The Dispensation of the Holy Ghost and its Distinctive Character
Acts 2:17-21
And it shall come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh…

I. THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE DISPENSATION OF THE HOLY GHOST. By the dispensation of the Holy Ghost we mean a certain period during which the operations of the Holy Ghost are vouchsafed in a peculiar manner, as contrasted with other ages. Now, that such a dispensation was to be looked for is perfectly clear from the passage before us. We are distinctly told that there shall be a particular time, called the last days, when God will pour out the Spirit upon all flesh. The Same truth is necessarily implied in the Lord's own promise, "It is expedient for you that I go away," etc. So again with the remarkable statement, "The Holy Ghost was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified." Of this dispensation the Day of Pentecost was the commencement, for which there are two reasons.

1. The first is seen in the covenant transaction between the Father and the Sen. The .Father covenanting to give the Son a people, and all that was needful for their salvation, on condition that the Son fulfilled the law of works. The law of works was never abrogated; it pressed completely and eternally on man, or on man's representative. Christ was that representative, and the condition was absolute that He should fulfil the law, or salvation never could visit man's lost race. But salvation is dependent on the gift of the Spirit of God. The first effect of the great covenant work, therefore, must be the gift of the Spirit. Till that was accomplished, Christ had no claim upon the Father for the gift of the Spirit. Hence we read, "The Holy Ghost was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified."

2. It relates to the work that the Holy Ghost himself had to do. "He shall glorify Me," said Jesus, "for He shall take of Mine and shall show it unto you." Now, the things of Christ are the very things He accomplished on earth, whereby He purchased that Spirit. However the Holy Ghost might in olden times have given a sort of foretaste and instalment of what was to result from the finished work of Christ it was not until that work was accomplished, either that the Father was disposed to give, or Christ entitled to claim the Spirit, or that the Holy Spirit had the materials to work with, which He now employs for the enrichment of the soul, the introduction of it into union with Jesus, and its final exaltation into everlasting glory.


1. In regard to the operations of the Holy Ghost during this dispensation generally, we have an illustration in our text, "I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh." Another illustration is, "I will open rivers in dry places." Look at the pouring out of the streams from heaven when the rain comes down, how varied in its measure and its operation! Sometimes it comes down in a gentle, soft, tiny shower. Then again, the windows of heaven seemed to be opened, and we have a deluge. Or trace the course of a river through the valley. Now it is reduced to a small, silvery thread, and then it opens out, expands, overflows its banks, and irrigates the country all round. Then it narrows itself, and you have the silvery thread again; but the stream still runs on. The difference is in the measurement, degree, and expansion. Now what has been the fact in regard to the Holy Ghost under this dispensation? Has it not been precisely that which is illustrated by a river? Look back to the very commencement of it on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Ghost came down on the twelve, and three thousand were added to the Church. There the river was broad and expansive, the shower coming down from heaven copiously. Shortly after that we have two thousand more. Then we read no more of this kind of thing — the river narrows. "Some believed the word spoken, and some believed not"; "some received the Holy Ghost, and some blasphemed." And so it went on for a considerable time, varying in degree and expanse, till the time of the Dark Ages. Then it ran like a little silvery thread; the mass of the world was overrun with darkness, and evil and superstition. Still, in some valleys and out-of-the-way places, we know that the work of the Spirit of God was progressing. The river never ceased to flow, however narrow it was. Thus it ran on for some centuries; and what followed? The great Reformation. The river then broke out into an immense expanse, overflowed the country all around, and irrigated the neighbourhood. Then again did the river condense, and then came the time of the Puritans; a mighty movement there was, and multitudes were gathered into the fold of Christ. Again did this genial shower apparently cease, or the river narrowed, and so it continued for some time. But once more did the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit break out in the days of Whitfield and Wesley, and Venn and Newton; there was a mighty outpouring of the grace of God, and multitudes were gathered into the Church. The river narrowed again, but it has gathered strength once more, and now we stand amazed at what the Lord is doing at home and abroad.

2. In regard to His particular operations as contrasted with those of former times; under this dispensation, and the legal dispensation. The dispensation of the law closed at the ascension. That lasted till Christ had fulfilled all its requirements when He said, "It is finished," and brought in an everlasting righteousness, and made an end of transgression. Now, this being the case, we should expect to find that the experience of holy men up to that very time was exceedingly distinct from that of holy men after that time. So Paul forcibly contrasts the Spirit of adoption with the spirit of bondage, and says, "But we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." Now, did any one under the Old Testament ever cry "Abba, Father"? There is no question that they knew God as God, as Jehovah, as Almighty; but they did not know God as Father. Until humanity had been consecrated by the indwelling of Deity — until the Son of God had taken to His nature humanity, and invested that humanity with power, and made it a son with Himself — no other human being could become a son. The sonship was dependent upon Christ coming into the world; and when He came and accomplished His great work the Spirit of God then came, and the Spirit of adoption with it. Hence, again, "The Spirit bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God." Where did they have that assurance under the Old Testament? Hence, again, "The earnest of our inheritance"; after we have believed, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. Where was that the case under the Old Testament? Did it never strike you, in examining the experience of Old Testament saints, what terror and alarm they displayed in regard to death? There is another point, viz., that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is spoken of under this dispensation as a damning sin, because in proportion to the privileges is the responsibility and condemnation. A man sins against the Father, and blasphemes; there is the blood of Christ to blot it out: a man sins against the Son, and blasphemes; there is the work of the Holy Ghost to bring him to repentance: a man sins against the Holy ,Ghost, and he puts away the only power whereby the soul can be made penitent and brought back to Jesus.

III. THE CLOSE OF THE DISPENSATION. At the end of the prophecy we have the close of the dispensation, "I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke." These are the same signs that are spoken of by our Lord in Matthew 24. and Luke 22. I do not mean to say that the Holy Ghost's operations will not continue through all eternity; they unquestionably will. All holiness in the creature for ever and ever must depend upon the sanctifying operations of the Holy Ghost. But as soon as the. body of Jesus shall be quite complete, and the bride formed in her integrity, the work of the Holy Ghost will be done. But that runs on necessarily to the very advent of Christ, for we cannot exclude the glorification of the bodies of His people. Christ is glorified in His body, and every one of His mystical body must be like Him; but He changes them by the power of the Holy Ghost (Romans 8.). When that shall be done, that will be the end of the dispensation of the Holy Ghost. The Church will then be the monument of the eternal love of the Father, of the all-sufficient, perfect work of Jesus, and of the life-giving, sanctifying, and God-glorifying operations of the Holy Spirit.

(Capel Molyneux, B. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

WEB: 'It will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions. Your old men will dream dreams.

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