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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

The Grand Desideratum of the Church:

The Powerful Presence of the Spirit

John Stock, LL. D.

From A Handbook of Revealed Theology, 1883

The Scriptures teach us to regard the presence and influences of the Spirit as comprehending everything that the Church now needs in order to its comfort, edification, and increase. By these she is to grow in personal sanctity and in relative usefulness.

The Church has had two great promises given to her in the two distinct epochs of her history. Before the coming of the eternal Word in human flesh, THE promise by which the faith of holy men was cheered and invigorated was that which had respect to His appearance. This was the object of their dearest hopes and most devout anticipations. This was the theme of the first promise made after the Fall—this was the event which all divine revelations and institutions predicted—and this was the consummation for which "prophets and righteous men" sighed and prayed. But the promise respecting the appearance of the Son has been fulfilled,—"the desire of all nations" hath appeared, and hath for ever perfected the great work of atonement.

And yet the Church has the assurance of a manifestation of God suited to her altered circumstances. The promise on which we have to rest, and the fulfillment of which we should daily desire, is that which has reference to the coming, the presence, and the influences of the Spirit. This is now presented to the minds of the faithful as comprehending all that the Church requires. The manifestation of the Father by the Son is complete; now let the Spirit come to glorify the person and work of the Son. Let Him come in every region, and among the men of every clime, that "all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Luke 3:6)

The PROPHECIES which have respect to the times of the gospel represent them as being specially characterized by the outpouring of the Spirit. "I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My Spirit." (Joel 2:28, 29)

Now, according to the Apostle Peter, the fulfilment of this prediction began on the day of Pentecost, and has reference to the times of the gospel generally (Acts 2:16-21). In the same strain is the prophecy of Isaiah, contained in the following passage: "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour out My Spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring: and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. One shall say, I am the LORD's; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel." (Isa. 44:3-5). Such is, in short, the general tenor of prophecy in its reference to the last days, or days of the gospel dispensation. The leading prophetic characteristic of these days is the outpouring of the Spirit.

And it is observable that the Apostle Paul, when he wished to give to the dispensation under which we now live a designation by which its superiority to all antecedent economies should be pointed out, styled it THE MINISTRATION OF THE SPIRIT. "If the ministration of death was glorious, how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious?" (II Cor. 3:7, 8) Hence it appears that the glory of the gospel dispensation consists in the fact that it is, in a sense, far fuller than that in which any previous economy had been—the ministration of the Spirit.

And, again, when our Lord was about to leave His disciples, and when He wished to bequeath them an assurance which should comfort them and their successors in all ages, He predicted the advent and presence of the Spirit. These were His words: "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" (John 14:16, 17) Jesus Christ spake of the presence of the Spirit as comprising all that the Church would need for her guidance and comfort. This glorious Paraclete was to dwell with the saints in all generations (John 14:16), to be their Teacher and their Guide (John 14:26), to glorify our Saviour and to testify of Him (John 15:26; John 16:14), and to render the labours of the Church effectual to the conviction and conversion of the world (John 16:7-11).

Thus our Lord Himself has taught us to expect everything in the way of spiritual prosperity from the presence and blessing of the Holy Ghost. And He did more than this, for He affirmed that the Church would gain immensely by His own bodily translation to heaven, and by the coming of the Spirit to our earth as His representative. "It is expedient for you that I go away," said He; "for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you." (John 16:7)

Now we have never been able to reconcile these facts with the theory which postpones the conversion of the world to the period of our Lord's second coming; which virtually denies the sufficiency of the gospel and the blessed Spirit to establish universally the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and which affirms that the enthroned Redeemer must once more descend to our earth in order to put the finishing stroke to the work of the Holy Ghost.

If the task of convincing the world be assigned to the Spirit, we may be sure He will accomplish it, and if it was expedient that Christ should go away that the Spirit might enter on the discharge of this office, it must be expedient that our Lord should remain where He is as to His visible presence, that the Spirit may complete the work which He has already begun.

If the days of physical miracles were to return, what advantage would accrue to the cause of godliness? Would such prodigies render the proofs of the divine origin of the gospel more conclusive? To suppose that, would be to impugn the validity of the existing evidence; it would be to deny the truth of those memorable words: "They have Moses and the prophets…and if they hear not [them], neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead."(Luke 16:29, 31)

Physical miracles never did convert a man, and never will. They afford an attestation of the truth of a revelation, but they have no power to destroy a man's prejudice against the truth revealed. They may convince a man that a certain system of doctrine is supernatural in its origin, but they can never bring a man's affections, and conscience, and will, into harmony with the doctrines and requirements of the gospel. This latter change can only be effected by the power of the Holy Spirit, and until this is done, no saving benefit is enjoyed. If the miraculous attestation of Christianity be sufficient and complete, no important moral end could be gained by the revival of miracles; for what man needs is, not clearer evidence, but a different state of heart. EXPERIENCE demonstrates the truth of these remarks.

No nation has been so highly favoured with supernatural exhibitions of divine power in confirmation of revealed truth as the Jewish people, and no nation has been so distinguished for its hardness of heart. Take an illustration from the Old Testament history. Sinai is covered with the symbols of Jehovah's majesty; the mountain is on fire at the presence of the eternal God; the earth quakes as she listens once more to the tones of that voice which had said, "Let there be light, and there was light," and amid all this terrible magnificence, and almost as soon as the voice which had said, "I am the LORD thy God…Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2, 3) had ceased to speak, we find the people worshipping a golden calf, and daring to mingle the wild shouts of their idolatrous mirth with the rolling thunders of the divine presence!

Take another illustration from the New Testament narrative. The Scribes and Pharisees saw most of the Redeemer's miracles, and were even convinced that He did really work those prodigies. But did this change the state of their hearts towards Christ? By no means. They could not deny that He cast out devils; the fact they admitted; but they attributed the miracle to satanic agency. They said, "He casteth out devils" (let the reader mark that concession), "but by Beelzebub, the prince of devils!" Many of those who saw the resurrection of Lazarus went away and gave information against Jesus to the Sanhedrim, and aided in plotting His death! Yes, the very men who had seen the dead restored to life by the power of Christ abetted the conspiracy to destroy Him. And when the Pharisees met in council, they candidly said, "What do we? for this man doeth many miracles." (John 11:47); and yet they proceeded to devise measures for His crucifixion.

Let us not be understood, however, as intending to throw any doubt upon the usefulness of the miracles which have been wrought in proof of the truth of the Bible. Those interpositions of divine power were necessary in the first instance to demonstrate the supernatural character of the communication. They were never intended to convert the soul, but simply to prove that word to be from God by which the blessed Spirit has in all ages wrought upon human hearts and consciences. They have afforded all the evidence derivable from such sources which the nature of the case required.

What we require is that the moral natures of men should be brought into sympathy with the revelation already sufficiently proved to be from Jehovah; and this can only be accomplished by a more abundant impartation of the Spirit's grace. This is the grand desideratum of the Church; this is the want of our times. Let us have but this, and the Church will break forth on the right hand and on the left, and her seed shall inherit the Gentiles. Let the Spirit be but poured upon us from on high, "then the wilderness shall be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be counted for a forest." (Isa. 32:15)

But we have grieved the Spirit, and therefore He has in measure left us. We have dishonoured Him in His official character as the convincer of the world. Many of our ministers and people have so little faith in His power or intention to fulfill this office in its entireness, that they expect the Son of God to descend once more to achieve the final, the greatest, and the most glorious part of the work. We have tempted Him to leave our labours un-honoured and unblessed by the coldness and apathy which we have displayed in the best of causes; and if better days are to dawn upon the Church, it will be in connection with a return to our first love of the Spirit. We must earnestly invoke His interposition in faith. We must believe that He is both able and willing to revive us; and that if we will but work, our success will be certain.

Churches must awake to the conviction that the times of the gospel are "the last days" (see Acts 2:1-7) of our world and of the Church; and that the economy under which we live is destined to continue till the sounding of the trump of God. On us "the ends of the world are come." (See I Cor. 10:11), and no other dispensation of grace will be vouchsafed to man in the present state of being. We need no other; all that is necessary is that the one under which we live should be energetically and trustingly worked.

We have among us that gospel which is pronounced by the highest authority, "the power of God unto salvation." The blessed Spirit has taken up His abode among us for all the generations of time. To Him has been delegated the great work of "convincing the world," through the instrumentality of the truth and the Church. Let the evangelical Churches, for whose edification this book has been written, rise to an appreciation of their sublime destiny. Let them but realize their position, their responsibilities, and their privileges, and we have no fear for the result. "The earth shall be FILLED with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea!" (Hab. 2:14)

And, oh, thou blessed Spirit, thou much injured and dishonoured Comforter, whose personality is denied by many, whose office is turned into a jest by others, and whose love and grace even the true Church has never sufficiently prized, pardon all the sins of Thy saints against thine infinite compassion, forgive their carnality of disposition and conduct, teach us all to value Thy presence and operations as we should do, and let the days of Pentecost once more dawn upon us!