The Spirit of Power
"You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you" (Acts 1.8 RSV).
This was the promise which restored the disciples' faith just before our Lord's Ascension. For five or six weeks since His death they had been in a condition of perplexity, not quite sure what was going to happen or in which way they would continue the work they had been doing in these three years past. "Stay in the city" He had said "until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24.49). That expression must have been associated in their minds with the promised coming of the Holy Spirit: "before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1 5). Jesus had made it plain to them that after His departure they would experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in a manner previously unknown to them; "the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance, all that I said to you." (John 14, 26).
Now this association of the Holy Spirit of God with the idea of power or energy ‑ the word is dunamis which means energy actively exerted and is the basis of our word dynamic ‑ was a very familiar one to the disciples. They knew from their reading of the Law and the Prophets that the Holy Spirit is the power that executes the mighty works of creation. It gives life and vitality to all living things and conferred upon God's warriors of olden time superhuman physical strength whereby they wrought great works in His cause. It inspired His prophets with visions and dreams and knowledge of coming things beyond the ability of men to discover unaided. They knew all this, and now inconspicuous and untalented men that they were, they themselves became recipients of this mysterious ability to perform great and wonderful works which patently they could never have done in their own natural strength. "You shall receive power", the reality of that experience is attested by the manner in which this group of untutored and inexperienced men set out after Pentecost to preach Christ and His Kingdom against the formidable opposition mounted against them. By the power of the Spirit they spoke in many tongues to men of many nations, withstood the threatening of the authorities who sought to suppress their work and in no uncertain fashion gave witness to the fact of the Resurrection. A few weeks earlier they had all been in hiding in fear for their lives: now they stood before the people preaching the new faith and defying the authorities to stop them. "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4. 19-20). That was the reaction of Peter and John to those who sat in judgment upon them, and there was nothing their judges could do about it.
This is the Holy Spirit, invisible but all-powerful. It effects the stupendous works of creation, bringing all things into existence. If the astronomers are right, throughout the regions of space new worlds are continually being horn in the mighty crucibles of the stars. Across the vast distances which separate star from star there constantly flow streams of radiant energy which eventually reach their destinations and accomplish some great work in the processes of Nature. So is the Holy Spirit, giving light amid darkness, illumining the minds of men and making them to understand things which could not otherwise take shape in human thought. The vehicle of all life, this power initiates new life in the hearts of believers, sustaining them in the vicissitudes of earthly existence. It brings them through the transition of death into a new environment, conferring upon them new bodies in which life is renewed and continues. There is nothing in space and nothing in time but is controlled and determined by this supreme and all-embracing power, the Holy Spirit of God.
This is the true doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The power of God operating to create and sustain all things, living and non-living, to convey His commands and fulfil His Will, this is the Holy Spirit. The ultimate source of the Holy Spirit in God the Eternal no man can understand, how it is that God is, and that we exist, and know that we exist. Nor can we know how, external to our own being and personality, there is a material universe which we can see and hear and feel. The mysteries of God and of existence are too great to comprehend. But we must accept and believe this Divine energy pulsates through all that God has made. It reaches out to the extremity of His creation and is effective in the performance of His will, whether it be in the physical process of material creation or the instruction and enlightenment of those to whom He has given life. That Divine energy which has its centre and source in God is the outward evidence to man that God is and that the things that happen in space and time have their origin in, and derive their reality from Eternal Deity.
Scientific men are devoting a great deal of their time nowadays to investigating the source of the energy which drives the Universe. One fruit of their labours has been nuclear research which produces and dissipates enormous amounts of energy in a fraction of time. Atoms are microscopic substances of which all material things are made and there are millions of atoms in a grain of dust. But atoms themselves are made of even tinier parts and when some of those parts are separated there is a tremendous release of energy. This occurs continuously in the sun and it is from the sun that the earth derives the energy to keep it going. We feel that energy as heat, and we see it as light. Every day the sun lifts forty thousand gallons of water from the ocean for each man, woman and child now living on the earth, carries it across the sky and drops it as rain so that the processes of life can continue. In the centre of the sun an atom divides and sets free a quantity of energy. By radiation that energy travels through space at the speed of light and when it reaches the earth it is seen as light. It falls upon a head of wheat growing in the field and sets in motion a series of changes whereby through photosynthesis, the plant takes the air and moisture from the ground and produces the material substances of the wheat grain. That grain contains something from the air and the ground and the energy from the sun that has also been transformed into starch which is the food of the plant. As our food that energy from the sun, in a very real sense, supports life.
So is the Holy Spirit, Divine energy extending into all places of God's dominion, all-powerful in executing His will. Perhaps this is nowhere better shown than in the opening verses of Genesis "In the beginning the earth was without form and void, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light, and there was light". The temptation to interpret those words in terms of modern science is strong indeed. The word "moved" in this text means to flutter or undulate and "waters" is, not the seas, but "tehom", the primeval abyss. Sir James Jeans a generation ago was the first to point out how accurately this expression fits modern knowledge of the nature of light, a cyclic series of 'waves' of many frequencies. These two initial verses in Genesis might well picture the momentous happening at the dawn of time when the Holy Spirit of God began to operate in the primeval nothingness. This initiated the complex system of radiation and matter which constitutes the material universe ‑ and at that time, in an instant, there was light!
In precisely the same manner the Holy Spirit is the vehicle of life, whether upon this earth or anywhere else. The ancients knew this. Speaking of the living creatures of the earth, the Psalmist says "Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created, and thou renewest the face of the earth". (Psa.104.30). "If he set his heart upon man" says Elihu in Job 34. 14-15. "if he gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust." The power that makes life possible in any organism is the Holy Spirit. The historians of the Old Testament recognised this when they credited the possession of apparently superhuman power to the influence of the Spirit, as in the case of Samson or Jephthah or others of whom it is said that the Spirit of the Lord came upon them and they performed mighty deeds. Whether in Old Testament or New Testament, the idea behind the expression Holy Spirit is that of Divine power, Divine energy, operating in creation to the accomplishment of the Divine purpose.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of our Lord during His sojourn on earth at His First Advent. The power of the Holy Spirit, which is of the Father, was possessed and exercised by the Son. Of his exalted position before coming to earth the writer to the Hebrews says that He upheld all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1.3). In other words, creation was maintained and directed by His command in the power of the Spirit. And that power was His even during the temporary period of his humanity. Jesus himself declared that the Father "gave not the Spirit by measure" unto Him (John 3.34): in other words, He possessed the power of the Spirit to an unlimited degree and that was manifested in one, out of many aspects, in the works of healing which He performed. "The power of the Lord was present to heal them" says Luke (5.17). In the three instances when it is said that 'virtue' went out of Him to heal the afflicted, that word 'virtue' is the same word dunamis, power, the same Holy Spirit by which all His works were done. This close association of the Holy Spirit with the Son is an important element of Christian doctrine and it is very plainly indicated in the Book of Revelation. In the 'Throne Scene' of the fourth chapter there are 'seven lamps of fire burning before the throne which are the seven spirits of God' (better translated 'the sevenfold Spirit of God)'. But in the fifth chapter, the One like a sacrificial lamb standing before the throne, has "seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth" and this corresponds with the headstone which is Christ, of Zech.3.8 to 4.10, where likewise are the seven eyes, "the eyes of the Lord which run to and fro in the earth". "The seven spirits" of course allude to the Holy Spirit function of universal surveillance and operation "to and fro through the whole earth". The union and distinction between the Father, the Son and the Spirit is indicated in Rev. 1.4-5 where the salutation comes from the Eternal, and from the "seven spirits", and from Jesus Christ. The unity of the Son and the Spirit is shown in Rev. 3.1 "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" and repeated seven times in two and three. The Millennial invitation ‑ the Spirit and the Bride say, Come" (Rev 22.17) is the proclamation of the Lord and His Church and here again Jesus calls Himself "the Spirit". As though anticipating this, the Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians thirty years before John saw the visions of Revelation, announced the same truth. The Lord, he says, is the Spirit, and by the power of the Spirit we are being transformed into an image of the glory of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3.17-18).
But the greatest manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit is seen in resurrection. The work of the Spirit in material creation, in the development and sustaining of life, in the illuminating of believing minds, in the transformation of imperfect, death-bound men and women to the deathless glory of Divine sonship, all this is eclipsed in the revealed Word of God by the greatest exhibition of power of all time, the resurrection of our Lord Christ from the dead. "The surpassing greatness of his power" says Paul"The energizing of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his own right hand in heaven.' (Eph. 1. 19-20). The death and resurrection of the Son of God still has elements which are difficult for us to understand, but that a mighty operation of the Holy Spirit was responsible for the empty tomb and the entry into celestial glory of Him who died upon the Cross is incontrovertible.
And the Apostle indicates that a similar direct action by the Father will effect the "change" to celestial conditions of those who follow the Lord to the end of the way. "God hath both raised up the Lord and will also raise up us by his own power" ‑ dunamis (1 Cor. 6. 14). Divine energy will go forth to translate the life that is adapted to this world into another world, into another order of existence, with a new and different body adapted to the new environment. Like all changes, this change will require energy; that energy emanates from the Holy Spirit of God.
In the final age of this world's probation God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2.28). Isaiah saw something of this and he described the coming day when "the Spirit is poured upon us from on high" and the result will be peace and quietness and assurance forever (Isa. 32.15-18). Thus is pictured a period in human history when the power of God in active operation for world conversion and the rehabilitation of the planet will be so outwardly manifest that none can deny it. The wonders of present-day scientific achievements are as nothing to the marvels of Divine creation and the achievements of the future, to be brought within man's reach and understanding when he learns to co-operate with Divine power instead of fighting against it. The eyes of the Lord going to and fro through all the earth will find only peace and quietness and assurance for ever. For God said, long ago, in His immeasurable wisdom and foresight. 'My Spirit shall not always strive with man"