that we are sons who have the inheritance, and we work because we have an interest in working, not to get righteousness, not labouring as servants to be paid. We have already been paid. The inheritance is ours. We are sons. You see a son working and a servant working and you know the difference. Employ someone to work and you have to pay them their wages. But if the work is that which is yours in interest, because you are a son, the wages question does not arise. It is your interest, your delight, and your energy is in it. We are not working for wages, we have got our wages in full justification, and out of the energy of that, we are working.
We are not justified by works, but being justified we work. That is, we have entered into our rest. But have we? Do we know the vitality and the energy which comes out of having rest? Are we toiling away at this business of salvation and sanctification hoping we shall get the wages some day? You see the different position, the different dispensation; that we, when we come on to God's present position, then the Holy Spirit has a free hand.
The Lord help us to see what is in all the elementary but essential foundations of the Holy Spirit's coming, and the Holy Spirit's operation, and the Holy Spirit's fulness of life, for His Name's sake.