With these two articles on the Holy Spirit in gospel work, we bring our series on the Spirit of God to a close.
1) His Authority As to Principles
2) His Aid As to Prayer and Preaching
3) His Assignment As to Place
4) His Accompaniment as to Power
5) His Appointment As to Persons
6) His Achievement As to Progress.
1. His Authority As to Principles
The text book for the servant of the Lord in matters relating to evangelism must be the inspired Word of God. While the advice and counsel of godly souls of a past day are always appreciated, the final guideline and the test by which we measure the correctness of our exercise must be the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Spirit is a definite prerequisite in this matter of AUTHORITY for our exercise and activities.
“Go ye into all the world and preach” was the closing ministry of the risen Christ. God’s word, Spirit inspired, is to be our sole guide in relation to the work of the Lord. The manner in which it is to be carried on, where, when, and by whom, are all matters about which the scriptures must be consulted. There is no centrally organized mission that monitors or gives a mandate to the servants, but sufficient guidelines can be found in the Bible to send out the would be evangelist or missionary. The WHERE, WHEN, and WHO of service we shall consider, but the HOW is also a vital consideration.
2. His Aid – As to Prayer and Preaching
In all our prayer life we are dependent upon the Spirit’s help. The Spirit-taught man will be conscious of the need for an attitude of holy awe, when engaged in this divine exercise and of the accompaniment of holy hands to lift up in the presence of the Lord. A true prayerful interest in the souls of men is essential for those who engage in the work of spreading the gospel. Supplication is more important than sermonizing. Many who remember the late Mr. Frank Knox will acknowledge the effectiveness of his prayers. As a little boy I used to sleep over at my grandmother’s home. She cultivated the habit of rising at 5 am to spend an hour in prayer and this she did until the Lord took her home in her seventies. She prayed for her husband’s salvation for nearly 40 years and had the joy of seeing him saved. Interestingly, in the end, he died on his knees in prayer when in his eighties! She prayed in great simplicity and yet great sincerity, “Lord, help me to pray like Frank Knox.” The soul winner will be characterised by a sound exercise in prayer, and in that prayer life an essential prerequisite is the Holy Spirit.
In our preaching too we need the Spirit’s aid. In all presentation of the gospel truth there is great need in our day for the citing of the Word of God. The systematic committing to memory of scripture is a dying art. There is a great lack in the gospel preaching from our platforms of clear scriptural guidelines as to WHY sinners need to be saved and HOW sinners can be saved. It would seem that at times very little study has been done in the Holy Spirit’s text book so that a clear gospel can be preached. We are in danger of producing a generation of story tellers and illustrators without the sound content of THE WORD being conveyed. Quotations of hymns, happenings and helpful illustrations can often aid in the understanding of the truth conveyed, but we need to remember that it is “The entrance of THY WORDS giveth light” (Ps 119: 130).
There is no substitute, even with modern day changes in the cornmunications field, for the simple, scriptural pattern of “Preaching the Word” (2 Tim 4.2). There is something special conveyed in the spoken word from one whom the gospel has reached to others who still need to hear it. Our late brother, Fred Cundick, pointed out the effect of the Lord as “He looked round about on them” so many times in Mark. “The eye contact of speaker and hearer,” said he, “played a vital part in the communication of the truth.”
3) His Assignment As to Place
“He assayed to go, but the Spirit suffered him not”(Acts 16.7). “Come over into Macedonia and help us….assuredly gathering that the Lord had led us” (Acts 16.9-10).
In all the above references, it is clear that great importance was given to the Holy Spirit as to the movements of the Apostle Paul and his companions. Similarly in our day, great exercise is needed as to the place of our service. The Holy Spirit still guides, through the Scriptures, the exercised believer who is prepared to say, “Here am I, send me” (Isa.6).
All too often there is a reluctance on our part to follow the clear directions indicated by the Spirit. This was seen in the scriptures on several occasions when, for various reasons, the vessel chosen by God was definitely unwilling at least at the beginning.
Moses,”not me Lord” send Aaron.
Lot, “not yet Lord” while he lingered.
Jonah, “not there Lord” not to Nineveh.
Disciple, “not now Lord” suffer me first to go and bury my father…
Ananias, “not him Lord” Thou knowest how many things…
Ananias’s place of service was not dramatic nor distant, neither appealing nor adventurous. The directions were simply, “Go to the street called Straight.” This man preached no sermon that is recorded, he made no missionary journey, yet in following the Spirit given directions he single-handedly introduces on to the stage of public service for God one of His choicest servants. His work was in his home town, in a street that he likely knew well, yet there was no other person better equipped for the job. Notice how he accepts without complaint the path of service mapped out for the other servant, Paul. God says, “He shall bear My name among the Gentiles.” I feel I might have said, “What about me, Lord? I have been saved longer, I could do the job.” But no! Ananias does his work in a nearby street to introduce a man who will travel the world in the service of the same Master.
We should likewise be exercised about our place of service. Paul could say that he and his colleagues did not serve as men pleasers (1 Thess 2). We should not be so concerned about what men, even our brethren, have to say about our movements, but we should be always responsible to Him who at any time could say to us, as He did to Elijah, “What doest thou here?” I do not have to give an answer as to where YOU are, but I do have to give an answer as to where I am!
We often find help in tracing others in the scriptures who were passing through a similar experience, rather than taking a verse out of context to serve as a guideline. Nevertheless, we recognize that God is gracious to us in our weakness, and many dear saints have got a word which they felt to be from the Lord from a rather remote passage. We cannot be glib about the matter of “putting out the fleece” as did Gideon. It is men of Gideon’s character who can issue Gideon’s challenge.
We need to remember also that directions can change and still be in accord with the leading of the Holy Spirit. One is always conscious that in changing course in the field of service, such an action does not necessarily mean a denial of former clear direction given, but can be in response to new conditions that prevail. If a new place of service is found, or if for some reason we are unable to continue in the old, and we take another course, we should be satisfied before the Lord that we are not moving out of His will and be more exercised than ever about the step we are to take. I am sure that I speak for all who at any time have moved from a former place of service either to another country or back to their homeland when I say that it is a bigger step to relocate than to make the initial move, and there has been even more heart searching than at the beginning.
4. His Accompaniment As to Power
“Our gospel came not unto you in word only but in power and in the Holy Ghost” (1 Thess 1). “With signs and wonders and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost.”
The power associated with the message was the striking thing to the Thessalonians, and its effects were on going as they in turn were made effective in their own testimony to others. The absence of power in the preaching can often be attributed to a grieved Holy Spirit to whom little place is given in the life of the believer. We cannot expect to “switch on the power” on a Lord’s day evening for a gospel meeting the way we switch on the heat for the hall. At the risk of sounding ancient, I remember going to preach in halls in the country areas where there was no central heating but a pot bellied stove in the middle of the hall. It was of no avail coming to light the fire at 6:55pm for the meeting at 7pm. Some brother had the fire going during the day, maybe even for the Breaking of Bread in the morning, so that by gospel meeting time the stove was red hot! So in gospel preaching the principle is still the same in the spiritual sphere. Very often there is no fire going in the Remembrance meeting, and we can expect very little heat in the evening “sermon.” No man yet had ever power with men who had not first power with God.
5) His Appointment As to Persons
“Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” “And the Angel of the Lord said unto Philip, arise and go towards Gaza.” Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and join thyself to this chariot.”
In the choice of servants we need to be clear that the prerogative is with God. Whether it be in the raising up of overseers in the local assembly or the appointment of those who will labor in the gospel and in the ministry of the word, He reserves the right to choose His servants. God has chosen some “unlikely” cases in the past, and men failed to recoguize them as such. We should as Christians be slow to criticize men whom God may have raised up even though they may seem unlikely to us. Many young people are reared in an atmosphere where the servants of the Lord and the oversight are constantly under attack, and I cannot help but feel that such is unhealthy, and will not produce a spirit that looks for the best in one another in spite of our many weaknesses. It has been well said that He whom God raises up and who moves in the pathway of His will is immortal until his work is done, so that we need not live in the constant fear of being either usurped or unappreciated.
6) His Achievement As to Progress
In closing, we need to remember that whenever sheaves are reaped, sometimes after many long years of sowing, “to God be the glory.” All the progress of the work through the Acts of the Apostles and the record of history is attributable to the Hand of the Lord that worked with His servants. When we, as individuals, or as assemblies begin to feel that the work could not do without me, then we have missed the mark in spiritual things. No man is indispensable to any part of the Work of the Lord, but the Holy Spirit IS indispensable, and I trust that through our brief reflection upon the nature and need of His aid we may be better able to not only appreciate His gracious help as to the theory, but also to apply it in practical experience. Thus we shall be able to stand back and view the ongoing gospel exercise in its world-wide endeavour and say like the Psalmist, ” Not unto us 0 Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory.”