LAYING STRESS ON THE LIFE-GIVING SPIRIT
I believe the brothers and sisters understand that this is very different from the concept of most believers. Now you know that the Spirit in the New Testament Epistles is the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. I hope you will remember that the Spirit of Jesus is in Acts 16:7, the Spirit of Christ is in Romans 8:9, and the Spirit of Jesus Christ is in Philippians 1:19. Today the Spirit of God is not merely the Spirit of God but also the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. More than twenty of the epistles, including the epistles in Revelation, speak about this Spirit. The problems in the church today are due to the fact that we do not have adequate knowledge of this Spirit, and the weakness in the church is also due to this inadequacy.
Ever since the time of Martin Luther, God has recovered many items in the church, but the recovery concerning the knowledge and experience of this Spirit is still insufficient. When the Brethren were raised up by God in 1828, they mostly emphasized the recovery of God’s Word. They indeed had a considerable amount of the recovery of God’s Word, but they greatly neglected the Spirit. Hence, their spiritual condition was dead. The Bible says that the letter deadens and kills. This word is indeed true.
Recently while visiting several local churches, we noticed that a certain locality is putting much emphasis on studying the Bible. There are several Bible-study meetings during the week, but there is not one prayer meeting. Please do not blame me for daring to say conclusively that if a church only studies the Bible, reads the Scriptures, and reads spiritual books, then the more it reads and studies, the more it will become dead. There is no exception to this. I cannot say that this is evident in the history of two thousand years, but I can say that it is clearly proven in the history of the five hundred years since the time of Luther’s Reformation. Any church that overemphasizes the reading of the Word, the studying of the Bible, and the researching of spiritual truths always ends in death.
Oh, brothers and sisters, the Lord’s words must be the Spirit to be life! How can the words become the Spirit? The only way is by prayer. You must turn into prayer the words that you have read. You must pray. We would rather have two prayer meetings and one Bible-study meeting weekly. Our lack today is not in words but in the Spirit. We are not weak in words. Rather, we are too weak in our spirit; our spirit is not released. It is true that the truths can make you steady. Without the Spirit, however, this steadiness will become dullness, and dullness eventually becomes death. Therefore, we must have the Spirit. Brothers, I repeat, any place that pays attention only to truths, doctrines, and knowledge will end up in death. There are too many examples of this, and there is no exception to this. Many are in their mind caring for knowledge without any stirring in their spirit. Brothers and sisters, where are we today? Are we in the Old Testament, in the Gospels, or on the bridge of the Acts? Or have we crossed the bridge and arrived at the Epistles? What good is it to merely emphasize the accuracy and profoundness of doctrines? Vitality is in the Spirit, not in doctrines.
Thank the Lord that He recovered many doctrines through the Brethren. Eventually, however, the Brethren became dead due to their leaning heavily on doctrines. At that very time, which was around the middle of the nineteenth century, a reaction arose, which was the Pentecostal movement. The Pentecostal people are indeed living, but they are on the wrong way. Instead of touching the Spirit in the Epistles, they touch the Spirit in Acts, and not only so, the way they take is not proper. I do not dare to say that their activities are one hundred percent false, but I dare say that over ninety percent of them are false. Only one out of one hundred cases of tongue-speakings is true. Nevertheless, in Christianity, because the Brethren were dead in their doctrines and the denominations were empty in their rituals, the Pentecostal movement conveniently came in to fill the void.
Dear brothers and sisters, nothing can stop the Pentecostal movement as a counterfeit except the life-giving Spirit. In the Bible, Romans is a book on the Christian life, living, and service. In this book, which is an outline of the truth, is speaking in tongues mentioned anywhere? Ephesians is a book exclusively on the church, but is speaking in tongues mentioned anywhere? Speaking in tongues is not mentioned at all in Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Peter, and even to the end of Revelation. Then you may ask, “Is speaking in tongues not mentioned in 1 Corinthians?” Yes, but it is mentioned in a way of pouring cold water on it and not in a way of encouragement. What did Paul say? He seemed to be saying, “You do not lack in any gift. You have speaking in tongues, interpreting of tongues, and healing, yet you are fleshly, and you are infants in Christ. When I came to you, I did not determine to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and this One crucified. When did I direct your attention to the gifts? I have directed your attention only to the Lord Jesus and this One crucified. Only Christ is God’s wisdom and God’s power.” Paul did not say that the outward gifts were wrong. Rather, he wanted the Corinthian believers to turn from the outward gifts to the inner life. Therefore, following this, 2 Corinthians shows us that the apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh for which he entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from him. Nevertheless, the Lord seemed to say, “No, I will not remove the thorn because I want you to experience Me as the sufficient grace. In the early days when you preached the gospel, I used you to heal diseases and cast out demons to prove that I am the mighty and true Lord. Even your handkerchief could heal diseases. Nevertheless, I will not remove the thorn that has come to you. I want you to turn from the outward gifts to the inward life.” This is why 2 Corinthians speaks a great deal about sufferings, afflictions, the outer man’s being consumed, and the inner man’s being renewed day by day.
Dear brothers and sisters, in the Epistles God wants us to leave the outward gifts and turn to the inner life, which is the life-giving Spirit. Every one of us must see this. Because the church fell into a situation of empty rituals and empty doctrines of letters, the Pentecostal movement appeared. Pentecostalism conveniently fills the void left by rituals and doctrines, both of which are empty. But history tells us that in the last one hundred years the Pentecostal movement did not accomplish anything. Those of us who are from the northern part of China know that the Pentecostal movement was very prevailing for a period of time there, but it did not accomplish anything. On the contrary, what it left behind was a mess, and everything was in confusion. It did not leave a proper way for people to take or a proper testimony for people to see. Anything that is genuine will last, while anything that is false will be short-lived. This is true not only of China, but it is also true of England. Where are the Pentecostal churches in England today? You cannot find any. If you go to America, the Pentecostal movement there is also a mess. There are false things, fabricated things, and confusion.
Brothers and sisters, do not think that I am here attacking anything. May the Lord be merciful to us. I simply have a burden within me to show the children of God the right path. The right path lies with the life-giving Spirit. Even if the outward outpouring of the Holy Spirit is genuine, it is at most merely to meet a one-time need, but I am not convinced that there is such a need in today’s church. I repeat, the subject of the Epistles from the first one to the last is the life-giving Spirit. Therefore, our present need is to know and experience Him. In the past ages God has recovered considerably His Word and the outward Spirit. I believe that today He is recovering in great measure the inward Spirit.
(The Spirit in the Epistles, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)