HE SAID unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost" (Acts 19:2).
What a direct heart-searching, soul-disturbing question to ask a group of preachers. And what an incredible answer they gave.
Twenty years after Pentecost and no knowledge of the Holy Ghost! This burning question was addressed to a group of preachers by the apostle Paul. These men were disciples of John and knew nothing of the mission of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, with sincerity they were seeking to spread abroad the message they had received. Paul did not ask, How long have you been preaching? What seminary did you attend? Neither, How many baptisms did you have this year? But rather, he asked, Have you received the Holy Ghost? That was the paramount question of that day and, fellow workers, it is the paramount question for us today.
If I had been asked that question at the time of my ordination, or were it asked now, I wonder what my answer would be. How would you have answered, or how would you answer now? What a sobering, penetrating thought to ponder! Not only should it make us think, it should drive us more frequently to our knees. Someone has said, "We need more kneeology than theology."
Qualification to Preach
Paul laid before those twelve preachers the great truths that are the foundation of the Christian's hope. They accepted Paul's message, were baptized, and as Paul laid his hands upon them, they received also the baptism of the Holy Spirit by which they were enabled to speak the languages of other nations and to prophesy. Thus they were qualified to labor as preachers in Ephesus and its vicinity and also to go forth as Adventist preachers to proclaim the gospel in Asia Minor. The anointing by the Holy Spirit qualified them to labor in God's cause (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 283). One may have a B.A., M.A., Ph.D., B.D., D.D., and this is good, but if he has not the unction from above he is not qualified to preach. This means, fellow workers, that I am not qualified to preach without the unction from on high. I may be a preacher but not a qualified preacher. Someone has said, "No unction, no function."
Christ Our Example
Jesus did not attempt His ministry until after His anointing by the Holy Ghost at the time of baptism.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized, and [while He was still] praying, the (visible) heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form (Luke 3:21, 22, The Amplified Bible).* (Note also Luke 4:1, 14, 18, 19, 32 and 37.)
If Jesus, our sinless Lord, did not enter upon His ministry until after the anointment by the Holy Ghost, how dare we poor sinful creatures attempt to win souls without the unction from above?
Paul began his career as a foreign missionary after his baptism by the Holy Ghost.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou earnest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 9:17).
This was the time of Paul's anointment, which qualified him to preach, and people were "amazed" at his preaching (verse 21). People will be amazed today at our preaching when the Holy Spirit takes possession.
Disciples Waited for Qualification
The disciples were urged to wait for preparation (Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4, 8, The Amplified Bible). They did not launch their worldwide evangelistic crusade until after Pentecost, the time of their anointing. How hard it is to wait on God. The words, "Tarry ye," are just as important as the words, "Go ye." Jesus was talking to the leaders, preachers, teachers, pastors, and evangelists whom He had called and commissioned to go into all the world.
The disciples went to the upper room and an old-fashioned revival took place. There was deep heart searching, fervent, agonizing prayers, tears, confession of sins. Peter had some confessions to make, and so had John and James and Andrew. Ellen G. White refers to one of the early General Conference sessions when the brethren had an all-night prayer meeting. Brother went to brother, asking for forgiveness. She said it was like Pentecost.
In the upper room the disciples were being emptied and a vacuum was to be filled. The sons of thunder were emptied of their thunder and their desire for supremacy, and filled with love. Thomas was emptied of his doubt and filled with faith; Peter of his lying, his profanity, and cowardice, to be filled with truth and boldness.
Before one book of the New Testament was written, before one gospel sermon had been preached after Christ's ascension, the Holy Spirit came upon the praying apostles. Then the testimony of their enemies was, "Ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine" (Acts 5:28).—The Desire of Ages, p. 672.
Those words were literally true, and not only of Jerusalem, but the surrounding cities and towns felt the impact. The testimony of their enemies was, "These that have turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). Oh, would to God we had the power to turn this old world with all of its hate, its crime and violence, its wars, its suffering, right side up.
Holy Spirit at Prayer Meeting
Peter had a story to tell of the power of the Holy Ghost. What a marvelous transformation had taken place in his life. Before Pentecost preaching — unfit and unequipped; after the upper-room experience—preaching with the equipment of the Holy Ghost.
Peter could tell people to repent for he had himself repented of lying and profanity. Pentecost teaches us that it is not a change of men that is needed but changed men—the same preachers with a new power that will finish the world task.
The Holy Ghost came during a prayer meeting. Little prayer, little power. No prayer, no power. Much prayer, much power. Every recorded instance of reception of the Holy Spirit is preceded by earnest prayer. Could it be we are failing right here? This could be our most costly blunder!
Pentecostal Results to Be Duplicated
All that the apostles did, every church member today is to do."—Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 33. What an amazing statement. Without college or seminary training, without the use of television and radio facilities, without the use of our Go Tell, Bible in the Hand and It Is Written programs, et cetera, within thirty years after the cross the whole known world had been influenced by a little band of power-filled men.
They cast out devils, healed the sick, raised the dead. What was the secret of their success? They had experienced Pentecost. We are told that "thousands were converted in a day."—Ibid., vol. 8, p. 21. (Italics supplied.) Pentecostal results will be repeated when the loud cry sounds forth and "there will be as many converted in a day as there were at Pentecost."—Evangelism, p. 692. Not may be, but will be. That is positive language, brethren. Why cannot this be the day? Is not this the day of His promised power? "All that the apostles did, every church member today is to do." For more than 120 years we have been waiting to see the fulfillment of this promise. "What we need is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Without this, we are no more fitted to go forth to the world than were the disciples after the crucifixion of their Lord. Jesus knew their destitution, and told them to tarry in Jerusalem until they should be endowed with power from on high."—ELLEN G. WHITE, Review and Herald, Feb. 18, 1890, p. 98.
Holy Ghost Promised Us
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" (Acts 2:17).
The promise is that God's Spirit is to be poured out in these last days. Not like drops of rain, but poured out. Before Ellen G. I'Vhite died she said, "It is the time of the latter rain." This statement was made nearly fifty years ago. If that was the time, then in 1966 it must be high time for us to awaken and receive it.
It is ours to receive, brethren. Jesus said: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18). What was this power given to Him for? It was given to Him for us. He desires us to realize that the measureless power given Him has been placed at our disposal. If the power is promised, why are we so weak, so powerless?
Have we received the power? I ask the question as did Paul, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost?" If not, why not? Are we, my brethren, attempting to live out this message in our human strength? Are we preaching this message in human strength?
I have discovered that there is much in the work of preaching that has a tendency to operate against personal spiritual growth. Familiarity with sacred truths often destroys for us their charm of freshness. A professional handling of God's Word interferes with its personal application. The opinions of audiences, favorable or otherwise, exert an influence unfavorable to spiritual discipline.
In connection with all this, Satan is especially active in opposing the growth of spiritual piety in the preacher's life, so that there is a terrible danger that while the preacher is cultivating the vineyards of others he is neglecting his own. From many a preacher's lips this confession has come, "He made me the keeper of the vineyard, but my own vineyard I have not kept."
I am told that a magnifying glass held in a certain position by the hand of a child may convey sufficient fire through it from the sun to wrap the neighborhood in flames. Albeit the glass through which the fire has passed remains unheated and cold as flint. So a man may convey to others the rays of the Sun of Righteousness and yet his own heart will remain cold as ice. Either we have received the Holy Ghost, or we are desirous of receiving it. All of the reproof from God is sent to enable us to receive this much-needed power.
The Assurance That the Holy Spirit Is Ours
The promise of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled upon condition. "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." —The Desire of Ages, p. 672.
Dare I show just a few, a very few, "candid camera" shots that show us ourselves as God sees us?
I saw that none could share the "refreshing" unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world.—Early Writings, p. 71.
I call upon every minister to seek the Lord, to put away pride, . . . strife after supremacy, and humble the heart before God.—Review and Herald, July 26, 1892, p. 466.
The reason why our preachers accomplish so little is that they do not walk with God. He is a day's journey from most of them.—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 434.
Meditation and prayer are neglected for bustle and show. ... There is need of fasting, humiliation, and prayer over our decaying zeal and languishing spirituality.—Ibid., vol. 4, pp. 535, 536.
Appearance and machinery have been exalted as of power, while the virtue of true goodness, noble piety, and heart-holiness have been made a secondary consideration.—Review and Herald, Feb. 27, 1894, p. 130.
It is the absence of the Spirit that makes the gospel ministry so powerless.—Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 21.
If in our confrontation with the godless we are underpowered, our efforts will be feeble and fruitless.
The Main Condition
When we bring our hearts into unity with Christ, and our lives into harmony with His work, the Spirit that fell on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost will fall on us.—Ibid., p. 246.
In the same paragraph we are told that "wonderful revivals will follow. Sinners will be converted, and many souls will be added to the church." (Italics supplied.) Brethren, I long to see this, don't you?
O fellow workers, what are we waiting for? If we confess our sins and forsake them and ask for the latter rain, God will not fail in His promise. Have you received the Holy Ghost since you first believed? It is not talking about it but entering into the experience that is necessary. The only thing standing in the way of the reception is sin. The first work of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin. May it convict us here today. We can receive it at this meeting if we are ready to test God's Word. It is not a matter of pleading with God to give. He pleads with us to receive it. He is more willing to give than we are to give gifts to our own children. All we need to do is to confess our sins and believe the promise, and God will supply the fact.
The disciples had to spend ten days in the upper room to remove the barriers of sin. We need not take that long. We can remove the barriers now. Reception depends on us. If we put away jealousy, faultfinding, backbiting, gossiping, judging, unkindness, meanness, rudeness, worldliness, prejudice, and our secret sins, we can claim it now. My brethren, I want to claim it now, don't you? Some pastor, some administrator, some worker, is going to lead the way to Pentecost by the way of the cross and the upper room. I would like to be that worker, so help me God.
Many of you who have vacationed at Yosemite Park may remember the thrilling spectacle that occurs at the close of the nightly program. From out of the darkness a voice sounds out, "Let the fire fall!" And then from Glacier Point, one mile above, where a watcher waits, comes the answer echoing across the night, "The fire falls!"
Up above, the Holy Watcher is waiting for the signal of your heart and mine. He is watching to see Christlikeness in Christians. He has the shower of cleansing for our lives of impurity, the mantle of grace for all our unrighteousness. He has the strength made perfect in weakness to make us all that we ought to be. He has the fire of Pentecost to baptize us with His Spirit.
Just now in the silence of the awareness of His presence, just now will you join me in sending up the cry, "Let thy fire fall on me!"
° From The Amplified Bible. Copyright 1965 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49506.