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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Dimensions

When God acts, He acts quickly. There may be many factors preparing the way, but when He sends His Spirit, there is a sudden movement from “on high,” and the Spirit falls. There may be a period of time leading up to it (as the days of waiting prior to Pentecost),7  but when the time comes, God moves rapidly. Suddenly—the Spirit comes.

The third aspect mentioned is that of forcefulness. We have already observed the statement in Acts about the sound “from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind.” The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was forcible,8  strong, driving. There was nothing quiet or hidden about it: and it made an impact on all. The expression “fall upon” suggests the same note of forcefulness; for when something—or someone—falls upon a person or a group, the effects will doubtless be felt! Of course, we are here dealing with the Holy Spirit, not a thing or force; nonetheless, His coming is with memorable impact.

This leads us again to the contemporary scene where testimonies abound to the “falling” of the Holy Spirit.9  Sometimes reference is made to what has been experienced in a gathering of people when, perhaps after witness has been borne about God’s readiness to pour out His Spirit, suddenly the Spirit falls. This frequently occurs unexpectedly—even to the shock and surprise of those to whom it happens. Here, seemingly, was a sovereign act of God occurring in the midst of His gathered people. And—it is to be added—often this takes place with such forcefulness that the recipients have literally reeled under the impact. This “falling” of the Spirit, so people attest, may occur privately as well—and there is no limit to time or place: at any hour in church, in one’s prayer closet, driving a car, on the job, indeed anywhere. It is God’s action, and of such a character that one can never thereafter forget.

We move on to recognize, in the third place, that the Holy Spirit comes to take possession. The Holy Spirit lays claim upon a person, or community, so as to be the controlling and guiding reality. Henceforward one is to move under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

The expression “come upon” is the primary one in the book of Acts that conveys this meaning. It is the language used by Jesus prior to Pentecost in telling His disciples they are to be His witnesses: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses … (1:8). Jesus had been giving them “commandment through the Holy Spirit” (1:2), so the Holy Spirit was already at work in their midst. But this was not yet the “coming upon” whereby the Holy Spirit would become the controlling factor in their lives.

The language of “coming upon” is also used in the later account of Paul ministering to the Ephesians. The climatic moment is stated: “And when Paul laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them …” (Acts 19:6). Thus Ephesians experience essentially the same possession by the Spirit as did the disciples at Pentecost.

Here a point needs to be emphasized, namely, the possession referred to in Acts intends to be a continuing matter. When the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples at Pentecost, this is an endowment for their continuing life and ministry. From then on they are to be persons moving under the guidance and authority of the Holy Spirit.

There are also a number of references in the Old Testament to the Spirit coming upon various persons. It is said of several of the judges that the Spirit of the Lord “came upon” them, “took possession of” them or “came mightily upon”10  them. The same is said of Saul and David.11  Also, it was earlier said of one incident concerning Moses’ elders,12  also of the prophesying of Balaam.13  However, all of this is largely a temporary matter to enable a person for a time to fulfill a certain role or function: judging, ruling, prophesying.14  Further, the Spirit only came upon a few now and then. With the outpouring of the Spirit beginning at Pentecost the situation is quite different: the coming of the Spirit is both abiding and universal (“all flesh”).

Here we might also quote the words of Jesus: “stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The picture of being clothed, or endued, with Holy Spirit likewise contains the note of a continuing endowment. When the Holy Spirit comes and endues, not only will there be a total possession but also movement thereafter will be vested with His presence and power.

It is to be noted that the described “coming upon” and “clothing with” are two aspects of the same operation of the Holy Spirit. The former terminology, in the active voice, expresses the divine side, namely, that the Holy Spirit thereby lays claim to or possesses a person. The latter terminology, in the passive voice, expresses the human aspect, namely, that a person is thereby invested with the Holy Spirit. One does not himself put on the Holy Spirit; rather does the Spirit clothe the person. Possession by the Spirit and investment with the Spirit: these are two aspects of God’s gracious action.

In the contemporary situation, we now observe, there is a striking sense of the Holy Spirit’s possession and investment. Whatever may have been the relation to God before, this represents a fresh and total claim upon one’s life. “I may have had the Spirit before, but now the Spirit has me”—such is a typical expression of persons in the spiritual renewal. Nor is there any thought of lack of freedom in such possession; quite the contrary, there is a tremendous sense of moving and acting freely under the Spirit’s direction. Moreover, the experience of the Spirit’s abiding endowment, so that one is vested henceforward with His presence and power, makes for an extraordinary new level of Christian commitment and activity.15

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2002

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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