Holy Spirit gifts, available today?
The question is often asked whether believers may be blessed
with these Pentecostal gifts today. Claims to have the gift of healing or of
speaking with tongues are often made (though, strangely enough, the other gifts
hardly ever seem to be claimed). What is the truth about this?
The Bible is a true guide, and all its evidence points to the
same conclusion -- that the gifts of the Spirit were intended by the Lord as
help for his church in its early years and only then; and having done their
work, the gifts were taken away.
The Early Church and its problems
Let it not be overlooked that some outstanding divine help for
those early preachers of the gospel was absolutely necessary. Think for a moment
of the difficulties and hindrances against which they had to struggle.
They no longer had their Lord with them to inspire and direct
personally the work he had set them to do. Nor were those preachers men of
outstanding influence or reputation, but -- with the exception of the apostle
Paul -- humble folk drawn from obscurity. Nor did they have the inspired wisdom
of the New Testament to direct their efforts, for in those early days that part
of the Bible was only just being written. There was no big influential body of
opinion to support their efforts and bring pressure to bear on people in high
places. Instead, at first, only scattered groups of new believers, without any
set pattern of church affairs to guide their way of life.
But, on the other hand, there was plenty of opposition from
suspicious Roman governors, and especially from a strong well-organised body of
clever and evil adversaries -- the Pharisees and the men of the temple. Swimming
against such a tide of opposition and difficulty, how could those early
disciples hope to make headway, unless the Lord equip them with the gifts of his
Spirit? Without such help how could they cope with a task that was otherwise too
much for them? As mentioned earlier, the circumstances were very special and
called for special men specially equipped for a great work. But once the
Christian gospel was well launched on its course and making good progress, the
need for the gifts was no longer there...
All the available Bible evidence supports this approach to the
problem of Holy Spirit gifts.
Given through the Apostles only
The account in Acts of how the Holy Spirit came to the
believers in Samaria (Acts 8) is very helpful on this question.
Philip, one of the early evangelists (but not the Philip who
was an apostle of the Lord) had a highly successful preaching mission to the
Samaritans. Hearing about this, the apostles in Jerusalem promptly sent Peter
and John to confirm the good work and also to impart gifts of the Holy Spirit by
laying hands (see last page) on the new converts.
It is useful to enquire here, why Philip did not do this
himself? He certainly had the Holy Spirit. Why didn't he impart the gifts to the
believers? Why was it needful for the Spirit to be given through Peter and John?
The only explanation that makes sense is that the Lord had left authority for
passing on the Spirit in the hands of His apostles only, and with no one
Special to the Apostles
This conclusion is confirmed by the story of Simon who saw big
opportunities of money-making and influence here. He came to the apostles
offering to pay them well if only they would give him the same power and
"Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the
apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, 'Give me also this power, that
any one on whom I lay my hands may received the Holy Spirit" (Acts
It was not the Holy Spirit which Simon was trying to buy, but
the power to pass on the Spirit's wonderful gifts to others. Clearly, he saw
this as a good business investment. But he had already seen miraculous signs
done by Philip (Acts 8:6,7). Then why hadn't he come to Philip with his
commercial proposition? The only reasonable answer is this: he recognized that
only the twelve apostles, and later, Paul, had been given power and authority to
impart the Spirit to others.
Two Generations Only
It follows from this, that when the Twelve passed off the
scene, there would be no one left to give the marvellous powers of the Spirit to
others. The generation after the apostles would be the last to know the presence
of such gifts in the church. They were bound to die out.
The witness of writers in the early church confirms this
conclusion. In the first two or three generations of believers the memory
continued of the remarkable powers which the Spirit imparted, and then no
Gifts Passing Away
This is the witness of the apostle Paul also. In 1Co 13, only
a few verses after his long chapter about the Holy Spirit's gifts of healing,
knowledge, tongues, and so on, he declared plainly:
"As for prophecy, it will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for
knowledge it will pass away" (1Co
The pronouncement of this inspired apostle is surely decisive.
The superhuman gifts of the Spirit were given to the church only for a time,
until new believers were firm in the faith and a good sound pattern of Christian
belief and living had been established. Today the completed Bible is all that is
needed for that purpose. [As already mentioned, in the days of the apostles the
New Testament was only gradually coming into existence. When the apostles died,
few churches would have copies of a complete New Testament.]
Outpouring of the Spirit
The heading just above -- "Given through the Apostles only" --
was intended to indicate that no other men besides the apostles had this power
But there was, of course, another way of receiving the Spirit
-- by direct outpouring from heaven. This was most exceptional. Only four
examples are mentioned:
It follows that today those who claim to have received the
Spirit's gifts should have received them either by direct outpouring from
heaven, or by laying on of the apostles' hands.
- Our Lord, at his baptism (Mat 3:16).
- Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
assembly of thankful brethren (Acts 4:31).
- The household of Gentile
Cornelius (Acts 10:44).
The first of these was exceptional, even in New Testament
times; and the second is no longer possible.
For those who today say they have this power, there is a
problem here. How do they claim to have received the Spirit?
It is worth noting that on all earlier occasions when God
poured out his Spirit upon men, it was only for a while, and for a special
purpose. Moses had seventy Spirit-blessed elders of Israel to aid his work (Num
11:24-30), but not so Joshua who succeeded him. Saul, anointed by Samuel,
prophesied (1Sa 10:9-13), but later that Spirit was replaced by an evil spirit
(1Sa 16:14). During his ministry, the Lord Jesus gave the Spirit's powers to the
Twelve when he sent them out preaching (Mark 6:7,13), but some time later nine
of them were unable to cure a boy who suffered from fits (Mark
In the Last Days
The claim, sometimes made, that the Bible promises a revival
of Holy Spirit powers in the last days, is correct, but the Scripture verses are
often wrongly used, and nearly always misapplied.
"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all
flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream
dreams, and your young men shall see visions" (Joel
The apostle Peter quoted these words at Pentecost (Acts 2:17),
and applied them to Jews in Jerusalem in his time. If, as seems likely, there is
to be a further fulfilment of these words, it can be expected to begin in
Jerusalem as a blessing upon believing Jews, since the Joel passage specially
mentions Mount Zion in Jerusalem (v 32); and then spread to believing Gentiles
after the pattern of the bestowal of Spirit gifts in the first century. This
scripture would therefore throw considerable doubt on the claims of modern
charismatic movements whose beginnings are claimed to be everywhere except Mount
Zion in Jerusalem.