“Be filled with the Spirit.”—Ephesians, 5:18.
I may have some air, a little air, in my lungs, but not enough to keep up a healthy, vigorous life. But everyone seeks to have his lungs well filled with air, and the benefit of it will be felt in his blood and through his whole being. And just so the word of God comes to us, and says, “Christians, do not be content with thinking that you have the Spirit, or have a little of the Spirit; but, if you want to have a healthy life, be “filled with the Spirit.” Is that your life? Or are you ready to cry out, “Alas, I do not know what it is to be filled with the Spirit, but it is what I long for.” I want to point out to such the path to come to this great, precious blessing which is meant for every one of us.
Before I speak further of it, let me just note one misunderstanding which prevails. People often look upon being “filled with the Spirit” as something that comes with a mighty stirring of the emotions, a sort of heavenly glory that comes over them, something that they can feel strongly and mightily; but that is not always the case. I was recently in Niagara Falls. I noticed, and I was told, that the water was unusually low. Suppose the river were doubly full, how would you see that fullness in the Falls? In the increased volume of water pouring over the cataract, and its tremendous noise. But go to another part of the river, or to the lake, where the very same fullness is found, and there is perfect quiet and placidity, the rise of the water is gentle and gradual, and you can hardly notice that there is any disturbance as the lake gets full. And just so it may be with a child of God. To one it comes with mighty emotion and with a blessed consciousness, “God has touched me!” To others it comes in a gentle filling of the whole being with the presence and the power of God by His Spirit. I do not want to lay down the way in which it is to come to you, but I want you simply to take your place before God, and say, “My Father, whatever it may mean, that is what I want.” If you come and give yourself up as an empty vessel and trust God to fill you, God will do His own work.
And now, the simple question as to the steps by which we can come to be “filled with the Spirit.” I shall note four steps in the way by which a man can attain this wonderful blessing. He must say, (1), “I must have it,” then, (2), “I may have it,” and, then, (3) “I will have it,” and then, last, Thank God, “I (4) shall have it.”
1. The first word a man must begin to say, is, “I must have it.” He must feel “It is a command of God, and I cannot live unfilled with the Spirit without disobeying God.” It is a command here in this text, —“Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” Just as much as a man dare not get drunk, if he is a Christian, just as much must a man be filled with the Spirit. God wants it, and oh, that every one might be brought to say, “I must, if I am to please God, I must be filled with the Spirit!”
2. I fear there is a terrible, terrible self-satisfaction among many Christians, —they are content with their low level of life. They think they have the Spirit because they are converted, but they know very little of the joy of the Holy Ghost, and of the sanctifying power of the Spirit. They know very little of the fellowship of the Spirit linking them to God and to Jesus. They know very little of the power of the Spirit to testify for God, and yet they are content; and one says, “Oh, it is only for eminent Christians.” A very dear young friend once said to me as I was talking to her—(it was a niece of my own)—“Oh, Uncle Andrew, I cannot try to make myself better than the Christians around me. Wouldn’t that be presumptuous?” And I said, “My child, you must not ask what the Christians around you are, but you must be guided by what God says.” She has since confessed to me how bitterly ashamed she has become of that expression, and how she went to God to seek His blessing. Oh, friends, do not be content with that half Christian life that many of you are living, but say, “God wants it, God commands it; I must be filled with the Spirit.”
And look not only at God’s command, but look at the need of your own soul. You are a parent, and you want your children blessed and converted, and you complain that you haven’t power to bless them. You say, “My home must be filled with God’s Spirit.” You complain of your own soul, of times of darkness and of leanness; you complain of watchlessness and wandering. A young minister once said to me, “Oh, why is it I have such a delight in study and so little delight in prayer?”—And my answer was, “My brother, your heart must get filled with a love for God and Jesus, and then you will delight in prayer.” You complain sometimes that you cannot pray. You pray so short, you do not know what to pray, something drags you back from the closet. It is because you are living a life, trying to live a life, without being filled with the Spirit. Oh, think of the needs of the church around you. You are a Sunday School teacher; you are trying to teach a class of ten or twelve children, not one of them, perhaps, converted, and they go out from under you unconverted; you are trying to do a heavenly work in the power of the flesh and earth. Sunday School teachers, do begin to say, “I must be filled with the Spirit of God, or I must give up the charge of those young souls; I cannot teach them.”
Or, think of the need of the world. If you were to send out missionaries full of the Holy Ghost, what a blessing that would be! Why is it that many a missionary complains in the foreign field, “There I learned how weak and how unfit I am?” It is because the churches from which they go are not filled with the Holy Ghost. Someone said to me in England a few weeks ago, “They talk so much about the volunteer movement and more missionaries; but we want something else, we want missionaries filled with the Holy Ghost.” If the church is to come right, and the mission field is to come right, we must each begin with himself. It must begin with you. Begin with yourself and say, “O God, for Thy sake; O God, for Thy church’s sake; O God, for the sake of the world, help me! I must be filled with the Holy Ghost.”
What folly it would be for a man who had lost a lung and a half, and had hardly a quarter of a lung to do the work of two, to expect to be a strong man and to do hard work, and to live in any climate! And what folly for a man to expect to live—God has told him he cannot live—a full Christian life, unless he is full of the Holy Ghost! And what folly for a man who has only got a little drop of the river of the water of life to expect to live and to have power with God and man! Jesus wants us to come and to receive the fulfilment of the promise, “He that believeth in Me, streams of water shall flow out from him.” Oh, begin to say, “If I am to live a right life, if I am in every part of my daily life and conduct to glorify my God, I must have the Holy Spirit—I must be filled with the Spirit.” Are you going to say that? Talking for months and months won’t help. Do submit to God, and as an act of submission say, “Lord, I confess it, I ought to be filled, I must be filled; help me!” And God will help you.
And, then comes the second step, I may be filled. The first had reference to duty; the second has reference to privilege—I may be filled. Alas! So many have got accustomed to their low state that they do not believe that they may, they can, actually be filled. And what right have I to say that you ought to take these words into your lips? My right is this—God wants healthy children. I saw today a child of six months old, as beautiful and chubby as you could wish a child to be, and with what delight the eyes of the father and the mother looked upon him, and how glad I was to see a healthy child. And, oh, do you think that God in Heaven does not care for His children, and that God wants some of His children to live a sickly life? I tell you, it is a lie! God wants every child of His to be a healthy Christian; but you cannot be a healthy Christian unless you are filled with God’s Spirit. Beloved, we have got accustomed to a style of life, and we see good Christians—as we call them—earnest men and women, full of failings; and we think, “Well, that is human; that man loses his temper, and that man is not as kind as he should be, and that man’s word cannot be trusted always as ought to be the case; but—but—“And in daily life we look upon Christians and think, “Well, if they are very faithful in going to church and in giving to God’s cause, and in attending the prayer meeting, and in having family prayers, and in their profession.” Of course we thank God for them and say, “We wish there were more such,” but we forget to ask, “What does God want?” Oh, that we might see that “It is meant for me and for everyone else.” My brother, my sister, there is a God in Heaven who has been longing for these past years, while you never thought about it, to fill you with the Holy Ghost. God longs to give the fullness of the Spirit to every child of His.
They were poor heathen Ephesians, only lately brought out from heathendom, to whom Paul wrote this letter, —people among whom there still was stealing and lying, for they had only just come out from heathendom; but Paul said to every one of these, “Be filled with the Spirit.” God is ready to do it; God wants to do it. Oh, do not listen to the temptations of the devil, “This is only meant for some eminent people, —a Christian who has a great deal of free time to devote to prayer and to seeking after it,—a man of a receptive temperament,—that is the man to be filled with the Spirit. Who is there that dare say, “I cannot be filled with the Spirit.” Who will dare to say that? If any of you speak thus it is because you are unwilling to give up sin. Do not think that you cannot be filled with the Spirit because God is not willing to give it to you. Did not the Lord Jesus promise the Spirit? Is not the Holy Spirit the best part of His salvation? Do you think He gives half a salvation to any of His redeemed ones? Is not His promise for all, “He that believeth in me, rivers of water shall flow out of him”? This is more than fullness- this is overflow; and this Jesus has promised to everyone who believes in Him. Oh, cast aside your fears, and your doubts, and your hesitation, and say at once, “I can be filled with the Spirit; I may be filled with the Spirit. There is nothing in heaven, or earth, or hell, can prevent it, because God has promised and God is waiting to do it for me.” Are you ready to say, “I may, I can, I can be filled with the Spirit, for God has promised it, and God will give it.”?
And then we get to the third step, when a man says, “I will have it; I must have it; I may have it; I will have it.” You know what this means in ordinary things, “I will have it,” and he goes and does everything that is to be done to get permission. Very often a man comes and he wants to buy something, and he wishes for it; but wishing is not willing. I want to buy that horse, and a man asks of me $200 for it, but I don’t want to give more than $180. I wish for it, I wish for it very much, and I can go and say, “Do give it me for the $180”; and he says, “No, $200.” I love the horse, it is just what I want, but I am not willing to give the $200; and at last he says, “Well, you must give me an answer; I can get another purchaser;” and at last I say, “No, I won’t have it; I want it very much, I long for it, but I won’t give the price.”
Dear friends, are you going to say, “I will have this blessing”? What does that mean? It means, first of all, of course, that you are going to look around into your life, and if you see anything wrong there, it means that you are going to confess it to Jesus and say, “Lord, I cast it at Thy feet; it may be rooted in my heart, but I will give it up to Thee, I cannot take it out, but Jesus, Thou cleanser of sin, I give it to Thee.” Let it be temper, or pride; let it be money, or lust, or pleasure; let it be the fear of man; let it be anything; —but, oh, say to Christ at once, “I will have this blessing at any cost.” Oh, give up every sin to Jesus.
And it means not only giving up every sin, but—what is deeper than sin, and more difficult to get at—it means giving up yourself—self, with your will, and your pleasure, and your honour, and all you have, and saying, “Jesus, I am from this moment going to give myself up, that by Thy Holy Spirit Thou mayest take possession of me, and that Thou mayest by Thy Spirit turn out whatever is sinful, and take entire command of me.” This looks difficult so long as Satan blinds, and makes us think it would be a hard thing to give up all that; but if God opens our eyes for one minute to see what a heavenly blessedness, and what heavenly riches and heavenly glory it is to be filled with the Spirit out of the heart of Jesus, then we will say, “I will give anything, anything, ANYTHING but I will have the blessing.”
And then, it means that you are just to cast yourself at His feet and to say, “Lord, I will have the blessing.”
Ah, Satan often tempts us, and says, “Suppose God were to ask that of you, would you be willing to give it?”—And he makes us afraid. But how many have found, and have been able to tell about it, that when once they have said, “Lord, anything and everything!” the light and the joy of heaven filled their hearts.
Last year at Johannesburg, the gold fields of South Africa, at an afternoon meeting we had one day testimony, and a woman rose up and told us how her pastor two months ago had held a consecration service in a tent, and he had spoken strongly about consecration, and had said, “Now, if God were to send your husband away to China, or if God were to ask you to go away to America, would you be willing for it? You must give yourself up entirely.” And the woman said—and her face beamed with brightness when she spoke, —when, at the close of the meeting he asked those to rise who were willing to give up all to be filled with the Spirit, she said, “The struggle was terrible; God may take away my husband or my children from me, and am I ready for it? Oh, Jesus is very precious, but I cannot say I will give up all. But I will tell Him I do want to do it.”—And at last she stood up. She said she went home that night in a terrible struggle, and she could not sleep, for the thought was, “I said to Jesus everything, and could I give up husband or child?” The struggle continued till midnight, “but,” she said, “I would not let go; I said to Jesus, ‘everything, but fill me with Thyself.’” And the joy of the Holy Spirit came down upon her, and her minister who sat there told me afterwards that the testimony was a true one, and for the two months her life had been one of exceeding brightness and of heavenly joy.
Oh, is any reader tempted to say, “I cannot give up all”? I take you by the hand, my brother, my sister, and I bring you to the crucified Jesus, and I say, “Just look at Him, how He loved you on Calvary; just look at Him.” Just look at Jesus! He offers actually to fill your heart with His Holy Spirit, with the Spirit of His love and of His fullness, and of His power, actually to make your heart full of the Holy Spirit; and do you dare to say, “I am afraid,”—do you dare to say, “I cannot do that for Jesus”? Or will your heart not, at His feet, cry out, “Lord Jesus, anything, but I must be filled with Thy Spirit!” Haven’t you often prayed for the presence and the abiding nearness and the love of Jesus to fill you?—but that cannot be until you are filled with the Holy Spirit. Oh, come and say, in view of any sacrifice, “I will have it, by God’s help! Not in my strength, but by the help of God, I will have it!”
And then comes my last point. Say, “I shall have it.” Praise God that a man dare say that, “I shall have it.” Yes, when a man has made up his mind; when a man has been brought to a conviction and a sorrow for his sinful life; when a man, like Peter, has wept bitterly or has sighed deeply before God, “Oh, my Lord, what a life I have been living!”—When a man has felt wretched in the thought, “I am not living the better life, the Jesus life, the Spirit life;”—when a man begins to feel that, and when he comes and makes surrender, and casts himself upon God and claims the promise, “Lord, I may have it; it is for me,”—what think you? Hasn’t he a right to say, “I shall have it”? Yes, beloved, and I give to every one of you that message from God, that if you are willing, and if you are ready, God is willing and ready to close the bargain at once. Yes, you can have it now, now! Without any outburst of feeling, without any flooding of the heart with light, you may have it. To some it comes in that way but to many not. As a quiet transaction of the surrendered will, you can lift up your heart in faith and say, “O God, here I do give myself as an empty vessel to be filled with the Holy Ghost. I give myself up once for all and forever.” “Tis done, the great transaction’s done.” You can say it now if you will take your place before God.
Oh, ministers of the gospel, have you never felt the need of being filled with the Holy Ghost? Your heart perhaps tells you that you know nothing of that blessing. Oh, workers for Christ, have you never felt a need, “I must be filled with the Holy Ghost”? Oh, children of God, have you never felt a hope rise within you, “I may have this blessing, I hear of from others”? Will you not take the step and say, “I will have it”? Say it, not in your own strength, but in self-despair. Never mind though it appears as if the heart is all cold and closed up, never mind; but as an act of obedience and of surrender, as an act of the will, cast yourself before Jesus and trust Him. “I shall have it, for I now give up myself into the arms of my Lord Jesus, I shall have it, for it is the delight of Jesus to give the Holy Spirit from the Father, into the heart of everyone. I shall have it, for I do believe in Jesus, and He promised me that out of him that believeth shall flow rivers of living water. I shall have it! I SHALL have it! I will cling to the feet of Jesus, I will stay at the throne of God; I shall have it, for God is faithful, and God has promised.”