The second chapter from Professor Williams’ book, The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today, about the greatest reality of our time.
Chapter Two: Dimensions
We come now to a consideration of the actual giving of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit promised by the Father, sent by the Son, becomes an event in time and history. God gives His Spirit to human beings. It is therefore our concern to reflect upon some of the dimensions of this event that include both God and man. We shall mainly note the biblical text and thereafter make some reference to the contemporary scene.
The first thing we may observe in the Scripture is that God gives His Spirit in abundance. In the words of the Fourth Gospel, “It is not by measure that he gives the Spirit” (John 3:34).1 The gift of the Holy Spirit is one of plenitude and boundlessness. The Spirit is lavished upon men, and those who receive this gift participate in the divine, abundant self-giving.
It is the word “outpouring”—the outpouring of the Spirit—that in the Scriptures particularly expresses this theme of abundance. We have already given several quotations from both Old and New Testaments where the word “outpouring” or “pouring out” occurs. Let us review the New Testament passages already mentioned. First, Peter on the Day of Pentecost identifies what has just happened with the prophecy of Joel concerning “the last days” when God would “pour out” His Spirit “on all flesh.” Second, thereafter, as Peter proclaims the gospel, he states it was the exalted Jesus who “poured out” the Holy Spirit.
Now we may turn to another account of the gift of the Holy Spirit—to the Gentiles at Caesarea. Again, we find the expression, “outpouring.” The relevant text reads that “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out [also]2 on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45). Thus the Gentile gathering at the house of Cornelius was blessed in the same manner as the disciples at Jerusalem. They likewise experienced the abundance of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.
One other passage, outside Acts, in the epistles should also be noted. It is found in Titus 3:5-6 where Paul speaks of “the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, [whom]3 he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” This is a beautiful statement that connects very closely the idea of outpouring and abundance: the Holy Spirit “poured out …richly”—and it happens through Jesus Christ.4
To summarize: what we have observed in these passages concerning the gift of the Holy Spirit is the lavishness of God’s action. He does not stint, He does not mete out something of Himself, something of His Spirit, but He gives in totality. God gives His Spirit in abundance.
As we turn briefly from the biblical record to the contemporary spiritual renewal, it is apparent that many people testify to the abundance of what they have received. There is often the sense of the lavishness of God in holding back nothing of His Spirit. There may have been growing hunger and thirst for the deep things of God, then a critical spiritual breakthrough came and God poured out His Spirit. For some there was such a plenitude of the divine presence and power, such a copiousness of God’s blessing, such totality of the Spirit’s bestowal that it seemed almost more than human existence could bear. It was all of God that man could receive of the eternal glory.5
We turn, in the second place, to a number of related themes that suggest the way God gives the Holy Spirit. Here we shall note such matters as the divine sovereignty, the suddenness and forcefulness of the gift. All of these, I believe, are contained in the idea of the Holy Spirit “falling upon” persons.
Two of the incidents in the book of Acts relating to the gift of the Holy Spirit make use of the language of “falling.” First, the account of the Holy Spirit being given to the Gentiles at Caesarea: “While Peter was still saying this [his message to the Gentiles], the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (10:44). Later Peter, rehearsing the event, says: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.” Thus not only what happened to the Gentiles at Caesarea but also earlier to the disciples at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost was a “falling” of the Holy Spirit.
The other incident in which the language of “falling” is used is that concerning the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans. Before they received the gift, the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen on any of them” (8:16). Hence, when the Samaritans received the gift later, by implication, the Holy Spirit then fell upon them.
The aspect of God’s sovereign action is unmistakably present in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The word “falling” connotes an action “from above,” from heaven to earth and therefore totally initiated by God. God may give the Holy Spirit according to some specified pattern,6 or He may transcend all usual modes and freely send down the Holy Spirit. The sovereign “falling” of the Holy Spirit occurred in both Jerusalem and Caesarea, and therefore may happen again and again.
Related to this is the note of suddenness. It is apparent that in Jerusalem the Holy Spirit suddenly came. On the Day of Pentecost the disciples were all gathered together when “suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind …” (2:2). This was unmistakably the coming of the Holy Spirit—sent from heaven—and happened with no advance notice. It is equally apparent that the outpouring of the Spirit upon the Caesareans was sudden. For Peter’s sermon was interrupted by the falling of the Holy Spirit, obviously to the surprise of everyone gathered, Jew and Gentile alike.