A. T. Pierson
The Holy Spirit
in His Relation to Missions
Key Thought: "I believe that the remedy for the existing state of things is a return to primitive conditions. Let the church be on an apostolic basis, with godly men in her ministry, converted people in her choirs, godly elders and deacons, and a discipline that dares to exclude from the Lord's table people who bring reproach on Christ by their inconsistent conduct in the face of the world. Give us such a church as that, and the whole question of missions will be solved."
The Holy Spirit in His Relation to Missions
The great difficulty is that the Holy Spirit is an unappreciated, and in many cases a misunderstood, person. I am sorry to say that there is a large class of Christians who do not even conceive of the Holy Spirit as a person. You cannot take up the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters of John, or the Acts of the Apostles, without seeing that the Holy Spirit is a person.
I have been greatly interested, of late, in looking through the Acts of the Apostles, to note the practical activity of the Spirit, especially in regard to missions. Let me put a few definitions before you, which are of essential importance in the understanding of this theme. In the first place, the Holy Spirit is intended to be to the believing soul all that Jesus Christ would have been had he remained in the flesh and been the personal companion of every believer. Christ was under the limitations of the flesh while on the earth, but now the Holy Spirit is in every individual believer's soul, and makes that soul his habitation, and hence makes the body of the believer his temple. The second great principle is, that the Holy Spirit is to be, through the believer, to the world outside, what he is to the believer himself. In our Lord's marvelous discourse before his crucifixion the whole work of the Spirit of God is outlined. He is designed so to abide in the believer, so to work in and through him, that the believer shall become to the world what the Spirit is to him. In this principle the whole subject of the relation of the Spirit to missions is briefly outlined.
The Book of Acts covers about the period of one generation—about thirty-three years, just as our Lord's life covered thirty-three years. Not accidentally, but providentially, Christ in his life exhibited to the world what one young man can do, in the space of one generation, for the welfare of humanity and the glory of God; and the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles illustrates what he can and will do in a single generation in getting the church of God to work for Christ at home and abroad.
The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts
In Acts i. 8 we have a full recognition of the necessity of the Holy Spirit, and in the first eight verses we have an indication of all that is to follow. They were to be witnesses in Judea, then in Samaria, then to the uttermost parts of the earth; and that is exactly the order in which the witness of the early church was given. In order to this witnessing they must have, first of all, the power of the Holy Ghost. It was not enough to have even gospel truth; the Holy Spirit was to come and endue them with power. The power came immediately; He came. The Spirit of God gave them utterance with regard to spiritual mysteries. The cloven tongues indicated the multiplicity of languages in which to speak; and the fire, which is the symbol of the power of God, indicated that the power was to be of God, and not of man. On one day, by one sermon, after the enduement of the Spirit, Peter was the means of leading three thousand souls to the knowledge of Christ.
In chapter iv. the number of the men was about five thousand, which might have been additional to the three thousand, or may have been the entire number of men already converted. Through the entire book the Spirit's ministry is recognized everywhere, and every chapter is a new channel for the manifestation of the Spirit's power. In chapter iv. you will notice that when they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin to their own company, and lifted up their voice to God, even the walls were shaken where they were assembled. When the Spirit of God moves over a congregation, souls that are not regenerated, and never will be, may feel his power. Did you ever see a powerful revival sweep over a church in which there were not scores of people who trembled before the Word, who sometimes wept under the control of powerful emotions, and yet who lived and died godless and Christless? They were shaken, but not transformed.
Chapter v. is a very important illustration of a new unfolding of this great truth. Ananias and Sapphira concoct a lie in the interests of avarice, and Peter in speaking to them takes it for granted—he does not argue the fact—-that the Holy Spirit is regulating and administering the affairs of the church, and says, "Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God." I beg you to consider the thought that there is no such thing as a church of God in which the Spirit of God does not preside. There are a great many so-called churches of Christ that I believe Christ utterly disowns, because the Spirit of God does not regulate those church organizations. They are mere churches of men— sometimes religious clubs, sometimes benevolent societies, sometimes social organizations, baptized with a religious name; but that alone is a church of God in which the Spirit of God rules and presides, and where his invisible headship is acknowledged and reverently submitted to in the fear of God.
In the sixth chapter we find it was necessary to elect deacons for the administration of the temporal affairs of the church; and the central qualification of those godly men was that they must be filled with the Holy Ghost, not simply with worldly wisdom. Because the Holy Spirit was the presiding officer, the essential qualification of those who were to serve under him, as his subordinates in the church, was that they should be full of his presence; and they are men all alive to his indications—the glance of the divine eye and the beck of the divine hand. I need not tell you I know nothing of this church organization, but I know of others in which men who do not claim to be converted are put in office as trustees, where unconverted people sing in the choir. I would as soon put an unconverted man in the pulpit as an unconverted singer in the choir, or an unconverted man on a board of trustees. If a church deliberately puts into official control in a church a man who is known to be an unregenerate man, because of wealth, social standing, culture, or any of these things, who lacks the power of spiritual sympathy with the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost retires from the church as its presiding officer, and leaves it to run its affairs for itself. I believe that, and if you do not so much the worse for you. There are hundreds of illustrations of it all over the church of Christ today. God wants a church spiritually administered. And when a church, in selecting officials, is regulated by such principles, what follows? Just what followed in the apostolic church. That early church had Holy-Ghost deacons and Holy-Ghost martyrs and evangelists.
In the eighth chapter of the Acts we have the story of the great Samaritan Pentecost under Philip's ministry, and, what I regard as very important, an illustration of the individualism of the Holy Spirit. An inquirer is going to Gaza, and the Holy Spirit says to Philip, " Go near, and join thyself to this chariot." Philip goes and joins himself to the chariot, and expounds to that inquirer the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, which he is reading, the great Messianic center of Old Testament prophecy. As soon as he has baptized that eunuch and sent him on his way rejoicing, perhaps to found, as tradition says, the church of Alexandria, Philip is caught away by the same Spirit, and preaches in all the cities until he comes to Csesarea. The Spirit of God goes, as it were, out of his way to bring into contact one evangelist and one inquirer, and when that work in the desert is accomplished the Spirit catches away Philip as though his ministry were ended. It is marvelous. It reminds me of Jesus Christ going from Galilee to the Mediterranean to meet that one Syrophenician woman. He seems to have gone on that journey simply to carry a blessing to one poor needy woman. I like to think of the relation of the Holy Spirit to missions. His intense love for a single soul caused him to send a missionary into a district where the gospel had never been preached. A friend of mine in the great empire of Siam went on an evangelistic tour where no missionary had ever been, and was preaching the gospel one hundred and fifty miles from his own station, in the public highway, when an old patriarch of eighty-four years, with long white hair and beard, said, "My dear sir, for forty years I have been waiting for you to come and tell me about this gospel. Forty years ago I satisfied myself that this religion that I had been taught from my youth was a faith that could not bring salvation to me, and I have been waiting all these years for the great God to send me some one who should preach to me." He then and there received Jesus Christ, and asked to be baptized.
In chapter ix. we have the conversion of Saul the persecutor. Who could have thought that that young man who gathered up the clothes of those stoning Stephen was going to be the most illustrious evangelist of the ages? The Holy Spirit selected that one man to be the distinguished bearer of good tidings throughout the Roman world.
In chapter x. we have the Pentecost at Caesarea. In connection with this chapter I wish my brethren in the ministry could get hold of this magnificent thought: that they are simply ambassadors of Jesus Christ. An ambassador is a man who goes from one court to another to represent that court. As long as he is acting within his instructions the whole power of his government is behind him. Every minister and missionary of the cross is an ambassador for Jesus Christ, and the omnipotence of God is behind him so long as he confines himself to the gospel message. Peter went forth as a commissioned man, sent by the Holy Spirit, and hence mighty results attended his ministry. The Holy Ghost came down with mighty power on that unconverted audience, and all that heard the Word were turned to God. The Holy Ghost came on believers at Pentecost, but not on unbelievers until after repentance and faith and baptism; but here unbaptized unbelievers received the gift of the Holy Spirit, which I believe is a type of what is coming to pass when the Holy Ghost shall descend on all flesh.
In the fifteenth chapter we have the first council assembling. In the deliverance it is said, "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us." The Holy Spirit was a fellow counselor with them; he met with them, consulted with them, and when the decision was drawn up it was in the name of the Spirit as its presiding officer. "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things." There is nothing more touchingly beautiful in the whole of the Acts than that one verse.
Now I will go back a step to prepare you for two special applications of this matter. In the thirteenth chapter we read of the church at Antioch that "as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." At the close of the ninth chapter of Matthew our Lord said, " Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into the harvest." What I want to call attention to is that the remedy for destitute fields is found not in appealing to men and women to go, but pray first of all to the Lord of the harvest, and let him thrust out prepared men for the harvest-field. Nothing has come upon me in the last thirty years like this thought. Our Lord teaches us in the ninth chapter of Matthew to pray for laborers, that God would thrust them forth, and in Acts xiii. we have the commentary on his own instruction. The church at Antioch probably had not thought as yet of sending forth foreign missionaries. Even the mother-church at Jerusalem had not learned her duty to a dying world. There was a tendency to centralization. God broke it up by the explosive force of an awful persecution. Give me a praying church that fasts before the Lord, that is separated from the world, that recognizes the presidency of the Spirit in all its affairs, and I will give you a church that is bound to be a missionary church.
In chapter xvi. we have a peculiar illustration of how the Holy Spirit both prohibits and permits entrance into fields. Observe, the Holy Ghost has appeared in every capacity but one that pertains to missions. He has appeared as selecting men, as sending forth men, as anointing men, as qualifying and fitting men, and as preparing the church to cooperate with them. In this chapter Paul was going into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered him not. Immediately you have the reason indirectly given for this prohibition. In a vision of the night a man of Macedonia appeared to Paul and said, " Come over into Macedonia, and help us." The Spirit prevented them from going in this direction, but sent them in that. What is the consequence? "Immediately we gathered," says Paul, "that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel unto them." Do you understand the significance of that step? That was the entrance of the gospel into Europe. Up to this time that entire division of the known world had never yet had the gospel preached to them. I suppose the great majority of us are from European ancestry. The church formed with Lydia and her baptized household as a nucleus was the first church erected in Europe, and from that church came our American churches almost exclusively; so that man of Macedonia was actually the representative of the European and American churches calling for the gospel to be planted in the midst of us.
The Spirit Regulated the Steps of Gody Men and Women
All the way through the history of missions you will mark this strange and singular phenomenon: there is a power that regulates the steps of godly men and women far more than they are aware of. When William Carey was studying "Cook's Voyages around the World" his passion was to go to Polynesia, and when he consecrated himself to a missionary career he expected to go to the South Sea Islands; but God sent him to India, and there for forty years Carey labored, translating the Bible, with the help of his colleagues, into forty languages and dialects, and made that Bible accessible to two hundred and twenty millions of the human race. If Judson had any aversion, it was to Burma, and yet while he assayed to go to India the Spirit drove him from India to Burma, and there he found that wonderful Karen people prepared for the Lord as no other people has ever been prepared from the foundation of the Christian church. When Livingstone was preparing to go to the foreign field you all know he expected to go to China. But the Spirit shut the door in China and opened it into Africa. He heard Moffat's appeals, and became the missionary explorer of the Dark Continent, and has left a greater impress upon missionary history, perhaps, than any other man except the Apostle Paul. Barnabas Shaw went to Africa to labor among the Boers, but after some unsuccessful attempts was driven out of the country, and not knowing what to do or whither to go, he resorted to a mode that had been adopted in ancient times. He put a yoke of cattle before a cart, and on that cart all the little household goods he had in the world, with himself and wife; and then he let the kine take their own course, and they went straight through the interior of Africa. He went for twenty-eight days, and had no idea where he was going nor what the Lord was going to do with him; but at the close of the twenty-eighth day, about three o'clock in the afternoon, he came upon a company of Namaqua Land chiefs, who were on their way to the Cape to seek a man to teach them the gospel of Christ. If he had been three hours later or earlier he would not have met them. The providence of God was guiding the kine as he did before with the ark, and so the Spirit of God had a score of years' successful work for him in the Namaqua Land. If I had time I could give you other instances.
The practical outcome is this: God wants a reconstructed church. I believe the church, with all her external prosperity, is to-day in greater peril than in any of the eighteen centuries of her history. Her very prosperity is her peril. She reminds me of a church in Canada which brought in a report after this fashion: "We have had a prosperous year. All our pews and sittings are taken. We have a surplus of $50 in the treasury. We have had no conversions, but it has been a very prosperous year." The world has come into the church in such a fashion that the church has become composed of one half wholly worldly people and the other half worldly holy people, so that if you do not have a chance to consult the church roll you cannot tell who belongs and who not. How many people in our modern churches practically know whether there is a Holy Ghost or not? How many of them have ever risen to the conception that their bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost? How many churches have a genuine Holy Ghost prayer-meeting? One of the ministers in New York said there was scarcely a church in that city that had a genuine prayer-meeting: it was either a lecture by the pastor or a social meeting.
I believe that the remedy for the existing state of things is a return to primitive conditions. Let the church be on an apostolic basis, with godly men in her ministry, converted people in her choirs, godly elders and deacons, and a discipline that dares to exclude from the Lord's table people who bring reproach on Christ by their inconsistent conduct in the face of the world. Give us such a church as that, and the whole question of missions will be solved.
The Holy Spirit in life and service: addresses delivered before the Conference on the Ministry of the Holy Spirit, Brooklyn, October 1894. (New York: Fleming Revell, 1895), pp. 82-91.
Edited by Amzi Clarence Dixon