The Holy Spirit in the Church


The assembly should seek His guidance in all its
affairs’ whether in choosing a location for its public testimony,
arranging the types of meetings to be held, discerning the human
instruments to be used in ministering the Word of God, disbursement of
funds, or carrying on godly discipline.


The local church should ever recognize the sovereignty
of the Spirit. By this we mean that He can do as He pleases, and that
He will not always choose to do things in exactly the same way, though
He will never act contrary to the Word. Some of the symbols of the
Spirit used in the scriptures – fire, oil, water, wind speak of
fluidity, of unpredictable behavior. Thus, wise Christians will be
sufficiently elastic to allow Him this divine prerogative.

It was so in the early church, but soon people became
uneasy with meetings that were “free and social, with the minimum of
form.” Thus controls were added and formalism and ritualism took over.
The Holy Spirit was quenched, and the church lost its power.


This shift from the freedom of the Spirit to human
control has been described by James Denney eloquently. Though Mr.
Denney writes at some length, the reader will find his article will
richly repay study Commenting on the verse, “Quench not the Spirit,” (I Thess 5:19)
he says: ‘When the Holy Spirit descended on the Church at Pentecost,
there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and
it sat upon each one of them’; and their lips were opened to declare
the mighty works of God. A man who has received this great gift is
described as fervent, literally, boiling, with the Spirit. The new
birth in those early days was a new birth; it kindled in the soul
thoughts and feelings to which it had hitherto been strange; it brought
with it the consciousness of new powers; a new vision of God; a new
love of holiness; a new insight into the Holy Scriptures, and into the
meaning of man’s life; often a new power of ardent, passionate speech.
In the First Epistle to the Corinthians Paul describes a primitive
Christian congregation. There was not one silent among them. When they
came together every one had a psalm, a revelation, a prophecy, an
interpretation. The manifestation of the Spirit had been given to each
one to profit withal; and on all hands the spiritual fire was ready to
flame forth. Conversion to the Christian faith, the acceptance of the
apostolic Gospel, was not a thing which made little difference to men:
it convulsed their whole nature to its depth; they were never the same
again; they were new creatures, with a new life in them, all fervor and

“A state so unlike nature, in the ordinary sense of the
term, was sure to have its inconveniences. The Christian, even when he
had received the gift of the Holy Ghost, was still a man; and as likely
as not a man who had to struggle against vanity, folly, ambition, and
selfishness of all kinds. His enthusiasm might even seem, in the first
instance, to aggravate, instead of removing, his natural faults. It
might drive him to speak-for in a primitive church anybody who pleased
might speak – when it would have been better for him to be silent. It
might lead him to break out in prayer or praise or exhortation, in a
style which made the wise sigh. And for those reasons the wise, and
such as thought themselves wise, would be apt to discourage the
exercise of spiritual gifts altogether. ‘Contain yourself,, they would
say to the man whose heart burned within him, and who was restless till
the flame could leap out; ‘contain yourself; exercise a little
self-control; it is unworthy of a rational being to be carried away in
this fashion.’

“No doubt situations like this were common in the
church at Thessalonica. They are produced inevitably by difference of
age and of temperament. The old and the phlegmatic are a natural, and,
doubtless, a providential, counterweight to the young and sanguine. But
the wisdom which comes of experience and of temperament has its
disadvantages as compared with fervor of spirit. It is cold and
unenthusiastic; it cannot propagate itself; it cannot set fire to
anything and spread. And because it is under this incapacity of
kindling the souls of men into enthusiasm, it is forbidden to pour cold
water on enthusiasm when it breaks forth in words of fire. That is the
meaning of ‘Quench not the Spirit.’ The commandment presupposes that
the Spirit can be quenched. Cold looks, contemptuous words, silence,
studied disregard, go a long way to quench it. So does unsympathetic

“Everyone knows that a fire smokes most when it is
newly kindled; but the way to get rid of the smoke is not to pour cold
water on the fire, but to let it burn itself clear. If you are wise
enough you may facilitate this by rearranging the materials, or
securing a better draught; but the wisest thing most people can do when
the fire has got hold is to let it alone; and that is also the wise
course for most when they meet with a disciple whose zeal burns like
fire. Very likely the smoke hurts their eyes; but the smoke will soon
pass by; and it may well be tolerated in the meantime for the sake of

For this apostolic precept takes for granted that
fervor of spirit, a Christian enthusiasm for what is good, is the best
thing in the world. It may be untaught and inexperienced; it may have
all its mistakes to make; it may be wonderfully blind to the
limitations which the stern necessities of life put upon the generous
hopes of man: but it is of God; it is expansive; it is contagious; it
is worth more as a spiritual force than all the wisdom in the world.

“I have hinted at ways in which the Spirit is quenched,
it is sad to reflect that from one point of view the history of the
church is a long series of rebellions of the Spirit. ‘Where the Spirit
of the Lord is,’ the Apostle tells us elsewhere, ‘there is liberty.’
But liberty in a society has its dangers; It is, to a certain extent,
at war with order; and the guardians of order are not apt to be too
considerate of it. Hence it came to pass that at a very early period,
and in the interests of good order, the freedom of the Spirit was
summarily suppressed in the church. ‘The gift of ruling,’ it has been
said, ‘like Aaron’s rod, seemed to swallow up the other gifts.’ The
rulers of the church became a class entirely apart from its ordinary
members, and all exercise of spiritual gifts for the building up of the
church was confined to them. Nay, the monstrous idea was originated,
and taught as a dogma, that they alone were the depositaries, or, as it
is sometimes said, the custodians, of the grace and truth of the
gospel; only through them could men come into contact with the Holy
Ghost. In plain English, the Spirit was quenched when Christians met
for worship. One great extinguisher was placed over the flame that
burned in the hearts of the brethren; it was not allowed to show
itself; it must not disturb, by its eruption in praise or prayer or
fiery exhortation, the decency and order of divine service.

I say that was the condition to which Christian worship
was reduced at a very early period; and it is unhappily the condition
in which, for the most part, it subsists at this moment. Do you think
we are gainers by it? I do not believe it. It has always come from time
to time to be intolerable. The Montanists of the second century, the
heretical sects of the middle ages, the Independents and Quakers of the
English Commonwealth, the lay preachers of Wesleyanism, the
Salvationists, the Plymouthists, and the Evangelistic associations of
our own day, all these are in various degrees the protest of the
Spirit, and its right and necessary protest, against the authority
which would quench it, and by quenching it impoverish the church.”

The assembly, then, should never fetter the Holy
Spirit, either with unscriptural rules, stereotyped program, rituals,
or liturgies. How grieved He must often be by rigid understandings that
a meeting must end at a certain time, that a service must always follow
a certain routine, that ministry at certain stages of a worship meeting
IS quite unacceptable! Such regulations can only lead to a loss of
spiritual power.


We might well pause to ask ourselves what it would be
like in our local churches if the Holy Spirit were really depended on
to be the Divine Leader. C. H. Mackintosh gives a vivid description of
such a situation, and we reproduce it here:

“We have but little conception of what an assembly
would be were each one distinctly led by the Holy Ghost, and gathered
only to Jesus. We should not then have to complain of dull, heavy,
unprofitable, trying meetings. We should have no fear of an unhallowed
intrusion of mere nature and its restless doings—no making of prayer—no
talking for talking’s sake—no hymnbook seized to fill a gap. Each one
would know his place in the Lord’s immediate presence—each gifted
vessel would be filled, fitted, and used by the Master’s hand—each eye
would be directed to Jesus—each heart occupied with Him. If a chapter
were read it would be the very voice of God. If a word were spoken, it
would tell with power upon the heart. if prayer were offered, it would
lead the soul into the very presence of God. If a hymn were sung, it
would lift the spirit up to God, and be like sweeping the strings of
the heavenly harp. We should feel ourselves in the very sanctuary of
God and enjoy a foretaste of that time when we shall worship in the
courts above and go no more out.”