I know of few subjects upon which there is so much diversity of opinion, and of which Christian people have so confused ideas as that of spiritual power.
I refer to that spiritual experience which Jesus promised His disciples in His statement,” But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you,” and to the fact that the Master’s words in this promise are, in my opinion, generally misunderstood.
We do not often find religious teachers who agree in their statement as to what the power is, what its manifestations are, how it is received and retained and the persons who are endued with it. Perhaps the chief reason for this confusion is, that many who teach concerning it have never experienced the power personally, and they must needs be in error; for no man can correctly theorize concerning such a subject unless he is actually in possession of the experience.
There are few branches of even human knowledge which can be correctly taught by one who has not had actual experience in the subject, and who does not know of his own knowledge that which he teaches; although there may be some subjects which are exceptions to this rule. But a blind man can never be an authority on colors, nor can a deaf man be a teacher of music, and it is equally impossible for a man to correctly describe a spiritual experience of which he has not himself partaken.
It is true that an intelligent Christian may read the promise of the Master concerning this great gift, and draw his own conclusion as to what it is, and the way it may be obtained; and he may impart his own ideas to others, but his conception of it, short of actual experience, is sure to be wide of the mark, and he will be but little better than the blind leading the blind.
Still incorrect views of sincere men concerning this as well as other great spiritual questions, are infinitely better than no views at all, and it does seem, impossible to arrive at new truth without wading through error, but the wrong view of a real truth-seeker today is always a step toward the right view to-morrow, for God always meets such a man in his spiritual investigations and reveals to him all essential truth.
So I rejoice in all the views that are advocated on this all important subject of spiritual power, and hail with the right hand of fellowship those who are investigating its wonderful depths.
But I desire to help spiritual students to as clear an understanding of this subject from an intellectual standpoint, as can be obtained; by first clearing away the rubbish which has gathered around it so that the truth itself may be seen as it is.
What is the power that Jesus said Christians should have after that they had received the Holy Ghost? It does not in my opinion necessarily mean that the physical powers will be increased or be above the normal, for we all know that some men who are powerful physically are lacking in spiritual strength, while others who are weak physically demonstrate the power of God in their lives.
Nor does spiritual power imply that a man will of necessity be intellectually strong as compared with other men. Some intellectual giants are spiritual imbeciles; and we read that God hath chosen the weak things to confound the mighty. Doubtless a person clothed with spiritual power will make the best use possible of his physical as well as of his intellectual powers, but I do not think that either of these are necessarily increased thereby, although there may be some exceptions to this rule.
It is generally supposed that a person clothed with spiritual power experiences great emotion, that his nature is under a pressure of feeling like steam in a boiler pressing upon every square inch, driving him through life at a wonderful speed, and enabling him to do the work of a half-dozen ordinary men. Such an experience is often pictured by teachers of the higher life, and hundreds as a result seek such power and not being able to find it give up the quest. Others succeed in getting an experience similar to that which I have described, and in error call it the power which Jesus promised; but in a few days or weeks human nature rebels at the unnatural strain, and reaction sets in. Then such persons think that they have driven the Holy Spirit away and have lost the spiritual power which they thought they possessed.
Or it may be, in some cases, that persons do actually receive the Holy Spirit, and consequent spiritual power; its manifestations are great mental and nervous excitement, with mesmeric power or extraordinary influence over their fellow-men, and they confound the Holy Spirit, Who is not an emotion and Whose intention is to abide always, with these manifestations, which of necessity can be of but short duration, or at most will but come and go like the early cloud and the morning dew. So when the manifestation is gone such persons cast away their faith in the Holy One, and become again like other men.
Evidently spiritual power may exist with great emotion and wonderful manifestations of human energy and strength, or it may exist with the quiet and calm of a summer evening, without a ripple upon the spiritual deep, or sufficient breeze to fill the sails of the emotions.
A man’s sensations are no gauge whatever of the power of the Spirit; the only true gauge being that of simple faith, committing one’s self to the Unseen and trusting the Invisible with the same confidence with which men trust that which they see and handle.
Again, although the Holy Spirit is “For us and our children, and for all that are afar off,” yet being possessed of Him will not make all men alike, or affect them in the same way. This may not seem an important statement on the face of it, but we shall find upon investigation that it reveals a very serious practical difficulty in the minds and experiences of many.
We come in contact with men either by reading or personally, who are filled with the Holy Spirit and power. We wonder at their work, we admire their character, we marvel at the beauty and symmetry of their lives, and straightway we want to be like them. They tell us the story of their spiritual education, of their former defeats and of the present victories of their faith. They ascribe all their conquests to the Lamb and to the indwelling Holy Spirit, and urge us to receive the Comforter as they did.
Under these influences many begin to seek for the spiritual power manifested in such lives and in the majority of cases I fear set God a plan, and want to be like the individual whose wonderful experience and teaching have created in them this holy aspiration. But God works to no man’s plans, and rarely if ever makes two lives alike, for with the same spiritual power He creates in men an endless diversity of manifestations.
Persons who thus seek, I venture to say, never find, until they cease asking for a particular kind of blessing, and ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit, without setting Him any plan as to the manifestation.
But the Scriptures end all controversy on this point. “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit. To another faith by the same Spirit, to another the gift of healing by the same Spirit. To another the working of miracles by the same Spirit; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues. But all these worketh that one and selfsame Spirit dividing to every man severally as He will.”
Now these experiences, referred to by Paul, in the quotation which I have given, can only be possessed by persons who are endued with the power of the Holy Spirit, and yet the manifestation of the power is different in each case. It is not to be supposed that Paul stated more than a few samples of the manifestations which are a result of the gift of the Holy Spirit, for the list can be indefinitely extended.
Indeed while there may be much in common enjoyed by those who are thus spiritually endued, yet it is a fact, that the manifestations of this spiritual power are as varied as are human faces, and its special gifts as multiform as are the needs of each individual and the special work to which he may be called.