When Jesus ascended to heaven He took with Him "a multitude of captives and gave gifts unto men." (Eph. 4:8, margin.) These were the prisoners of the grave who were resurrected at the time of Christ's death. (Matt. 27:51-53.) They were the first fruits of His victory over death and the grave, and were taken to heaven to assist Him in the heavenly sanctuary service, since only redeemed beings "taken from among men" could serve as priests. It was Christ's earthly experience that qualified Him to be our High Priest. (Heb. 2: 16-18 ; 4:14, 15.)
The gifts referred to are enumerated and their purpose is set forth in Ephesians 4:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 12. It is very evident that their mission in the church has not yet been accomplished, and that the gifts will be needed until the gospel work is finished. These gifts will remain in the church until "all of us arrive at oneness in faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and at mature manhood and the stature of full-grown men in Christ." Eph. 4:13, Weymouth. That they will play an important part in preparing the remnant for translation is evident from 1 Corinthians 1:5-8 and Revelation 12 :17 ; 19:10. The gift of prophecy will be the chief cause of the final wrath of Satan.
These gifts of Christ to the church are called "spiritual gifts," or "the gifts of the Spirit," because they are bestowed and ministered by the Holy Spirit, who, as Christ's representative, is head of the church in His stead and has been "sent down to direct the battle on earth." The Spirit distributes these gifts "to every man severally as He will."
It takes all these spiritual gifts to make a perfect spiritual body, or church, and even those "which seem to be more feeble, are necessary" in order "that there should be no schism in the body." 1 Cor. 12 :22, 25. Because of the necessity of these various gifts in the successful operation of the church in its divinely appointed mission of world evangelism, Christians are counseled to "covet earnestly the best gifts" so that they can serve the more effectually.
"God hath given to every man his work" and in order to fulfill His divine commission the Holy Spirit gives to every member one or more talents or gifts. If every member made full use of these gifts the church would function normally and would soon complete the appointed task. This was the secret of apostolic success during the Pentecostal showers of the early rain, and this experience will be repeated during the latter rain. Note these statements :
"All men do not receive the same gifts, but to every servant of the Master some gift of the Spirit is promised.. . . The gifts are already ours in Christ, but their actual possession depends upon our reception of the Spirit of God. The promise of the Spirit is not appreciated as it should be. Its fulfillment is not realized as it might be. It is the absence of the Spirit that makes the gospel ministry so powerless. Learning, talents, eloquence, every natural and acquired endowment, may be possessed ; but without the presence of the Spirit of God, no heart will be touched, no sinner be won to Christ. . . . None need lament that they have not received larger gifts ; for He who has apportioned to every man, is equally honored by the improvement of each trust, whether it be great or small."—Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 327, 328.
"The Spirit of God, received into the soul, will quicken all its faculties. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the mind that is devoted unreservedly to God, develops harmoniously, and is strengthened to comprehend and fulfill the requirements of God. The weak, vacillating character becomes changed to one of strength and steadfastness."—The Desire of Ages, p. 2 5 I .
"Christ has promised the gift of' the Holy Spirit to His church, and the promise belongs to us as much as to the first disciples. But like every other promise, it is given on conditions. . . . We cannot use the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is to use us. . . . Only to those who wait humbly upon God, who watch for His guidance and grace, is the Spirit given. The power of God awaits their demand and reception. This promised blessing, claimed by faith, brings all other blessings in its train."—Thid., p. 672.
"The apostles and their associates were unlettered men, yet through the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, their speech, whether in their own or a foreign language, became pure, simple, and accurate, both in word and in accent. . . The humblest worker, moved by the Holy Spirit, will touch invisible chords, whose vibrations will ring to the ends of the earth, and make melody through eternal ages. "—Ibid., pp 821-823.
"The outpouring of the Spirit in apostolic days was the 'former rain,' and glorious was the result. But the 'latter rain' will be more abundant. All who consecrate soul, body, and spirit to God, will be constantly receiving a new endowment of physical and mental power. The inexhaustible supplies of heaven are at their command. Christ gives them the breath of His own spirit, the life of His own life. The Holy Spirit puts forth its highest energies to work in heart and mind. The grace of God enlarges and multiplies their faculties, and every perfection of the divine nature comes to their assistance in the work of saving souls. Through co-operation with Christ they are complete in Him, and in their human weakness they are enabled to do the deeds of Omnipotence."—Ibid., p. 827.
In the light of these quotations it is evident that the gifts of the Spirit will never be able to function perfectly and thus fulfill their mission until the church prays for and receives the Holy Spirit "in the fulness of divine power." Then every gift will work harmoniously for the accomplishment of the divine purpose, and "every truly honest soul will come to the light of truth."—The Great Controversy, p. 522.
Jesus made it clear that the only safety against false prophets who come "in sheep's. clothing," while in character they are "ravening wolves," is to judge them by their fruits, or works. "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (See Matt. 7:15-20.) In this respect judging is not only permitted but absolutely necessary. We have a right to draw conclusions from what we see in the lives of others as revelations of their characters.
Profession, position, or missionary activity are not sufficient in themselves as bases for judging. The Pharisees excelled in these respects, as do the Moslems and many of the heathen in their religious devotions. It is sometimes difficult to identify flowers, shrubs, and trees until the fruit appears. "Be sure your sin will find you out," is a Scriptural expression which might be translated, "Be sure your fruit will find you out," or tell on you. It required millenniums for the fruit to reveal fully the character of Lucifer to the angels and unfallen beings so that they saw what God had known from the beginning. The selling of his Lord for the price of a slave was the ripened fruit of covetousness in the character of Judas which finally opened the eyes of the other disciples.
The Scriptures describe two great character harvests called "the works of the flesh" and "the fruit of the Spirit." (See Gal. 5:16-25.) At the present time it is often difficult to distinguish between genuine and professed Christians. It is for this reason that the statement is made regarding the wheat and the tares: "Let both grow together until the harvest." Then the separation can easily be made, because the fruit reveals the character of both. "The line of demarcation between worldlings and many professed Christians is almost indistinefuishable."—Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 118. But when the fruit is fully ripe, it will be different. (See Mal. 3:18.)
These two harvests are described in Revelation 14 :14-19. The sickles are not applied until both harvests are "fully ripe." In one class character is fully developed in righteousness, so that they "reflect the image of Jesus fully"; and in the other iniquity and rebellion have fully matured after the similitude of Satan. There can, therefore, be no question regarding the rewards received.
The fleshly fruits constitute a terrible harvest which is the result of a former seed sowing. (See Gal. 6:7-9.) This harvest is visible everywhere in the world today, and is fast maturing for the sickles of the angel reapers. It is the latter rain that fully ripens both harvests, just as the natural rain causes both wheat and tares to grow and ripen together. The rejection of
God's final offer of mercy under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit is the last act in rebellion that ripens iniquity to full maturity preparatory to destruction.
On the other hand, the fruit of the Spirit is a beautiful harvest. (See Eph. 5:9.) God's people are called "trees of righteousness" in Isaiah 61 :3. In Psalms I :1-3 His saints are said to be "like a tree planted by the rivers of water," which "bringeth forth his fruit in his season." Every Christian is a tree of life bearing twelve manner of fruit. He is therefore like Christ, the spiritual tree of life.
"Christ is seeking to reproduce Himself in the hearts of men ; and He does this through those who believe in Him. The object of the Christian life is fruithearing—the reproduction of Christ's character in the believer, that it may be reproduced in others.... As you receive the Spirit of Christ,—the spirit of unselfish love and labor for others,—you will grow and bring forth fruit. The graces of the Spirit will ripen in your character. Your faith will increase, your convictions deepen, your love be made perfect. More and more you will reflect the likeness of Christ in all that is pure, noble, and lovely. . . . Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own."—Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 67-69.
"The works of the flesh" indicate something done by man for which he is responsible. They are a human product. But "the fruit of the Spirit" indicates that the beautiful harvest is not the result of our own works, for which there is no room for boasting. This harvest is the natural result of the indwelling of Christ through His Spirit, which imparts to man the "divine nature." Just as fruit is the natural product of the tree, so the "fruit of the Spirit" comes without human effort.
"The Saviour does not bid the disciples labor to bear fruit. He tells them to abide in Him. . . . The life of Christ in you produces the same fruits as in Him. Living in Christ, adhering to Christ, supported by Christ, drawing nourishment from Christ, you bear fruit after the similitude of Christ."—The Desire of Ages, p. 677.
"God does not ask them to make an effort to shine. He approves of no self-satisfied attempt to display superior goodness. He desires that their souls shall be imbued with the principles of heaven, and then, as they come in contact with the world, they will reveal the light that is in them. Their honesty, uprightness, and steadfast fidelity in every act of life will be a means of illumination."—Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 143.
This harvest of the Spirit is also called "the fruits of righteousness" in Philippines I :II. "And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace." James 3 :18. Righteousness is first of all right being, which leads to right doing.
"You must be good before you can do good. You can not exert an influence that will transform others until your own heart has been humbled and refined and made tender by the grace of Christ. When this change has been wrought in you, it will be as natural for you to live to bless others as it is for the rose-bush to yield its fragrant bloom, or the vine its purple clusters.' "— Mount of Blessing, p. 183.
Webster defines righteousness as "purity of heart and rectitude of life ; conformity of heart and life to divine law." It is a condition of heart and character which is manifested in good deeds, "the fruits of righteousness."
"Righteousness is holiness, likeness to God ; and 'God is love.' It is conformity to the law of God. . . The righteousness of God is embodied in Christ. We receive righteousness by receiving Him. Not by painful struggles or wearisome toil, not by gift or sacrifice, is righteousness obtained ; but it is freely given to every soul who hungers and thirsts to receive it"—p. 34.
The fruit of the Spirit is also the result of seed sowing. In 2 Corinthians 9:10 the counsel is given: "Multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness." Reaping what is sown is the unchanging law of production in both the natural and the spiritual realms, not only in quality but also in quantity. The harvest may not come till "after many days," but it is certain in the end.
Through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the flesh can be decreased to eventual elimination and the character fruits of righteousness increased to a full harvest. The maturity of this beautiful harvest, the first fruit of which is love will come as a result of the latter rain, and for this time of refreshing every leader in this movement should most diligently pray.