Trying the Spirits

Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.'

THOSE who have not the Holy Spirit, or who do not heed Him, fall easily and naturally into formalism, substituting lifeless ceremonies, sacraments, genuflections and ritualistic performances for the free, glad, living worship inspired by the indwelling Spirit. They sing, but not from the heart. They say their prayers, but they do not really pray. ' I prayed last night, mother,' said a child. 'Why, my child, you pray every night!' replied the mother. ' No,' said the child, ' I only said prayers, but last night I really prayed.' And his face shone. He had opened his heart to the Holy Spirit, and had at last really talked with God and worshipped.

But those who receive the Holy Spirit may fall into fanaticism, unless they follow the command of John to try the spirits whether they are of God ' (I John iv. I).

We are commanded to ' despise not prophesyings but at the same time we are commanded to ' prove all things ' (I Thess. v. 2o, 21). ' Many false prophets are gone out into the world ' (I John iv. I) and, if possible, will lead us astray. So we must beware. As someone has written, we must ' believe not every spirit; regard not, trust not, follow not, every pretender to the Spirit of God, or every professor of vision, or inspiration or revelation from God'.

The higher and more intense the life, the more carefully must it be guarded, lest it be endangered and go astray. It is so in the natural world, and likewise in the spiritual world.

When Satan can no longer rock people to sleep with religious lullabies, or satisfy them with the lifeless form, then he comes as an angel of light, probably in the person of some professor or teacher of religion, and seeks to usurp the place of the Holy Spirit; but instead of leading 'into all truth', he leads the unwary soul into deadly error; instead of directing him on to the highway of holiness, and into the path of perfect peace, where no ravenous beast ever comes, he leads him into a wilderness where the soul, stripped of its beautiful garments of salvation, is robbed and wounded and left to die, if some good Samaritan, with patient pity and Christlike love, come not that way.

I. When the Holy Spirit comes in His fullness, He strips men of their self-righteousness and pride and conceit. They see themselves as the chief of sinners, and realize that only through the stripes of Jesus are they healed; and ever after, as they live in the Spirit, their boast is in Him and their glory is in the Cross. Remembering the hole of the pit from which they were digged, they are filled with tender pity for all who are out of the way; yet, while they do not excuse or belittle sin, they are slow to believe evil, and their judgments are full of charity.

Judge not; the workings of his brain
And of his heart thou canst not see;
What looks to thy dim eyes a stain,
In God's pure light may only be
A sear, brought from some well-won field,
Where thou wouldst only faint and yield.

But the man who has been thus snared by Satan forgets his own past miserable state, boasts of his righteousness and thanks God that he was never as other men; he begins to beat his fellow-servants with heavy denunciations, thrust them through with sharp criticisms, and pelt them with hard words. He ceases to pity and begins to condemn; he no longer warns and entreats men in tender love, but is quick to believe evil, and swift to pass judgment, not only upon their actions, but upon their motives as well.

True charity has no fellowship with deeds of darkness. It never calls evil good, it does not wink at iniquity, but it is as far removed from this sharp, condemning spirit as light is from darkness, as honey is from vinegar. It is quick to condemn sin, but is full of saving, longsuffering compassion for the sinner.

2. A humble, teachable mind marks those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. They esteem very highly in love those who are over them in the Lord, and are glad to be admonished by them. They submit themselves one to the other in the fear of the Lord, welcome instruction and correction, and esteem open rebuke better than secret love (Prov. xxvii. 5). They believe that the Lord has yet many things to say unto them, and they are willing and glad for Him to say them by whom He will, but especially by their leaders and their brethren. While they do not fawn and cringe before men, nor believe everything that is said to them, without proving it by the word and Spirit of God, they believe that God 'gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ' (Eph. iv. 11, 12); and, like Cornelius, they are ready to hear these appointed ministers, and receive the word of -the Lord from them.

But Satan seeks to destroy all this lowliness of spirit and humbleness of mind. One in whom his deadly work has begun is 'wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason' (Prov. xxvi. 16). He is wiser than all his teachers, and no man can instruct him. One of these deluded souls, who had previously been marked by modesty and humility, declared of certain of God's chosen leaders whose spiritual knowledge and wisdom were everywhere recognized, that ' the whole of them knew no more about the Holy Ghost than an old goose'. Paul, Luther and Wesley were much troubled, and their work greatly hurt, by some of these misguided souls, and every great spiritual awakening is likely to be marred more or less by such people; so that we cannot be too much on our guard against false spirits who would counterfeit the work and leadings of the Holy Spirit.

It is this huge conceit that has led some men to announce themselves as apostles and prophets to whom all men must listen, or fall under the wrath of God; while others have declared that they were living in resurrection bodies and should not die; and yet others have reached that pitch of fanaticism where they could calmly proclaim themselves to be the Messiah, or the Holy Ghost in bodily form. Such people will be quick to deny the infallibility of the Pope, while they assume their own infallibility and denounce all who dispute it.

The Holy Spirit may lead to a holy rivalry in love and humility and brotherly kindness and self-denial and good works, but He never leads men into the swelling conceit of such exclusive knowledge and superior wisdom that they can no longer be taught by their fellowmen.

3. Again, the man who is filled with the Spirit tolerates those who differ from him in opinion, in doctrine. He is firm in his own convictions, and ready at all times with meekness and fear to explain and defend the doctrines which he holds and is convinced are according to God's word, but he does not condemn and consign to damnation all those who differ from him. He is glad to believe that men are often better than their creed and may be saved in spite of it; that, like mountains whose bases are bathed with sunshine and clothed with fruitful fields and vineyards, while their tops are covered with dark clouds, so men's hearts are often fruitful in the graces of charity, while their heads are yet darkened by doctrinal error.

Anyway, as ' the servant of the Lord', he will ' not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil' (2 Tim. ii. 24-26).

But when Satan comes as an angel of light he will, under guise of love for and loyalty to the truth, introduce the spirit of intolerance. It was this spirit that crucified Jesus; that burned Huss and Cranmer at the stake; that hanged Savonarola; that inspired the massacre of Bartholomew and the horrors of the Inquisition; and it is the same spirit, in a milder but possibly more subtle form, that blinds the eyes of many professing Christians to any good in those who differ from them in doctrine, forms of worship or methods of government. They murder love to protect what they often blindly call truth. What is truth without love? A dead thing, an encumbrance, the letter that killeth!

The body is necessary to our life in this world, but life can exist in a deformed and even mutilated body; and such a body with life in it is better than the most perfect body that is only a corpse. So, while truth is most precious, and sound doctrine to be esteemed more than silver and gold, love can exist where truth is not held in its most perfect and complete forms, and love is the one thing needful.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man's mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

4. The Holy Ghost begets a spirit of unity among Christians. People who have been sitting behind their sectarian fences in self-complacent ease, or proud indifference, or proselytizing zeal, or grim defiance, are suddenly lifted above the fence, and find sweet fellowship with each other, when He comes into their hearts.

They delight in each other's society; they each esteem others better than themselves, and in honour they prefer one another before themselves. They fulfil the Psalmist's ideal: 'Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! ' (cxxxiii. I). Here is a picture of the unity of Christians in the beginning in Jerusalem: 'And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common' (Acts iv. 31, 32). What an ideal is this! And since it has been attained once, it can be attained again and retained, but only by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. It was for this that Jesus poured out His heart in His great intercessory prayer, recorded in john xvii., just before His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. He says, ' I pray for them. . . . Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; That they all may be one.' And what was the standard of unity to which He would have us come? Listen!

'As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.' Such unity has a wondrous power to compel the belief of worldly men. 'And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me' (verses 9, 20-23). Wondrous unity! Wondrous love!

It is for this His blessed heart eternally yearns, and it is for this that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those who receive Him. But Satan ever seeks to destroy this holy love and divine unity. When he comes, he arouses suspicions, he stirs up strife, he quenches the spirit of intercessory prayer, he engenders backbitings and causes separations.

After enumerating various Christian graces, and urging the Colossians to put them on, Paul adds: 'And above all these things put on charity (or love), which is the bond of perfectness' (Col. iii. 14) - These graces were garments, and love was the girdle which bound and held them together; and so love is the bond that holds true Christians together.

Divine love is the great test by which we are to try ourselves and all teachers and spirits.

Love is not puffed up. Love is not bigoted. Love is not intolerant. Love is not schismatic. Love is loyal to Jesus and to all His people. If we have this love shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, we shall discern the voice of our Good Shepherd, and we shall not be deceived by the voice of the stranger; and so we shall be saved from both formalism and fanaticism.


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