(1) The Aorist tense -- a tense to which the English language is a stranger -- denotes generally "a sudden, definite act of the past," "something done and finished with" -- "They were filled" -- as in Acts ii.4.
(2) The Imperfect tense, denoting, as in English, just what its name implies -- "They were being filled" (literally) -- as in Acts xiii.52.
(3) The Present tense, also denoting, as in English, just what its name implies -- "Full," the normal condition -- as in Acts xi.24.
The following are the passages in the Acts in which the various tenses are found: --
(1) Aorist: --
Acts ii.2, "It filled all the house."
Acts ii.4, "They were all filled."
Acts iv.8, "Peter filled with the Holy Ghost." Peter was already "filled," in ch. ii.4.
Acts iv.31, "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." Peter was again amongst them. Peter received an "Aorist" filling in ch. ii.4, again in ch. iv.8, and yet again in ch. iv.31. So that an "Aorist" filling may be repeated and repeated again and yet again. On both occasions -- ch. iv.8 and ch. iv.31 -- there was special need, and to meet this special need, Peter received a fresh and special and definite "filling" of the Holy Ghost. From this we learn that to equip us for every new important or difficult service to which we may be called, the Lord Jesus is prepared to grant us a fresh Infilling, a "refilling" of the Holy Ghost; and that these "refillings" may be, and ought to be, repeated just as often as the need arises. We see it reported twice in one chapter that Peter was "refilled." It will be noted that for the reasons already mentioned, the expression "a fresh Infilling of the Holy Ghost," or "refilling," is used instead of "received a fresh Baptism of the Holy Ghost."
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Acts ix.17 (Saul), "And be filled with the Holy Ghost." Saul was not to begin his life work until "baptized" -- "filled with the Holy Ghost." He must receive the very same blessing and equipment as the other apostles received at Pentecost. This was Saul's Pentecost, and for him, as for others, service began at Pentecost.
Acts xiii.9, "Paul filled with the Holy Ghost." The man who was filled in ch. ix. is "filled" anew in this passage, the "Aorist" blessing is repeated, fitting him for the special work on hand, viz., administering that scathing rebuke to Elymas the Sorcerer. In all these passages the blessing is spoken of as a crisis, not as a process.
(2) Imperfect: --
Acts xiii.52, "And the disciples (lit.) were being filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost." This is the only passage in the Acts where the Imperfect tense is used. It is not the Aorist "were filled," but the Imperfect "were being filled," implying the inflow, not only to make up for, but to sustain, the outflow. The same idea of the "Imperfect" is seen in Eph. v.18, "Be filled with the Spirit," where Principal Moule points out that the Greek verb rendered "be filled," may with equal correctness be rendered "Be ye filling with the Holy Ghost." The preceptive verb "is in the Present or continuing tense; it enjoins a course, a habit," so that in this sense "the Fullness" is always coming, it is spoken of as a process, not as a crisis.
(3) Present: --
Acts vi.3, "Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business," men whose normal condition was "full" of the Holy Ghost. It is well worth noticing the business for which these "deacons" were wanted; they were to look after temporal affairs, to feed a few decent old Greek widows; and yet even for this business the men must be "full of the Holy Ghost!" None other need apply. How far has the Church of to-day strayed from apostolic practice! When an election of office-bearers is taking place nowadays, of men, say, to manage the temporal affairs of Christ's Church, who ever thinks of looking out for "men full of the Holy Ghost"? Many a man is elected to office in the Church of the Living God who "has not the Spirit of Christ" at all -- who is therefore not a child of God, much less "full of the Holy Ghost." "He is a man of social position, a man of means; if he is not full of the Holy Ghost, he is at least full of this world's goods, and you know he will be a pillar in our Church." Yes, as some one has well remarked, he will be a cater-pillar! The Church of the New Testament does not need pillars of that kind. The Church of Jesus Christ and His apostles does not require to be propped up by children of the devil. What right have we to ask an "alien," a man who is "without Christ," "having no hope and without God in the world," to assist in managing and controlling Father's House? Such was not apostolic practice. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Cor. vi.14). What an amount of unequal yoking there is in many of our Churches, although the Church's Lord expressly forbids it! "Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together" (Deut. xxii.10).
Who is responsible for this unequal yoking? Is it not the Church members that elect these men and put them into office in the Church of God? Church members, beware! next time offices are to be filled in your Church, whether they have to do with the temporal affairs or with the spiritual, remember apostolic advice, "Look ye out from among you men full of the Spirit." When we get back in this matter to apostolic practice, we may hope to get back apostolic blessing, but not till then.
Acts vi.5, "Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." In those brave days of old it was a case of demand and supply. Wanted -- seven men full of the Holy Ghost; and immediately they were forthcoming! Is the trouble nowadays in the demand or in the supply? In both. The demand for Spirit-filled men is very slack; but even if the demand revived to-morrow, how lamentably few in our Churches could be found bearing the trade mark as "up to sample!" Still there are not wanting signs of revival in both demand and supply. Let us remember that Stephen's companions were men full of the Holy Ghost, although Stephen is the only one of whom it is expressly stated. He was the most remarkable man of the seven, a man in whom the graces of the Spirit shone with conspicuous brightness. So mighty was his faith that special mention must needs be made of it. It is not sufficient to describe him as a man full of the Holy Ghost, but it must be stated that he was "a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." Faith was his outstanding grace.
Acts vii.55, "He being full of the Holy Ghost." This was Stephen's normal condition right up to the very end of his life; it was true of him when we get our first glimpse of him, true also as he passes within the vail into the unspeakable glory.
Acts xi.24, Barnabas "was a good man and full of the Holy Ghost." A good man indeed, and so full of the Spirit of God that there was no room for self; for we read that he came into the midst of a great revival, in the bringing about of which he had no hand, and instead of being filled with envy at the divinely-chosen instruments, instead of picking holes in the work and depreciating the whole movement, he was filled with gladness; we read that he "was glad" (ver.23). It goes without saying that that man was "full of the Holy Ghost." How many there are nowadays who are not like Barnabas!
Having now considered the passages in which the various tenses are used, we are able to answer the question -- How does the blessing come? Does it come once for all, or is it always coming? There are sudden definite "fillings," repeated with more or less frequency; times when the believer is conscious of being "filled," when he can say, "I was filled." Between this experience -- "filled" (which is an "Aorist" blessing) -- and that which should be the normal experience of every Christian, viz., "full" (which is a "Present" blessing), it is evident that there is a great gap; but God has graciously bridged the gap for us; the connecting link between the "Aorist" were filled, and the "Present" full, is the "Imperfect" "were being filled," so that the blessing is always coming. Does it come once for all? A thousand times No! -- if by that is meant that we are reservoirs into which the Fullness is poured, so that once we are filled, we are independent of fresh supplies from the Lord Jesus. That surely were a curse instead of a blessing! What reservoir is there that does not need replenishing? Some Christians say that at times after some piece of service has been finished, they feel as if they were empty, as if their souls had been quite drained, and now they are dry and thirsty. It need not be so. It is not so with the Spirit-filled worker whose faith is in lively exercise, for he is "being filled" all the time.
In driving between Melbourne and my home I often stop at a wayside trough to give the horse a drink. I notice that the trough is quite full of water and that there is a box in one end of it. As the horse drinks the water is lowering, and presently I hear a sound as of a running tap. Yes, the sound is coming from the box. That box is covering a piece of mechanism that needs explaining. Within it there is a tap connected by pipes with the Yan Yean Reservoir up in the Plenty Ranges. Attached by a lever to the tap is a metal ball, which rests on the surface of the water. As the horse drinks, the water on which the ball is floating is lowered, and thus the ball is lowered; the lowering of the ball opens the tap and the Yan Yean begins to pour in; so that, although the water is being withdrawn by the thirsty animal, a fresh supply is being poured in, the trough is "being filled," so that it is always "full." Thus may it be with the soul of the believer. No matter what the outflow into the surrounding emptiness may be, or the withdrawals by thirsty, needy souls, there is the continual inflow, so that there may be the constant "Fullness." Indeed the outflow depends directly on the inflow; one can only give as he gets. It is ours to see to the connection between us and the infinite Reservoir away up among the hills of God being kept open, to see that the tap is kept in proper working order by faith and prayer and meditation, and then, one might almost say, automatically, the heart will be kept full, "filled with all the Fullness of God," no matter what the spiritual drain upon us may be; for now it is not a question of our capacity to contain, but a question of God's infinite supply for all our needs. This too is the explanation of the "overflow," the flowing "Rivers" of John vii.38. It is the overflow, and only the overflow, that blesses. There is not a drop for thirsty souls till some one overflows. It is the overflow in the Sabbath School class, and in the pulpit, and, for that matter, in every other sphere of Christian service, that brings blessing; and this overflow is in direct proportion to the inflow. "Rivers" cannot flow out unless "Rivers" first flow in.
An ordinary service pipe in our domestic water supply may serve to illustrate some of the points we have been considering. We take a bucket to the tap for water, and lo! there is none. Something is wrong. Either the authorities have cut off our supply because of some infraction of the law on our part, or there is an obstruction in our service pipe, or the pressure is insufficient to give us even a drop, or the supply is so deficient that it has been shut off for a time from us that it may be sent in another direction. Sometimes, alas! the "flowing" of the "living waters" from the soul of the believer ceases; but the ordinary round of duty, either in the district visiting, or in the Sabbath School class, or in the pulpit, has not ceased; a ceaseless stream of talk may still be flowing on, but there is no "living water" in it all. Why? It is not that the pressure aback of us, the pressure in the infinite Reservoir away up among the hills of God, is insufficient, or that the supply is deficient, unable to meet our needs because it is supplying needy ones elsewhere. God's water supply never breaks down as we often find our city supply failing. If the "flowing" has ceased, it is from one of two reasons: either God has, in mercy and in judgment, cut off the supply, or there is an obstruction in us, and sin is at the bottom of both reasons. "Search me, O God ... and see if there be any way of wickedness in me" (Ps. cxxxix.23, 24). "Confession, cleansing" is the divinely-appointed method for putting right what has gone wrong.
Sometimes on going to the tap we find that there is water, but such a miserable dribble! either from insufficient pressure or some partial obstruction in the pipe, or perhaps it is because we have not opened the tap fully. What a wretched parody of the flowing "Rivers" of John vii.38 are the life and service of many of the Christians of to day! Some of the "living water" is doubtless coming from them, but it is only percolating through, dribbling, trickling out of them. Why? Certainly not, as has been already remarked, from insufficient pressure; the fault, the failure is not on God's side, but there is some local obstruction -- amounting in many a case to almost entire obstruction, -- some little idol or other in our heart, if not a "sin," yet certainly a "weight" (Heb. xii.1), and this hinders the outflow. Confession and cleansing are still God's remedy. Or the hindrance may be our unbelief, "limiting the Holy One of Israel;" opening the tap but a little instead of opening it full; expecting little when we were divinely authorized to expect much; refusing to obey the command, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it" (Ps. lxxxi.10). "Rivers" cannot flow through a heart full of unbelief.
Sometimes, again, on going to the tap we get a little water and a great deal of air. What a noise! Now air is a very good thing in its own place, but that is not in a water pipe; that is meant to convey water and nothing else, and for the water pipe to do its work, it is necessary that it be emptied and cleansed of everything else, even of air. Scripture hath said that some things "puff up," and there is a good deal of "puff" in some hearts through which the living water is supposed to be flowing. God be merciful unto us! Such hearts, like our water pipe, need emptying and cleansing.
Yet once more, on going to the tap, we find a splendid supply; the pipe is clean, the pressure is good. Now before we open the tap the pipe is full of water; when the tap is opened and the bucket filling, the pipe is still full, for although the water is pouring out at the tap, it is pouring in at the reservoir, so that the pipe is kept full, even though the tap is open and the water streaming from it. When the tap is shut, you cannot say any more about the pipe now than that it is still full of water. Even so may it be with the believer who is spiritually adjusted. When resting at his Master's feet he is full; when actively engaged in service he is still full; his normal condition is, "full of the Holy Ghost," because he has learnt how to obey the command, "Be ye filling with the Spirit."