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The Diversity Of The Experience

But you ask: ‘How shall I know that the Holy Spirit is come upon me?’ I cannot tell how you will know, but you will know. No description has been given us of the personal sensations and emotions of the disciples at Pentecost. We do not know exactly how they felt, but we do know that their feelings and behaviour were somewhat abnormal, because people seeing them said they were intoxicated. When the Holy Spirit falls upon God’s people there will be some things which the world cannot account for. There will be supernatural accompaniments of some kind, though it be no more than an overwhelming sense of the Divine Presence. We cannot and we must not stipulate what particular form such outward expressions will take in any given case, but one thing is sure, that each one upon whom the Spirit of God falls will know it.

When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost there was something quite extraordinary about their behaviour, and Peter offered an explanation from God’s Word to all who witnessed it. This, in substance, is what he said: ‘When the Holy Spirit falls upon believers, some will prophesy, some will dream dreams, and others will see visions. This is what God has stated through the prophet Joel.’ But did Peter prophesy? Well, hardly in the sense in which Joel meant it. Did the hundred and twenty prophesy or see visions? We are not told that they did. Did they dream dreams? How could they, for were they not all wide awake? Well then, what did Peter mean by using a quotation that seems scarcely to fit the case at all? In the passage quoted (Joel 2:28, 29), prophesy, dreams and visions are said to accompany the outpouring of the Spirit, yet these evidences were apparently lacking at Pentecost.

On the other hand, Joel’s prophecy said not a word about “a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind”, nor about “tongues parting asunder like as of fire” as accompaniments of the Spirit’s outpouring; yet these were manifest in that upper room. And where in Joel do we find mention of speaking in other tongues? And yet the disciples at Pentecost did so.

What did Peter mean? Imagine him quoting God’s Word to show that the experience of Pentecost was the outpouring of the Spirit spoken of by Joel, without a single one of the evidences mentioned by Joel being found at Pentecost. What the Book mentioned the disciples lacked, and what the disciples had the Book did not mention! It looks as though Peter’s quotation of the Book disproves his point rather than proving it. What is the explanation of this mystery?

Let us recall that Peter was himself speaking under the control of the Holy Spirit. The Book of the Acts was written by the Spirit’s inspiration, and not one word was spoken at random. There is no misfit, but a perfect harmony. Note carefully that Peter did not say: ‘What you see and hear fulfills what was spoken by the prophet Joel’. What he said was: “This is that which hath been spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). It was not a case of fulfillment, but of an experience of the same order. “This is that” means that ‘this which you see and hear is of the same order as that which is foretold’. When it is a case of fulfillment, each experience is reduplicated and prophecy is prophecy, dreams are dreams, and visions are visions; but when Peter says “This is that”, it is not a question of the one being a replica of the other, but of the one belonging to the same category as the other. “This” amounts to the same thing as “that”; “this” is the equivalent of “that”; “this is that”. What is being emphasized by the Holy Spirit through Peter is the diversity of the experience. The outward evidences may be many and varied, and we have to admit that occasionally they are strange; but the Spirit is one, and He is Lord. (See Corinthians 12:4-6).

What happened to R.A. Torrey when the Holy Spirit came upon him after he had been a minister for years? Let him tell it in his own words: ‘I recall the exact spot where I was kneeling in prayer in my study... It was very quiet moment, one of the most quiet moments I ever knew... Then God simply said to me, not in any audible voice, but in my heart. “It’s yours. Now go and preach.” He had already said it to me in His Word in 1 John 5:14, 15; but I did not then know my Bible as I know it now, and God had pity on my ignorance and said it directly to my soul... I went and preached, and I have been a new minister from that day to this... Some time after this experience (I do not recall just how long after), while sitting in my room one day... suddenly... I found myself shouting (I was not brought up to shout and I am not of a shouting temperament, but I shouted like the loudest shouting Methodist), “Glory to God, glory to God, glory to God”, and I could not stop. ... But that was not when I was baptized with the Holy Spirit. I was baptized with the Holy Spirit when I took Him by simple faith in The Word of God.’ 1010 The Holy Spirit, who He is and what He does, by R.A. Torrey, D.D., pp. 198-9.

The outward manifestations in Torrey’s case were not the same as those described by Joel or by Peter, but “this is that”. It is not a facsimile, yet it is the same thing.

And how did D.L. Moody feel and act when the Spirit came upon him?

‘I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day, in the city of New York—oh, what a day!—I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths; and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world - it would be as the small dust of the balance.’ 1111The Life of Dwight L. Moody, by his son, W.R. Moody, p. 149.

The outward manifestation that accompanied Moody’s experience did not tally exactly with Joel’s description, or Peter’s, or Torrey’s, but who could doubt that “this” which Moody experienced was “that” experienced by the disciples at Pentecost? It was not the same in manifestation, but it was the very same in essence.

And what was the experience of the great Charles Finney when the power of the Holy Ghost came upon him?

‘I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me body and soul. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love.’ 1212 Autobiography of Charles E. Finney, chapter 2.

Finney’s experience was not a duplicate of Pentecost, nor of Torrey’s experience, nor of Moody’s; but “this” certainly was “that”.

When the Holy Spirit is poured out upon God’s people their experiences will differ widely. Some will receive new vision, others will know a new liberty in soul-winning, others will proclaim the Word of God with power, and yet others will be filled with heavenly joy or overflowing praise. “This... and this... and this... is that!” Let us praise the Lord for every new experience that relates to the exaltation of Christ and of which it can truly be said that “this” is an evidence of “that”. There is nothing stereotyped about God’s dealings with His children. Therefore we must not by our prejudices and preconceptions make a water-tight compartment for the working of His Spirit, either in our own lives or in the lives of others. This applies equally to those who require some particular manifestation (such as ‘speaking with tongues’) as evidence that the spirit has come upon them and to those who deny that any manifestation is given at all. We must leave God free to work as He wills, and to give what evidence He pleases of the work He does. He is Lord, and it is not for us to legislate for Him.

Let us rejoice that Jesus is on the throne, and let us praise Him that, since He has been glorified, the Spirit has been poured out upon us all. As we accept the Divine fact in all the simplicity of faith, we shall know it with such assurance in our own experience that we shall dare to proclaim with confidence—“This is that!”


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