The Holy Ghost is the active force in all spiritual life. It is, therefore, important that we should realize the close connexion between the experience of Holiness and that 'Promise of the Father' for which the early disciples were to wait. All followers of Jesus should realize, as truly as the disciples did on that historic day, that their day of Pentecost has fully come, and each of us should be able to say, 'Not only was the Holy Ghost outpoured upon the waiting host in that Jewish centre, but Pentecost has come to my heart. The Spirit of the living God has come to me.'
Now, whatever manifestations of the Holy Ghost there might have been in Old Testament times -- and without question there were some wonderful displays -- the age in which we live is the dispensation of the Holy Ghost for us. Our Lord said that He should come to convince the world of sin, and to produce many other mighty effects.
To my mind, that Pentecostal event was like the launching of God's great campaign for the evangelization of the world. The world without the Holy Ghost would be as dark, spiritually, as the material world was in the beginning before the Spirit moved upon the face of the waters, and God said, 'Let there be light'.
Going over Peter's sermon on that occasion, we find him quoting Joel's very wonderful prophecy, claiming its fulfilment that day. And amongst all the glorious truths that have been proclaimed in our own time, there is none grander than that God will dwell with men -- yea, the Spirit of God will dwell in men.
You cannot read your Bibles, nor look through the books of human experience, without seeing that God's great purpose in the outpouring of the Spirit was the setting up of His Kingdom upon the earth. And we see that as the Son of God humbled Himself to earth's poverty, ignominy, and death, to redeem men, so the Holy Ghost is sent to be the great operating force in leading the world back to God. The hope of the world is in the presence of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ.
It is so in relation to the individual soul. The Holy Ghost stands at the door of the Kingdom of God, either to bar the entrance or to fit the soul to enter. You remember the Saviour's words to Nicodemus, 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God'. There is, and can be, no entrance without conversion.
'No man', says Paul, 'can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.' And when some would have put outward religion or the profession of it in the place of this conversion, the deciding point was stated in unmistakable terms: 'If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His.' The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Health, the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of Power, and there would be no hope for the human soul or the individual life apart from His gracious presence and influence.
This matter cannot be explained in terms of ordinary language, but it is none the less real and definite in human experience. To Nicodemus, Jesus said, 'The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit'. The Spirit, like the wind, is mysterious in movement, uncontrolled by human restriction, and yet its influences are all-pervading. The courses of the wind are to be discerned by the effects; equally so will the Spirit's operations; mysterious, unfettered, unexplainable these operations may be, but the effects are discernible in ourselves and others.
Analysing the purpose of God in the outpouring of the Holy Ghost, we see its application to ourselves in several ways.
There is the rectification of our own hearts, the revealing of Divine things within us, the transforming of our characters. All these are indications of the Holy Ghost's work in ourselves; and then comes the power to help and bless and save others, God making us channels of blessing, and instruments by which His Kingdom can be extended.
In this connexion there are two sayings of Jesus, which, although the figure is changed, come up together in my mind. The first is in the story of the woman at the well in Samaria. The Saviour said to her what is very applicable to you, 'Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life'. Later, on the last day of the feast, Jesus said, 'He that believeth on Me, out of him shall flow rivers of living water'. Do you see what those two sayings of Jesus set before us? The one shows how the Baptism of the Spirit provides the inward spring, the inward supply, bubbling up within, fresh, clean, sweet, and vitalizing like a 'fountain ever springing'; the other indicates the outflow, from us to others, of this spiritual force and blessing.
Now, you want both the inward spring and the outward flow. Some of you are very desirous about the second provision: 'Out of you shall flow rivers of living water'. It is good that you have such desires; but before you can become a channel through which the vital force can flow for the Salvation of others, you must yourselves be the subject of the Spirit's operations within you. Not only as the great Revealer must the Holy Ghost make Divine things real to you, but as a purifying flame He must change your nature, purging away the natural corruption and sinfulness of your heart.
An Eastern legend says that an angel once rested by a fair fountain. In a favoured hour he infused it with a mysterious power, so that if only some drops of its water were scattered in a barren plain, a fountain of sweet water would spring up. Any traveller who henceforth came to the spring might, after refreshing himself, take some portion from it, and carry with him the secret of unfailing springs, and suffer no fear of thirst either for himself or those with him.
We are such travellers, and for us the water which Christ gives is better than that fabled fountain, for he who carries the precious water may drop it in places where no spiritual water is, and so bring life and blessing to the multitudes of needy souls. Oh, note the words, 'The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up', and 'out of him shall flow rivers of living water'. This He spake of the Spirit which they that believe on Him should afterwards receive.
That is a very blessed promise, 'Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you'; and yet, so far as we understand the prevailing experience of Christian people, the promises of power are very feebly realized, and very slowly acted upon. When we see the manifest lack of the Holy Ghost in the experience, and ask, 'Why is this?' we know that the cause may lie in certain easily defined facts.
One reason may be the actual existence of sin in the heart -- some hidden or secret wrong. There are numbers in whose hearts there is something wrong. Is it so with you? Is there some inward love of or desire for evil? Or the world spirit -- is that there? Or anything of a similar character? Now, before the Holy Ghost can flow into you, to say nothing of Him flowing through and out of you, these wrong things must be purged away by the cleansing stream; or, to change the figure, the purifying flame must
Burn up the dross of base desire,
Or the hindrance may lie in a want of surrender and faith, without which the Spirit cannot possess and use us. I am not speaking of some act of surrender or faith only, but also of that condition which must be maintained. It is just that neglect or withdrawal which disturbs the touch with God, and so the connexion is broken. You are all familiar with the electric switch and the light. You know how slight is the thing which connects or disconnects the current. A child's finger can touch a button which will turn on enough electricity to blast a rock or move the machinery of a great factory.
And so I tell you that little things which are held on to against God's will switch off the Power. That unwillingness in some hearts to follow the Lord, and do as He commands, will switch it off; that spirit which chooses to do this, but won't do that; which says, 'I will go here, but I won't go there', that sort of thing breaks the connexion.
This comes home very close to some of you, for, alas! it is just there that your power fails. You must ask yourselves what are the hindrances, if any, in your hearts and lives? Some of you are weak, wavering, wobbling, and uncertain. If you look closely you will find the secret of that in your want of surrender and faith. Do not make a mistake; the inward experience is closely related to the outward service. God's plan is first to do the cleansing, and then the filling; first the inward spring, and then the outward flowing river.
One other important thing. If you have not got the Holy Spirit abiding within you, no substitute will meet the need. Many try to make other things produce the same effects -- religious talking, singing, energetic service, or the memories of spiritual experiences. These are all very good, but of themselves they will no more meet the necessities of your hearts and lives than a picture of a fire will warm the man who spreads out his hands before it. You must have the real thing -- the power of the Holy Ghost.
Now, the Lord is around and among us, saying, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost'; and whether you are an enslaved sinner, or a backslider in heart; or whether it is the assurance of Salvation, cleansing from sin, or power for service, which you lack, the Holy Ghost will meet your particular need. Let God work His will in you, and in Jesus Christ's name I say, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost'.
'Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
To make our weak hearts strong and brave,