ELDER NEIL PHELAN JR.
WE ARE HIS WITNESSES (Part 2)
"And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him." -Acts 5:32
In our last article we considered Peter and the other apostles as they faithfully witnessed the resurrection and doctrine of Jesus Christ. But we should be careful to observe the second witness our text supplies: "And so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him." According to this language, the Holy Ghost is a witness; God's personal witness.
The Holy Ghost is a powerful witness sent directly into this world by the divine command of God. The greatest gift a church will ever receive from God is the presence and influence of the Holy Ghost. It is by the power of the Holy Ghost that churches are built and blessed.
The person of the Holy Ghost is worthy of much more ink on our pages and time in our pulpits than we can ever devote. It is by the unction of the Holy Ghost that we find the power to preach and the ability to comprehend the word of God. If there is anything our churches need today, it is the presence of the Holy Ghost affecting and accentuating our efforts to declare the gospel. We should all fall to our knees every night and pray for God to pour out His Spirit upon all of our churches: "thy kingdom come". If our prayers were answered, we would observe hearts pricked, lives changed and the Baptismal waters stirred once again.
MANY THINGS UNTO US
The person of the Holy Ghost is many things unto us today. The words are translated from the Greek words 'Hagios Pneuma'. Hagios means 'an awful thing, pure, most holy one' while pneuma means 'a current of air, breath, (blast) or a breeze'. We might think of the Holy Ghost as the omnipotent breath of God. God's breath infiltrates places where man can not nor would not go, even to places where He is uninvited, and speaks, removing the stony heart and replacing it with a fleshy heart that can feel and detect God's presence "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh"- Ezekiel 36:26. This powerful voice of the Godhead, has the ability to penetrate even the hardest heart. As hard as we may try, man can never penetrate every crack and crevice of the globe with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but this celestial messenger has the power to quicken the elect unto God, regardless of their location or station in life. As the Holy Ghost quickens the elect he brings man into the conscious awareness that there is a great "I Am".
The Holy Ghost has the power to bring beauty out of chaos. When God first created this earth, it was "without form, and void", a chaotic mass. But when "the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters", beauty began to unfold. And so it is in the life of every child of God. God's breath, the Holy Ghost, moves upon us, and in us, when we are dead in sins and alienated from God; before there is any beauty or comeliness about us. It is then, and then alone, that this chaotic mass is quickened, made alive, and possesses the ability to bear fruit unto God.
When I think of the Holy Ghost, I visualize a part of God which penetrates our very soul and body, a part of God which abides with us every moment; Holy oil which flows into the earthen vessel from that great storehouse above, causing our flame to burn bright for God.
Jesus spoke of him as the "Comforter" when he said "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 14:26. The Holy Ghost has the power to comfort and calm us, even during the most raging storms of life. The Holy Ghost has a 'balm for every wound and a cordial for every tear'. It is for this person of the Godhead that we plead when sorrows come our way. Many times we may ask the Father to bless a loved one with the presence of His Spirit in a time of heartache or need. With the divine influences of the Holy Ghost, God's children can face otherwise impossible circumstances in life.
The Holy Ghost is also a teacher: "he shall teach you". The Holy Ghost enables us to understand the language of God; spiritual communications. It is only by the influences of the Holy Ghost that we are enabled to comprehend the spiritual significance of the Bible. Without the influence of the Holy Ghost, the Bible would just be another book to us. Through the intercession of the Holy Ghost, the gospel comes to us in power, teaching our hearts and souls the truths of God's word. Paul referred to this witness as he reminded the church at Thessalonica that "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance" -1Thes 1:5.
There are many truths that God alone teaches through the person of the Holy Ghost. When we are born from above, God writes upon our hearts and in our minds teaching us many things for "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts- Heb 8:10. We may not know the book, chapter and verse, but there is that conscious awareness of sin and our need for a savior. This blessing is promised to every one of the elect for "they shall be all taught of God.' It is through the person of the Holy Ghost that fruit is born: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance"; as the heart is taught and prepared by God. He is truly God's teacher.
According to John 14:26, the Holy Ghost also enables the child of God to bring things to "remembrance". This special anointing allows the preacher to draw deeply from God's word as he proclaims the gospel. He is blessed with the power to remember and quote passages of scripture he would otherwise have forgotten. We may all recall times when a scripture was brought into remembrance at just the right time to defend a truth, teach a friend, or rebuke a sinful thought or action. The words of God are brought to remembrance by the Holy Ghost.
Have you ever been so torn and upset that you just could not express yourself to God in prayer? Sometimes we are unable to utter even one syllable. At other times our language does not possess the proper words to bear our souls unto our Father. But isn't it comforting to know that when we pray, "the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" - Romans 8:26. When we can not pray as we would like, when our words seem to go no higher than the tops of our heads, when we are so broken and torn about a problem in our life that we just can not pray, we have an intercessor who speaks unto our Father for us with groans that our language is not capable of uttering. This intercessor, the Spirit, is the person of the Holy Ghost.
There are no words to define some of the most intense heartaches of life. There are some "groanings which cannot be uttered" by the human tongue. But the Holy Ghost can speak to the Father with a tongue and a language far superior to ours, and communicate our most heartfelt desires with precision. What a comfort it is just to know this!
This special anointing influence endues God's children with power. It was by the unction of the Holy Ghost that Peter and the other apostles spoke with great power, not fearing the consequences of their testimony. It was by the power of the Holy Ghost, that the early Christians found the divine strength to give their lives and possessions as a witness for Jesus Christ. Oh, how we need this witness today!
GIVEN FOR OBEDIENCE
According to the language of our text, the Holy Ghost is given as a witness "to them that obey him." The words from our text, spoken by Peter and the other apostles, succeed one of the greatest events in all of church history: the day of Pentecost. It was to this occasion that they gave testimony, an occasion that their accusers well remembered. They reminded their accusers of two witnesses which had both testified in their presence: the apostles, "we are his witnesses", and the Holy Ghost. It was on this special day that God gave great witness unto the disciples and the "devout men, out of every nation under heaven". Those who were assembled upon this occasion were obedient unto the words of Jesus as He instructed them to "tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high"- Luke 24:49. The Holy Ghost was given to those who obeyed.
As they preached a resurrected Christ, "Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance"-Acts 2:2-4. What a powerful witness God sent on this occasion as God's presence and power were demonstrated by the outpouring of the "Holy Ghost".
As our text prescribes, the Holy Ghost is "given to them that obey him." Obedience precedes God's showers just as the cloud precedes a rain. Not only was the blessing of the Holy Ghost given to those faithful ones who "tarried at Jerusalem", but there were further blessings to be enjoyed for additional obedience. Peter very clearly said "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost"-Acts 2:38. The witness was present as Peter preached, but there were additional blessings of the Spirit given unto those who repented and were baptized. Peter did not offer Baptism for the sole purpose of adding another number to the church role or for a pin on his lapel. Peter commanded every hearer whose heart was pricked to be Baptized so that they might receive further blessings of the Holy Ghost. It is by this immersion that we draw nigh unto God. There is an added blessing of God's spirit when we obey in baptism. Baptism is a step towards discipleship.
Even today, the Holy Ghost continues to comfort and edify those who obey God's word; both individually and collectively as a body of baptized believers. But when the Holy Ghost is grieved, His showers are withheld. Without showers, crops will fail. It was for this very reason that Paul warns us to "grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice" Ephes. 4:30-31. These sins and others send the Spirit flying to other worlds. Even our tongues, "evil speaking", can cause the Spirit to flee from our presence. Some may say "well, I never use vulgar language", but then they use their tongue to speak evil of a brother or sister; the spirit flees. Petty differences and quarrels have dried up many Godly showers and cost us many a fruitful harvest.
Other kinds of sins can quench the flame of the Holy Ghost in our personal lives and in our churches. Covetousness, humanism, worldliness and various forms of entertainment can thrust the Holy Ghost from our presence and rob our lives and churches of his indispensable presence. I speak as Paul "Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?"- Galatians 4:16.
Have you ever felt an aching void in your life after a sinful action. This lonely void serves as a warning unto people and to churches to ask the question that David asks in the 139th Psalm "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" -v23,24. As the rising temperature warns our natural bodies that there is a disease present, this aching void is God's warning signal, reminding us to search our lives for sin. Many times, we may not know our own hearts and it takes God's searching spirit to show us our sin. God's witness within warns us and guides us.
The Bible furnishes us with multitudes of areas and information that we need to observe as we endeavor to obey God. He is looking at our doctrine, our practice, our worship service and every facet or our lives. When the Holy Ghost is no longer crowning our efforts, our hearts should join together in prayer, asking God to search out any error that may be found in us, until once again, the Holy Ghost is given as a witness and God adds to the church "daily such as should be saved."
OUR WITNESS TODAY
As Peter preached that day, the Holy Ghost attended and witnessed his words with great power. Many who heard his discourse were "pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" It was on this occasion that "there were added unto them about three thousand souls."
Who added them? God did! How did the apostles know who God was adding? By the witness of the Holy Ghost! They received and baptized those who were pricked in the heart and asked "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" These people had the witness within themselves, and the church observed God's witness, and baptized them.
This pattern continued as "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" Acts 2:47. And the pattern should be identical today. The church does not add its members. The Lord does! The text does not say "and the church added to the church daily such as should be saved". It says that "the Lord added". Oh, that we may never forget this principle. Even though we may never have another day like Pentecost, the Holy Ghost continues to witness God's work in the hearts of his people. We should be ever watchful for the witness of the Holy Ghost as the church and her members faithfully discharge their duty as a light in the world, witnessing the testimony of Jesus Christ. But it is God who blesses the outcome of the efforts.
It is the Lord who builds the house. We can meet, preach and pray but "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it" Psalm 127:1a. This text does not mean that we shouldn't preach everywhere and to everyone we have the opportunity to preach to. Paul preached in the marketplace, in the temples, to the rich, to the poor, to kings and to paupers. Whenever the opportunity availed itself, Paul preached Jesus. But it means that God must bless our efforts; that He is the only one who can add a member; God is the master builder. When members are added to the church by God, they are added as lively stones "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ"- 1 Peter 2:5. We should look upon the church as God's building.
If we were to try to build the house, pick out the stones, our labors would be vain and empty. Just to get people to agree on the color of paint or carpet in a church can create friction. Everyone's taste is different. Just imagine how difficult it would be to get the church to agree on every person God would add to the church. But through the witness of the Holy Ghost, the minds of God's people can come together and be settled; settled upon who God has convicted by the witness of the Holy Ghost. Now we know that God does not just pick up a person and plant them in the church. There are occasions when God has pricked a heart, a heart that refuses to obey in baptism. But even then, God can find another stone, one willing and obedient.
When God began to build the New Testament church, there was a great number of materials needed for the building. Over three thousand were added to this great building on this occasion. It was by the witness of the Holy Ghost that the stones were added and "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" Ephes. 2:19-22.
Many times God's witness was questioned. When God began to add the Gentiles to the church, there was great contention among the circumcision. Peter, by the divine commandment of God, went into the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, and preached to him and his company. Then, "When Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them"-Acts 11:2. These men were upset because God had blessed another nation of people outside their ranks to rejoice in a risen savior and chosen them for His house! But notice the evidence that Peter used to convince them that God was in the matter. Peter didn't tell them that Cornelius was a devout man who feared God; a man who gave much alms and prayed to God alway; a man who had seen in a vision the same angel that Peter had seen. Peter didn't tell them that Cornelius met all the proper requirements of circumcision and the keeping of the law. Peter points them unto our second witness, the Holy Ghost by saying "As I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning"-Acts 11:15. Peter shared and compared experiences, something we all like to do. Peter compared the experience of the Gentiles to the experience of the Jews using God's witness, the Holy Ghost as his evidence of God's approval by saying "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?"-Acts 11:17. And beloved, who are we to withstand God's witness? Peter had evidence! He had a witness! The witness was the Holy Ghost! How will we know who our next church member will be? By the witness of the Holy Ghost.