With an ever-increasing emphasis on the use of mechanical aids in the work of the ministry, aids such as television, flannelgraphs, filmstrips, tape recorders, and many other devices that are all valuable in themselves, one wonders whether the evangelist will not be inclined, perhaps unconsciously, to depend more and more upon these material aids than the one all essential, the unction of the Holy Spirit from above.
The word unction appears but once in the thousand pages of Holy Writ. It is found in 1 John 2:20, which reads: "But ye have an unction from the Holy One."
The meaning of the word unction is "to anoint or the action of anointing, that quality in language or manner of speaking that expresses devotion, religious fervor." Extreme unction, a Roman Catholic ritual, is the anointing of a sick person at the point of death.
The unction of which the apostle speaks is evidently something that the believer receives directly from the Holy One and qualifies that individual to understand the will, or mind, of God. He says, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things." This is indicated also in the Gospel of John, where, in speaking of the disciples as sheep, he says, "They hear his voice." This heavenly illumination is very definitely related to the reception of the Holy Spirit, for in the same chapter John writes in the twenty-sixth verse: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."
John further says, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: . . . and he will shew you things to come" (John 16:13).
This unction is that power of which Jesus spoke so earnestly to His disciples just before His ascension. "And, behold," He said, "I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).
Evidently it would have been absolutely futile for the apostles to undertake the great commission without such an unction of the Holy Spirit. This was one measure of counsel given by Christ to His disciples just before His ascension that they clearly understood and implicitly obeyed. It was imperative that they should, and the results prove conclusively its eternal value. Without this period of waiting and preparation there could have been no Pentecost, and without Pentecost the charter of the early Christian church must have failed in its inception.
The vehicle of time has borne us a long way from that historic event in both distance and experience. We seem to have outgrown the simplicity of that simple organization, allowing ourselves to become detached by a multiplicity of organization from the vital source of power and spiritual life.
Our attention has repeatedly been drawn to our pitiful condition by God-fearing men and women who somehow have sensed within their souls the spiritual bankruptcy of the ministry in these more materialistic times.
From the first chapter in the little book Power Through Prayer by E. M. Bounds, we quote the following thought-provoking challenge:
We are constantly on a stretch, if not on a strain, to devise new methods, new plans, new organizations to advance the Church and secure enlargement and efficiency for the Gospel. This trend of the day has a tendency to lose sight of the man or sink the man in the plan or organization. God's plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God's method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. "There was a man sent from God whose name was John." The dispensation that heralded and prepared the way for Christ was bound up in that man John. . . . The glory and efficiency of the Gospel is staked on the men who proclaim it. When God declares that "the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him," He declares the necessity of men and His dependence on them as a channel through which to exert His power upon the world. This vital, urgent truth is one that this age of machinery is apt to forget. . . .
What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer.—Pages 9, 10.
It was not association with a highly organized church, or his theological degrees, that qualified Peter to speak with such power on the day of Pentecost that thousands of souls were convicted in their hearts, and many cried out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" The secret of the apostles' power is patent to us all: they had implicitly obeyed the Saviour's instruction. With others they had "continued with one accord in prayer and supplication." "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. . . . And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:1-4). It was the "unction from the Holy One."
"This Is That"
In subsequently explaining this remarkable phenomenon, the apostle Peter observed, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16). The this in Peter's words was the enduement of power; the that was the prediction or prophetic statement of what was to come. It was the power in the Saviour's promise that they should receive.
The Pentecostal experience was only a partial fulfillment of Joel's prophecy, as another part of the prophecy reads: "For he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month" (Joel 2:23). The Acts of the Apostles says:
The outpouring of the Spirit in the days of the apostles was the beginning of the early, or former, rain, and glorious was the result. To the end of time, the presence of the Spirit is to abide with the true church.
But near the close of earth's harvest, a special bestowal of spiritual grace is promised to prepare the church for the coming of the Son of man.—Pages 54, 55.
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.—The Desire of Ages, p. 827.
While there is much around us to inspire with confidence in God's leadings as we trace the spread of the message to many lands of earth, we must admit that we do not see that demonstration of divine power in its fullness.
We can see on every hand world conditions such as war, famine, national animosity, pleasure loving, immorality, industrial discontent, and we say, "This is that" which was spoken of by the prophet, or by the Lord Jesus, or the apostles. But where is that power of His Spirit in its fullness that will enable us to say, "This is that power, that mighty angel, which is to lighten the whole world?"
In The Acts of the Apostles, page 50, we read:
It is not because of any restriction on the part of God that the riches of His grace do not flow earthward to men. If the fulfilment of the promise is not seen as it might be, it is because the promise is not appreciated as it should be. If all were willing, all would be filled with the Spirit. Wherever the need of the Holy Spirit is a matter little thought of, there is seen spiritual drought, spiritual darkness, spiritual declension and death. Whenever minor matters occupy the attention, the divine power which is necessary for the growth and prosperity of the church, and which would bring all other blessings in its train, is lacking, though offered in infinite plenitude.
Since this is the means by which we are to receive power, why do we not hunger and thirst for the gift of the Spirit?
Free From Business Activities
If we wish to secure apostolic results, we must follow apostolic methods. The Christian leaders of the early church soon realized that the apostles were to free themselves from other and undoubtedly somewhat important work, which would exhaust their time and strength and thus prevent their giving themselves entirely to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
In The Acts of the Apostles we read:
Summoning a meeting of the believers, the apostles were led by the Holy Spirit to outline a plan for the better organization of all the working forces of the church. The time had come, the apostles stated, when the spiritual leaders having the oversight of the church should be relieved from the task of distributing to the poor and from similar burdens, so that they might be free to carry forward the work of preaching the gospel. "Wherefore, brethren," they said, "look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Harp Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." . . .
That this step was in the order of God, is revealed in the immediate results for good that were seen. "The word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."—Pages 89, 90.
Is there not a lesson in this experience for the church of God today? Is it not possible that in the multiplicity of organization, ministers are tied up to quite a degree in the management of the business affairs of the work, to the spiritual loss of the church? In Gospel Workers we have this solemn counsel:
I have been instructed in regard to the importance of our ministers' keeping free from responsibilities that should be largely borne by business men. In the night season I was in an assembly consisting of a number of our brethren who bear the burden of the work. They were deeply perplexed over financial affairs, and were consulting as to how the work could be managed most successfully. Some thought that the number of workers might be limited, and yet all the results essential be realized. One of the brethren occupying a position of responsibility was explaining his plans, and stating what he desired to see accomplished. Several others presented matters for consideration. Then One of dignity and authority arose, and proceeded to state principles for our guidance. To several ministers the Speaker said:
"Your work is not the management of financial matters. It is not wise for you to undertake this. God has burdens for you to bear, but if you carry lines of work for which you are not adapted, your efforts in presenting the Word will prove unsuccessful. This will bring upon you discouragement that will disqualify you for the very work you should do, —a work requiring careful discrimination and sound, unselfish judgment."—Page 422.
Not a few ministers are neglecting the very work that they have been appointed to do. Why are those who are set apart for the work of the ministry placed on committees and boards? . Why are not business matters placed in hands of business men? The ministers have not been set apart to do this work. The finances of the cause are to be managed by men of ability; but ministers are set apart for another line of work....
When they try to carry these burdens, they neglect to fulfill the gospel commission —Ibid., p. 425.
Unction Is Bond of Unity
The early apostles knew the worth and sensed' the importance of a complete abandon of themselves to the ministry of prayer and a constant study of the Word. "Night and day praying exceedingly," says Paul.
"We will give ourselves continually to prayer," was their assurance to the laity and to their colaborers in the management of the business affairs of the church.
It is now more than a century since this message was given birth. We thank God for the measure of prosperity that has attended its proclamation and the results achieved. I quote the words of God's handmaiden, who had such an active part in its early history and who now awaits her reward:
God is still using His church to make known His purpose in the earth. To-day the heralds of the cross are going from city to city, and from land to land, preparing the way for the second advent of Christ. The standard of God's law is being exalted. The Spirit of the Almighty is moving upon men's hearts, and those who respond to its influence become witnesses for God and His truth.—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 53, 54.
We need this unction of God's Spirit to keep us bound together in that bond of unity for which Christ so earnestly prayed. Without this Spirit we become critical and suspicious, lacking confidence in one another. A spirit of real Christianity begets this strong bond of union, which is so indispensable in the proper execution of the work of Gad. It makes us appreciative of the other man's viewpoint and leads to tolerance toward those who may differ with us in their opinion. We claim to have a democratic organization, and we must endeavor to maintain this democratic spirit.
If that spirit be necessary in a government of earth in the affairs of state, how much more is it necessary in the government of the church in the affairs of the soul. As the apostle Paul says, "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3 : 17).
In view of the very unusual times, the lateness of the hour, the flood of iniquity sweeping over the earth, the vastness of the task before us, the expectancy of God's dear people wanting spiritual leadership, and above all, the disappointment we would bring to Christ by our indifference, shall we not open our hearts anew to Him for His indwelling and for the sweet and blessed "unction from the Holy One"?