The third chapter from Professor Williams’ book, The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today, about the greatest reality of our time.
Chapter Three: Response
The human response to the giving of the Holy Spirit is essentially the praise of God. When human existence—individually and in community—is bathed with the divine presence, there is only one truly significant response, namely, the glorifying of God. God has acted through Jesus Christ to pour out His Spirit, and so marvelous is its occurrence that nothing else can capture it but the high praise of God. So does the praise of God ring forth—praise for His mighty deeds in creation, redemption and sending His Holy Spirit. It is the extolling of God that springs from the lips and hearts of those who are acclaiming Jesus as Lord.
This praise that is rendered is not to an absentee God but to one who is present in the midst of His people. The fullness of His grace in Jesus Christ has been experienced, and now His glory is being shed abroad in the Holy Spirit. There is a deep sense of the goodness of the Father, the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the dynamism of the Holy Spirit.
The whole focus of this praise is God. It is not a glorying in the self—as if perchance one had suddenly become an extraordinary person by virtue of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not a glorying by people who look at themselves as spiritually superior to others because of what they have received. Far from it: the direction is totally away from human existence as all things are lifted up to the praise and blessing of God.
Something like what we have been describing took place originally in Jerusalem at Pentecost. For when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit they all began to praise God. This is apparent from the words of Acts 2:11 which record the multitude saying: “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty [wonderful, magnificent]1 works of God.” We are not told for what “mighty works” they praised God; but it is not hard to imagine that, having so recently lived through the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, they were praising Him, among other things, for having performed the mighty work of redemption. Also He had just now fulfilled the promise to pour forth the Holy Spirit. How much they had to praise God for!
Again, something of the same thing happened years later in Caesarea: another occasion of the glorifying of God. This time it was the Gentiles upon whom the Holy Spirit came, and others (Peter and his fellow Jews) “heard them speaking in tongues and extolling [magnifying]2 (Acts 10:46).
We should also note the connection between being filled with the Spirit and praise in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul writes: “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Ephesians 5:18-19). As a result of being filled with God’s Spirit, psalms, hymns, spiritual songs break forth—the heart is filled with melody, rejoicing in the Lord. Thus is praise offered up in manifold ways to Him who has given His blessed Spirit.
Let us reflect for a moment upon the praise of God in the worship of the church. In all true worship there is a desire to offer up worthy praise and adoration to Almighty God. And according to the intensity of the sense of the Lord’s presence, there is yearning to find further ways of showing forth this praise. Ordinary language may seem to be inadequate, and perhaps some language of the past (Greek or Latin, for example) will be used in the desire for more worthy expression. There may be the use of praise language such as “Hallelujah!” or “Hosanna!” often repeated to voice an intensity of adoration. Or in the sensing of the wonder of God’s grace, there may even be yearning for multiple tongues3 as a means of declaring what is being deeply experienced. Such ways are examples that bespeak a growing concern to get beyond ordinary speech into another, or higher, mode of worshiping God.
Here, of course, is where music occupies an important role. By moving into lyrical modes of expression, by adding melody to words, there may well be more satisfying worship of heart and soul. Thus human utterance is caught up to higher levels by the singing forth of God’s praises. Yet music, even as ordinary speech, is ever seeking among ardent worshipers of God to find ways to reach still more sublime heights.
Now we come to the recognition in the books of Acts of the close connection between praise and tongues. As we have noted, the Gentiles at Caesarea were heard to be “speaking in tongues and extolling God.” In Jerusalem the Jews on the day of Pentecost were heard to be speaking in other tongues than their own, and the speech served one purpose: the praise of God. From the Pentecost narrative it is apparent that tongues are not ordinary speech, but represent the worship of God in a speech that is other than one’s own native language. Hence, speaking in tongues might be called transcendent praise: praise that goes beyond ordinary capacity and experience.
We may better understand this by focusing upon the situation of high spiritual intensity resulting from the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. The sense of God’s abundant presence evokes a breaking forth in praise expressive of the occasion. Ordinary language, even music, may be inadequate to declare the wonder of God’s gift. This is not to deny or discount the various modes of human expression with all their possibilities to rise to greater heights. However, there may be a speech or language more suitable to the experience of the richness of God’s spiritual gift. Humanly speaking, this is impossible, but—and herein is marvel—God through His Spirit may go beyond what has been uttered or sung before and bring forth a new language!4