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This Is What Was Spoken by the Prophet Joel
This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
I will pour out My Spirit on all people.”
We stammer and can hardly speak of that majestic happening, when on the tenth day after Jesus’ Ascension into the highest Heaven, the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and the crowd of believers out of that same Heaven. Already at the Bethlehem manger, where the Son first meets us, do we cover our face with the veil of shortsightedness and we worship but do not comprehend how that awesome miracle of the incarnation of the Word was possible. And this was a coming in the flesh, an act in visible form that the eyes could see, the ears hear and the hands touch the Word of Life.
How much less could we expect to understand now that not the Son but the Holy Spirit descends, that Holy Spirit who does not become flesh, but remains hidden in the spiritual, remains invisible and untouchable as He establishes His indwelling in the bosom of the Church and His temple in the hearts of the faithful.
The Apostles, moved by His descent and outpouring, spoke in strange languages according to how the Spirit enabled them. How can we possibly analyze and find the words to describe what amounts to shadows of heavenly things, when the Apostle Paul later confessed that these were “inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (II Corinthians 12:4). Ponder, but do not analyze too much. There is something glorious here for your heart. Try to understand that. There is a river here through which flow the waters of eternal life. Try to bathe, immerse yourself in that. A fountain of eternal comfort is opening here. Try to quench your thirst from this for the comfort of your shriveling soul.
There was an Old Testament promise from the Prophet Joel (Acts 2:16-17). True, Joel’s was not the only one, for there were other seers and prophets before him, but Joel’s version was the clearest of them all. Of this promise, Joel gave a disclaimer: It is not mine, but it is the promise from the living God to the spiritless and discouraged, to the Church of God on earth that is so bereft of comfort. It was a word of compassion and mercy from Him who knows the oppression His people suffer even better than those who have entered deep into the Way. It was from that merciful God who had even more love for His old Church in the dispensation of shadows than for us. That is why He supported and upheld especially that church with promises rich with comfort.
That old Church missed so much. She did enjoy some great privileges that we do not have: immediate miraculous revelations and divine messages through the words of the prophets. But she did not know the manger; she did not look upon the cross and had not yet become a temple of the Holy Spirit. She could not boast of what John spoke: “That...which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).
However, they did not lack anything regarding their salvation. The Lord God also gifted His chosen among His ancient covenant people with faith, the faith that focused on the Messiah and that brought inner revival to joyful souls. But still it all fell under the shadows. She did not have the clarity, the transparency, that full overflowing measure in which we rejoice.
We pilgrims still on our journey are behind the chosen ones already called up, those who now already have a taste of the glory before the throne. We have to be satisfied with the promise without tasting that glory. Likewise, Israel was behind us, who know Bethlehem, Golgotha and Pentecost of which they had the promise but not the realization of it all.
That made them apprehensive and filled their souls with worry. It drove them on as in a storm. The Lord our God, who is merciful and who shares in the oppression His people were suffering, was aware of their feelings. Therefore, He sent His seers, including Joel, and through him opened for His people the Word of promise, that glorious vista of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. It did not happen in their day, but they saw it from afar. It was their Nebo! (Deuteronomy 32 and 34). As the Lord refreshed Moses’ soul by showing him the rich and fertile land of Canaan from the pinnacle of distant Mount Nebo, so the God of all mercies heard His covenant people and helped them set their eyes on the promise through prophecy, on these glorious things of the Spirit, from far off.
That under which Israel suffered and succumbed was that its God was far off and not near by, not directly approachable. As the deer pants after water, so Israel pined after the refreshing and animating Body of the living God. That was what all those who feared Jehovah called for and for which they implored Him; not all the people, of course, but the faithful among them. They missed their God and could not do without Him. Their souls were parched during this long wait. In the midst of this distress and near spiritual death, Jehovah came to comfort, first by promising, “I am coming in the Messiah,” and then by pronouncing, “I am coming in the Holy Spirit!”
Strugglers among God’s people are familiar with this distress and this near spiritual death even today. It is a strange mystery that the spiritual suffering of Israel is the image of what God’s chosen suffer throughout the ages. This is not because history retrogresses or the New Covenant slips again behind the Old, but because every chosen person individually repeats in himself the history of suffering and comfort of the entire people of God. The people of God in the Church first live through the phase of missing God, and from there move on to the phase of glorious possession. That is the process taking place in the soul of each person whom God claims. Bethlehem, Golgotha, Mount of Olives, Pentecost—it was all there and they knew about them, but they could not penetrate or enter as yet; they were still left out and did not yet taste the sweetness of the deep kernel of holiness.
So, they sing along with the angels’ Christmas song in the fields of Ephratha (Luke 2:13-14), but in their souls they cry out in anguish, “Where is my God?” A stirring lamentation wells up from their hearts as they gaze on that terrible struggle in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. They still ask, “Who delivers me from my sin?” On Easter morning, they jubilate with the crowd but still call out, “Who is my righteousness?” On the Mount of Olives they watch their Saviour ascend, but sigh, “Who opens the portals of Heaven for me?” Similarly, on Pentecost they testify to the wind, fire and foreign languages, but in their souls they continue to groan after fellowship with the living God. That’s the kind of enigmas we ourselves are. We are like children who play with pearls and rubies, but who go hungry for lack of bread.
And that is why this prophecy is also for us. Paul says it so convincingly, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). With the same promises and prophecies with which the Lord God used to refresh His ancient covenant people, does He still refresh the comfortless souls today. That is to say, all those souls who genuinely and truly pine after the living God but do not enjoy the glorious fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Until, until.... finally the working of the Holy Spirit penetrates so deeply in such a soul, that the channel is finally fully dug and the waters of life can flow through it. That’s when the full joy of salvation comes upon him. That’s when the foolish child first becomes aware what a treasure it has possessed for years in his pearls and rubies. Then it happens: The mystery of the manger suddenly opens up along with that of Golgotha; the mystery of the Spirit discloses itself; and the newly comforted give thanks for this loving radiance from God’s comforting face, exclaiming with joyful recognition, “Abba Father!”
There are some individuals who, not having a clear understanding of the “things of God,” think that they have experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a kind of repetition of a mini Pentecost wonder. Some even use a special term for it: “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
That is not possible. That would amount to negating the great Pentecost of the Church. Similarly, there have been people in past ages that consider the birth of Christ in their heart their Bethlehem with such strong emphasis that they lose the original Bethlehem and, eventually, even deny it. Keep an eye on that exaggerated form of over-spiritualization. No, God’s way is not a matter of soul and soul; it is first of all of God with His Church. From there He moves to each individual member of His chosen flock. He is victorious over sin by means of returning and bestowing the human race with His glorious and sweet fellowship. His first step is to come to His Church with prophecy, then to His Church in the Son and, finally in the most intimate and innermost mode He comes to His Church in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
In the natural creation, God the Lord does not grant each city and village a separate river, but He opens the sluices of Heaven over His mountains for everybody, so that the mighty streams of water cascade from the mountain tops down into the rivers, from where they flow forth until they irrigate all lands and states. So in the kingdom of grace is His work not piecemeal, dealing with every individual entity, but flows down from the mountain of His holiness in one single mighty stream till all chosen peoples and every chosen soulwill be refreshed and washed according to individual circumstances of time and place.
Thus, Pentecost does not repeat itself. It is a single event that does not come and go, but that one single unique descent has its effect from then till the present day. Anyone who wants to partake even now in that Spirit can only do so by partaking in what was poured out only once, descended only once, but that now dwells in us and in His Church.
This is what was prophesied by the Prophet Joel to the soul that called upon the Spirit, who still had to come down from above, “Take note, God the Lord is now in his Holy Spirit with and in you. Your Church is no longer alone. The Lord is in her and is her God!”11 Kuyper’s own interpretation of Joel 2:28-32?
Oh, indeed there is a breaking through of the Holy Spirit into the soul that earlier resisted Him. What used to be a lifeless and frozen soul has now become more fluid. What at one time appeared spiritless, motionless and lifeless, is now animated and lively. Yes to all of this, but a repetition of the descent of the Holy Spirit as on Pentecost, that will not happen.
What then is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and wherein does it differ from the separate working out of Heaven in each chosen one, head for head? We do not deny that God the Lord could work on each soul. Why not? He is almighty. Even the decisions made in the council of God that govern all things, are sovereign and bound by nothing. The thing is, the Lord did not choose to do things that way; He chose another way that is clearly demarcated in His council. Kicking against it makes no difference; it will change nothing. Things go according to His will. The way He has chosen has been staked out in such a way that the souls of His chosen ones cannot be comforted except in the communion of saints; that is to say, in the organic operation of the Body of Christ, which is His Church.
Now, as in a body not all parts breathe—the hand doesn’t; the foot doesn’t; the eye doesn’t—but they all keep their life and shine through the single breath cycle of the entire body. So it also goes in the Body of the Church. On Pentecost, God blew the breath of life into the Body of the Church by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, the Holy Spirit now lives as the heavenly breath cycle both in the Head and in the members of the Body. It is through the breath of the Holy Spirit that every member of the Body lives.
Just how does all that work? If you can explain to me how, in the mystery of natural life, the breath out of your lungs makes your eye sparkle, then I will explain the mystery of spiritual life, which is that the Spirit of grace comforts the soul of each member. We cannot penetrate that secret. You can only worship, admire and rejoice in this mystery.
Worship—that is to say, kneel down in deep reverence and thank your God and Father, who now for twenty centuries has been blowing the breath of life into the Body of the Church by giving her the Holy Spirit. Admire and pay attention to the manifold wisdom of God, who, since the descent of the Spirit, has spread His Church abroad throughout the whole world and has turned the face of the world around. But also rejoice for yourself, as member of the Body of Christ, and cherish along with fellow saints the warmth of that life that has been flowing throughout the Body of Christ out of the breath of the Spirit for twenty centuries.
And what is all this? This comforting, that breathing, that glorious rejoicing? You must know that these things have nothing in common with the excitement of ecstasy or with arousing cheer and song. Pompous tones and high sounding songs are not inviting to the Spirit but ban it far away. No, this comfort is for the quiet kind of suffering and is imbibed in holy calm. The joy comes when you become aware of the sin of your deeply miserable heart.
It is possible that you have long thirsted after righteousness and pined for having the will to do good works, but you are constantly disappointed, for your heart deceives you. You just could not carry through, so that at the end, now suffering the most fearful tension, you cried out in despair, “I want to be holy, but I can’t.” If this is how you suffer and are oppressed, bent over in misery till you feel, “God must have His way with my soul,” but it does not happen—that is the sad thirst in you after God, who will work a permanent conversion in you. It is during that fearful doubt that God the Holy Spirit comes quietly knocking on the door of your heart and calls you with this imagined invitation: “Oh, you without comfort, weep no more. Your prayers and sighings have ascended before the face of God. You have been heard. Your oppression shall come to an end and the fear in your soul shall fade away. For now I know that you have groaned to your God in uprightness of heart for delivery from sin and the ability to become holy. Here I am, I, your God, who will make His indwelling also in your heart. What you are incapable of doing, that I, God, shall do for and in you. I will bend your will towards the good. I shall cleanse your inclinations, purify your imagination and enlighten your eyes. No matter how much unrighteousness from the pool of perdition still bubbles up in your unclean heart, I will see to it that you will walk in my ordinances!”
After the Holy Spirit no longer just says this but actually does it and the soul sees that the Spirit is establishing this in her, then she is no longer powerless. Instead, she is now capable of moving what seemed like mountains. That’s when the sound of jubilation will be heard, and the glorious experience of restoration in her innermost being will be felt. She will know what it means that, in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, “Christ, by his Holy Spirit, makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
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