Essential Christian Beliefs

By Stephen Solomon White

Chapter 4


The Holy Spirit in Action in the Individual

(1) Conviction, repentance, faith. The death of Jesus Christ provided salvation for all men. If there had been no divine Christ with His death and consequent atonement, there would have been no hope of salvation for any human being. But provision, while it is necessary, is not enough in itself to guarantee man's salvation. It is not sufficient that the blood of Jesus Christ was shed; it must also be applied to the individual sinner's heart. This application of the blood to the needy souls, one by one, is the special activity of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person in the Trinity. He is the efficient agent in man's salvation as surely as the blood of the Second Person in the Trinity is the procuring agent.

The Christ was prophesied, and then He came and achieved His purpose on the earth. Soon after His ascension, the Holy Spirit descended upon the one hundred and twenty in the upper room in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1-13). This was the beginning of His day or dispensation, or, in other words, it was in a special sense the opening of the era of personal salvation. It is to the study of the Holy Spirit's activity in the individual in the initiation and perfecting of this personal salvation that we now give our attention.

As God took the initiative in providing salvation, so He takes the lead in making it actual in the heart of the sinner. God does not wait for man to come and seek Him through Christ, He goes out and searches for man by means of the ever-active presence of the Holy Spirit in the world. The Gospel of John describes this initial work of the Holy Spirit as that of convincing the world (John 16:8-11). He convinces the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. In order to awaken the sinner, He must convince him of the fact that he is a sinner. There is no hope for the sinner as long as he thinks that he is all right. The Pharisee and the publican prayed; but the former did not succeed, while the latter did. What was the difference between them? The Pharisee spent his time telling God about his righteousness, a righteousness which he did not possess, but it was not thus with the poor publican. He called on God to be merciful to him a sinner (Luke 18:9-14). Thus the first step in conviction is to convince of sin.

He who has been convinced of sin must not be left there. He must also be convinced of righteousness. He must be shown that there is something worth while within his reach. To make a man aware of his need and then leave him with nothing better in sight is to leave him in despair. The Holy Spirit not only convinces of sin but also of righteousness. The last phase of this convicting work of the Holy Spirit is as necessary as the first one.

Beyond a convincement of sin and righteousness, there must be conviction as to a coming judgment. Sin has a terrible grip on man, and because of this it is not easy to shake it off. The sinner aroused to his sin and the possibility of a glorious righteousness may still make no move. The natural inertia connected with the old way holds him back. There must be an extra stimulus before he will decide to break with sin. The conviction that he will have to face a coming judgment, if he continues as he is, sometimes furnishes the extra stimulus that is needed to produce a definite turning to Christ. Therefore, the complete work of the Holy Spirit in conviction is convincement as to sin, righteousness, and judgment.

What is the first response of the yielding soul to the convicting activity of the Holy Spirit? We can answer this question with one word, repentance. The message of John the Baptist was "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). Jesus also took up John's call to repentance (Matthew 4:17). Peter exhorted those who were convicted on the day of Pentecost to repent, and be baptized (Acts 2:38). Repentance is one of the great Christian messages. Many times within the pages of the New Testament the sinner is urged to repent. The climax of this procession of calls to repentance is found in the following words of Jesus: "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3).

What does it mean to repent? The thought which is most often associated with this term is a godly sorrow for sin. A deep and sincere regret fills the heart because of the fact that the individual has sinned against God. He is not just sorrowful because he has been caught up with in his sin, as is the case sometimes. This is in no sense repentance. He is sorrowful to the depths of his soul because he has deliberately broken the law of God. With this godly sorrow, two other elements must be combined in order to get the full meaning of repentance. These are the confession of sin and the forsaking of sin. We must also bear in mind the fact that the forsaking of sin carries with it the thought of restitution; for I do not forsake sin by merely refusing any longer to indulge in it. I turn my back on it, in the second place, by making right the sins which I have committed in so far as I can. If I have stolen ten dollars from someone and that person is at hand, I will make it right as soon as I can -- if I am really forsaking sin. Repentance, therefore, as the first response of the individual soul to the convicting activity of the Holy Spirit, is a godly sorrow for sin which includes a Confession of sin and the forsaking of sin.

The second response of the yielding soul to the convicting activity of the Holy Spirit is faith. Faith is just as important as repentance. In fact, it is often viewed as more important than repentance. After we have repented we must believe, if we would properly respond to the call of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that we are justified by faith (Romans 5:1). His message to the Philippian jailer was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). There is no human condition of salvation which is more emphasized in the Bible than faith. The great religious leaders of all ages have found justification by faith a great theme. Following Paul and his emphasis on justification by faith as opposed to justification by works, the slogan of the Judaism from which he had been saved, we have Augustine, Luther, and Wesley -- the three greatest religious leaders since Paul -- all being significantly influenced by the doctrine of justification by faith. Exactly, then, what is faith? It is complete confidence on the part of the repentant sinner that the divine Christ does now meet the need of which the Holy Spirit has made him so keenly conscious through conviction.

(2) Justification, regeneration, adoption. When a sinner repents and believes, something happens on the divine side. God through the Holy Spirit pardons or forgives or justifies him. This means that the sinner, through the activity of the Holy Spirit, is restored to the favor of God. The old account has been settled. The black marks which have been on the books of God against him have been blotted out. The sinner stands before God no longer a sinner. He is given a clean sheet and can start life over again, as it were. A more formal definition of justification might be stated thus: Justification is that act of God's grace whereby the Holy Spirit frees a repentant and believing man from the guilt of his actual transgressions or sins. It is something, therefore, which takes place outside of man and yet it is in behalf of man. Again, we see the Holy Spirit in action in the individual. (See Acts 13:38 and 39; Galatians 2: 16.)

Regeneration or the new birth is the next crisis in man's salvation which we shall consider. Formally, regeneration may be defined as that act of God's grace whereby the Holy Spirit quickens into newness of life a repentant and believing man who has been dead in trespasses and sins. It is something which is not only done for man but also in man. It is a transformation which gives to man a new center of loyalty, and that new center is Jesus Christ. He can say truly that old things have passed away and behold all things have become new. All of this is in harmony with the great message which Jesus gave to Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. Here Jesus informs Nicodemus that he must be born again. He was a ruler of the Jews and undoubtedly a very religious man. Nevertheless, he needed the new birth. This is another way of declaring that all men whether high or low, learned or unlearned, religious or irreligious, must be born again. The requirement is universal. This new birth is something supernatural, something that God does for man, as we have already indicated. It is a birth which is from above or of God, as Jesus made it clear to Nicodemus. John also makes this clear in the first chapter of his Gospel. The verses read thus: "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1: 12, 13). This crisis is a spiritual transformation, and as such cannot be adequately described in words. If you want to know what it is, you must experience it. This truth is suggested by the following words of Jesus to Nicodemus: "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:7,8). Please notice also that this new birth is a birth of the Spirit. This is another instance where the Holy Spirit is in action in the heart of the individual.

Adoption, like justification, is a legal term. It is something done for us rather than in us. It always accompanies regeneration. Formally, we may define adoption as that act of God's grace whereby the Holy Spirit as the active representative of the Godhead makes the justified man a member of God's family, an heir of God, and a joint heir with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:14-17). Indeed and in truth the one who has been adopted into the family of God can sing of the glorious fact that he is a child of the King.

We have discussed justification, adoption, and regeneration separately because they are logically, or from the standpoint of meaning, distinct. However, they are temporally simultaneous, that is, they occur at the same moment or are phases of the same spiritual movement. When a man is justified, he is at the same time regenerated and adopted into the family of God. Conversion is a nontheological term which is often used to signify the whole transaction which is involved in justification, regeneration, and adoption.

(3) Entire sanctification. The Holy Spirit in action in the heart of the individual is seen at His best in bestowing the experience of entire sanctification. This crisis, from the standpoint of spiritual crises, marks the supreme objective of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the heart of man, the climax of the Spirit's dispensation. The Spirit convicts in order that He may save and saves in order that He may sanctify. The aim of all that He does is to find at last an abiding place for Himself in the heart of man. Thus man becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the living Christ is perpetuated in the world. "God with us" was inaugurated when the Eternal Word became incarnate, and it is made permanent by the indwelling Spirit. An immanent God, a God within the world, can come to full realization only when Christian men yield themselves completely to the sanctifying and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16; II Thessalonians 2:13).

Formally, then, how may entire sanctification be defined? It is that act of God's grace whereby the Holy Spirit baptizes the Christian with Himself, and thus cleanses the heart of said individual from inherited or original sin. This is done only on condition that the Christian consecrates his all and believes that God does just now accept the sacrifice or offering. It is something done in man as well as for him instantaneously, and is always subsequent to regeneration. Christ definitely prayed, on the night before His crucifixion for the sanctification of His disciples (John 17). We believe that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was a definite answer to this prayer of Christ. Paul prayed thus for the Church at Thessalonica: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:23). Anyone who will read the first chapter of First Thessalonians will realize that the people that Paul was praying for were genuine Christians. The writer of Hebrews gives us these words: "Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate" (Hebrews 13:12). Saint John definitely teaches that the love of God which begins in man's heart when he is born again can be perfected in this life (John 4:16-21). Christ commended this significant injunction to His followers: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22: 37-40). This injunction, as Dr. Curtis well says, is not just an ideal to be striven for, but rather ant actual injunction to be achieved (O. A. Curtis, The Christian Faith, p.388).

The theme of a great book written within the last ten years is that this ideal of Christian perfection is attainable in this life. Some conception of this work can be secured from a quotation which is found in its introduction. The passage reads as follows: "Amid the inward conflicts of those years of war [the first world war] some of us stumbled on the principle of John Wesley, which was of immediate value as a guide in practical work -- that the truest evangelism is to preach the full ideal for which power is offered in the present life. 'The work of God does not prosper,' said John Wesley, 'where perfect love is not preached.' . . . A vast evangelistic advance can be sustained only if the Christian ideal for this life is steadily set forth in all of its beauty and its fullness as being by the grace of God something not impossible of attainment. If this principle be valid, it is likely that the ignoring of it will bring impoverishment and arrest. In the following pages, for example, it is suggested that it was a defect in the Reformation divines that they were not at home with this principle, and that the sectarian reactions of Quakerism, Pietism and Methodism were, in spite of all appearances, symptoms of a return to a larger and more truly Catholic view. At all events, the principle of Wesley was that of our Lord, who chose twelve that they might be with Him, whose last journey to Jerusalem was based on His own missionary tenet: Let the children first be filled. Holiness is not only (as Newman said) necessary for future blessedness. It is essential to the vitality and advance of the Christian message in this world." [16]

What conditions must be met in order to enter into the experience of entire sanctification? Consecration and faith are the prerequisites for entire sanctification (Romans 12:1 and Acts 26:18). The Christian must place his all on the altar and then believe that the altar sanctifies the gift. If he consecrates his all, it is usually easy to believe. In most cases where the seeking believer has difficulty, it is because he is making some reservation, holding back something from the altar. Nevertheless, there seem to be a few souls who really have trouble in believing. They have consecrated all and yet hesitate about stepping out on the promise. Such souls must be urged to believe. The God who has promised the victory is faithful and will surely perform what He has promised.

A feeling of need and an intense desire for the blessing of entire sanctification must precede consecration and faith. If one is not convicted enough to feel intense need of and mighty desire for this blessing, he will not seek it whole-heartedly. Further, if one does not seek it with all of his heart, he will not make the all-inclusive consecration which is necessary before there can be faith for its actual bestowment. It may be added, also, that only the Holy Spirit can produce this conviction of need and intense desire. He must be active in the individual in leading up to entire sanctification, as well as in leading up to justification and regeneration.

(4) The witness of the spirit and glorification. The Witness of the Spirit is a precious doctrine of the Christian Church. The chief text upon which it is based reads as follows: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16). This text is usually interpreted to mean that there is a double witness to the fact that the sinner has become a child of God. Both the Spirit of God and the man's own spirit witness to this glorious transformation. The former is direct or immediate and the latter is indirect or mediate. The former reveals immediately to the inner consciousness of the individual that he has been accepted into the family of God, while the latter witnesses to it indirectly or by means of the fruits of the Spirit --new feelings and activities which dominate the soul. Or, to state it in another way, the witness of the divine Spirit is an immediate intuition, while that of the human spirit is an inference.

One other crisis remains to be explained. It is the crisis of glorification. This experience may be defined as that act of God's grace whereby the Holy Spirit raises the dead which die in the Lord, with bodies which are patterned after the likeness of Christ's resurrection body (Philippians 3:20,21). This crisis stands alone as something which takes place after death and apart from the will of the recipient. It is vitally related, however, to the state of grace attained in this life. No one is eligible for glorification except the individual who is a Christian when he dies. In this transformation of the human body in behalf of the resurrected Christian, we have the culminating crisis of salvation.

So far, we have dealt largely with the crises of salvation. They are very important and are due immediately to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Preceding and succeeding these crises are processes which the Spirit no doubt to some extent stimulates; even though His work in this connection is not as evident as in the case of the crises. The preparation for the various crises of salvation is a part of the processes which precede them. Succeeding the crises, there must be processes in which the individual grows in grace and thus develops into a likeness to Christ, for which the crisis was but the starting point. More and more, there should be a place in all of our preaching and Christian work for a larger emphasis on growth in grace as represented by these processes. We must not permit our enthusiasm for the crises to blind us to the value of the processes in the Christian life.

The Holy Spirit in Action in the Church

(1) Organizing the church. The term "church" as used in connection with the Christian movement has a variety of meanings. For instance, it may refer to the building where the local church organization worships, the local church itself, a whole denomination, or the whole body of Christian believers. For us, in this discussion, however, the word "church" will signify a group of true Christians, or of true and professed Christians, who are functioning together. It may also be added that a number of persons cannot thus carry on together without some organization.

The opening of the dispensation of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the beginning of the Christian Church (Acts 2). There were Christians before, but then God placed His special approval upon them as a co-operating group and made their co-operation possible in the best sense by baptizing them with the Spirit. From then on, they were a church indeed and in truth.

There is plenty of evidence in the Acts of the Apostles to the effect that the Holy Spirit was directing the church in the formation of an ever-developing organization. We are told that about three thousand souls were added (Acts 2:41). They could not have been added if there had not already been some. Again, it declares that the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:47). Peter and John were imprisoned and threatened and then let go. They went at once to their company, "and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them" (Acts 4:23). What did the company or church do? They began to pray mightily that God would help his servants and their leaders to continue to speak His word with all boldness (Acts 4:24-30). This was an example of real co-operation upon the part of those who constituted the church. Further, they not only stood together in spiritual matters, but also in connection with material affairs. They loved each other so well that they provided for the physical needs of all of those within their number (Acts 4:32-37). Seven deacons were appointed at the suggestion of the twelve to look after collecting and administering money for the Grecian widows. The church prayed and Peter was delivered from prison by an angel (Acts 12:1-19). Delegates were sent from the church at Antioch to the mother church at Jerusalem to consider the question as to the necessity of circumcision for salvation (Acts 15:1 and 2). Thus we have a church in the Acts of the Apostles which is functioning more and more as an organized body under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

The organized Christian Church, even in its early days, made a place for the ordinances. Baptism was regularly being administered (Acts 2:41; 8:12,36; 9:18; 10:47,48; 16:15,33; 18:8). This was a part of the gospel plan -- not as essential to salvation but as a means of grace. The ordinance of the Lord's Supper, which Jesus Himself had instituted before His death, was also observed (Mark 14:22-25). Like baptism, it was not necessary to salvation but a great means of grace. Baptism was an initiatory rite. It signified to those outside of the Christian fellowship, as well as to those within, that the recipient had become a part of this new movement. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper was a sign of continued fellowship with Christ and His followers, a pledge of continued devotion to Christ and His cause. Baptism as a sign of the beginning of the Christian life was administered only once, while the Lord's Supper as a sign of the continuation of this life was repeated.

The early church was truly a wonderful organization. As we have seen, its development was no doubt supervised by the Holy Spirit. However, the church as an organized body was not all good. The terrible judgments which were sent upon Ananias and Sapphira witness to this fact (Acts 5:1-11). They were a part of that unusual group, the early church, and yet they lied to the Holy Spirit. There were, no doubt, others in that company who were not what they ought to have been. What does all of this mean? It means that the visible church is not to be confused with the invisible church. The latter is perfect, ideal, while the former is not. The visible church is made up of all professed followers of Christ who have so related themselves to an organized Christian group as to indicate that they are at least in name a part of the Christian movement. On the other hand, the invisible church is composed of all true believers, whether belonging or not belonging to an organized Christian body, plus all of the saints of the past. The invisible church constitutes the body of Christ or the family of God. A person may be a member of the visible church and yet not be a part of the invisible church, or vice versa.

(2) Expanding the church. The Holy Spirit is the "Executive of the Godhead," Almighty God in action in the world. His main business is to expand or enlarge the Christian fellowship among men. Of course He can do this only as Christian men co-operate. All of this means that the main business or purpose of the church is promotional, evangelistic, missionary. The church is a mutual benefit society, but it is not merely or even chiefly such an institution. It must ever be primarily alert to the enlargement of its fellowship -- not just for the sake of increasing its numbers but for the purpose of getting to others the glory and blessing which it possesses. The church must send forth witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. The very moment that a local or general church begins to live merely for itself it dies. Its very genius consists in the fact that it can live only in an atmosphere of conquest. The Holy Spirit cannot work through an organization which exists only for defense.

The church on earth is truly the church militant, a fighting church, a church which is as terrible as an army with banners (Song of Solomon 6:10), that is, a victorious army, an army that is constantly sweeping on and taking more territory. The church triumphant is the church in heaven -those who have already won the victory over sin and the devil. If we as members of the church militant prove faithful to the end, that is, continue to wage a war of conquest, we shall then become a part of the church triumphant. The battle will be over and we shall participate in the celebration of the victory.

Let us turn to the Acts of the Apostles again and trace the Holy Spirit in action in a church made militant by His presence. There is recorded there the beginning of the greatest revival movement in history. The Acts of the Holy Spirit begin at Jerusalem and then move on to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. It was a living church because it was a growing, expanding church. The heavenly dynamite or the dynamite of the Holy Spirit so moved the church from within that the world became her parish. "But ye shall receive power [heavenly dynamite] after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

The glorious story may be told thus: There were the one hundred and twenty in the upper room. They prayed ten days and were all of one accord as well as in one place. Then the Holy Spirit swept in upon them and they were baptized by Him. Thereby, the march of conquest was inaugurated. Peter preached the Lordship of the crucified and resurrected Christ with great boldness and power (Acts 2). Conviction seized upon the people and three thousand were saved. Peter and John healed the lame man in the name of Jesus and then Peter preached and about five thousand men, besides the women and children, were saved (Acts 3,4). One thrilling incident follows another. There were imprisonment, miraculous release from prison, healings, mighty preaching, judgment for sin, and martyrdom for Christ.

The next stage was that of a great persecution against the church at Jerusalem. This evil which befell the Jerusalem church was made to praise God. Those who were persecuted were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria and went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:1-4). Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them. There was a great revival. The people believed and were saved. Peter and John were sent down to Samaria by the apostles at Jerusalem to follow up the work of Philip. They prayed for the people, who had received the word under Philip's preaching, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, and their prayer was answered. While this was going on, Philip got another call from the Lord. He was directed to go to Gaza; and as he went he met the eunuch, a man of Ethiopia of great authority under Candace Queen of the Ethiopians. Through Philip this man was led to God, and thus the gospel continued to spread (Acts 8:5-40). The war of conquest was on and the Holy Spirit was certainly in action in the church. Peter's vision was enlarged in order that he might meet the situation created by an expanding Christian movement. He then heard the call of Cornelius, a just man and one who feared God. The result was as follows: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 10:44,45). The climax of this stage was the spreading of the gospel to Phenice and Cyprus and Antioch. Only the Jews were preached to first and then in Antioch some spake unto the Grecians. What was the outcome? "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord" (Acts 11:21). Then the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas down to Antioch to care for the work there, and he soon secured Paul as his co-laborer. Antioch quickly became a great center for the cause of Christ. The disciples were first called Christians here, and this city became the new capital of the Christian world. The center of militant Christianity shifted from Jerusalem to Antioch.

The last and the most far-reaching stage in the expansion of the Christian Church recorded in the Acts of the Apostles is that which has to do with the work of the Apostle Paul. The major portion of the Acts of the Apostles is taken up with the achievements of the Holy Spirit as He uses this mighty hero of the cross. While busy with his activities as the chief persecutor of the Christian Church, he was halted on the road to Damascus and gloriously converted. Later he was filled with the Holy Spirit and at once became a bold and effective preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-31). His preliminary ministry made itself felt in Damascus, Jerusalem, Tarsus, and Antioch in Syria. But he was to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria had already been touched by the messengers of the cross of Christ. It was high time now for the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the message. Paul, who had been so well fitted for this world task by nature and nurture and divine transformation (Philippians 3), was soon to begin the work for which he had been set apart at birth (Galatians 1:15-17).

How did Paul come to start his world-wide missionary career? The Holy Spirit went into action again. In the church at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers. "As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away" (Acts 13:2,3). This was one of the glorious moments in the history of the Christian Church. However, space forbids that we discuss the acts of the Holy Spirit in detail as He manifested Himself in the church through Paul and his co-laborers. He was with them on their first missionary journey, at the Jerusalem Council, and on their second and third missionary journeys. Christian churches were started in many strategic centers, and Paul persevered even though he was driven out of many cities and had to endure many hardships. His journey to Rome was no doubt in the plan of the Holy Spirit, although the path which led to Rome was a rugged one -- arrest, trial, waiting and imprisonment, and shipwreck. After several years of service in Rome, the capital of the world, he went to meet His Lord triumphantly by way of martyrdom (II Timothy 4:6-8). He was the greatest soldier of the cross that has ever lived. He started fires in many cities around the world which have swept on across the centuries down to the present. The church, the body of Christ, under the presidency and power of the same Holy Spirit which the church in Paul's day knew, continues the work so nobly begun then.

What do we find the leaders in the church chiefly doing in the Acts of the Apostles in order to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ? It was preaching. Forms and ceremonies did not have much place in this great program of expansion. Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14), after the healing of the lame man (Acts 3:12), and on every occasion where there was an opportunity. Stephen's apology was really a sermon (Acts 7), Philip preached in Samaria (Acts 8:5), Peter and John did the same there and in many villages (Acts 8:25), Philip preached Jesus unto the eunuch (Acts 8:35), and Paul began preaching in Damascus a few days after his conversion and made it his main business from then on until his death some thirty or thirty-five years later (Acts 9:19-22). The words preach, preached, preacheth, and preaching are found nearly forty times in the Acts of the Apostles. The reading of the Scriptures, testimony, prayer, and singing supplemented the work of preaching as instruments of the Holy Spirit in His activity in the church.

(3) The church and the Kingdom of God. What is the relation of the expanding church to the kingdom of God? This is a question which is often asked; and there is some difference of opinion as to its answer. Christ often used the phrase "the kingdom of God" or "the kingdom," while Paul and the other writers of the Epistles often used the term "church." The former phrase is used one hundred and twelve times in the Gospels, while the term "church" is used only twice. In the Epistles the situation is almost reversed. The "church" is mentioned there one hundred and twelve times, while "the kingdom" or "the kingdom of God" is found only twenty-nine times. The kingdom is both present and future. It begins now, but will come to its full realization only in the future. Again, it is both spiritual -- within you, and social -- evident in the group activities of men. The church is undoubtedly closely related to the kingdom, but it is not to be completely identified with it. It may be thought of as the means whereby the kingdom is being developed, both within and without. If all men would heed its message, their hearts would be made right; and the kingdom which had thus been established within would soon dominate society. Thus, we would then have the kingdom of God on earth. But the majority of men will reject the call of the Holy Spirit through the church, and God will finally have to establish His kingdom on the earth by means of a direct intervention-- the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

There are two perverse attitudes which may be taken toward the visible church. One is the attitude that mis-interprets the passage in Matthew 16:18,19 which describes the relation of Peter to the church. Those who do this make the church on earth supreme. The church takes the place of Christ, and men go to it instead of Him for forgiveness and salvation. This is a grievous mistake and greatly hinders the progress of the cause of Christ. The church is the best institution known to men, but it is imperfect and cannot take the place of God. The other perverse attitude toward the organized church is that of those who refuse to have anything to do with it. This is a calamity, although there are some well-meaning people involved in it. Any church which a person may join will be imperfect, both as a local and as a general institution. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit has always been able to do more through organized effort than through isolated Christians. From the very first, God has sanctioned organized Christianity; and the normal thing for every Christian to do is to join some Christian church.


16 Flew, R. N., The Idea of Perfection in Christian Theology, Oxford University Press, London, 1934, pp. 13, 14. Used by permission.