Prayer for the Holy Spirit
The following is the substance of the Address delivered at the Meeting of the Labourers in the Gospel, at 48, Great Marlborough Street, London, April 1862.
IT is a question of interest which occasionally one hears at the present day, whether a believer should pray for the Holy Spirit. Those who are opposed to the habit, argue, that as the Holy Spirit was confessedly given to abide with the church at the day of Pentecost, we should not still pray for the Spirit—that such prayer is virtually a denial that the Spirit was given to abide with us—a denial that we are Christ's, for if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His, and so a denial of the only means of access to the Father. Some have even gone so far as to say, that prayer for the Spirit is an evil course of unbelief, dishonouring, and unscriptural; that it is a mockery to ask of God to repeat the gift. And it should be remembered that there are those holding such views, who are men well versed in Scripture, and desiring to honour God in their lives, and whose statements therefore claim the sober consideration of their fellow-believers.
I differ from their views while I would honour the men. I think that a believer ought to pray for the Spirit. But first, to remove one hindrance to harmony out of the way; I would say, that a believer ought not to pray for the Spirit, as one praying for something which he did not possess; for every true believer has the Spirit. If one is Christ's, then he has Christ's Spirit, and if anyone have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. We should not commence our prayer in unbelief by ignoring God's goodness in the gift of His Holy Spirit to abide with His people while they journey up through the wilderness. But, as it seems to me, it is just because we have the Spirit in measure, and it is by the Spirit which we have, that we cry to our God and Father for His Holy Spirit increasingly to reveal Christ in us, and make us more Christ-like.
One cause I think of the disagreement between believers on this subject, is the not sufficiently considering the difference between the work of Christ for us, and the work of the Spirit in us. The work of Christ for us, was a definite, complete, finished work, once for all, to which nothing could be added without marring its perfectness; and if the Spirit's work in us was thus complete as Christ's work for us, then truly the objections to prayer for the Spirit would be well-founded. But the work of the Spirit, on the contrary, is a continuous work—a daily work in living men, and an uncompleted work in the holiest that ever lived—a work in the inner man needing daily renewing. What true believer is there whose soul experience does not testify to this?
By the way in which some speak, it would seem as if the Holy Spirit was given us once forever, as a kind of stock to trade on. I say it reverently; but is this the way of Scripture teaching? Is it not rather that we have the Spirit from our union with Christ our risen Head? In the chapter which records the great outpouring of the Spirit, we find that the fulfilment of the promise was made to Him in right of His having finished the work which God gave Him to do (Acts ii. 33), and "He having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear." What He does and what He receives is for His body the Church, and in keeping with this is the revelation of Himself to the Church of Sardis, "These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God. " the Spirit in His fulness of gifts and graces. Now it is just in union with Him that we receive out of His fulness—the inward man renewed day by day; and for this should we not be daily looking, and on this daily dependent? What else is our remedy when in a cold and dead state? How is a believer to be raised up out of such a state, when his heart gets hardened, and the truth of God with which he is long familiar, loses its power over him? How is he to get the tender, loving, holy heart again? Not surely by any mere effort of his own; no, but by the renewing of the Spirit again—the poor weak member from the risen Head. And for this should we not look and pray, and watch and wait? How is there to be Christian growth or progress in the divine life, or how is there to be increased power in godly ministry, but by increased power of the Holy Spirit? And if so, should we not seek it—should we not pray for a renewed and increasing supply of the Spirit, given to us when first we found the Lord, or He found us. It is the gracious promise of the Lord to His people that He will never leave nor forsake them. Then of course we may know and realize His presence with us; but what saint on earth has so realized His presence as not to desire it increasingly? and just so I believe of His Holy Spirit. Where a poor sinner receives his pardon once for all through the precious blood, does that marvel of God's grace make it dishonouring to Him, to confess every fresh sin and ask renewed pardon? I believe that there are but few gracious souls who will not find it their happy way to come and tell God and look afresh for forgiveness for every renewed failure or offence against Him—to come for the renewed washing of their feet, after they have been wholly washed.
But to turn to some Scriptures where we find the Spirit again given to those who had unquestionably received the Spirit before, and where we find prayer for the Spirit for those who were as unquestionably possessed of the Spirit previously. In the great Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit, related in Acts ii., we read (verse 4) that "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost," but presently we read of some of the same persons in the fourth chapter, verse 31, that "when they had prayed the place was shaken where they were assembled, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." Here there is a second outpouring of the Spirit on the very men who had received the Spirit in such fulness before; and consequently the first was not something so final and decisive, as to render it dishonouring to God to look for the gift again. God would scarcely give, what it would be dishonouring to Him to ask.
Let us now consider a little the promise in Luke xi. I know that some speak of this promise as being made to Jews and fulfilled at the day of Pentecost; but I cannot feel satisfied with this interpretation, and cannot but consider it a dangerous theology which would take so impressive a Scripture from under our feet on the plea that it was addressed to Jews? True, it was addressed to Jews, but do Christians lose their interest in Scriptures addressed to the Jews? Then, what have the Gospels to say to us, and what the Old Testament? What those discourses of our blessed Lord, opening to us some of the most precious and profitable teaching in the whole of the Scriptures? The promise was made to Jews, followers of our Lord, and made to anyone who has an ear to hear. But if the promise has any reference to this Pentecostal effusion, sure I am that it was not then so fulfilled as to have been exhausted. But in truth, there is so considerable a difference between the two passages, as to raise a doubt whether they synchronize, or refer to the same event. The Holy Ghost was given at Pentecost in fulfilment of the often repeated promise of the Lord, immediately before his decease, and after his resurrection (see John xiv. 16–26; xv. 26; xvi. 7–13; Luke xxiv. 49; and Acts i. 4–8), given, too, by the Lord Himself to whom the promise was ſulfilled as we have seen. But in the Scriptures before us, we have the promise of the Spirit from the Father in answer to prayer. It seems as the reward of earnest persevering prayer to the children, and consequently the remarkable stress which our Lord lays upon it. His encouraging and stirring them up as it were to this spirit of prayer. Thrice, if not six times, He exhorts them to ask, seek, knock; and thrice, if not six times, He repeats the promise that asking, they should have, that seeking they should find, and that knocking, it should be opened to them (Luke xi. 9, 10); taking the illustration from the previous parable, which was spoken by Him to show what importunity could affect under circumstances of discouragement, and so with increasing force. What will not earnest persevering prayer affect with our God and Father, who requires no stimulant to his love, but loves to see His people in earnest, appreciating His gifts? Then we have some of the strongest instincts of natural affection introduced; the love of earthly parents to their children, so poor and cold, and mixed with evil as it is, in comparison of God's great and holy love to His children; and all this to encourage us in prayer for the Spirit, with the gracious crowning all, "Your heavenly Father will give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him." Now, is this like to the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost? I cannot help doubting if it has reference to it. I believe that it was a word left us by our blessed Lord of abiding instruction and encouragement to His people while they tarry down here—a word scarcely applicable to the period before His being offered up. He was with them to guide, keep, and comfort them, and they did not need that other Comforter while He was with them; but if the word was fulfilled at Pentecost, then it had no application to them, none before, for He was with them, none after, if it was fulfilled at Pentecost. But I believe that it is a word for us now, and that the neglect of it is to the loss of many, leaving knowledge to abound over spirituality. The effusion at Pentecost would seem like the baptism of the Church once for all, the promise here rather the help by the way for God's children individually as well as collectively.
In the parallel passage in the sermon on the Mount, we have the remarkable substitution of "good things" for "the Holy Spirit," "Your heavenly Father will give good things to them that ask Him," intimating, it may be, that God's thoughts of "good things" are comprised in the gift of His Holy Spirit; but literally it is true, God has been giving His good things of a long time, but is His giving run out? does He not give His good things still? Yes, even as He gives His Holy Spirit still, in renewed power to them that ask Him.
It may be questioned whether this parallel between persons and things holds good. If a person is given, it is said he is given in whole, and cannot be divided. But we must be cautious in measuring Divine personality by our thoughts of human personality. The term "person" can scarcely be said to be used in the Scriptures in reference to God, either to the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, and we apply the term more from the want of a better word, than from any special suitableness which it possesses. We see what we consider the attributes of personality applied to the Godhead, and so we consider ourselves warranted in the use of the expression, and properly so as I believe, for I do not object to it, but I do object to a narrow and rigid measurement of the Divine by the human. The only places, I believe, where the word occurs in reference to God, are in Matt. xxvii. 24; 2 Cor. ii. 10; and Heb. i. 3. The passage in the Gospel has nothing to say to the question, and even if it had, there is no word answering to "person" in the original. The word in the Hebrews is altogether an inadequate translation. And that in the Corinthians is not the proper sense of the word; it is often applied to our Lord in the New Testament, but translated more accurately, face or appearance. I suppose the meaning here is acting in the name of Christ, the margin has "in the sight."
Let us now turn for a little to the Epistle to the Ephesians. To the Ephesian converts, the Holy Ghost was imparted by the laying on of the apostle's hands; and what we learn of the church, the absence of reproof in the Epistle, and the very high tone of the apostle's teaching (probably the highest that we find in the New Testament), warrant us to conclude that the Spirit was in power in the Church of Ephesus. In i. 13, we read of their being sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; and yet in the wondrous prayer immediately following (17), we find his request for them, "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him." Is not this prayer for the Spirit, and for advanced saints also who had the Spirit? But they had higher things to learn; deeper acquaintance with God, and with the hope of His calling; and how were these attainments to be made but by the Holy Spirit, in renewed and increasing power? and therefore the apostle's prayer. I know that some do not consider "the Spirit" here to mean the Holy Spirit, but what the Spirit of revelation can mean besides the Holy Spirit, I know not—this is the view of many of the soundest commentators.
In the prayer in the close of the third chapter we have to the same effect; not indeed prayer for the gift of the Spirit, but "that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man." But how was this strengthening to men sealed with the Spirit, and the wonderful blessings that follow, to be accomplished but by increased power of the Holy Spirit.
In chapter v. 18, the apostle exhorts, "Be ye filled with the Spirit;" but how can we, if there be no increased supply? And if we ought to be filled with the Spirit in response to the apostolic exhortation, then ought we not also to pray for the Spirit, for a renewed and increasing measure of the Spirit, given to us indeed when first we found Jesus, but to be increased as we walk in subjection to God's holy will? In this word, "Be ye filled with the Spirit," we have God's will with us. If anyone ask, but how can this be? We have the reply in the word we have been considering from Luke xi., "Your heavenly Father will give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him." And the result, we find from the passage also before quoted from Acts iv., "When they had prayed, they were all filled with the Holy Ghost."
I shall quote but one passage more, which I think clearly bears upon the subject. In the first chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians, we find the apostle saying, in reference to some troubles in the Lord's service, and which God overruled to the spread of the gospel, "I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." But what salvation does the apostle here speak of? Clearly not the pardon of his sins or acceptance of his person into God's favour, that was long a settled question with him; nor yet is it the salvation to be revealed at the appearing of Jesus Christ, of that also he was assured, as we see in chap. iii. 20–21. Of what salvation, then, does he speak? Even of that which should be the object of every believer, the salvation effected in this present life from the power of sin and Satan; that which he speaks of in the 12th verse of the second chapter, "Work out your own salvation," &c., very much like to that particular phase of sanctification which we get in progressive holiness, though not exactly. The sanctification is more positive, increasing separation to God; salvation, rather the separation or deliverance from evil. But how was this to turn to the salvation of the apostle? "Through your prayer." But again, how was their prayer to work such effects? It was the means to the end—"the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." Here we have the great Agent in this salvation coming forth in answer to the supplication of His people—here we have the salvation from the power of sin, while through the precious blood, we have the salvation from the guilt and condemnation of sin; the one salvation we preach to sinners, the other we would press upon God's dear children. Now, I think from this it is plain, that even the Apostle Paul, one probably endued with the Spirit as much as any other, looked for the renewal of the Spirit, and valued prayer to this effect. If anyone object to the interpretation, and would make it rather what the Spirit supplies than the supply of the Spirit, I can only say that I have given, as I believe, the true rendering, and that the same expression in Gal. iii. 5, admits of no other meaning.
Before closing I would just notice a kindred subject, the strong objection which exists with some to any address to the Holy Spirit in worship, whether in prayer or praise. Indeed, so strong is this objection with some, that they have not hesitated to speak of it as almost blasphemy. I readily admit that the Holy Spirit is not the special object of worship in the Scriptures, but neither is the Son. The Father is the true object of worship, even as our Lord teaches us, "The hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father;" and, "When ye pray, say, "Our Father;" and the apostle says, "I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;" "Blessed be the God and Father," &c. We draw nigh to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit (Eph. ii. 18). But yet to speak of it as blasphemy seems going very far. Is not the Holy Ghost God, even as the Father and the Son; and if so, how can it be blasphemy to worship Him? If it be blasphemy, one would think that the apostolic benediction sounds something very like blasphemy, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you all." Blessed word, and something more than the mere wish of the man, his concluding prayer for the saints, by the Holy Spirit, and to the Holy Spirit, and which the Church universal has reechoed through all ages.
I now close the subject. From the Scriptures I have brought forward, it is plain, at least to my own mind, that the Lord's people who have the Spirit ought still to pray for the Spirit and expect the Spirit, and that the Spirit in us, if we were quite free from the force of preconceived opinion and human system, would lead us to cry for the Spirit increasingly, or in increased measure. I repeat, not as for that which we had not, not as denying God's love in the gift of His Spirit, but just as we have anything from God, shall we long and cry for more and more of His giving. Who covets holiness and increased holiness so much as the holiest man in the world? And so of love and humility and every Christian grace. It is the most Christ-like, who longs to be more like Christ. I believe that in the simplest and holiest Christian souls living, there is a yearning desire for the Spirit in a measure beyond what they have ever known, and I take it to be the evil tendency of the views I combat—though far from intended by those who hold them—to quench such holy longings, and so to lead one to settle down where he is, though it may be in a poor and low state and under the misgivings of conscience. That which is perfected can know of no increase, as in Christ's work on the cross, in what is done for us; but the work in us, so imperfect, and just by reason of its being in us, by reason of its being mixed up with so much of infirmity; this requires the renewal and the increase by reason of the daily waste, and daily failure and grieving of the Spirit, so sensitive of evil; and will require it in the saints journeying along till the resurrection morning, when we wake up in His likeness, and shall have done forever with all the hindrances to the Holy Spirit, with all the willfulness and waywardness that mark the days of our pilgrimage down here.