The question considered in a former paper was, What is now, and what has ever been, the secret of spiritual power in any? The attention of the reader was there directed to God's presence in the midst of His redeemed people, and that this apprehended and governing us was and is the secret of spiritual power; i.e. the Spirit of God in us, and God Himself with us, and for us. I would now seek to direct attention to how far this presence of God with His people may be hindered in its manifestation, and how far spiritual power may consequently be thereby lost.
It is evident, whether we look at Old Testament days or New Testament times, that there was not and cannot be spiritual power in us, save by the action of the Holy Ghost. Then, as now, where spiritual power was manifested in an individual or in a company, He wrought it. We see the first in such a case as that of Samson (Judges 13:25; Judges 14:6, 19, etc.), and again in Zech. 4:6; and the second in that of Israel (already quoted), in Psalm 114, and Haggai 2:5, etc.
Now two things are true as to the Holy Ghost, since His descent on the day of Pentecost: 1st, He dwells in the individual believer (1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:13; Acts 2:3, 4); and 2nd, He dwells in the assembly (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; Eph. 2:22; 1 Cor. 12:4, 11, 13, 28, 29, etc.). On these two facts, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the individual believer, and His presence in the assembly of God, two important exhortations are founded in the New Testament: 1st, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30); and 2nd, "Quench not the Spirit." (1 Thess. 5:19.) "God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God." (Psalm 62:11.) And it is well for us ever to remember this, lest pride occupy us with the vessel and what is wrought, rather than with its Author. He ever abides the same, whatever be the state of the vessel - whether it be an assembly or an individual. Ah! it is well for poor man, for us, ever to remember this, "Power belongeth unto God."
But redemption being wrought out, and Jesus glorified, necessities for the descent and dwelling down here of the Holy Ghost, power came down (see John 7:39; Acts 2:33), He descended (Acts 2:4) to work in testimony in the assembly of God, and in the individual believer, and to "abide for ever." (John 14:16, 17 15:26, 27.) "Power from on high" (Luke 24) is down here on earth, and will ever abide (Acts 1:8); not a mere influence, but a person - one whose influence is felt. The redeemed of the Lord need a leader, and they need power; and He came to be both, and He is both for us, as was said in an earlier day to Joshua. "As captain of the Lord's host am I now come," and what is this to me? "Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so." Reader, is it thus with thee and with me? Oh the liberty and joy of such a moment! and the peace of soul that I (though one of the redeemed) can only know, as I learn in His presence that "power belongeth unto God!" "God is greater than man . . . He giveth not account of any of His matters." (Job 33.) And while it is true that by the Holy Ghost God dwells in, and desires to act in the assembly, and also in the individual believer, His actions are not limited to these, though He is primarily here to act in these two; and when His action is hindered in either, it is clear that there is something wrong. But, as always, so now, God can act, and does act, as He will, and in whom He will. So in the world outside He used an unconverted Balaam, and spoke when He chose, through a dumb ass. (Num. 24:2.) And thus, too, He used Saul, the son of Kish, though he was not himself the Lord's. (1 Sam. 10:6, 10; and 16:14, etc.) Again, He can use, in New Testament days, those of whom He will have to say, "I never knew you;" though they themselves may boast, "In thy name we have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works" (Matt. 7:22, 23); and to this class, doubtless, Judas Iscariot must belong, who was one of the twelve. (Compare with this last-named Scripture Matt. 10:2, 4, 8.)
But besides using an unconverted man, God can also use one who is a believer, but who may not be intelligent as to what the Holy Ghost is bringing out through him. Thus in past ages holy men of God spake as they were moved of the Holy Ghost, themselves not always understanding their own utterances. (See 1 Peter 1:10, 11, 12; and 2 Peter 1:19, 20, 21.) So was it also in 1 Cor. 14:14, where one using the gift of tongues may possibly pray in the Spirit, while the understanding may remain "unfruitful;" and this the apostle seeks to correct. In the spirit one might, thus speaking, "speak mysteries;" but the apostle would rather speak five words with his understanding in the assembly. He says, "I will pray with the Spirit, but I will pray with the understanding also." In the Old Testament communications, and again when they used the gift of tongues, it did not always happen that the "understanding" of the speaker grasped the import of his message; but now the word of God is complete (Col. 1:25), His purposes all revealed (Rev. 22:18, 19), and the vessel should understand the mind of the Spirit, and should be in perfect harmony with the mind of Him who uses it. "We have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16), so that while to them it was said, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man to conceive" (Isaiah 64); to us today it is said, "God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." (1 Cor. 2:9-12.) It is only "he that is spiritual" that discerneth the "all things" in this passage, or grasps the Spirit's mind.
It has become necessary to draw the attention of believers to these two facts; for they are sometimes challenged: 1st, That God can use even an unconverted man if He so please; and 2nd, That He can also use a converted man, when he who is so used may not under stand what the Spirit is communicating through him. Let us remember these things, lest we be found unintentionally guilty in these days of that early sin of the house of Jacob named in Psalm 78:41. They "limited the Holy One of Israel." But we must remember that if the Holy Ghost thus uses one unconverted, or again one who lacks "understanding" though converted, these are now the abnormal actings of the Spirit. He desires rather to use the believer, and he who, being himself of full age, has the understanding developed, so that He can identify the one used with Himself. So likewise He desires to act in, and to identify the assembly with, His actions. (Rev. 22:17.) The Spirit abides on earth for ever, as we have seen, and is "power from on high." And God desires that the believer should be "filled with the Spirit." (Eph. 5:18.) In himself he is an empty vessel, yet he remembers (wondrous truth) that "he that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit." (1 Cor. 6:17.) His desire for every believer then is that He may be "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man." (Eph. 3) Was it not manifest in Stephen, a man full of the Holy Ghost, and full of faith and power?" who, being thus "full of the Holy Ghost" (a power not of man, but which filled the poor vessel), could calmly yield to be stoned to death for Christ's testimony, and by those too who did "always resist the Holy Ghost," yet he in the moments of bodily anguish was enabled, like His Master, to pray for his murderers. Here the power of the Holy Ghost is seen so acting as to identify itself with the vessel, the two being practically one" one Spirit." Now a disregard of the exhortation, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God" (to which we will now return), hinders the action of the Holy Ghost, and prevents His thus manifesting His power in the vessel to so sustain it - that it is, not sometimes, but daily seen to be sustained (John 4:14) by those who know nothing of the secret. (Psalm 25:14.) While, as of old (for the power abides), if the Spirit guide and direct all that is said and done in the assembly, being ungrieved and unquenched, the power is felt there; it is one voice, and one unbelieving falling down must own it and confess that "God is among you of a truth." (1 Cor. 14:25; Rev. 22:17 - 1st sentence.)
And further, and what is of all importance, my own individual enjoyment as a believer, of the ministry of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter (John 14:17, 20, 26; John 16:13, etc.), which is my portion until I am with the Lord, must depend on my not grieving the Holy Ghost; and my present peace and rest of spirit (and the consequent manifestation of them) derived from Him - a power that keeps me superior to surrounding influences - depends on this too; for God is in no way hindered in His communion with a faithful soul, whatever may be the confusion and evil, either among the Lord's people or in the world, of the day in which he may be living. To deny this is to say God is overcome of evil (see Rev. 3:20); while the power for blessing and edification of a gathered company (where manifested) will as surely depend on the unquenched presence and action of the Holy Ghost in their midst; for in both "power belongeth unto God."
The source of spiritual power, then, God present by His Spirit, is continuous; the manifestation of it is not necessarily so, but dependent. May we challenge our hearts, as the day darkens, as to these two things: first, What is there in me individually? and, secondly, What is there among us as a company, which hinders the manifestation of spiritual power? And first let us keep continuously in mind that, notwithstanding the point to which, as a Christian, any one of us has attained in past days - and there are attainments (Phil. 3:16); who among us will boast of them? - there is no such thing as the present enjoyment by me of spiritual power - the ministry of the Holy Ghost - if the Holy Ghost be dwelling in me a "grieved" Spirit. And while this is so there cannot be to others the manifestation of spiritual power in me. When the Holy Spirit is grieved in me, every attempt to go on before others as if nothing had happened does but manifest my weakness to them. And this is true, however useful I may have been to them, as one owned of God for blessing in past days. Like Achan, the thing that weakens has been allowed where I ought to govern. With him it was in the tent; with me it is in myself; and in vain, though a very Samson before, will one who has grieved the Spirit (unless there has been self judgment) go out to shake himself "as at other times." In vain; his strength is gone, and God's Nazarite, now powerless in the presence of the enemy, though once so mighty, is presently seen to be blind - the poor blind captive and sport of the uncircumcised! (Judges 16) Sad and sorrowful sight! yet is it one by no means uncommon to Him who has spiritual vision. What is it, then, to grieve the Holy Spirit? Where He dwells ungrieved there are manifested "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." (Gal. 5:22, 23.) All these are not human, but divine; and the Spirit must be acting where they are produced. Can it, then, be said that I am lacking any of these, and yet the Holy Spirit is not grieved? Impossible; for the fruits then seen are those of the flesh in the activity of human will, and not the will of God. (Gal. 5:16-21.) There may be recovery, both of an individual (see 1 Cor. 11:28-31) and of an assembly (see 2 Cor. 7:8-11), and this is wrought by self-judgment, so necessary to us all; but without it there surely must be a loss of spiritual power, and nothing but confession and self-judgment will restore it. Everything that is done in an individual or in an assembly, until self-judgment has done its work, is done with an effort - the sure sign of weakness - and, as before said, will but manifest the real condition to those who may have eyes to see. (1 Cor. 2:15.)
Again, the opponent to the working of the Spirit of God is the spirit of the world - "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." "But," says the apostle, "we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." (1 Cor. 2:12.) Hence arises another question, Can I allow in myself that which is of the world (and hence of the spirit of disobedience), and the Holy Spirit yet remain in me ungrieved? In myself I detect the workings of nature - "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life; to all of these Satan ministers, in this huge system called "the world." All these are "not of the Father, but are of the world." (1 John 2:15-17.) Can I allow them to work in me? and will the Holy Spirit meantime preserve and manifest in me His own energy? Impossible. Says the apostle James, "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." (James 4:4.) And I have not to go outside of myself to discover these principles that govern the world. And it is in little things - things scarcely suspected, yet things which, if examined in the light, will be found to be not "of the Father, but of the world," that we are so easily robbed of spiritual strength. Everything that I do as one in whom the Holy Ghost dwells, strikes a thrill for good or for evil through all the saints; for "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." (1 Cor. 12:13, 26.) And besides this, my enemies are not "flesh and blood;" they may come to me in that form, but they are not natural but "spiritual." No carnal or natural weapons can overcome them - no conquest and victory can be by spiritual power alone. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places." (Eph. 6:12.) But all our power is gone if the Holy Ghost be hindered from manifesting His power in us, since in ourselves without Him we possess none.
Finally, I suppose none will question that one who is "grieving the Spirit" is not the one to minister in an assembly of the saints, however useful he may have been to them in former days. Two evils are committed where such an attempt is made; for the Spirit is not only further grieved in the effort, but is also quenched possibly as to His action by means of another in the assembly. Edification in such a case there is not, but the manifestation of weakness, manifest to all present who have spiritual discernment. Hence the frequency of our "leanness," felt both individually and collectively; for the ministry of the Holy Ghost in both is the secret of spiritual power. Without it there is none, and confusion reigns. The apostle says, "I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, but I will sing with the understanding also." (1 Cor. 14:15.) The instrument understands the mind of him who plays on it, if the Holy Spirit be not grieved or hindered within him; and if in the assembly He acts in such a vessel, the assembly is edified, if the Spirit be not quenched there.
The day darkens. We are in danger of seeking to keep up a form of godliness without the power. (2 Tim. 3:5.) May the Lord give us increased energy in these last days. "To them that have no might He increaseth strength." And may all His beloved people seek to maintain the grave importance of not grieving the Holy Spirit of God in themselves, whereby they cut off their own individual supplies of food, which ever come to us by the Holy Ghost's ministering Christ to us; and as to the assembly, the solemn importance of not quenching the Spirit, and thus depriving the gathered saints of that ministry and sustenance so necessary for the edification and growth of the body. H. C. Anstey.