The Presence and Work of the Holy Spirit

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Holy Spirit's Power

The familiar passage of Scripture, in the fourth chapter of the prophecies of Zechariah... the prophecies of Zechariah chapter 4:

"And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep. And he said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have seen, and, behold, a candlestick all of gold, with its bowl upon the top of it, and its seven lamps thereon; there are seven pipes to each of the lamps, which are upon the top thereof; and two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof. And I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord? Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain; and he shall bring forth the head stone with shoutings of Grace, grace, unto it. Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things? For they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel; even these seven which are the eyes of the Lord, they run to and fro through the whole earth."

We could hardly fail to link with that tenth verse the so familiar words of Acts 1:8: "Ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you..." "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit saith the Lord of Hosts." Power... by the Holy Spirit.

The thing which we all feel the need of, perhaps more than anything else, the thing which the church of God needs more than anything else: power. The declaration is made by the Lord Himself, "Ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you... by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts". If, as is so much the case, we are conscious of powerlessness, of our weakness, and of the weakness of the people of God generally, of the church in this world, it is useless to bemoan the weakness and deplore the lack of power; the need is to enquire why it is, to discover the causes, the reasons, the meaning, for evidently it is not the Lord's will. It's contrary to His own declared intention for His people.

When Israel met that great setback at Ai after Jericho, Joshua prostrated himself before the Lord, and cried unto the Lord. The Lord in effect said to Joshua: "In defeat and failure it is useless to cry unto Me! The thing to do is to find out why, to investigate the reason. I can't do anything," the Lord virtually said, "However much you cry, I can do nothing until you have laid your hand upon the cause, brought it to light. When you've done that, and the thing is exposed and dealt with, then the obstacle is removed and we can go on. And the power of further mighty conquest can be renewed and restored." And so it does become necessary in a day of defeat, and limitation, and weakness - loss and lack of power, to find out why.

Now, we are not going to spend a lot of time on uncovering the faults, failures, wrongs that may be in us or in the church, but there are some things which in a general way would be well to take note of. As those of us who feel the situation most acutely, and in our responsibility for the Lord's interests and the Lord's people think about the situation and about the matters of the people of God, some things do press upon our consciousness and recognition that may be profitable to mention here this evening. And I feel that I shall find a considerable amount of agreement when I say that perhaps the greatest, or amongst the greatest, of our needs, the needs of the people of God in our own time, now, and even here, is a new apprehension and appreciation of the great basic realities of our life and position as Christians.

Our second hymn this evening contained some of the most wonderful things of which it is possible for man to conceive. When you went through that hymn, singing it (I have no doubt with all good meaning and heart) I wondered how much we were alive to the tremendous things that were passing through our lips: "No spot of guilt on me remains..." A mere fragment in a long hymn, but what a mighty thing for any mortal, human part of this creation to say: "No spot of guilt on me remains... while Jesus' blood through earth and sky..." do you see what I mean? I feel, dear friends, that we take so much for granted; almost as a matter of course. It has become so familiar, so oft repeated, and yet it is true. It is true that true and genuine believers, born from above believers, children of God, are God's mightiest miracle in this universe. Every one is the embodiment of the greatest thing that ever God has done!

We've only to run our fingers over the features and factors of our faith, our Christian doctrine, and mention them one by one. And in every single instance and aspect we are dealing with, we are in the presence of an immensity that will take all eternity, all eternity, the ages of the ages, to comprehend. Every one. Again, we are not going to do that. We could think back into the eternal counsels of God and find ourselves in that foreknowledge, foreordination, predestination, "...chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world". Can you comprehend that? I say it will take all of eternity to compass that one thing! The incarnation of the Son of God... that has defeated and defied all human attempts and efforts to explain, and define, and comprehend. God, infinite and eternal God, found in human form, comprehended in a Man. Do you understand that? That's the mystery of God. So we go on.

We have said: "While Jesus' blood cried through earth and sky", have we ever yet, shall we ever fathom, exhaust and measure the infinite value and virtue of that precious Blood? Born again, from above, of the Holy Spirit. Why, Nicodemus was the teacher in Israel, and had a vast amount of knowledge in the things of God, but that beat him. That absolutely put him out of court; he stood before that with a mighty question, "How? How? How?" I could go on like that. Dear friends, you and I, as children of God, are supposed to be the embodiment of these things. This is our faith, not a creed, not something objective to ourselves; something that has made us, constituted us, is a part of us. So I repeat: the great need in the matter of recovery of power may very well be a recovery of the wonder and greatness of the things which have become so commonplace to us that we can hear them, sing them, and never feel the thrill, never feel startled by a single clause that has eternity in it. True, isn't it? It's true. And among the many, many things of which that is true I think one of the major things is the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit... sent forth by God from heaven to indwell the children of God, to indwell the church of God. The Holy Spirit! Do you not feel that we take the Holy Spirit too much for granted? When we come to discuss this as a subject, what do we say? Well, in controversy over it, its many interpretations, many designations, we resolve the thing so often by saying, "Well, of course every born anew child of God has the Holy Spirit!" And that's, so often, the beginning and the end of it; that is what it amounts to. If we are really born anew from above by our new birth we receive the Holy Spirit, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within. Yes, yes! Agreed, but the Holy Spirit - God the Holy Spirit, an equal member of the Divine Trinity, very Jehovah in equality, God of all the ages, the God of heaven and earth, God over all; God! Infinite in power, infinite in wisdom, infinite in grace, and much more, much more which we may see in these days. That One resident within you, as you sit there where you are, and in me, as I stand here where I am. Is that Christian truth? Is that the teaching of the Scripture? Is that the revelation of the Word of God? Is it?

Don't you agree, we need to recover something with a new apprehension and a new appreciation of the greatness of the fundamental things of our very faith? "Ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you". "By My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" and not the Lord of earthly hosts, because, as you notice, the margin there says, "Not by an army." Not by an army, not by earthly and worldly hosts, and they have done great things in history and can do great things in this world. But, says the Lord, "Not, not that". And I see in this an invidious comparison between that "Not... but". An army? Well, look at some of the armies in the Bible; look at the great army of Sennacharib spread over the land. Look at the hosts of the Midianites, the Amalekites and all the children of the east, "like locusts", it says, covering the earth. Was it by an army over against an army, three hundred up against a host like that, that Gideon gained the day? "Not by an army, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of (other) hosts", those hosts that Elisha's servant saw when his master prayed his eyes open: "the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof", the Lord of greater hosts than all the hosts of men.

Power by the Holy Spirit

It's a romantic story of the forces, the immense forces, that have lifted themselves against the Lord of Hosts - empires and their Caesars, their rulers, straddling the path of the onward movement of the Spirit of God and where are they? Where are they? God determined His Son as the Heir of all things, the Heir of this world... He made it for Him. And again and again men have lifted themselves up to take world dominion to themselves. And what an exhibition of power they have made, what shouts and screams they have given forth in their assertion of their power and ability to take the earth, to take the nation. Where are they? Where are the Caesar's who did it? Where is the Hitler, and the Mussolini, and the others, who made a bid for the inheritance of God's Son: world dominion? The same fate awaits those today who are on the same business, and all who will follow them. "By My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts", the Lord of Hosts. Where are they? Where is the Holy Spirit? He is still intact, He is still on the field, He is still pursuing the Divine purpose. Power by the Holy Spirit... and we are so weak, so impotent, so powerless; almost helpless, aren't we? What's wrong?

I ask again, it may be this: it is not that we so much need God to send the Holy Spirit, which He has done, and He is here; it may be that we just need to recognise more clearly and grasp more livingly the tremendous thing that God has done in sending the Spirit. How great the Spirit of God is! There will ever and always remain the mystery and the wonder that defeats our intellectual powers to explain. We'll never be able to comprehend with our human mind this thing, and yet to have some perception of the fact of it, is essential to power. When that was really recognised at any time, people were down on their faces in the presence of God the Holy Spirit. Broken. Yes, that's not just language, look at them, look at them! Down prostrate... in adoring worship and wonder....

Oh friends, this is what has been coming home to me, this, amongst so many matters, is a matter for us to bring back into its right realm. When the Holy Spirit came, in His advent, on what is called "the day of Pentecost", they were filled with amazement! Everybody said, "What is this? What is it?" The old question about the manna, defeating all powers of definition, explanation, and recognition came here with this visitation from heaven. "What is this?" They were amazed! They were perplexed. All their mental powers broke down before this in an effort to give an explanation. Now, I am not saying that we've got to have another experience of Pentecost like that. All I am saying, dear friends, and yet it's a big enough thing to say, is that we do need to recover something of the wonder of the Holy Spirit having come, and being with us, and being in us. It's going to make such a large number of changes in us; it's going to have so many effects through us, not all pleasant, true, but better. Better for men to be antagonistic to something that is really of God, than to be able to ignore the presence of God because there's nothing to take note of.

Well, I was saying that amongst the many things needed to be recovered in the wonder of the faith of the Christian, is the wonder of the Holy Spirit. It would be no exaggeration to say that this is a matter that could occupy us without monotony, and without repetition, for a year of days. I thought about it, I could see quite easily fifty-two evenings through the year, once a week, filled to the full with this matter alone: the meaning of the Holy Spirit. And I suppose that's limiting the Holy Ghost even to put it like that.

Well now, come for a few minutes to this, where we have taken our Scriptures in Zechariah and in Acts chapter 1. Just in broad outline without the closer examination that must come, there are these things: there was a task before the Lord's people in both instances, on both occasions.

A Task

They were conscious of being in a purpose of God. For them, relationship with God was not a matter of believing certain truths, performing certain rites, going through a certain ritual, attending services and going away having done their duty. For the people of God (and this is true, or should be true, of all people of God in all ages if they are really alive to the meaning of their relationship with God) for them, in the days of Zechariah and in the days of the Acts, the thing which controlled their consciousness, that mastered, and gripped their awareness as the Lord's people, was that they were bound and horizoned by a Divine purpose. In the Old Testament it may have been represented in symbolic form or form of type, but lying behind that was the spiritual reality. They inwardly were aware that this thing represented a Divine thought, a Divine desire. It contained a Divine meaning. It stood related to God in purpose, and so they were a people in the grip of this sense of being a people apprehended by God for a purpose, for a work, for an achievement of God; they were in it.

That was true of this remnant that had come back from the exile. Weak, feeble, but nevertheless unable to turn from this business, this Divine business, and just settle down in the land and cultivate their fields, and their vineyards and the rest. The central thing was this that was so near to the heart of God, representing this eternal thought of God. They were in the grip of that. We know how true that was at the beginning of the book of the Acts as they waited during those ten days after the Lord's ascension. There is little doubt that they were in the grip of a sense of having been laid hold of for a purpose. Whatever may have happened when He was crucified, in the devastation of vision and out­look and hope, during the forty days that had been recovered and restored, and during those ten days up to the fiftieth, they were men gripped together; people possessed by some thing that was to be, some thing in the purpose of God that was ahead. A mighty controlling anticipation, expectation and if they were under command to wait, to tarry until... you may take it for granted that it was a restive waiting, it was a stretched out waiting. As it says, "they continued steadfastly", the word meaning, "stretched out, extended"! It is a picture word of the head thrust forward, looking, waiting, reaching out - something has laid hold of them; there is something to be.

That is how the Lord's people ought ever to be because God is a forward looking God. He has not reached His end yet. God is an expectant God: God with anticipation, God who is reaching on toward an end, who is moved Himself, governed by what is so often called "the eternal purpose". Purpose! He is the purposeful God. His people who come under His apprehending hand ought to be like that in spite of all set-backs, and discouragements, and frustrations, and oppositions, and difficulties, and conscious self-helplessness and impo­tence. There ought to be in us this sense, God-given sense, that there is yet something in the purpose of God intended, and we're in it, we're a part of it. That is the meaning of vision; it's like that.

Again, I am making statements; as I have been saying, I am stating Divine truth. Sitting there, how do you feel about that? Do you assent with your mind? Yes. Do you agree to the proposition, the suggestion, the idea? Do you like it? But, is that enough friends? Is it really in us? Called according to His purpose. The purposeful God; that's the beginning of the Spirit of God. That is where the Spirit of God begins! If you have had anything of a real experience of being translated out of the authority of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of God's love, or, put that same experience in any of the many ways in which it is put, if you really have had an experience of salvation, of new birth (put it as you will) that crisis in the life which means transition from an old to a new; is it not true, whether you have been able to put it into words and define it or not, is it not true that the first consciousness of your new experience has been, "There's something to live for that I never had before. Now I sense that there is some meaning in life that I never sensed before!" Is that not true? It's the beginning of the work of the Spirit in a life, to constitute us according to the God of purpose.

Here then, were these people in the days of the return from captivity. Here were these people at the beginning of the church era (the book of the Acts) very conscious of meaning, purpose, call, apprehension by God. And yet... in both cases, in both instances, a consciousness that it could never be achieved unless God Himself came and did it. Look at them after the captivity: this little, weak, despised, beset remnant. You've got, of course, to read with Zechariah the book of Ezra; they go together. Purpose? Yes, no doubt about it, they've come back with that.

But... look what's up against us; look what's up against us! Look what we're up against in ourselves... what are we? What can we accomplish? What can we do? Look at the forces we have to contend with within and without. And the same Holy Spirit who caused the stories to be written, has taken pains to let it be seen that there was plenty to be overcome if this was to be done. Why this in our passage? "Who art thou, oh great mountain?" Oh great mountain. What was the mountain? We can't be sure in the case of the remnant, we can make some guesses perhaps, quote some passages that might relate. But taking the whole situation as we read, in Ezra, and later in Nehemiah, there's a mountain good and high.

A Great Mountain

The Lord calls it a great mountain. Sometimes what we call great mountains are very little things with the Lord, but the Lord here says, "Oh great mountain... I know how great the difficulty, I know how strong the opposition, I know the fury and the subtlety of the enemy... oh great mountain!"

The church was con­fronted with a great mountain; the Lord had taken account of that mountain when He said: "If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed and be thou cast into the sea". What was He talking about? The thing that dogged the steps of the apostle Paul over the whole area of his missionary journeys: Judaism! Tracking him down. Working by every subtle and often diabolical means to prejudice his ministry and message and destroy his influence; that Judaism that was up against the Lord Jesus Himself. And at last, at last (speaking from the human and earthly side) brought Him to the cross. That's a mountain; that's a mountain, but "Who art thou, oh great mountain?" A great mountain, and a little, weak, helpless remnant! "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts". And mark you, by the end of the life of the apostle Paul, that mountain had been laid low. The letter to the Galatians is the letter, is it not, of the Holy Spirit - the Holy Spirit. And it was that weapon that struck a mortal blow at Judaism.

Yes, well, the temple was finished, and the wall was completed, in spite of the great mountain. But what am I saying? How helpless the people are in themselves, therefore how necessary that God comes in if the purpose which has gripped them is to be realised. The necessity of the Holy Spirit... Jesus knew it. You see, He was meeting this opposition every day of His life! It was resisting Him wherever He went. Oh, what a force it was that was up against Him, both human and Satanic. He met it. Then there came that evening when He sat down with His disciples at the table, (13th of John) and began to speak. They arose and left the table and went out and He began to talk further, and talked through all those chapters, as we have His talk, John 14, 15, 16 and 17. He prayed. What is He doing? He has taken the measure of the forces that are going to be up against them in this world. He has met those forces Himself, and He knows that His church is going to meet them wherever it goes with its testimony to Him. Yes, it's a tremendous thing that confronts them - this world, this world, this world! Listen to Him in that prayer, chapter 17: "the world... the world... the world..."! What a force it is, as in the grip of the evil powers. He knew!

But what is He doing in this long conversation and discourse? What is the thing to which He heads everything else up? "When He the Spirit is come!" All 16, chapter 16 and a lot more of 16, is on the coming Holy Spirit: "It is expedient for you that I go away, if I go not away the Paraclete will not come. But if I go, I will send Him unto you, and when He is come..." In a word, the great mountain will find its match and its master. "And you, little flock... you... so weak, so small, so helpless in yourself... will, because you will receive power, the Holy Spirit coming upon you, will be equal to the situation, and more than equal." The Holy Spirit. See, He has pointed to the way in which a feeble people in the earth, with every mighty force in this world against them, can accomplish the purpose of their calling: the Holy Spirit. Oh, how great, how wonderful, the Holy Spirit!

There, then, is the task. There, then, is the need. There, then, is the adequacy of the Holy Spirit to meet it. But, there's another point on which I am going to close, where, as I said at the beginning, there needs to be recovery on our part. We make very much of course, and rightly so, of the sovereignty of God. It's a very comforting truth, it's a very strengthening doctrine, it's a wonderful reality - the sovereignty of God. Do you not think, dear friends, that it's just possible to leave too much to the sovereignty of God? Don't misunderstand me, what I mean is this, "Oh well, God is God, the Creator of the heavens and earth; He is on the throne of the universe. He has in His hand all power. He has purposed, and He can and will accomplish His purpose. All we have to do is to trust that sovereign power and wisdom of God!" And, in effect, sit down in our armchair and wait for the sovereignty of God to do it. Now, of course, you wouldn't, and I wouldn't put it like that, yet, here is a point of peril. Here's a point of peril. We have got to recognise that, although all that is true of God, and much more in the same realm, alongside of that, alongside of that there is ranged, what? Well, with these hundred and twenty after He had gone to the throne, a continuing steadfastly in prayer about what? This that He had promised - the coming Spirit, and the power by the coming Spirit. Doubtless day and night through those ten days, that fixed period, they were stretched out on this matter. He has said it! And is there not much more like that that indicates...

[Unfortunately the message ends here.]

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