We're turning in our Bibles to the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2, and this is a message that the Lord laid on my heart couple of weeks ago - specifically for this meeting - and I've only been able to get at it this week to prepare it. I've entitled it: 'Christianity on Fire', and we're going to read from Acts chapter 2, just verses 1 to 4, then we're going to turn to 1 Thessalonians 5 to read a couple of verses there.
Acts chapter 2 verses 1 to 4: "When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance". Then 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 please, verse 19: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil".
Let's ask the Lord's help with the message this morning, and we want to all pray together - do pray. I hope that you've come to hear from God. Do pray that the Lord will speak to each heart now: Father, we thank You for Your word, we thank You that it is sharper than any two-edged sword to the dividing of the soul and spirit, to the bone and marrow. O God, I pray now, in the name of our Lord Jesus, crucified, buried, risen, exalted, glorified, in His name I pray that You will speak with the voice that quickens, speak with the voice that wakes the dead, and make Your people hear. Lord, we need You, we cannot do this without You. We need the Holy Spirit in all His power and all His unction. Lord, come, we pray, and even we pray that it would please You this morning to open heaven and pour out a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit. O God, come, come and set us on fire like never before. O God, send that fire from heaven, from Your throne, that might ignite us and inflame us, and set us ablaze for Jesus. O God, we cry to You, have mercy on us, meet with us, in Jesus' name, Amen.
Now I'm sure many of you are aware, if you're familiar with the scriptures, that fire has always been a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Now, of course, it's also a symbol of many other things within the word of God - but along with other symbols, such as oil and wind, fire has come to signify the power of the Spirit of God. Indeed, on the Day of Pentecost, these two symbols of fire and wind were forever wedded together as signifying the baptism of the Holy Spirit from on high when the church of Jesus Christ was born. It was this fire-baptism that transformed the trembling disciples in the Upper Room into ministers of a flame of fire who would go out and, as Acts testifies, would turn the world upside down and set the then known world ablaze. From that Upper Room, like wind and like fire, the irresistible, uncontrollable, unpredictable power of the Spirit of God spread.
Some of you may have heard of F.F. Bruce who was a Bible scholar many years ago, and he entitled his book detailing the rise and progress of Christianity from its first beginnings 'The Spreading Flame'. It's exactly what it was: a spreading flame across the known world. Primitive Christianity did not spread quietly by stealth, or slowly like a creeper up a wall, but it swept over vast territories, vast swathes of land, like a raging furnace. Original Christianity was on fire. For this reason Samuel Chadwick said: 'The sign of Christianity is not a cross, but a tongue of fire'.
Sadly today, in much of the Western Church, the fire has long since been extinguished. For many individual Christians, perhaps even you here this morning, it has never ever been kindled. In Europe in particular, society now recognises Christianity as cold, indifferent, dead, formal at times, and even irrelevant to their everyday lives. I hope you agree that you find it the same, I certainly do, that many churches are more like fridges than sacrificial altars. Many places of worship are more like mortuaries than centres of new life. Now we must beware of false fire, there is no doubt about that, and if you subscribe to certain cable or satellite channels that are meant to be Christian, you will see that there is a lot of false fire about. There's a lot of phenomena that masquerade as the ministry and the work of the Holy Spirit that are counterfeit, there is much done in the name of the Spirit of God that is false fire - but we must also recognise that Satan only counterfeits the true. This false fire actually betrays and witnesses to the fact that there is true fire.
Leonard Ravenhill said: 'We are often warned of false fire by fireless men, and then we too often settle for no fire at all'. Here is the grave danger, particularly in conservative evangelicalism that emphasises the word of God so much, and correctly so: we can often do it to the expense of the necessity of the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit. We sing quite a bit about the Holy Spirit, and indeed about His fire, and I want to challenge you today individually and as a church: what do you know about the fire of the Holy Spirit? We sing Charles Wesley:
'O that in me the sacred fire
Might now begin to glow,
Burn up the dross of base desire,
And make the mountains flow!'
We sing Edwin Hatch's hymn regularly:
'Breathe on me, breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine'
What do we know about that fire? You see, I'm really touching today on the uniqueness of Christianity, and indeed the uniqueness of the New Covenant that we read about in Jeremiah 31. We have been made, through grace, partakers of the New Covenant given to the Jews, and it is the Spirit's power to live out the life of faith that distinguishes the New Covenant from the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was 'Thou shalt not, thou shalt not, thou shalt', but it was weak - not in itself, but according to the flesh, because we ourselves cannot keep the law of Moses. But the genius of the New Covenant is that the Holy Spirit comes to reside in the believer, and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus sets us free from the law of sin and death.
In fact, this is why Jesus came. You can read about it in Matthew chapter 3, I'll just quote the verse to you, in verse 11 John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Lord, said: 'I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire'. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Now I know that the verses afterward talk of fire in the context of judgement, and often fire is used as a figure of judgement - but fire is also used, and I can give you several verses throughout Old and New Testament, as a figure of the power of grace through the Holy Spirit.
So you have this twofold ministry of fire in the word of God: fire both purges and purifies. I believe what John the Baptist was doing in Matthew chapter 3 is really contrasting this baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire with the purging work of the Holy Spirit in judgement. So, I believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire that John the Baptist is speaking of is seen in Acts chapter 2 when the disciples were baptised in the Holy Spirit and with fire, for those around witnessed that there were cloven tongues of fire resting upon their heads. Jesus said in Luke chapter 12: 'I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!', and then He goes on to describe how that fire would distinguish, it would judge between those who would believe in Him, and those who would not. Those who believed in Him, the fire of the Holy Spirit would fall on them and purge them; and those who did not believe in Him, the fire of judgement would come upon them and convict them. As the hymnwriter put it:
'To bring fire on earth He came,
Kindled in some hearts it is.
Oh that all might catch the flame;
All partake the glorious bliss'.
Sadly many professing Christians in our churches don't know anything about this fire - do you? Many evangelicals have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. You were designed, as a New Testament Christian, to inhabit fire. Just as a motor car is designed to move whenever the engine is empowered - we call it 'ignition', essentially fire - you, as a Christian, were designed to be empowered by the fire of the Holy Spirit of God. Maybe you're here and you're an unmoved Christian, just like a motor car without the fire - it's because of an absence of fire. Or maybe you're a Christian involved in ministry, or generally in your everyday witness of life, you fail to move others, you're not affecting others the way you would long to - more than likely it is because of an absence of this fire. General Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, said:
'Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
The fire will meet our every need,
Send the fire!'.
Now I want to ask a couple of questions this morning. The first is: why fire? Why is the Holy Spirit compared to fire? The second is: what fire signifies - what does it mean that the Holy Spirit is like fire? The third is: how this fire is caught? And the fourth: how the fire is quenched? So: why fire? We're used, perhaps, more so with the image of the Dove speaking of the Holy Spirit. We think of the Dove as being tender and sensitive, and perhaps there is a sense of weakness there - but fire brings an all-new conception to the character and attributes of the Holy Spirit. The reason why fire is used as a figure of the Spirit is because fire is a part of the Shekinah glory of God. Do you know what that is? Well, the word 'Shekinah' comes from the Hebrew verb 'to dwell', 'shakan', and the Shekinah glory of God was an outward visible manifestation of when God was around. 'Shekinah' was a visible manifestation of the invisible God in His personal presence. In the Old Testament we could cite many references where we see fire, we see light, we see cloud, and we see a combination of all those and more - signifying that God has come. In the New Testament, the Shekinah glory of God comes in a new form. John said in John 1:14: 'We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth'. It was at the Transfiguration Mount that that Shekinah glory broke forth from the Lord Jesus Christ.
But now that our Lord is ascended, where does this Shekinah glory dwell? Well, Paul tells us in Corinthians, the glory of God is still in the face of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is still the Person we need to look to if we want to behold the glory of God. However, on the Day of Pentecost, in Acts 2 we read it, the sight of tongues of fire parting asunder on the heads of the disciples was to herald that the Shekinah glory of God had now come to dwell in a new way. God's presence had come to dwell in the Temple of His church, in the individual temples of the bodies of believers, by His Spirit. This was signified by flames of fire. That's why the Spirit is compared to fire, because the Spirit brings the very presence of God into our lives and into our church - that's why God uses fire as an image.
But what does fire signify? What does He mean, what does He want us to learn through this illustration? Well there are about six things here that I want to share with you - there are many more, I'm sure, but these are the ones that I want to bring to you today. There is the enlightening of the Spirit's fire. Just as fire enlightens and illuminates, the Holy Spirit of God in our lives enlightens us. What a wonderful picture of that in the Israelites going to the wilderness: what were they guided by? A pillar of cloud by day, that's Shekinah glory; and a pillar of fire at night to lead them in the darkness. Paul's prayer for the Ephesian believers was this in chapter 1: 'That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him', listen, 'the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints'. Now this was a group of Christians Paul was praying for in Ephesians, but he wanted them to have a greater capacity for this flame of God in their life, the Holy Spirit, to illuminate their walk day by day.
Do you know that the fullness of the Holy Spirit makes the Bible a new book? Is there anyone here today finds it hard reading the Bible? Does it feel like a dry book to you, you get very little out of it? Maybe you need a little help, but maybe you need the flame of the Holy Spirit? Maybe you're desiring guidance in your pilgrimage down here on earth, you don't know which way to turn - right, left, back, forward - you have decisions to make in your life. Maybe it's a general thing about what you're doing for God, and what this life is all about, and whether you're wasting it or not? Well, this flame of the Holy Spirit, when you have Him in His fullness, He guides you! Fire signifies the enlightening of the Spirit.
See something else: fire signifies the warming of the Spirit. In Luke chapter 24, we read of the two on the road to Emmaus, and we read that the Lord Jesus drew alongside them and taught them from the prophets and the Old Testament books how He was to come, and so they had the insight of the scriptures - but there was something more there. They testify that: 'our hearts burned within us as He walked with us, and as He talked with us by the way. Did not our hearts burn?'. So there was the insight of the scriptures, but there was this unction of the burning work of the Holy Spirit that warmed them, that fired them, that's what we need, and that is what is so absent in our churches and from our pulpits today! Are you ever left cold after hearing a sermon on the word of God? Well, if you ever feel like that, it's because of the absence of fire, the absence of the Spirit of God. Paul taught the Corinthians that we are ministers of the Spirit, and not the letter alone; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit brings life.
The Holy Spirit is like fire because He is enlightening. The Holy Spirit is like fire because he is warming. The Holy Spirit, thirdly, is like fire because He is consuming. Hebrews said: 'Our God is a consuming fire'. This is a Spirit of judgement, Isaiah says the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of burning. In other words, when He comes into our lives He burns and consumes the dross of corruption and sin and worthless things, the chaff is how the Bible describes it. This fire burns it all up! That's what's meant to be going on, continually, in the life of believers. The Holy Spirit, as we surrender more and more to Him, will burn up the chaff and the worthless things - but there is a day coming, Jesus says, when we will stand before Him at His judgement seat (it's called the 'bema'), and Paul said: 'each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is'. The Holy Spirit is a flame of consuming judgement, even in the life of believers. Peter says: 'Judgement must begin in the house of God'.
He is a fire that is enlightening, He is warming, He is consuming. A fourth one: He is cleansing, or we could say He is purifying. You remember in Isaiah 6, when Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up in His glory - holy, holy, holy - he was undone, he fell at His feet as dead and said, 'Woe is me!'. A seraph took a live coal, a burning coal from of the altar, and placed it on his lips, saying: 'Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged'. Now I know that your sins are forgiven when you're born-again, but I'll tell you this: that's not when you stop sinning. You need the constant work of the Holy Spirit in your life. John says we are to walk in the light as He is in the light, and if you're walking in the flame of the Holy Spirit your sin will continually be shown up more and more, and the Spirit will make you more aware of sin, more than you could ever have imagined. I would just exhort you today: don't resist that work of the cleansing of the fire of the Spirit of God.
Fifthly, the Spirit is like fire because He is inflaming. What I mean by that is: He sets alight. Matthew Henry said: 'The Spirit makes all it seizes like itself'. When you come into contact with the Spirit of God as a fire, the unction of the Holy One will rest upon you just like it did those early disciples, flames of fire upon their head - or, to put it very bluntly: you'll be different! I can tell you: there is a difference between men and women and young people who have the unction of the Holy Spirit upon them, and those who do not, because the Holy Spirit is inflaming them. John Wesley said: 'If you're a preacher and you're on fire in the pulpit, people will come to watch you burn'.
The Holy Spirit is enlightening, warming, consuming, cleansing, inflaming, and finally: He is ascending. Like a flame, the Holy Spirit is ascending. In other words, He moves upwards, He has a tendency heavenward. He will cause us to set our affections on things that are above. We will be living for Christ and for the Kingdom of God. Our life will essentially become a burnt offering, which is also known as 'the ascending offering', our whole life will be praise unto God:
'Only one life, 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.
And when I'm dying, how glad I will be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee'.
That's why a flame signifies the Holy Spirit: enlightening, warming, consuming, cleansing, inflaming, ascending. Quickly: how is fire caught? If you want this fire, how is it caught? Well, I specifically used the term 'it is caught' because you cannot create fire, in a true sense. What you can do is create an environment and conditions for that fire to be caught. You cannot switch the Holy Spirit on and off at your pleasure. Zechariah 4 says: ''Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit', says the LORD'. The Holy Spirit, He is God, and He is sovereign as God - but what we can do, though we cannot create Him in our lives, we can provide the environment, we can create the conditions in which His flame can be caught. I'll speak on that in a moment.
Another thing we can do is: when the flame is caught, we can conserve those conditions to continue the burning - for often, when His flame is caught, we allow other influences to come into our lives and we starve the flame of the Holy Spirit of the oxygen that He needs. Now this is vital: you need to create the conditions to catch the flame of the Holy Ghost. The reason why I say this is vital is: some very sincere people have confounded the idea of consecration with unction. Let me explain that: they have confused the idea of consecrating yourself and everything that you have to God, they have equated that with the unction and the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and it's not the same thing. It's not. Some think: 'Well, if I've surrendered all, then that's all there is to it', no. You surrendering yourself, if you've ever got to that place of surrendering your whole self to God, that's your part - the filling is God's part. It's just like being saved: repentant faith is our part, but saving assurance is God's part. There's a work of God here, yes, the fullness of the Holy Spirit is to be taken, just like salvation, by faith - but the assurance of salvation comes from who? God, and His word, and the witness of the Spirit in our hearts! In the same sense, so is the Spirit's infilling. You might be surrendered, you might be serving the Lord, but are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you have that assurance from God, and do you have the witness that the Comforter has come?
Let me put it another way - and you may not like my terminology, but I can't help that - have you had your own personal Pentecost? Now, I know that we receive the Holy Spirit as a gift at the new birth, and He comes to be resident in our lives - I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about Pentecost where He comes to be President in our lives, and He comes to preside over the whole church. The disciples received the Holy Spirit in John 20 and verse 22, the Lord Jesus, it says, 'breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'' - but they still needed their Pentecost. They couldn't bypass Pentecost because the Saviour had breathed the Holy Spirit on them and they had been partakers of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn't just want to squat in your life, He wants to be in control of your whole home, your whole being! Will you catch the fire? Who here today will catch the fire, if never before?
You say: 'Give me something to do to catch the fire'. Well, it's not much different than anything else you always do in spiritual terms: you need to repent of any known sin in your life, you need to surrender everything that you are and everything that you have to God, you need to ask in faith for the Spirit's infilling - as Jesus taught His disciples, 'If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him!'. Have you ever asked for the fire of the Holy Spirit? Then, when you ask, you must obey. Whatever God's Spirit puts His finger on for you to deal with, for you to get rid of, for you to start doing that you haven't been doing, you must obey - and, the more you obey, the more you will be filled and consumed by this fire. A.W. Tozer 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'. That's how the fire is caught - have you ever caught it? Do you know anything about this?
I want to finish by asking this question: how is fire quenched? We are thinking of 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 here, our second reading, verse 19 in particular: 'Quench not the Spirit', do not quench the Spirit. It could more literally be translated thus: 'Stop putting out the Spirit's fire'. Do you know that the Holy Spirit can be resisted? Stephen said: 'You always resist the Holy Spirit', and many unsaved people do that, and saved people. The Holy Spirit can be grieved, usually by sin in our lives we grieve the Holy Spirit. But what is being talked about here is the Holy Spirit being quenched, or extinguished. The flame of the Spirit can be extinguished in our individual lives and in the church at large. How? Well, if you ignore a flame it will go out. Many a time I sit in front of the fire engrossed in a book, and I look over and the fire has gone out. If you ignore the Holy Spirit, imagine how rude it is to ignore the third Person of the blessed Holy Trinity!
So often we can get along quite fine without Him, if the truth is told. If the Holy Spirit didn't show up at 11:30 on a Sunday morning, we probably wouldn't notice any difference. Am I being too strong? I met a lady of God recently called Rebecca Manley Pippert, she wrote a little book 'Out Of The Saltshaker', a wonderful little book about evangelism. She made a statement to me which was remarkable, I thought, she said: 'Many of the circles that I'm going around are conservative evangelical circles, Bible believing groups of Christians', and she says, 'I have learned that we have begun to worship a new Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures', and the Holy Spirit is ignored. If you ignore the Holy Spirit, should you be surprised that He doesn't do much, or show up much in your life or in our churches? He likes to be welcomed, He likes conditions where He feels at home, just like He landed on the Lord Jesus Christ at His baptism - but He is easily disturbed.
If we ignore Him, we will quench the Spirit. Something else, if you no longer tend Him, if you no longer tend the flame it will go out. If you have had a touch of this fire of God - and I hope you have - you've got to tend it. Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6: 'Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands'. There was some spiritual gifting that was given to him by the apostle, but he had to stir it up. You must tend the flame of the Holy Spirit when He inflames you and infills you, otherwise it will go out. Many people talk about: 'O, I had an experience with God twenty years ago, and I got filled with the Holy Spirit' - it's interesting to note in the book of the Acts that you never read of anyone who 'was' filled with the Holy Spirit, you only ever read of anyone full, present tense, full of the Holy Spirit.
The flame also can be quenched if it is ignored, if it is no longer tended, but also if it's overwhelmed by something else. If you starve it of oxygen and put a box or a bucket over the flame, it will go out. If you throw water over it and overwhelm it, or put a damp cloth over it, a sheet, a fire blanket, it will go out. This is what happened, by the way, in the early church. This is what happened not long after the events that we were reading in the Acts of the Apostles. Early church history tells us that tradition of men came in, ecclesiasticism, hierarchies of bishops and so on began to invade the presence of the Spirit, and substitute His work by their tradition and their human wisdom. It wasn't long before doctrine began to substitute unction, and we can do the same thing today. We can overwhelm this flame by other things.
Let me tease that out for a moment. We can overwhelm the Spirit when we will not let Him operate - that's what we have here in 1 Thessalonians 5: 'Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil'. Now there were probably false prophecies being made here in this church of Thessalonica, and because of that the Christians swung to the other extreme of not allowing any of this activity of prophesying ever again because of these crackpots. Just like we are in danger of swinging, because of extremism in certain circles, we swing completely to the other extreme and we quench the Spirit. Paul says don't do that, don't despise the work of the Spirit; test everything, prove everything and hold on to what is good, but abstain from all forms of evil.
Now listen: that is teaching us simply that we are to distinguish, not extinguish. We are to distinguish, with the gift of discernment, what is of God; but certainly not extinguish the move of God. If you're to do that, if you're going to allow the Holy Spirit to operate, He needs freedom. Paul said: 'Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there there is liberty', the word is 'freedom'. When we do not let Him operate, we overwhelm Him. Sometimes we can overwhelm Him with our theology, a lot of theologies aren't too accepting of the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we are content in what we might call our 'judicial possessions' as believers, we are in Christ, we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, O we've got a golden ticket to heaven and everything is wonderful - we're one of the saints! But we possess these things judicially, whereas our personal experience of God pales into insignificance, we are pygmies! We are like the bus conductor that has shouted out the destination so many times that he thinks he's been to the places. Is your theology quenching the Spirit? I'm not saying you have to become a Pentecostal, but we need Pentecost.
Sometimes our pre-eminent human wisdom can quench the Spirit. Do you know what the early church did? I wish I had time to show you this, but whenever they had to make decisions they waited on God: they fasted and they prayed, and they ministered to the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit said, 'Now, you set aside Paul and Barnabas for this work', and He told them where to preach, He told them who to preach to, He actually told them where not to preach. We have in the book of Revelation chapter 4 a vision of the throne room of God, and do you know what is before the throne? The Holy Spirit, and He is depicted as seven lamps, seven flames, and that shows us that the Holy Spirit, like a courtier of old, is the One who goes out and does the will of the King on the throne. It is the Holy Spirit, who is the Vicar of Christ on the earth, administrating the rule of God from the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, on the earth - and if we put our human wisdom, or our tradition, or our doctrine before that, we quench Him.
Another big one that quenches the Holy Spirit is fear. Many Christians are afraid of the Holy Spirit! Can I say something - and I hope this goes right into your spirit today - you need never be afraid of the Holy Spirit. Did not our Lord say, again quoting Luke chapter 11: 'If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him!'. If a son asks his father for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If the wee fella is hungry, will he give him a cobra to bite him - what kind of a father would that be? If you're hungry for the Holy Spirit, He's going to give you something and someone that you have no need to be afraid of. Jesus said: 'If a child asks his father for an egg, will he gave him a scorpion?'. There's nothing to be afraid of in the Holy Spirit, but one thing to be afraid of in our lives and in our churches is an absence of the Holy Spirit! We need to be afraid of that!
The last thing the quenches the Holy Spirit, in this list anyway, is scepticism - or to put it another way: unbelief. A lot of people just don't believe. For a lot of people, the Holy Spirit packed His bags and went home to heaven after the Apostles died. This was the reason Israel wandered around in the wilderness. God's word says: 'They limited the Holy One' - don't you limit God. Don't you limit God! Is your God too small? Is your God in a box that you have made for Him? In the New Testament we read of our Lord that He went into His own country, and He could do no mighty works there because of what? Their unbelief! Around the Table this morning we were talking, and rightly so, about what the Lord has done - let me ask you a question: what is the Lord doing? What is He doing now? What's He doing in your life? What's He doing in our churches? What's He doing in our land? What's He doing in our world? Let me tell you: He's doing an awful lot, but without faith it is impossible to please God; they that come unto God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those that diligently seek Him.
You see, if you no longer believe in a supernatural God, you're not going to be looking for Him! I wonder is your problem unbelief? Is that the reason why you're not on fire? Or is it fear? Or is it your human wisdom? Or your theology? Or is it simply that you won't let Him operate for one of those many reasons? Is it just because you've ignored Him, or that you've once known His burning flame but you have not tended Him in your life - and you yearn today for that enlightening power, that warming, consuming, cleansing, inflaming, ascending power of the Holy Spirit. Is your Christianity on fire? Is this church on fire? Or is there an absence of fire?
Let me finish with this story. A man who experienced and taught the infilling of the Holy Spirit was asked by a clergyman: 'Are you telling us that you have the truth and we do not?'. He replied: 'No, I do not say that'. He thought for a way of explaining the difference between individuals, and indeed churches, who are operating in the fullness of the power of the Spirit, and those who are not. Suddenly he found himself thinking of an appliance that he and his wife had bought when they moved to their home in Dallas, Texas. This is what he said: 'We both have the truth, let me explain. You know, when my wife and I moved to America we bought a marvellous device called a deep freeze, and there we keep some rather fine Texas beef. Now, my wife can take out one of those steaks and lay it, frozen solid, on the table. It's a steak, alright, no question of that. You can sit round it and analyse it, and we can discuss its lineage, its age, what part of the steer it comes from. We can weigh it, and we can list its nutritional values. But if my wife puts that steak on the fire, something different begins to happen. My little boy smells it from way out in the yard and comes shouting, 'Wow man! What's the smell, that smells good! I want more of that!'. Gentlemen', said this preacher, 'that is the difference between our ways of handling the same truth: you have yours on ice; we have ours on fire'.
I'm not going to argue today over terminology. Some know this wonderful experience as the 'fullness of the Spirit', some the 'infilling of the Spirit', Wesley called it 'perfect love', some call it 'the baptism of the Spirit', 'with the Spirit' - I say what Billy Graham says, and I have my own thoughts on that, but he says: 'I don't care what you call it, just get it!'.
Let us pray. You need to talk to God just now, this is the need of the hour, this is the need of the hour if ever there was. Some of you think you maybe know something of this, but you probably don't know anything about it. Make sure you know for sure, and even say to the Lord: 'Lord, I repent', of whatever you need to repent of, 'Lord, I surrender. Lord, I believe. Lord, I ask You for the fullness of the Holy Spirit, come and possess me, and inflame me with Your power'. These girls here that were in Asia probably could tell you the difference between churches over there and over here, couldn't you? Fire.
'O Thou who camest from above,
The pure celestial fire to impart,
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart.
There let it for Thy glory burn
With inextinguishable flame,
And trembling to its source return
In humble prayer and fervent praise'.
Lord, set us alight with Your Spirit, for Jesus' glory alone, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at the Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Christianity On Fire" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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