The Essential Seal and Constitution of the Christian Life (continued)
Initial Reception of the Holy Spirit
Now when we come to the passage which we have read, and from which I have taken the question that is placed at the head of this chapter, we find an incident with several features of very great importance. I think we shall see, as we proceed, that this is something of great significance. But first we must translate it correctly. It may be that you have in your hand the old Authorized (or King James Version.) That is very good, but it is not always correct in the sense of being up-to-date. That version reads: "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" Now, the word here in the original text does not mean 'subsequent to your believing.' It does not mean: 'Did you, at some subsequent time after you believed, receive the Holy Spirit.' The Revised Version corrects the translation and says: "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" And that is correct, and true to the whole teaching and meaning of the New Testament. The point is that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are supposed to receive the Holy Spirit at the time when they believe, when they definitely exercise saving faith in Him.
a. What the Passage Records:
The Foundation of a Great Church and of Great Ministries
The importance of this incident is seen in two aspects. Firstly, you note that this is the beginning of a great church - the church at Ephesus. Little need be said, to those who are familiar with the new Testament, by way of emphasizing or proving the importance of the church at Ephesus. It was to that church, as to one of a circle, that the Apostle Paul wrote the greatest document in the history of the world. That is not exaggerating at all. The greatest document that has ever been written is Paul's letter 'to the Ephesians' so-called. It was probably a circular letter to a number of churches, of which Ephesus was one. But no greater letter or document exists. I invite you to investigate it and see if you can exhaust it. It will take you back into eternity past; it will take you through the outworking of the counsels of God through the ages; and it will take you right on into "the ages of the ages," showing you God at work in Heaven, in earth, and in hell, in the whole universe: a mighty, mighty document, written to the church that we see here in our passage coming into being.
Note, then, the place of the Holy Spirit in the foundations. How careful the Apostle was to make sure that the beginning was right, that the foundation was sound! It was going to have to carry an immense superstructure, and it must be trustworthy. Hence to the nucleus of that great church - perhaps only twelve disciples - he puts the question: "Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed?" Think of the ministry of the Apostle Paul subsequent to this question. For three years he tarried at Ephesus, and at his final interview with the elders or leaders of that church, during the course of his last journey before his imprisonment, he was able to say to them, in retrospect: "I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). For three years, such a man as this was giving out all that he then could give of his knowledge of the Divine counsels.
(continued with # 10)