The first part of chapter eight from Professor Williams’ book, The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today, about the greatest reality of our time.
Chapter Eight: Effects, Part 2
Third, still another effect of the gift of the Holy Spirit is that of providing an assurance of God’s act of salvation. The Holy Spirit bears witness to what has been done, confirms the status of sonship and God’s abiding presence and affords an earnest or pledge of what is yet to come.
It is significant that on two occasions (Acts 11 and 15) after the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Caesareans, or the Gentiles, Peter appears before the Jerusalem council of apostles and brethren to argue the Gentile cause. On each occasion Peter refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit which the Gentiles had likewise received as a kind of confirmation or witness. In the first instance the question basically was whether the Gentiles really were included in God’s purpose of salvation, and Peter’s argument was simply that “the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). Further, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us [believing]14 in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11:17). This silenced the audience; then “they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life'” (Acts 11:18). The fact that God had given the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles was certification to the apostles and brethren that the Gentiles had indeed been granted salvation. On the second occasion, Peter stands again before the council to argue against the obligation of Gentiles to be circumcised in order to be saved. In the context of this argument Peter speaks of how it was God’s choice that “by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7). Then Peter immediately adds: “And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith”15 (Acts 15:8-9). Here the gift of the Holy Spirit is described as a witness to the Gentiles themselves that they had indeed been granted cleansing and salvation. Thus to summarize the two accounts: the gift of the Holy Spirit was viewed as both a testimony to others, an external witness, and an internal testimony that “repentance unto life,” cleansing, salvation, had unmistakably occurred.
On the matter of the testimony to others, or external witness, one of the interesting features of the contemporary outpouring of God’s Spirit is the way in which it has caused many people in churches or denominations that have been long separated from and even antagonistic to one another to change their attitude. For example, many Protestants who received the gift of the Spirit in the early to mid 1960s were ill prepared to accept the movement of the Spirit among Roman Catholics that began in 196716 for the reason that they (the Protestants) were not at all sure any Catholics had experienced salvation. Then it began to happen among Catholics—exactly as among Protestants—and all the Protestants could do, like the apostles and brethren, was to glorify God and say, “Then to the Roman Catholics also God has granted repentance unto life!”
One other Scripture passage related to external witness is Hebrews 2:3-4: “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will.” Here again God Himself bears witness to the “great salvation” through the operation and activity of the Holy Spirit. Salvation which belongs to the inward and invisible realm is attested by the outward and visible—signs, wonders, miracles, various gifts of the Holy Spirit. This passage in Hebrews is somewhat different from Acts 11 and Acts 15: the gift (or gifts) of the Holy Spirit is not spoken of as testimony to other Christians that God has granted salvation, but it is rather a testimony to those who have not experienced salvation that behind such divine work stands a living God who brings salvation.
Again, to return to the contemporary scene, it is striking that in many places the proclamation of the gospel of salvation is being given visible certification through “signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit.” The word is preached, God “bears witness,” for example, through miracles of healing taking place, and the message of salvation comes through with powerful effectiveness.17 Indeed, in a day when people are bombarded by countless words and voices (in television, radio, printed page, etc.) and made innumerable offers, it is increasingly hard to hear the word about salvation and believe without some demonstration of power and reality. Is it really so? Is the message of an internal transformation valid? Does it actually happen? But when that message about invisible things is certified by visible demonstrations of the power of God, then credibility is vastly increased. The gospel truly must be, as is claimed, the power of God also unto salvation.