The seventh chapter from Professor Williams’ book, The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today, about the greatest reality of our time.
Chapter Seven: Context
The matter before us next is that of the context in which the Holy Spirit is given. Already we have emphasized that the gift of the Holy Spirit comes to those who believe in Jesus Christ; thus faith is the only requirement. Hence we are not now speaking of additional requirements, but of the context or situation in which the gift is received. We have earlier seen that the gift of the Holy Spirit frequently occurs along the way of faith. Now we note the context, even atmosphere, wherein this takes place.
The primary thing that must be stressed is God’s sovereign disposition. The divine context of God’s will and intention is altogether basic. From within the pattern of God’s purpose, whereby He works all things according to the counsel of His will, God gives His Holy Spirit. Thus whatever may be and must be said on the human side about the situation, context, and atmosphere is altogether secondary to God’s sovereign action. In this sense, God gives when He wills, not according to the human condition but according to His overall design and purpose. Hence, there is a continuing mystery and, humanly speaking, unpredictability about the giving of the Holy Spirit.
This was surely true of the first Pentecost in Jerusalem. God had long purposed (and promised) the outpouring of His Spirit, and when the divinely planned time had arrived, the Holy Spirit was given. The opening words of Acts 2:1 suggest this: “When the day of Pentecost had come,” or, better, “had been fulfilled.”1 So when the day was fulfilled, the Holy Spirit was given. This was God’s timetable—not man’s. It had basically to do with God’s overarching plan in salvation history. It was an event of “the last days” (Acts 2:17) according to the divine promise.
Likewise, it is important to emphasize that the movements of the Holy Spirit throughout history to the present day are grounded in the sovereign purpose of God.2 The fact that in our present times there has been a crescendo of the Spirit’s outpouring, and that the movement has now become worldwide, points basically to the divine intention. God is doing it again—and with such a universality (“upon all flesh”) that we may surmise that “the last days” are being fulfilled, and history is reaching its consummation. However that may be, the critical point to score is the divine sovereignty.
All of this needs first to be emphasized—the divine context—lest we too quickly come to the human situation. Primarily it is not a matter of our human concern but God’s concern. Like the original disciples who participated in the coming of God’s Spirit because it was God’s time, so do we participate in our own day. We are privileged to be alive in what may be the climactic outpouring of the Spirit at the end of the age. Our concern is not unimportant, even our readiness to participate in what God is doing, but the basic matter again is God’s sovereign purpose.3
Further, since it is a matter of the gift of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing man can do to earn it. By definition a gift is freely bestowed: it cannot be worked for or bought. It would be a serious mistake to think that while forgiveness is by grace, the gift of the Holy Spirit is by works. Here Paul’s rhetorical questions are most apropos: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? … Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:2, 5). On the matter of being bought, the words of Peter to Simon the magician—who offered money for the power to confer the Holy Spirit—are vividly relevant: “Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (Acts 8:20). The gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be earned no matter how great the effort, nor can it be purchased no matter how large the amount.