The Testimony of the Holy Spirit - by J.B. Stoney
THE TESTIMONY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
John 16 : 1-15
Next to the importance of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to this earth, is the presence of the Holy Spirit upon it; but there is a great difference between the presence of the two. Only faith could recognise the Lord Jesus Christ, though He was visible to the eyes of men, but the Holy Spirit, though only recognisable to faith, is not visible to sight.
It is impossible to convey the gravity of this truth. Nothing makes the soul so unbelieving about any truth as acting unbelievingly about it; but, while many admit that the Holy Spirit is here, they do not act as if He were, and consequently they produce a kind of infidelity about it in their own souls. If I admit that the Holy Spirit is now present, I must act as if He were present. Take the very common instance of a boy at school: if he thinks the principal is in the room he will generally act in a very different way from what he will if he thinks he is not. So a great deal depends on my faith in a truth. There is a general admission that the Holy Spirit is here, but I believe souls have weakened their faith in the fact by acting as though He were not. Have I in my soul the sense that the Holy Spirit, a divine Person, is present ? My natural eyes could not bear to see a divine Person, but I say I believe the Holy Spirit is now present to faith. It is not now a question of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ upon earth, but of that of the Holy Spirit; it is a question of the simple fact that He is come down, and of what He effects now that He has come down.
The first thing I wish to make simple is, that it is as much an article of faith to own that the Holy Spirit is come down, as it is that the Lord Jesus Christ once came down. It is a distinct descent from heaven. He came down from heaven, and He has never gone back again.
Now those who admit that the Holy Spirit is the One who converts hearts to God during the absence of Christ, often do not see that the Holy Spirit is here to witness to Christ. It is often asked, Where is the testimony ? I answer, The Holy Spirit is the testifier. In John 14 : 26 we read : " I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." This is all about themselves, for their own comfort. The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father in the name of Christ; sent by the Father to us, in the name of Him who had been here and had gone away. Surely the Holy Spirit comforts my heart in the absence of Christ. He is the Comforter. I cannot conceive anything more wonderful than to be able to say of a man walking down the street, That is a temple of the Holy Spirit! God is doing a greater thing on earth now with man than He has ever done before. He has called His Son to His own right hand in glory, but meanwhile His body is on the earth. He can say to Saul, " Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me ? " But this is not all. The Holy Spirit is sent down from heaven to form this body on earth. God, as it were, says to man : You have rejected My Son ; but now, if you believe on Him, I will not only forgive you all your sins, transferring you into a new state, but I will set you up on the earth in the very Spirit of My Son. It is not the millennium at all; it is living Christ on earth, on the very spot where He was rejected; living Christ. My heart is turned to Christ through grace, and now I am set up on the very spot where I was a rejecter, not as an improved man, but as an expression of that Christ whose I am. God says, I will set you up on the earth in a new style; I will make you perfectly happy there, apart from those things which minister to the natural man. You do not find a natural man happy without suited circumstances, but here is a man, Paul, who " has nothing " and who is yet " always rejoicing." In the very spot of Christ's rejection man is set up in a new fashion, and in that new style he is able to say " always rejoicing " : or, as the Lord expresses it in His own prayer : " That they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves " ; and in John 15 : " That my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." A benevolent man says: I will make this man happy; I will improve his mind; I will ameliorate his circumstances, and thus make him a different being. While God announces : In the very circumstances in which he is, I will set him up, and make him superior to his condition, to his position, to everything, for the Spirit of God is within him.
To give you an example of this, I turn to the book of the Acts, which is a book of principles. In the third chapter I find a man lame, who is laid daily at the Beautiful gate of the temple. He cannot enter in. He is a powerless man, and a craving man. Suddenly a change comes over him. What is that change ? He is found in a new power. He is " walking, and leaping, and praising God." Are his circumstances altered ? Not at all [Editor: i.e., he is still in his circumstances here as a man although he has been healed from being lame]! But his state is altered. Do you think that, if an infidel of the present day were confronted with a case like this, he would not be confounded ? I never speak to an infidel of mercy, of forgiveness ; I speak to him of power. When in the gospel they began to upbraid the Lord and revile Him as to the forgiveness of the sins of the poor palsied man, He only answered them with, Then I will show you another thing; " That ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, he saith, Take up thy bed and go thy way into thine house." And they were all amazed at the power of God, saying, " We never saw it on this fashion." Here is a wonderful change : a man is found carrying his bed instead of lying on it; as we have it to the church of Philadelphia: " Thou hast a little strength," but the word ought to be ' power.' And again, " I can do all things through him who gives me power." It is the wonderful magnificence of God's grace! Here is man set up in power in the very place of his defeat. It is not that he is an improved man, but that he is set up in an entirely new fashion. It is the finish to the work of the cross. It is not only that Christ has died, but that He has gone up to God's right hand, and that from thence He says : I have not only died for your sins, but I have obtained the Holy Spirit for you. Do you know that you, individually, are set up in the power of the Holy Spirit ? No one here, of course, doubts the fact that He has the Holy Spirit, but are you walking in the power of being indwelt by Him ?
It is, then, the testimony of the Holy Spirit that I now wish to speak a few words upon. The Lord states in John 15: " When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me." The other side of the truth connected with the presence of the Comforter as sent by the Father, that which gives us power to cry, Abba, Father, as we read in Romans 8, I do not wish to touch on here. I just call your attention to the fact that in John 14 He is sent by the Father as the Comforter to the hearts of His people, whereas in chapter 15 He is sent by Christ from the Father's right hand in glory to witness to Him on the earth during His absence and rejection. It is this side of the truth I wish to look at. And the more I think of it, the more I feel that saints have lost the sense of it. I believe a flash of lightning would affect people more than the presence of the Holy Spirit does; the former would affect their natural senses. I do not wish to affect your natural senses, but I do seek to address myself to your faith.
The Lord says, " He shall testify of me." The Holy Spirit has come down, not only for our comfort, but to testify of Christ. Now, do you ever consult the Holy Spirit about the testimony of Christ ? Is it the Holy Spirit who is the great source and leader of the testimony as to means, as to ways, as to persons ? If you believe that He is present, do you consult Him as to all this ? There is a prayer we very often make use of: " The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" ; thank God, we all know something of that; " and the love of God " ; of that too we can say we are not strangers to it; " and the communion of the Holy Spirit " ; how much do we know of that ? A man would not have the unblushingness to state that he had walked down the street with a great sovereign, or that the sovereign had done so with him, if it were not true; but we talk quite lightly of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and how much do we know of it ?
I wish to impress on you the simple fact, that the Holy Spirit is sent down to earth on two missions. Just as a man may have two distinct relationships; he may be a father, and he may also be a master; so the Holy Spirit has two distinct duties on earth, if I may say so ; blessed be His name that I can speak so simply about Him.
It is not everything that a man is able to say : I preach five hundred sermons in the year, and get in thousands of people to hear me. So you may, but the question is whether the Holy Spirit is with you. Another will tell me of there being no one to hear him, of there being great opposition in such a place; indeed, if you persist in going to them, they will only put you out. I answer, They may put me out, but they cannot put the Holy Spirit out. I dwell upon the fact that He is here to testify to Christ. But how shall I know His testimony ? What will He do ? Chapter 16 supplies me with what He will do. There I get two distinct marks of what the testimony of the Holy Spirit is.
But first I will say a word as to how Christ is opposed.
This blessed One had come down to earth— never was such a thing as the Son of God come down from heaven—became a Man, glorified God on the earth and died for man, but He was rejected and cast out. Then He said, " I will build my church "—the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. But this is not all. The Holy Spirit has come down, and we are all baptised by one Spirit into one body—the body of Christ.
There is a great deal of disorder in the church, but He has not gone away. Now what is the sin of Christendom that has brought about all this disorder ? It is ignoring the fact that the Holy Spirit is dwelling in the church. Positively a great many godly people pray for Him to be sent! The Pope is set up by multitudes as the vicar of Christ upon earth ; every one of us here refuses that; but, though numbers refuse the wrong one, they do not find the right One, the Holy Spirit.
Whatever God is most set upon is that which is most opposed by the enemy; it was so from the beginning. In the garden of Eden Satan came in and perverted the word of God. And in the day of the priesthood, when fire came down from heaven " and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering and the fat," what form did the opposition take ? Immediately the sons of Aaron " took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord." They added their own fire to that which " came out from before Jehovah." They said : God has sent down fire; we will help Him by adding to it. I see this around me every day. A man may have the very best intention, but he is adding to the Holy Spirit. Oh, but you answer, it is not that; it is only helping on the work, only adding to the influence. Add to it! This is the sin of the day. It is raising the question, "Is the Lord among us?"
When the children of Israel got into the land of Canaan, in the very moment of victory one man took a goodly Babylonish garment and a wedge of gold, and hid them in the earth under his tent. It was all perfectly secret; it did not compromise any one; no one knew of it; he could not hurt any one by it. He was tempting God, as if He would not find it out. God, then, cannot bear this; and He will not go on with them. Satan's temptation was that God would take no notice of the sin. It was tempting the Spirit of God. Other passages I might turn to as instances of tempting God, and trouble in consequence, such as Uzzah; but I go on to Acts 5, where we find it as a principle affecting the church. Here not one could say that the Holy Spirit was not there. But at this very time I find two people, with what motive I cannot think, who, having some land sold it, and brought part of the price and laid it at the apostles' feet. Two things are brought out in this scripture. These two were seeking reputation; it is hard to see why, for the church was not a place of distinction at that time. Like Achan, who sought to enrich himself at God's expense, for everything in Jericho was God's, so now these two seek to exalt themselves in God's house. And what does their action prove ? It proves that the thought of their heart is, We do not believe God is here. How does Peter meet it ? " Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart ? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God." And when the wife comes in three hours later, having had time to consider her course, his words are still stronger : " How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord ? " It is Satan's masterpiece. When a man is found working for his own distinction in some form or other, the while he is professing to work for God, he is tempting the Spirit of the Lord. Here two were found to agree together to act as if He were not here; and now it characterises the church's action, as though He were not here.
What is the testimony according to the Holy Spirit ? It is composed of two parts. First, as it exposes the world: " When he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." Second : as it discloses the glory of Christ—Himself and His things.
Jude refers to some who " separate themselves, sensual, not having the Spirit." This word ' sensual' would be better translated ' sensational '; they depart from the Spirit's ground, and act upon that of man and nature. There is no more dangerous thing. Nothing has more weakened the power of the truth in the present day than this very thing; I refer to what is called Revivalism. I am obliged to speak plainly. I believe no one adopts Revivalism in his preaching but he loses the power of the Holy Spirit; he is sure to fall into human ways and means. There is an immense departure in the present day from simple acting in the power of the Holy Spirit. Then when difficulties come in, troubles as to discipline, and other things, there is not one mind, there is no power. Why ? Because you have been adding strange fire to the fire of the sanctuary, and the consequence is that now, when you want power, you discover that God is not with you. What was at the root of the action of Ananias and Sapphira ? Self-exaltation. I believe if there ever were belief in and acting on the truth of the presence of the Holy Spirit, that He would undertake the arrangement of everything in the church—would bring the right person, the right evangelist, to the place where He needed him to witness for Christ. I once heard of an evangelist who was strongly persuaded that he should go and preach the gospel in a certain place. He went unasked, and on arriving there was told that there would certainly not be anyone to hear him. " Still I must preach to-night," he said. And he did preach, though no one came to hear him; he delivered his message, and a man listening outside the door who had not courage to go in, was converted. Here was a man led by the Spirit, and used by Him. I have not a doubt that if we were conscious that the Holy Spirit is here, we would not do a single thing without His direction, any more than a note would come out of a pianoforte if it were not touched.
As already said, one part of His testimony is to expose the true state of things with regard to the world. How then can I use worldly means in serving Christ ? I cannot let a worldly man help me to preach, or in any kind of service. I am a witness to the world of its sin. I can only say to it, I stand against you. It is not a question of converting souls ; the moment a soul is converted it ceases to be of the world. But as to the world, I need no statistics to prove to me its sin ; I have a better proof than that can give me ; the Holy Spirit is the witness to me of it: " Of sin, because they believe not in me." I can convict you of the very worst sin if you do not believe on Christ.
The very first time that Paul came into Europe, Satan attempted to help him in his service; testified to his being " the servant of the most high God " ; but, when Paul would not receive his help, he immediately set to work to oppose him ; that very night Paul and Silas were in the inner prison and their feet fast in the stocks. The prince of the world says : Let me help you, I do not care how small the help you take from me, or what the character of it; but if you refuse it altogether, you shall have my opposition.
But it is not only " of sin because they believe not in me," but also " of righteousness, because I go to my Father." If it is sin here, it is righteousness there; the sin of the one proves the righteousness of the other. The world may do its worst in its opposition to me, I have a power that makes me superior to it. True it has power, but there is another power. It may put Paul in prison, but the prison begins to rock. The world may say to me, as it did to Paul in Philippi, I will do all I can to get people to come to hear you preach. I answer, I do not want your help, I have a power that is superior to yours, and that power is dead against you.
The power that God first gave to man in the days of Noah was a power that was downward, not upward. It was the power to suppress evil. And what did they do with it ? They suppressed God's Son! " Of sin, because they believe not on me, and of righteousness, because I go to my Father." He is not here. That is what is against the world. And the fact that the Holy Spirit is here proves that there is in the world a greater power than the world, and that its prince is judged.
The testimony of the Holy Spirit to us is : " He will guide you into all truth ; he will show you things to come; he shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." He shows us heaven. " All things that the Father hath are mine : therefore said I, that he shall take of mine and shall show it unto you." I have lost the world, but I have got heaven.
Well, in conclusion, I can only say, that if the heart does not receive as a matter of simple faith the fact of the presence of the Holy Spirit now upon earth, all the teaching in the world will not give it. The Lord grant to each one of us to act more simply in the faith of I believe that He is here. Recognising Him here, I walk in the path of power.
J. B. Stoney.