Hitherto we have been treating the Holy Spirit in terms of the past, but now we come to the present tense. Is the Holy Spirit a power in the present age? If so, what kind of a power? Is he making an issue with men as a direct power and working upon them immediately, or is he working through an instrumentality, and, if so, what is the instrumentality?
The Spirit is undoubtedly dealing with two classes of persons in his work to-day.
First, those who are not believers, and therefore unconverted and “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.”
Second, those who have believed and obeyed the gospel, and are therefore children of God. We shall devote this chapter to the influence of the Spirit upon the unbelieving world.
In the very nature of things, the work of the Spirit is to make believers out of unbelievers and convert the perverted. We all believe this. We believe that all believers are made by the power of the Spirit. We differ about whether he exercises that power directly from himself to the individual soul, or whether he exercises that power through the gospel, through the apostles and through Christ’s word of truth. Reason, philosophy, and experience exhausted themselves in discovering but two methods by which one spirit can exercise an influence over another.
First, a direct mechanical, immediate influence taking possession of the will and influencing the mind of and controlling the speech and actions of the subject. This takes place in hypnotism and is supposed to take place in clairvoyance and clairaudience.
Second, a rational moral influence exerted by ideas impressed upon the mind by teaching and words that represent ideas.
There is, there can be, no third way by which one spirit can influence another. You may study till you are gray-headed or bald-headed, for that matter, and you will discover no other way.
The Holy Spirit has used both of these methods in the past.
- In the case of the apostles and prophets, he immediately, mechanically and directly controlled their actions and speech, so much so that Jesus told them that under the influence of the Spirit they should take no thought what they should say. “For it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11). “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” – Acts 2:4
- In the case of the men to whom the apostles preached on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit used a rational moral influence through the words of Peter’s sermon, which conveyed ideas that swayed their minds and hearts. It is claimed by some that both of these methods are used by the Spirit to-day. The modern teaching concerning the first of these influences is well set forth in the following selection from a widely known book by L.B. Dunn, entitled “The Mission of the Spirit”: “Even where the light of the gospel does not shine, and the institutions of the gospel are not enjoyed, there the Spirit acts directly upon man’s heart and conscience, writes the law of God upon his mind, gives him the sense of sin and the need of forgiveness. Hence, wherever man is, there the Comforter is at work upon his heart and mind. The divine influence is imparted unconditionally and irresistibly. The Holy Spirit is ever employed to bring man back to God; and whether he desires it or not, whether he is willing or unwilling, still the Comforter comes to him with his heavenly illumination, his divine influence, convincing him of sin, and his consequent need of the mercy of God. May I not truly say that man really has no choice in the matter as to whether he will or will not have this divine influence upon his soul? He is, he must be, enlightened and convinced, whether he will hear or forbear, whether he will be saved or damned. He cannot prevent the entrance of the Spirit into his heart.”
In connection with the above, we quote also from a sermon in “The Baptist Pulpit,” by Rev. J.W. Hayhurst: “God has given us no means by which the conversion of sinners, or the general revival of religion, can be effected, irrespective of the direct agency of the Spirit. The gospel itself will not do it.”
These quotations give us a pretty clear and explicit statement of the theory of the direct mechanical and immediate operation of the Holy Spirit upon the human spirit.
The second method is aptly stated by an editorial which appeared in the Sunday School Times during the year 1908: “It is a strange fact that, notwithstanding the explicitness and uniformity of the New Testament teachings on this subject, there is a widespread popular opinion that the Holy Spirit’s work is directly and immediately on or in the heart of the unbeliever, without the intervention or agency of the Christian whatever. To hear what is said in the sermons, or sung in the hymns, or prayed in the prayers of many Christians, one might believe that the Holy Spirit is sent directly to the unbelieving sinner, to strive with him, to show him his sin, and to point him to, the Savior; and that therefore the Christian preacher or teacher has rather to wait the results of this work of the Spirit, than to be the instrument or the avenue of this work. Many a Christian seems to think that the Holy Spirit’s work is that of a revival preacher, in moving sinners to repentance by a direct appeal to their consciences and understandings, instead of stirring up Christians to appeal, in the power of the Spirit, to unbelievers to believe and turn to God. It is true that, in this present dispensation of the Spirit, all power in the evangelizing of the world, and in the swaying of the hearts of men toward Christ and in the service of Christ, is primarily with the Holy Spirit. But it is also true that the Holy Spirit, according to the Bible teachings, works in and by and through believers in Jesus. Hence if one who is not a believer in Jesus is to be won to discipleship, the question is not, ‘Will the Holy Spirit work on his mind immediately, or will the Holy Spirit work through one who already believes?’ for that question the Bible has already answered. The Holy Spirit can use the written words, like the spoken words, of a chosen messenger of God to an unbelieving soul. But in every case, the Spirit reaches the believer mediately (indirectly), not immediately.”
Now, these theories are directly contradictory. If one is true, the other cannot be. The only question to decide is as to which one is true. Let us examine these theories in the light of reason, revelation, and experience. If the Holy Spirit works directly and immediately on the heart of man, surely there should be some tangible evidence of it given in such a striking way as to demonstrate the truth of the theory. But the experience of Christendom for nineteen centuries fails to furnish a single unquestioned evidence of it. The proof of the theory is made to hinge upon far-fetched inferences drawn from Scripture statements, and even these fail to furnish the evidence sought. Let us notice some of the Scriptures that are relied upon to prove a direct operation of the Spirit in the conversion of sinners:
- “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep mine ordinances, and do them” (Ezek. 36:26, 27). This passage has been much relied upon to prove the theory of an abstract operation of the Spirit upon the sinner in conversion. Its failure to support the theory is evidenced by the following facts:
(1) The Lord was not talking about the conversion of a sinner, but the renewal of Israel as a people.
(2) The passage says nothing about the work of the Holy Spirit.
(3) There is nothing mentioned in the passage that could not have been accomplished by ordinary means.
(4) The very point to be proven is assumed.
- “But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” (2 Cor. 3:14-16, ESV) Just what is found here to prove a direct operation of the Spirit would be difficult to say. The apostle is speaking of the Jews reading the Scriptures with a veil, which blinds them. The veil was undoubtedly a false interpretation, which prevented their seeing Christ in their Scriptures. If they had not this wrong interpretation, they would see Christ and their Scriptures would be plain. As it was, they were dark and mysterious. The apostle tells what will remove the veil: “When they shall turn to the Lord,” the veil shall be taken away. There is nothing in the whole passage that even hints at an immediate operation of the Spirit.
- “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10, ESV) There is nothing here to even hint at a direct operation. It says the Ephesians were created in Christ Jesus (not in the Holy Spirit) unto good works. If the reader wishes to learn by what means they were so created, let him turn to chapter 1, verse 13, and he will obtain the information: “In whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,—in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” That is something to the point. They “heard the word of truth,” the gospel of their salvation. Then, after they believed, they “were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” There is nothing in the passage to warrant the teaching of a special operation to enable them to believe.
- “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” (Acts 16:14, ESV) This is relied upon to prove a direct work of the Spirit upon Lydia that she might hear and believe. The very thing to be proved is again assumed. True, the Lord opened Lydia’s heart, but he did not do so that she might “receive the word,” for Paul had already preached it to her. Her heart was opened that “she gave heed to the things spoken by Paul.” Before she heard Paul, she had a narrow, bigoted Jewish heart. After she heard the preaching, her heart was opened to attend to the things she had heard. That is, she obeyed the gospel. Nothing about the Holy Spirit in the entire history.
- “‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you andwill be in you.’” (John 14:16-17, ESV) As I have elsewhere shown, this passage has a private and peculiar application to the apostles, and not to the world of mankind. It specifically states “the world cannot receive” this Comforter. That kills it as a proof-text that the world “must receive it” before it can believe. Those who affirm a direct operation of the Spirit on “the world” make a clear-cut issue with the Savior.
- “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:6, ESV) Those who use this to prove a special operation of the Spirit make it mean, “I have planted the word and Apollos has watered it, but God by a special work of the Holy Spirit makes the increase of the word.” This is a false interpretation, as the apostle was not speaking of “the word” at all. How could Apollos “water the word”? The apostle was speaking of the congregation at Corinth, which he had planted and Apollos had tended, and which, under the care of God, had made increase. There is nothing in the passage about the Holy Spirit.
- “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.” (Acts 10:44). This has reference to God’s signifying his acceptance of the Gentiles by an outpouring similar to the one on the day of Pentecost. It was purely a supernatural act and has never been repeated since that day. But even then it would not prove the necessity of an operation of the Spirit, that men might hear the gospel and believe it. The record says, “The Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.” (Acts 10:44, ESV) Cornelius was told by the angel to send for Peter, “‘and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’” – Acts 11:14, NASB
- “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.” (1 Cor. 2:14-15, ESV) This is held to be one of the strongest passages to confirm the teaching of the necessity of a direct operation of the Holy Spirit to enable a man to hear and to believe the gospel. A brief examination of the context will show that such an idea was not in the mind of the apostle at all. The apostle is not even speaking of conversion when he uses the language. He is speaking of inspiration. The spiritual man in Paul’s mind was a man inspired by the Spirit, and the natural man was an uninspired man. If the reader will turn to the ninth verse of the chapter and read to the conclusion of the chapter, and place “uninspired” where he finds “natural,” and “inspired” where “spiritual” is found, the passage will be as clear as a sunbeam. “The things of the Spirit” are things produced by the Spirit, which needed an inspired man to explain. The day of Pentecost was a “thing of the Spirit,” and there was not an uninspired man in all that great throng that could understand it. The best solution they could give was, “These men are drunk,” but Peter, an inspired man, explained in inspired language that “this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.’” (Acts 2:16-17, ESV) When these natural (uninspired) men heard Peter’s (inspired) spiritual explanation, they could understand it. They did understand it and obeyed it to the number of three thousand. Nebuchadnezzar’s vision was a “thing of the Spirit,” and there was not a natural (uninspired) man in all his realm that could interpret it. But Daniel, a spiritual (inspired) man, explained it in spiritual language and then all could understand it. There is nothing in the passage to support the theory of a direct operation to enable man to understand the gospel.
- “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31, ESV) This passage is used because it speaks of Christ giving repentance. They infer that is done by a direct operation of the Spirit. But the passage says nothing as to how he grants repentance. Christ gives many things that are not the result of a direct operation of the Spirit. The very next verse says God gives “the Holy Spirit to all them that obey him.” This directly contradicts the theory of the necessity of a direct operation of the Spirit to enable men to obey him.
- “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44) This is greatly relied upon to show the necessity of an irresistible drawing before men can come to Christ. The word “draw,” in the Scriptures, is a translation of two words in the original. One means to draw by force, “to drag;” the other means to “entice, allure or persuade,” that men are drawn by moral arguments, or “allured.” In the next verse, Christ tells how men are drawn. “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (John 6:45, ESV) Christ draws men by “teaching,” and they come as result of “learning.” That is why he told his disciples to “go teach all nations.” That is Christ’s method of drawing.
Now, I have selected ten of the strongest passages in the New Testament that support the theory of a direct operation of the Spirit before men are qualified to hear and obey the gospel. If it is not taught in the above passages, it is not taught in the Bible. When rightly considered, not one of them even leans toward the theory. Are we not justified in saying that the theory is not supported by the Scriptures! Now, how are persons made believers? Hear the word of God:
- “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16, ESV) Now, here is the unequivocal statement that God’s power to save is lodged in the gospel. In all ages of Christianity, there is not a record of a single soul ever being saved without the presence of this power. But this is not a magical power. It must be heard in order that it produce faith. But how shall they hear without a preacher and how shall he preach except he be sent? The order is, then, (1) send, (2) preach, (3) hear, (4) believe, (5) obey, (6) saved. Now, this is the order of the Savior’s commission to his followers. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20, ESV) That is our marching order to-day.
- “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now, these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, who received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11-12) Here were believers made by searching the Scriptures and by receiving the Word with all “readiness of mind.” The same method will make believers of unbelievers today.
- “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” (1 Cor. 4:15, NASB) No clearer statement could be made as to the power exercised in begetting men to a new life. They are begotten through the gospel.
- “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” (Jas. 1:18, NASB) This is as clear as the one above it. The Word of truth brings us forth.
5. “‘For the heart of this people has become dull, With their ears they scarcely hear, And they have closed their eyes, Otherwise, they would see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, And understand with their heart and return, And I would heal them.’” (Matt. 13:15) To be healed, one must be converted; to be converted, one must understand with the heart; to understand with the heart, one must perceive and hear. But the people the Lord mentions were not healed. Why? Because they were not converted. Why were they not converted? Because they had not perceived with their eyes and heard with their ears. Why had they not seen and heard! “Their ears are dull of hearing, And their eyes they have closed; Lest at any time they should see with their eyes, And hear with their ears.” Men talk of the Bible being a sealed book. They would better talk of sealed eyes, ears and hearts, as does the Savior.
 Or with all eager readiness of mind. The Greek word prothumias means that one is eager, ready, mentally prepared to engage in some activity.