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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Purpose, Part 2

 

The second part of chapter four from Professor Williams’ book, The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today, about the greatest reality of our time.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Purpose (Chapter 4, Part 1)

Chapter Four Continued: Purpose, Part 2

Let us now move on to note how the gift of the Holy Spirit enables the performance of mighty works. The witness to Christ is not only that of word but also deed. There is, as we have observed, the powerful word of testimony to Christ whereby persons become vehicles for the transformation of human life, and prophetic utterance may go forth with great directness and forcefulness. But the witness is likewise that of deed wherein mighty works in the name of Christ are also performed.

It is apparent that not only did the early disciples speak about Jesus but also they did extraordinary things. The first mention of this follows upon the narration about Pentecost where the text reads: “And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43). The fact of the multiplicity of extraordinary things—“many”—is first to be noted; second, their description as “wonders” and “signs” suggest their character both as miracles and pointers;30 and third, these many wonders and signs are done “through” the apostles, the apostles being channels, and not agents, of their occurrence. The whole atmosphere is charged with awe—“fear upon every soul”—as the exalted Lord does His work through them.

It should be quickly added that signs and wonders are done not only through the apostles but also through other disciples. On a later occasion Peter and John, after being threatened to speak no more about Jesus, return to their own people who pray for a common courage: “grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30). As we have already noted, in reference to boldness, the immediate result following upon the shaking of the place is that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.” Doubtless, the implication is not only that the prayer of the company for bold­ness of speech is answered for all, but also that they are all granted the performance of signs and wonders through the name of Jesus.

Further to examine the above matter: though it is said more than once that the apostles did wonders and signs,31 it is appar­ent that others such as Stephen the martyr and Philip the evan­gelist did likewise. “And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). “And the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did” (8:6). “Even Simon [the magician] himself believed, and after being baptized, he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles32 performed, he was amazed” (8:13). In addition, ac­cording to Mark 16:17, Jesus said: “And these signs will accom­pany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Similarly, “And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it” (Mark 16:20).33 Signs and wonders—extraordinary, miraculous deeds—are the practice of the whole Christian com­munity.

It is abundantly clear that the performance of mighty works—signs, wonders, miracles—belongs to the gospel proclamation. The early Christians testify and perform signs and wonders. The proclamation is powerful word and miraculous deed, both by the Holy Spirit, that bear witness to the gospel. The deed is the confirmation of the word—the visible assurance of the mes­sage of salvation. The greatest wonder of all is that of new life, new birth wrought by the word, but this is invisible; hence, when a visible sign accompanies the word there is undeniable attestation to the actuality of what has been inwardly wrought by the message of salvation.

Thus it is a serious error indeed to relegate miracles to the past. It is pathetic to hear among those who vigorously affirm the message of salvation—the necessity of regeneration—that “signs and wonders” are not to be expected any longer. If through the proclamation of the word in the power of the Spirit the miracle of rebirth can and does occur, will not that same Spirit also work other “signs and wonders”? For, surely, other miracles—no matter how extraordinary34—are less significant than the miracle of new life and salvation.

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2003

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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