When Jesus rose from the dead, the whole of His devoted followers could assemble in one upper chamber. At the time of His ascension, they numbered one hundred and twenty.
Of all the ages of history, that day was the age of universal corruption. Outside of Judea, idolatry reigned supreme. Gods and goddesses, representing every phase of vice, were openly worshiped in magnificent temples and at costly shrines. All power was in the hands of a magnificent and heartless imperialism. The masses were sunk in hopeless degradation, without means, without learning, without protection, and sixty million of them in the Roman Empire alone were slaves. Aged parents were allowed to die of starvation, children were exposed and murdered. Men fought each other as gladiators in the amphitheaters and died by the thousands for the amusement of the cruel populace. Every precept of the moral law was violated almost without conscience and without hindrance.
The early disciples had no wealth, no social position, no prestige, no government aid, no help from established institutions. They were in themselves a despised and feeble folk, without influence, without skill, without education, without a New Testament, or even the Old Testament in the hands of the people, without Christian literature, or a single Christian house of worship. Pomp, power, custom and public sentiment were all against them. They were reproached, reviled, persecuted, and subjected to exile and death.
But those early Christians had the help of an indwelling, sanctifying Savior and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. With that equipment they faced a hostile world and all the malignant powers of darkness – and they conquered! Within seventy years, according to the smallest estimate, there were half a million followers of Jesus, and some authorities affirm that there were a quarter of a million in the province of Babylon alone. In other words, with Holy Spirit power upon them, they increased more than four thousand fold in threescore years.
Is it too much to say or believe that if the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ had a similar anointing of Holy Ghost power today, we could take the world for Christ? We now have thrones and governments and protection and favorable public sentiment, and hundreds of billions of money in the hands of Christians. We have established institutions and organizations and all needed facilities, the Bible printed in hundreds of languages, and Christian literature in abundance like the leaves of the forest. We have everything desirable for doing Christian work – everything but the general enduement of Holy Spirit power! Without that, alas, how feeble, comparatively, when measured by that first century – are our Christian triumphs!
D. L. Moody writes: “Nine-tenths, at least, of the church members never think of speaking for Christ. If they see a man, perhaps a near relative, going down to ruin, going rapidly, they never think of speaking to him about his sinful course, and of seeking to win him to Christ. Certainly there must be something wrong. And yet, when you talk with them, you find they have faith, and you can not say they are not children of God, but they have not the power; they have not the liberty; they have not the love that real disciples of Christ should have.
“A great many people are thinking that we need new measures, that we need new churches, that we need new organs, new choirs, and all these new things. That is not what the Church of God needs today. It is the old power that the Apostles had. That is what we lack, and if we have that in our churches, there will be new life. Then we will have new ministers – the same ministers renewed with power, filled with the Spirit.
“Oh, that God may anoint His people! Not the ministry only but every disciple. Do not suppose pastors are the only laborers needing it. There is not a mother but needs it in her house to regulate her family, just as much as the minister needs it in the pulpit, or the Sunday school teacher in his Sunday school. We all need it together, and let us not rest day nor night until we possess it! If that is the uppermost thought in our hearts, God will give it to us, if we just hunger and thirst for it, and say, ‘God helping me, I will not rest until endued with power from on high.’”
Truly, something is needed besides church organization and machinery and culture and pulpit oratory. The situation today ought to call the Church to her knees in humble supplication for the mercy of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The only escape from our spiritual impotency, the only way out of the difficulties and threatening perils of today is a journey back to Pentecost to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
“Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil…
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My Spirit” (Joel 2:12-13, 28).
I Must Be, I May Be, I Would Be, I Shall Be…
Andrew Murray suggests four steps to make God’s promises and provisions for the Holy Spirit’s power our own personal experience. Say:
1. “I must be filled with the Spirit.” God commands it (Eph. 5:18). My soul needs it. The world needs it. The Spirit longs for it. Christ will do it. I can not live aright without it. I must be filled with the Spirit.
2. “I may be filled with the Spirit.” God does not give a “must” without a “may.” God does not say you must live holy without saying you may. You can live holy. God has promised it, Christ has purchased it, the Word reveals it, thousands have experienced it. I may be filled with the Spirit.
3. “I would be filled with the Spirit.” Say, “Lord, my heart longs for it. I give up everything. O God, self, sin, self-will, self-confidence, the flesh; I give up everything. Lord God, set Thy mark upon me; I am an empty vessel waiting to be filled. I would be filled with the Holy Spirit. I am ready.”
4. “I shall be filled with the Holy Spirit.” God has promised it to me. I have a right to say, I shall be filled with the Spirit. Say that tremblingly, and very, very humbly. “I confess I am carnal. I have felt my sinfulness. I confess my sin. My heart is willing for it; I am going to trust God for it. O God, Thou doest above what I can ask or think; I give myself to Thee entirely; I trust Thee forever; I give myself up fully to be filled with the Spirit.”
This is the secret of the holy life to which every Christian is called (1 Pet. 1:15; 1 Thes. 3:13; 5:23; Jude 24; Heb. 7:25).