That brings me to the most practical matter of all, the authority of the Holy Spirit in evangelism, and in witnessing. Here we consider the task of taking the truth out into the world among those who are not believers. I remember once reading a phrase in an article written by a man about a meeting in which he had listened to two speakers. It was a political, not a religious meeting, but what he said about those two speakers came to me as a conviction from the Holy Spirit. He said that, as he listened to the two men, he felt that this was the main difference between them: the first had spoken brilliantly as an advocate; the second had spoken as a witness. And I asked myself, which am I? Am I an advocate of these things or am I a witness? You can be an advocate of Christianity without being a Christian. You can be an advocate of these things without experiencing them. If you have intelligence, if you have been rightly trained, you can understand the Scriptures in a sense, and you can lay them out before others. You can present all the arguments, you can put the case for a kind of Christian philosophy. And it may sound wonderful. But you may be standing outside the true experience of it the whole time. You may be talking about something which you do not really know, about Someone you have never met. You are an advocate, perhaps even a brilliant advocate. But note what the Lord said to the apostles: ‘Ye shall be my witnesses.’
Let us then work this out together. What the Holy Ghost does with His authority is to make us witnesses. I have already shown how our Lord Himself needed this authority before He could preach, do His mighty works and exercise His ministry. The same is true of His disciples. After the resurrection, just before the ascension, our Lord came to these men who had been with Him for three years and said: ‘But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth’ (Acts i. 8). Do we realize the full significance of that? Here were men who had been with Him for three years. They knew Him intimately, they had listened to His sermons, they had seen His miracles. They had stood there and had watched Him as He died upon the cross. They had seen Him buried in the grave. They knew that He had risen from the dead. He had spoken to them, and He had eaten the broiled fish and honey with them. They had had contact with Him during the forty days and He had taught and instructed them about Himself (see Luke xxiv). If ever men were in a position to testify to the resurrection and to all the facts about the Lord, it was these disciples. And yet what our Lord told them is that they would be quite unable to do it until they had been baptized with the Holy Ghost. Even they could not witness to Him and His works, about who He was and what He had done, until they had received the power. Knowledge of the facts is not enough. Before you can witness effectively there must be this power of the Holy Spirit.
The disciples received that power on the day of Pentecost. The result was, of course, that Peter began to preach immediately with boldness, authority and power, and three thousand were converted. We read in Acts iv that the authorities could not dispute the boldness with which Peter and John bore witness to the resurrection and said these things. It was nothing but a manifestation of the Holy Ghost. The same Peter who had been so nervous and so apprehensive (indeed, who had been such a coward that, because he was afraid of losing his life, he had denied his own Lord, his greatest Friend and Benefactor), now stands up with boldness ready to confront the whole world and all the devils in hell, and proclaims this Jesus whom he had so recently denied, saying: ‘I don’t know him. I don’t belong to him.’ What is this? The authority of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit manifesting His authority in an extraordinary manner.
We read later that after these men had been arrested and had become free again, they met together and had a prayer meeting (Acts iv. 23-33). ‘When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.’ That is His authority. When He comes upon a meeting, He not only takes hold of men: He can even shake walls and buildings. Again, in Acts iv. 33 we find that ‘with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.’ What was the secret of their power? That they were able to argue scientifically that resurrection is possible? That they were able to reconcile the miraculous with the scientific? No! It was the authority and power of the Holy Ghost turning these men into living witnesses who were irresistible. ‘And great grace was upon them all.’
As you read further in the Acts of the Apostles, you find exactly the same thing happening in the mighty ministry of the apostle Paul. On one occasion when Paul was preaching he was resisted by a man called Elymas, the sorcerer. What happened? ‘Then Saul, . . . filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him (Elymas), and said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand’ (see Acts xiii. 9 ff.). Such is the authority given by the Holy Spirit to the servant of God.
There are certain specific statements in Scripture which define this quite clearly. Take for instance I Corinthians ii. I am of the opinion that for Evangelicals today this chapter is in many ways the most important single chapter in the whole Bible. Look at this colossus of a man, Paul, who had one of the greatest minds the world has ever known. There is no question about that, judged from any standpoint. And yet Paul tells us that when he went to Corinth he was ‘in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling’. He did not bounce on to a platform radiating self-confidence and self-assurance and authority. And he did not let off a few jokes to put himself right with the congregation. He was not perfectly at ease, a ‘master of assemblies’. ‘Weakness, fear and much trembling.’ Why? Because Paul knew his own limitations. He knew what he could not do, and he was terrified, indeed he trembled, lest in any way he or his personality might come between those souls and this tremendous message which had been committed unto him. He did not put on things which he knew would appeal to them. He did the exact opposite. He determined ‘not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.’ Moreover, he says, ‘My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.’ Both with regard to his matter and manner he would not pander to the popular taste. And the result was that when he spoke, though some might say that ‘his speech was contemptible’, there was power, and men and women were convicted and converted, became Christians and were established in the Church. What was the secret? It was ‘the demonstration of the Spirit and of power’. It was this Holy Ghost authority. In I Thessalonians i. the apostle puts it thus: ‘For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.’ I believe that the assurance was in the apostle as well as in the people who believed. It was not the mere word of man. They were not listening to a mere human exposition. He did not set forth some new and strange philosophy. It was the Word of God that came ‘in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance’.
The apostle Peter says exactly the same thing. He talks in I Peter i. 12 about the ‘things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.’ It is ‘with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven’ that the gospel is preached with assurance and conviction, with authority and with power.
Surely this is the greatest need at the present time? Go back and read the history of the great revivals in the Church, and you will find that this power of the Holy Ghost and authority is always present. Two hundred years ago a great evangelical awakening was witnessed in England, in America, in Scotland and in Wales. One of the leaders in Wales was a man called Howell Harris. As you read his journals you find that he keeps on saying something like this: ‘Arrived at such and such a place; preached. Felt the old authority.’ Then another time he says that when he preached in a certain place, ‘No authority’. It grieved him and he was unhappy. He fell down before God, searched his heart and confessed his sin and sought ‘the authority’ again. He was never happy unless he was aware of ‘the authority’. It was always the same message, but that was not enough without the authority. He knew that preaching, in a sense, was vain apart from ‘the authority’.
One cannot read the journals of Whitefield and of Wesley without finding exactly the same thing. I remember reading in the journals of Whitefield a statement which he makes of what happened while he was preaching in Cheltenham. This is how he expressed it, ‘The Lord came down amongst us.’ The authority! ‘There was a shout of a King amongst us’, he said on another occasion. And John Wesley constantly expresses the same thought. That was the essence of his experience in the meeting at Aldersgate in London when he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’. It was from that moment that he had this authority, with the result that his ministry was entirely transformed. Jonathan Edwards experienced exactly the same thing. Dwight L. Moody is also a special instance of this matter. It was after that experience while he was walking down Wall Street in New York City, when the Holy Ghost came upon him, that Moody received his authority. He preached the sermons he had preached before, but they were transformed. Why? He now had the authority of the Spirit.
It is unmistakable. I remember reading again in Whitefield’s journal of his first visit to Northampton, Massachusetts, the first time he met the saintly Jonathan Edwards. Whitefield remarks that he would never forget how, as he had the privilege of standing and preaching in the pulpit, he noticed that Edwards listened to him with tears streaming down, and a most heavenly smile upon his face. Why was it? It was not merely the preaching of Whitefield, matchless orator though he was. Jonathan Edwards was experiencing the authority of the Holy Spirit. He had known it for himself. He could see it in his brother, his fellow-servant of God, and he was rejoicing in it. It is a wonderful thing when a preacher can enjoy another man’s preaching as much as his own. Nothing but the Holy Ghost can do that for him.
Let me end this section with one further story. There was an old preacher in Wales about one hundred and fifty years ago who was invited to preach at a preaching convention held in a little town. The people had already assembled, but the preacher had not come. So the local minister and other leaders sent a maid back to the house where the preacher was staying to tell him that they were waiting for him and that everything was ready. The girl went and when she came back she said: ‘I did not like to disturb him. He was talking to somebody.’ ‘Oh’, said they, ‘that is rather strange, because everybody is here. Go back and tell him that it is after time and that he must come.’ So the girl went back again and again she returned and reported, ‘He is talking to somebody.’ ‘How do you know that?’ they asked. She answered: ‘I heard him saying to this other person who is with him, “I will not go and preach to those people if you will not come with me”.’ ‘Oh, it is all right’, replied the ministers. ‘We had better wait.’
The old preacher knew that there was little purpose in his going to preach unless he knew of a certainty that the Holy Ghost was going with him and giving him authority and power. He was wise enough, and had sufficient spiritual discernment, to refuse to preach until he knew that he had his authority, and that the Holy Ghost was going with him and would speak through him. You and I, however, often preach without Him, and all our cleverness and learning, and all our science and all our apologetics lead to nothing because we lack the authority of the Holy Ghost.
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