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I want you to turn with me in your Bibles to Acts chapter 1. The series, of course, has been entitled 'Encountering God'. I don't know if you have been with us on previous evenings, but we've looked at 'The Call to Encounter God', which was 'The Cost of Discipleship' on Sunday evening. On Monday night we looked at 'The Atmosphere of Encountering God', which is 'Practising God's Presence'. Last night we looked at 'The Condition of Encountering God', which is humility, as opposed to the all-encompassing problem of pride that affects us all. If you don't think it affects you, you need to get last night's message, because we saw how it's a problem all of us struggle with and we ought not to be in denial of it. Tonight I want to take up this vast subject of 'The Energy of Encountering God', the Spirit-filled life, or 'How to Be Filled by the Holy Spirit' - and I find myself preaching a lot on this theme, because I feel it's essential, and it's a message that has been lost somewhere in the ether of recent Christian history. When you preach it, unfortunately people think you're preaching something new - but you're not.
Let us pray before we come to read the scriptures together. If you were out on Monday night, we want you to practice God's presence and become present to the fact that God is here. You should already be aware of His presence, He has been very near in these meetings - but if you haven't, or if you desire, and you should desire, to have a greater sense and depth of His presence: come to Him now, and open your heart, and by faith invoke that presence, lay hold of it as the promise of God now as we come in prayer to Him.
Father, we come to You, and believe that You are here. We lift our eyes and see You just now in the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ revealed to be with us, Immanuel. We thank You that by Your Spirit You have come to dwell amongst Your people, and in Your people. Just now we see the Commander of the Lord of Hosts before us, and we look up - as it were - Lord, and see You with sword drawn in Your hand to do battle on behalf of your people. Lord, in the spirit we see the heavenly host of angels with us, we believe that there are angels gathering around. We say: summon Your power, O God, show us Your strength, our God, as You have done before. 'Because of Your Temple at Jerusalem kings will bring you gifts. Rebuke the beast among the reeds, the herd of bulls among the calves of the nations. Humbled, may the beast bring bars of silver. Scatter the nations who delight in war. Envoys will come from Egypt; Cush will submit herself to God. Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Lord, to Him who rides across the highest heavens, the ancient heavens, who thunders with mighty voice. Proclaim the power of God, whose majesty is over Israel, whose power is in the heavens. You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to His people'. Heavenly Father, it is Your promised power of Pentecost that we claim now by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, His blood and resurrection. Lord, as You have promised, in these last days pour out Your Spirit now upon all flesh. Amen.
Acts chapter 1 then, and we're going to read only a few verses, verse 4, 5, and then down to verse 8: "And being assembled together with them, He", that is, the Lord Jesus resurrected, "commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, 'which', He said, 'you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now'". Down to verse 8: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth".
One of the greatest tragedies of Christendom is that the One whom we most need in this present day and age to live the Christian life in power, has actually become a source of controversy. Indeed, the Holy Spirit has become a topic - He who is a person - has become merely a topic of division. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that the Holy Spirit now is an issue of full-on theological war - and that is tragic, because we need the Holy Spirit of the Living God to live this Christian life, it is utterly impossible to live it without Him. That's why Jesus said: 'It is expedient', it is necessary, 'that I leave you, that the Comforter, the Advocate, might come'. So Jesus was telling His disciples that He had to go for Another of the same kind to come to them, and - though the Lord Jesus was limited in His bodily form to one geographical location, and largely His ministry was external - when the Holy Spirit of the Living God would come, His ministry would be universal and would be internal. So, we need the Holy Spirit - and it is a tragedy that we get bogged down with debate and theological niceties at the expense of knowing the personal, dynamic power of the Third Person of the Trinity.
An equal tragedy is the abuse and error and perversion that is performed in the name of the Holy Spirit in Christendom. I don't want you to misunderstand and think that I am blessing, as it were, and putting my benediction on everything that is supposed to be the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit today. All you have to do is take a casual viewing of satellite television - and not everything is wrong on it, it has to be said, but there is a great deal of excess, extremism and perversion in the name of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, I heard of a travelling evangelist recently who was going around laying his hands on people and instructing them to say 'banana' backwards, and telling them they had the gift of tongues and had been baptised in the Holy Spirit. It's laughable, if it wasn't so serious. We are not condoning error, and there is a great deal of aberrant practices in Pentecostal and charismatic circles - not everything is bad there, don't misunderstand what I'm saying now, but there are things going on that are counterfeits: some things of the flesh, some things that are merely learned behaviour, and - dare I say it - some things that are of another spirit.
Whilst we must herald that warning, especially in the day and the age in which we live when there is so much confusion, we also must be aware that Satan only counterfeits the true. Do you understand what I'm saying? To use a common expression around these parts: you ought not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Out of fear of that which is obviously not of God, many have retreated back into a corner of disbelief concerning the Person and the power of the Holy Spirit. In a reaction against the wild things that are going on in His name, we have effectively quenched the Spirit of God! David Pawson, writing on this very thing, said: 'I have been amazed by a kind of schizophrenic attitude to the supernatural among some evangelicals who are entirely credulous toward anything bound between black leather covers, and profoundly sceptical about anything happening today'. We read the Bible, and we believe in the miracles, and we would confound the liberals - but well dare God do anything like it today! We have to be so careful that we are not reactionary against error to such an extent that we deny that power that we so desperately need, and that is so obviously absent from the church and Christian's lives today. As the late, great Leonard Ravenhill said: 'We are warned of false fire by fireless men, and then we too often settle for no fire at all'.
An old Brethren article was drawn to my attention recently from a dear brother in Australia, no less. It was an article that I think was derived from here after the 1859 revival. It was in the writings 'Things New and Old', a Brethren writing let me remind you. It was entitled 'The Awakening in Ulster, Part 4', and the writer says - while discussing some of the special features of the revival movement in the area of dreams, visions, and prophecies - this is what this Brethren writer said: 'One thing is certain, we are sure to err when we venture to lay down an iron rule, or frame a rigid system; the Holy Ghost will never be confined by such. He is sovereign in His doings. Let us remember this. His operations lie beyond the range of the most enlarged and vigorous understanding'. I want to make an absolute statement: that in every revival, in every awakening, in every act of renewal in the church of Jesus Christ there has been a rediscovery of the truth of the Personality and the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit - without exception. That is essentially what revival is - God's Spirit power returning to the church!
Of course, that's what original Christianity was - I mean, the book of Acts that we read together is clear there. I used to preach that the book of Acts was merely an historical record of early Christianity, that was wrong. Luke is an historian, but it's no mere history - just the way Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are not mere history. The Acts of the Apostles is actually what we call 'theological narrative'. It is a story of historical fact, but it is written in such a way to teach us the truth of God and what is necessary for our own lives. The book of Acts is original Christianity as it was meant to be. We read tonight how our Lord Jesus Christ - after He died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, was buried and rose again from the dead, according to the Scriptures - He stands among His own disciples and He basically says to them: 'Now, do nothing'. I mean, imagine that, it's the opposite to everything you hear in Christianity today! Jesus said: 'Do nothing before Pentecost, before the promise of the Father comes upon you that you have heard from Me, do nothing! Do not go out and preach the Gospel, do not go out and help the poor, don't go and do tract distribution, don't go to the mission field. Do nothing without Pentecost, for without Me you can do nothing'.
Now, this is instructive because we do know that the disciples, the Apostles, have had some experience of the Holy Spirit previously. They had to be born again, didn't they? That's the Holy Spirit does that. They also, we know from John 20 and 22, experienced the Lord Jesus breathing over them and saying: 'Receive the Holy Spirit'. So these men were not ignorant of the Person and power of the Holy Spirit to a certain extent - and yet they still needed their Pentecost, they still needed the promise of the Father in fullness.
The message that the early Christians preached is clear, indeed in Acts chapter 20 we read that Paul went from house to house preaching repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ - and that, essentially, is all you need to have your sins forgiven, to be justified and be on your way to Heaven, to have the assurance of eternal life as the gift of God: repentance, changing your mind, turning from your sin, repentance toward God and then faith in Jesus Christ, His message and His sacrifice and resurrection. But, do you know something? Though that's enough to get your sins cleansed, that was not all there was to the New Testament experience of discipleship - there was more involved. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that Christian initiation was fourfold. Yes, in the early church there was repentance toward God and there was faith in Jesus Christ, but then we see clearly that there was water baptism, and then there was Spirit baptism. Sometimes the Spirit baptism came before the water baptism.
Now listen carefully: I'm not here to argue terminology with you tonight, and I will not argue with you if you wait behind to get me - that's not why I'm here. I don't really care whether you call it 'Spirit baptism', 'fullness of the Spirit', 'an infilling of the Spirit', as the Puritans called it and Martyn Lloyd-Jones 'the sealing of the Spirit', John Wesley called it 'perfect love'. I like what Billy Graham said: 'I don't care what you call it, just get it!'. The point that I'm making tonight is clearly biblical: that the dynamic of the Spirit was absolutely essential for early Christianity, for individual Christians and for the witness of the church. It was the fullness of Christian experience: to repent, to believe, to be baptised in water and baptised by the Spirit. Both the church and the Christian are designed like an engine to be empowered by ignition - fire, that is. That's why you were saved, that's why the church comes together, that's why it was born at Pentecost: to be a Temple of the Holy Spirit, manifestly so - but the problem we have, generally speaking here in the West and, yes, in our good old land of Ulster, we have a form of godliness which denies the power right across the board!
I'm reminded of a story I love told by the 19th-century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who once told of the village inhabited by ducks. On Sunday the ducks would waddle out their doors to church down the street, and they waddled into the sanctuary and they squatted in their favourite pews. The duck choir - do you have a duck choir? - the duck choir, they would waddle out and sit in their place. The duck pastor would waddle up to the pulpit and open the Bible, and he would read: 'Ducks! God has given you wings, with wings you can fly, with wings you can mount up and soar like eagles! No walls can confine you, no fence can hold you! You have wings! God has given you wings, and you can fly!'. Excitedly they would all flap and quack, and then, after saying a hearty 'Amen', they all waddled home. Do you get the point? We make a lot of claims, we sing about it, we pray about it, our creedal statements confess it, and we in a sense celebrate it - and yet we are not flying, so many of us!
We are seeing so little returns for what we're doing - and I know about this myself all too well. I remember after preaching one Sunday evening an unbeliever came to me, a number of years ago now, and he said: 'I agree with the words that you spoke there tonight, but it just wasn't getting through, it just wasn't getting through'. Now that man thought there was something wrong with him, I went away thinking there was something wrong with me - and maybe there was something wrong with the both of us, but I meditated on what was said of the Apostle Paul, that his enemies said that his bodily presence was weak and his speech was contemptible. He wasn't an orator, perhaps, like Apollos, and yet he was able to say to the Thessalonians: 'Our Gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit'. He did not speak in the wisdom of men's human words, but he spoke in the demonstration and the power of the Holy Spirit, as did the apostle Peter at Pentecost. He preached one sermon and 3000 souls were saved, and we can preach 3000 sermons today and not see a soul converted!
There's much I could say about that tonight, but I want to concentrate on the individual. I want to help you tonight, if you're not flying. I want to talk about the necessity and the practicality of being filled with the Spirit - or to put it another way: Why should I be filled, and how can I be filled? So let's do firstly with the necessity: why should you be filled? Now, surely it should be obvious to you from what I've already said - but let me make it more personal: you're struggling tonight, you're struggling with temptation and sin, you're certainly not experiencing a victorious Christian life. Now don't misunderstand me: no one experiences a victorious Christian life every day of the week, every day of the year, 24/7, it doesn't happen. But maybe you have that rollercoaster experience, like the Grand Old Duke of York: sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down, sometimes you're neither halfway up nor down - you don't know where you are tonight. You're struggling, you've been failing, and the reason is - and this is a revelation of God to you tonight, and you've got to hear it: you're trying to live the Christian life in the flesh, and you cannot do it! Here's the release for you this evening, it's letting you off the hook: the Christian life is an impossible life to live, it is utterly impossible, so don't even try it! It cannot be done in the flesh, it must be done in the power of God. It is the life of God.
Paul says: 'It's not I, but Christ who lives in me'. Now that doesn't mean that you don't have to cooperate with God, and there are things for you to do - but the energy, that's what we're talking about tonight, the energy of encountering God is not your human energy, it's not even your willpower, it's not even your doctrine and theology, it is the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet some are trying to, as it were, drive their car without ignition, without fire. You know what happens, you have to get out then and start pushing - and there are a lot of pushers about. In fact, the Galatians were pushers, Paul told them: 'You began in the Spirit, you were born again', they were probably filled in the Spirit as well, they had seen miracles done in their midst, but now they were trying to perfect their Christianity in the flesh by keeping laws. That so often happens in Christian circles: you get rid of some burdens of sin, and then you join the church and they give you a whole load of other burdens. You're weighed down with burdens that are too heavy to be borne - that's not Christianity.
D.L. Moody, the great evangelist, said: 'You might as well try to hear without ears, or breathe without lungs, as to try and live the Christian life without the Spirit of God in your heart'. The famous Boston preacher, Dr A.J. Gordon visited the World Fair in Chicago on one occasion, and in the distance he saw a man robed in bright, gaudy Oriental clothes, who appeared to be laboriously turning a crank on a pump. Thereby he was making a mighty flow of water come. Gordon was impressed with the man's energy, and the smooth motions, and his obvious physical conditioning - he was pumping a tremendous amount of water. Drawing closer, Gordon was surprised to discover that the man was actually made of wood. Instead of turning the crank and making the water flow, the flow of water was actually turning the crank and thereby making the man go. That's Christianity. Some of you have been doing a lot of work, a lot of pumping, expending a lot of physical human energy, and not getting too far - that is not life as God intended for you, that is not the energy by which you will encounter God. Listen to our Lord Jesus: 'On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'', John says, 'But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified'. But here's news tonight: Jesus is glorified, and the Comforter has come. The Spirit has been poured out upon the church - that's why we need Him, because it is impossible to live this Christian life without Him... and maybe you have been trying.
Maybe you believe in everything I've said so far tonight, and you've heard it so often in your experience - and yet you feel you still haven't broken through to that. That's why I want to spend most of my time tonight not on the necessity, but on the practicality: how can I be filled with the Spirit? Let me clear up a couple of misunderstandings. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not the same as being consecrated. I want you to understand this, because many dear people in holiness meetings and conventions have genuinely consecrated themselves to the Lord - but they are not filled with the Spirit. It's not surrender either, you can surrender everything to the Lord. If you like: consecration is the giving of your vessel to the Lord, surrender is the emptying of your vessel out to the Lord - but, you see, the vessel still needs to be filled. It's a bit like just repenting of your sin, but not actually believing in the Lord to be saved - it's only half of the exercise, it's only our side, if you like, of the agreement.
Let me say that being filled with the Spirit is not being holy enough. Some people have taught down through the years that you need to get holy, you need to stop doing this, you need to start doing that; you need to sanctify yourself, almost, and then the Holy Ghost will come upon you. If you were able to do all those things, you wouldn't need the Holy Spirit! Eh? I've said to you already, and I will say it many times: the whole Christian operation is a by grace, through faith exercise. God gives it all by gratuitous grace through the merits of the shed blood and the resurrection of His Son, it's all because of Jesus - and the only way we get any blessing or benefits of it is receiving it by faith. Grace is the hand of God that gives it, and faith is our hand that receives it. The fullness of the Spirit, or whatever you want to call it, baptism of the Spirit, is exactly the same.
Let me help you understand this tonight. Turn with me to Luke chapter 11, beginning to read at verse 9, Jesus our Lord is speaking, and He says: 'So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!'. Now look at this passage for a moment. The Lord is encouraging us to come to Him and ask for gifts. One of the greatest master strokes of Satanic forces was to make the church afraid of the Holy Spirit! There are so many dear Christians who maybe are turned off because of the errors and extremes in the Spirit's name, who are afraid that if they surrender to the Holy Spirit and are filled by Him, they'll start saying things that they don't know what they're saying - and they're afraid of that. Or the Holy Spirit will tell them to do things that they're not sure they want to do, and they're even afraid of being controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Now, whenever we talk about 'being controlled by the Holy Spirit', we're only talking about His sweet influence. One of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control - what the Holy Spirit does is, He frees you to be in control of your life under His influence! He's not going to turn you into a robot, He's not going to make you do things or say things that you don't want to do and say. That's a lie of the devil, and I would question anyone who is taken over and possessed by another power where they are completely out of control. Now yes, God can overwhelm us, and yes we can almost lose ourselves in God - some people have some wonderful experiences - but ultimately, in all of those deep encounters with God, you can come out of them if you want - unless He knocks you out cold, and that can happen. We're not making rules here, but we're just saying: don't be afraid of the Holy Spirit. Look: if a son asks a parent for bread, will he give him a stone? If you come to God and ask for bread - and this is what the fullness of the Spirit is like, it's like your daily bread - if you come to God and ask Him, is He going to mock you and give you a stone? Worse than that, if you ask for a fish, will He give you a serpent? Or if you ask for an egg, will He offer you a scorpion? A serpent and a scorpion will harm you, is God going to give you something that is going to harm you when you come and ask for the Holy Spirit? That is a lie from the devil, and you need to get rid of it because it's holding some of you back. Some of you are afraid of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, the ministry of the Spirit.
If you're evil - and you are depraved, you're a sinner, so am I - but if your wee fellow, or your wee girl, or some child came to you famished, with a belly that was empty, a palette that was parched, and holes in their shoes if they even had shoes on their feet - would anyone of you turn them away? How much more, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him? Do you think this is something God wants to do? By repentant faith - everything is received by repentant faith or believing repentance - you've got to claim the promise of the Father, just come and ask Him! You have the assurance of God's word, 1 John 5:14: 'This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us'.
Now, if you grew up in a Christian home, you may have had the experience of asking the Lord Jesus to be your Saviour every night of the week until you were about five-year-old or something like that - do you know what I'm talking about? You wanted to be sure, and you kept asking the Lord, and asking the Lord, and asking the Lord - but then there came a day when you really broke through with God, wasn't there? Or you drew a line, and you said: 'Well, this is it, I'm going to take tonight as my night', or whatever - why were you not genuinely saved those days that you kept asking the Lord over and over again as a child? Was the Lord listening? Of course the Lord was listening - but you didn't believe that He heard you. You didn't believe that He heard you, you didn't believe that He'd saved you - that's why you got up and kept doubting. You see, here is a truth that many miss, and many are confounded by in the realm of the fullness of the Spirit - because you have asked God over again and again to do it, and you've been agonising over it, and it has almost sent you mad, and yet you know that it has not happened! But, you see, you're keeping asking, but you're not believing that you're receiving. You see, you've got to ask in faith. Listen to what I've said so many times: everything in the Christian life is received by faith. It would surprise you how many people of faith - that's the Christian - don't understand what faith actually is.
Turn with me quickly to Mark chapter 11, I'm wanting to help people who are struggling here. Mark chapter 11 verse 24, again our Lord Jesus - now read this slowly and watch every word, Jesus says: 'Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them'. Read that again: 'Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them'. Now we often hear: 'Believe and you will receive', but what Jesus is saying here is, 'Believe you have received when you ask, and you will receive what you've asked'. This is going a step further that many of you have not gone. You see, to ask in faith for the fullness of the Spirit is to come with the word of God as the promise, to claim it by faith in prayer - as Jesus said, 'How much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask' - but you must ask in faith, and that means believe that He has heard, that you have the things, you're confident you have the things that you have asked of Him according to His will; and you say, 'Thank You, Lord, thank You that I have received, thank You that You have filled me!'.
But what are you looking for? You see, this is the problem: what are you seeking? Some people are seeking an experience rather than a Person. The Holy Spirit is not an experience, He's a Person. Now, He will give experiences, but He's a Person. I'm not against feelings, far from it - in fact, some people forget that God was the One created emotions. Did you know that? They didn't come from the devil, God created them! But we must also be careful with them, because feelings and emotions are fickle, they are very elusive, and they cannot be trusted on their own. Feelings must be regulated. It's a bit like a compass, you know the way a compass is directed by the magnetism of the Earth - well, our feelings must be directed by an external, greater force, and that force is faith in the truth of God. A brilliant Navigator illustration of it is: if you imagine a steam engine, and two carriages behind the steam engine, think of the steam engine as the facts - the truth of God's word - then think of the first passenger carriage as faith in the facts, then think of the third part of the equation, the second carriage, as being feelings. It is the facts that our faith is in, and then the feelings will come - but only when everything is in the right order. A lot of folk, they want the feelings first. They want to have some kind of feeling and experience that they have been filled, and then they will believe - and that's not the way it works! It's faith in the facts, then many experiences can come.
Have you been looking for a feeling or an experience, and you haven't just taken God at His naked, raw truth, and just put your fingernails of faith - even if it's a mustard seed of faith - into God's truth? You see, feelings don't really mean much on their own. A poor amputee feels that they've still got that limb, and they might even feel the pain in the leg or in the arm - they feel the pain, and they look down and it's not there. W.P. Nicholson was ill on one occasion, and he went privately to an expert for medical treatment. This expert sat him down and put electrodes on him, and then the doctor went off and read his paper and had a cup of coffee. If you know anything about Nicholson, you will know - well, he was gruff at times. He got a bit worked up about this, and he burst out eventually at the doctor and said: 'I'm a busy man, Doctor! I don't have time to come over here and sit and watch you drink coffee and read your paper! When are you going to start my treatment?'. The doctor said: 'Mr Nicholson, there's enough electricity running through your body right now to push a train up a hill'. Nicholson said: 'Something's wrong, because I don't feel a thing'. The doctor had a little adapter, I don't know how this works, but he had a little adapter and he attached a lightbulb to it. When he connected it the lightbulb lit, and Mr Nicholson realised that the Spirit might be flowing through you, and you not even realise it until the need arises.
We have to be careful with feelings. They have their place, but beware that that is not what you're confounded at with regards to the fullness of the Spirit. Listen, you would tell a sinner under conviction who says, 'I don't feel like God is going to save me', or 'I don't feel like I'm saved' after they trust Christ, you would say: 'No, it's not about feelings, it's about trusting what God has said and asking Him, and believing on raw faith that He has done it'. That's how assurance comes, and that's how the fullness of the Spirit comes.
Having said that, there is not just objective witness of the word of God and faith, but there is and there ought to come a subjective witness of the Spirit that the Comforter has come. We know this because of Scripture: all who believed and received by mere faith, had a witness that they had been filled - and there should be some witness that the Comforter has come. Now many people have different experiences, and this is often where the problem comes. We read Christian biographies and we want the experience that someone else had. We wouldn't dream of doing that with a testimony of salvation, would we? We know we are all individuals, and God leads us in different ways - neither ought we to do that with the experience of fullness. Faith is what counts, but there ought to be a confirmation - in other words, you ought to know that you are filled. I asked for years to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and I did take it by faith, and I believe that God heard me - but if you had asked me: 'Do you know? Do you have a witness?', I couldn't have said 100% 'I'm sure' - I can tell you, I can say it now. It's not arrogant to say that, because it's got nothing to do with me.
In the book of Acts, the witness often was that people spoke in tongues, but not always. Certainly in Acts chapter 1 we have this: 'You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth'. I know a man who went to a meeting, and he claimed by simple faith the fullness of the Spirit. He went on the bus home, it was in Hong Kong, and he was sitting beside an unbeliever, and he had this sudden compulsion to witness to them. You might say: 'Well, isn't that wonderful', but you see this was a man who never had that compulsion before. The strange thing is, he didn't witness to the man, he kept his mouth shut - but he took that urge in his soul to witness and share Christ with that man as evidence that the Comforter had come, the Holy Spirit had filled him - and the Holy Spirit had. He would have had more of a witness, I believe, if he had spoken for the Lord Jesus.
There is a power that will come when, by faith alone, you repent and believe and receive this as the promise of God, and believe that He has given it, and thank Him for it - but then ask Him, and openly say, 'Lord, You witness this to me however You see fit'. Are you open enough to God to do that? As a young man, Oswald Chambers of 'My Utmost for His Highest' fame, battled a persistent sense of barrenness in the Christian life - is that what you have? He finally wrote: 'I was getting desperate', listen, 'I knew no one who had what I wanted. In fact, I did not even know what I did want' - but listen to this - 'but I knew that if what I had was all the Christianity there was, the thing was a fraud!'. You see, that's where we need to get to: reality with ourselves, reality with God, 'If what I have is all there is, it's a fraud!'. Chambers says: 'Then Luke 11:13 got hold of me' - 'If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask'. He says: 'At a little meeting in Dunoon, a well-known lady was asked to take the after meeting. She did not speak, but she set to prayer, and then sang, 'Touch me again, Lord'. I felt nothing, but I knew emphatically my time had come. I rose to my feet. Then and there I claimed the gift of the Holy Spirit in dogged committal on Luke 11:13'. Listen to what he says: 'I had no vision of heaven or of angels; I had nothing. I was as dry and empty as ever, no power or realization of God, no witness of the Holy Spirit. Then I was asked to speak at a meeting and forty souls came out to the front to Christ! I came to realize that God intended me, having asked, to simply take it by faith, and that the power would be there. I might see it only by a backward look, but I was to reckon on the fact that God would be with me'. Take it by faith, and let God witness it subjectively!
A.W. Tozer said the same, he said: 'When I was a young man I happened to get into the company of an elderly woman. God bless her memory, she did not have too much theology - but she believed that the way to get filled by the Holy Spirit was to get down on your knees and die out, and open your heart. Not having very much theology either at the time - I thank God - I obeyed. The result was an old-fashioned mighty invasion of my nature by the Holy Spirit'. You can resist the Holy Spirit by your stubbornness - are some of you doing that tonight? You can grieve the Holy Spirit by your sin. Yes, you don't have to be the finished article and perfect to be filled, but you do need to be willing to let go of your sin. You can quench the Holy Spirit. How can you quench the Holy Spirit? Well, just the way you quench a flame: you cover it with something, you extinguish it. You can extinguish a flame when you ignore it and don't tend it - how rude to ignore the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity! In conservative evangelicalism today we worship, to a large extent, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Scriptures - we've left the Holy Spirit out. If you ignore the Holy Spirit, and you preach against the Holy Spirit, how can you expect to know the fire of the Holy Spirit?
If you ignore that flame it will go out. If you no longer tend that flame - some of you might have been filled years ago, but like Paul said to Timothy: 'You need to stir up the gift of God that is within you'. You've lost the fire. I don't care what happened to you when you were in your 20s or your 30s - has it gone tonight? A flame can be ignored, it can be no longer tended, or it can be, as I said, overwhelmed by something else. This is what happened in the early church, the Spirit of God, and His power, and His gifts, and His leadership was overwhelmed by church tradition and hierarchy. The Spirit was substituted by doctrine, doctrine that was divorced from unction - and that's what we have even today in modern evangelicalism! We have unbelief in the guise of theology!
Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? You now know how. Will you, tonight, take it by faith, and thank God that He has heard you - for it will make all the difference. Paul Rader wrote many hymns, one of which is 'Fear Not, Little Flock, Whatever Your Lot'. On one occasion he preached a mighty sermon on that text in John: 'Out of a man's innermost being shall flow rivers of living water'. Later at the end of the meeting, two men who had heard the sermon asked Mr Rader to meet them for a meal and for discussion. One man began by saying: 'Mr Rader, you preached a good sermon, but you're all wrong dispensationally'. The other said: 'Mr Rader, you're a good preacher, and a good brother - the problem is: you've got the wrong interpretation'. Mr Rader did not answer, but he bowed his head along with them to pray and give thanks before eating the meal. When Mr Rader finally looked across the table, having given thanks, he saw the first brother, something had happened to him - tears were streaming down the man's face, and his shoulders were shaking with emotion. Finally he said: 'Brother Rader, we have interpretation, but you have the rivers of blessing'.
Do you have the right interpretation tonight, whatever that is? You think it's right, but you don't have the rivers of living water.
Let us pray. Let us settle our hearts just now. I don't really need to say any more, except this: I want to invite you to do what Oswald Chambers said he did. When he had got to the end of himself regarding this issue, he said: 'I rose to my feet, and then and there I claimed the gift of the Holy Spirit in dogged committal on Luke 11:13' - which, let me remind you again, says 'If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask'. I want you now, in just a moment, to stand to your feet in dogged committal on this verse, and ask God to fill you once and for all. It'll not be a 'for all' filling, I don't mean it's all you need - you must then, Ephesians 5:18: 'Be continually being filled by the Holy Spirit day by day', continually repenting and believing, and turning to the Lord, and taking up your cross and following Him. But this that you have longed for, don't look for the feeling, don't look for the experience, just look by faith to God for the promise that He has given to you - and cash it in! Then turn and thank Him for it, and believe that you have received - not believe that you're going to receive, believe that you have received what you've asked, and thank Him for it, and ask Him to witness it to you as He sees fit.
Psalm 37 verse 5 says: 'Commit your way to the LORD, trust in Him, and He will act' - you've got to commit this once and for all, just commit it to Him and then thank Him, and He will act then. Just where you are, in the presence of God, those who want to be filled, stand to your feet. Now you don't need me, but if you wish to follow this prayer to help you, do it now: "Father, I come to You in Jesus' name. I confess Him afresh as my Lord and my Saviour, and I in repentant faith turn to You for Your promise, and the promise of Your Son: the gift of the Holy Spirit in fullness. I ask You now, according to Your promise, to fill me full of the Holy Spirit" - and you use the terminology you wish, to fill me, to possess me, to baptise me - "Come and immerse me in the power of the blessed Holy Spirit. I take it by faith now, I receive". Now drink it in, drink Him in, the rivers of living water, receive in your heart - say: "Lord, I receive now Your promise, I believe I receive Your promise now, and I thank You that You have heard me. I thank You, I choose to believe that You have come and I have received by faith. I ask You to witness it to me as You will, Lord. I believe Your word, I believe Your promise, I receive and I thank You".
O Lord, I pray for this company now. I can't pray for them individually, Lord, but as I look over this congregation at those who are engaging with You now - O, I pray now Lord:
'O Thou that camest from above,
The pure celestial fire to impart,
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of our heart.
There let it for Thy glory burn
With inextinguishable blaze,
And trembling to its source return,
In humble prayers and fervent praise'.
Lord, You have said 'The promise is to you, to your children, and to all who are afar off'. Lord, this is our promise, it belongs to us - pour out Your Spirit on all flesh now, come Holy Spirit, come. Possess Your Temple, that our sons and our daughters shall prophesy, our young men shall see visions, our old men shall dream dreams. On Your menservants and on Your maidservants may You pour out Your Spirit in these days, that they shall prophesy. Come Holy Spirit, You are welcome here, You are welcome in our hearts, You are welcome in our homes. Come Holy Spirit, find Your home in us. Lord, may we go now with the blessing of the Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Don't miss part 5 of Encountering God: “Sins, Wounds And Demons - The Barriers To Encountering God”
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This sermon was delivered at Abbots Cross Congregational Church in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his 'Encountering God' series, entitled "How To Be Filled With The Spirit - The Energy Of Encountering God" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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