The Earnest of the Spirit

by A.E. Knoch

THE need for the possession of God's spirit has been felt from the earliest times. When Israel left the land of bondage they craved flesh to eat as they were wont to have in Egypt. Moses breaks down beneath their murmurings and cries to Jehovah in his distress. But Wisdom knew that flesh was not the need, but spirit. So Jehovah bids Moses gather seventy elders to receive the same spirit that rested on him. A cloud, the emblem of His spirit in those dim days, covers them. His spirit rests upon them. They prophesy.

A strange thing occurs. Jehovah said He would put His spirit on seventy. As it was, only sixty-eight are in the appointed place, standing near the tent of testimony. Two, whose names mean Affection and Affectionate-Deity (Medad and Eldad) are not there. They remained in the camp. Did the spirit pass them by? Such a breach as this in the regular ritual of the tabernacle would be an unpardonable transgression (Num. 11). But the spirit refuses the limitations of the flesh and ignores what it deems so important. Distance, and time, and place, so vital in physical affairs, are nothing to spirit. Eldad arid Medad are not left out, though they are not in the appointed place. They lift their voices in the camp, far from the tent, speaking Jehovah's word! What must their neighbors have thought! How dared they! What an awful thing to do! It must be stopped! A young man runs and tells Moses. Joshua chimes in: "My lord Moses, forbid them." But Moses answers: "Would that all Jehovah's people were prophets and that Jehovah would put His spirit upon them!"

So the seventy helped Moses bear the burden of the people by the spirit imparted to them by Jehovah. We need not more than make mention of Joshua, who by this spirit brought Israel into the land Jehovah promised them: of Othniel and Gideon and Saul and David, of Elijah and Elisha, and all the prophets who served Jehovah's people as His spirit gave them capacity. The Messiah fills up the measure of the spirit's power and accomplishes all His mighty work by its anointing. "I have put My spirit upon Him," said Jehovah (Isa.42:1). Even in that coming day of blessing for this earth the power behind material good will be Jehovah's spirit. The essence of that kingdom does not lie, as some supposed, in food and drink, but in the righteousness and peace and joy which His spirit imparts (Rom.14:17).


Is Moses' wish ever to come true and all Jehovah's people receive His spirit? Ezekiel foretells a day for his people when this will be fulfilled. "...a new spirit will I put within you" (Ezek.36:26). What new spirit is this? "I will put My spirit within you and make you walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them. And you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall become My people and I will become your God" (Ezek.36:27,28). Nothing less than the word of Jehovah will bring life to their dry bones. "Behold," says He, "I will cause spirit to enter into you, and you shall live" (Ezek. 37:5).

"Except anyone should be begotten of water and spirit he cannot be entering into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Isaiah bears a like testimony. The desolation shall continue "until spirit be poured out upon us from on high" (Isa.32:15). And again, "I will pour My spirit upon thy seed and My blessing upon thy issue" (Isa.44:3). Peter refers to this on the day of Pentecost: . . . and you shall be obtaining the gratuity of the holy spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all those afar, as many as ever the Lord our God should be calling" (Acts 2:39). Many of Jehovah's people, like "Affection" (Medad) in the camp of old are, physically, at a distance from the place of blessing. They are afar, scattered among the nations. They are not eligible to the physical enjoyments which the land will produce. But this cannot hinder a spiritual blessing, however it might interfere with their material welfare in Jehovah's day.

This spirit was not promised to the nations. Moses' wish went the great length, as he thought, of embracing all of Jehovah's people. God's promise, through Joel, goes further than this. It includes all flesh (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17). Not all flesh at all times, but all flesh after the nation of Israel receives this blessing and thus becomes the channel to convey it to the other nations. The Jews had no thought whatever that the spirit would be imparted to men of other nationalities before the time mentioned by Joel, after God has judged all nations in the valley of Jehoshaphat.


The greatest of all prophets born of woman was John the Baptist. He was filled with holy spirit even before his birth. In spiritual capacity he was fitted for and filled the place of Elijah. As that great prophet must come and restore all things, so he came to prepare the people for their Messiah. Elijah himself shall truly come, but the spiritual power he will exercise has already been present in Israel (Matt.11:11-14). But greater and higher than all is the One Whose very generation was by holy spirit. He is that life-imparting Spirit on Whom the fulfillment of the promise depends. As to His flesh He was David's Seed. As to His most holy spirit, He was God's Son (Rom.1:3,4). God, the Father of spirits (Heb.12:9), was His Father. But, while He was on earth, He did not fulfill the promise concerning the spirit. Ever and anon He referred to it, but deferred its fulfillment until His exaltation.


What was the hindrance? Strange words fell on their ears when He spoke of this and His departure. Sorrow filled their hearts at the thought of His leaving them. Yet He tells them: "It is expedient for you that I am coming away, for if I should not be coming away, the Consoler will not be coming to you. Now, if I should be gone, I shall be sending it to you" (John 16:7). While He was with them in the world He kept them and taught them and comforted them. He was their Paraclete or Consoler (John 17: 12). Lest His departure should bereaved them, He promises another consoler, which would remain with them. This spirit would be their teacher and keeper and consoler (John 14:16,26).

But why not have both Paracletes at the same time? Why wait until after His departure? Speaking of it once, He cried, "If anyone should be thirsting, let him come to Me and drink. He who is believing into Me, according as the scripture said, out of his bowel shall gush rivers of living water." Then we are informed that He said this concerning the spirit which those believing into Him were about to get. For holy spirit was not as yet given, seeing that Jesus was not as yet glorified (John 7:37-39). He was the only temple of the divine spirit during His humiliation (John 2:21). He alone could furnish a draught for the thirsty. But, wonderful to relate, the time was to come when those who believed into Him should become a channel for this living water, this life-imparting spirit. Let us embed this deeply in our hearts: The spirit was not given by the "lowly Jesus", but by the glorified Christ. The measure and plenitude of the gift of the spirit is gauged by the glory that He gets.

After His sufferings He returns to them in the subdued glory of the pre-ascension days, and gives the disciples holy spirit, with authority to forgive sins (John 20:22). Yet He bids them remain at Jerusalem for the fulfillment of the Father's promise, after He Himself has ascended into the heights of heavenly glory, from whence He would send the gift.

At Pentecost Peter proclaims the exaltation of Messiah, thus removing the hindrance to the free outflow of the spirit. He proclaims the conditions on which the spirit will be imparted. "Repent and be baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the pardon of your sins, and you shall be obtaining the gratuity of the holy spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all those afar, as many as ever the Lord our God should be calling. "This is not confined to the land. Like all the spirit's work, it is unhindered by place or distance. The sons of Israel who (like Medad and Eldad at a distance from the tabernacle) were scattered among the nations, were eligible to this spiritual blessing, as well as those in Jerusalem.

Israel knew, from Joel's prophecy, that after Jehovah's day set it, it would be extended to all flesh. Yet at this time they had no such thought, not even that it might include non-Jewish proselytes dwelling in the land. Indeed, until they once more rejected Christ in the stoning of Stephen, this blessing was confined to Israel's narrow pale and the city of Jerusalem. But after that, Philip proclaims Messiah to the Samaritans, and they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. But holy spirit did not fall on them. The kinship they claimed with Israel was based upon the flesh. The spirit repudiates the flesh and ignores its pretensions. The flesh cannot channel spiritual gifts. Only in answer to the apostles' prayers, and the laying on of hands, do they also receive the spirit (Acts 8:5,15-17).

How different is Cornelius' case! Physically, he is further removed than the Samaritans. In "fact, though he was a proselyte, a devout worshiper of Jehovah, the God of Israel, and dwelt in the land He gave them, he was loathed instead of loved, as Jehovah's laws commanded (Deut.10:19). Even Peter dreaded to enter his house or eat at his table, and his fellow saints were furious about it. Israel had forgotten Egypt and their bondage, so, instead of loving a stranger as themselves, they made him keep his distance.

God uses extraordinary means to induce Peter to go to Cornelius and proclaim that which was sent to the sons of Israel (Acts 10:36). But, having been convinced that God is not bound by the letter of their law, he is persuaded to go with Cornelius' messengers. His first words were not at all reassuring: "You are versed in the fact how illicit it is for a man who is a Jew to be joined to or approach another tribe...." (Acts 10:28). While Peter was still telling them what Jesus of Nazareth did by the power of holy spirit, and of the pardon of sins through His name, a marvelous thing occurred. Holy spirit fell on all the aliens who heard his word! And not only so, but they spoke languages and magnified God, even as the apostles themselves had done at Pentecost (Acts 10:44,46).

The Circumcision who were present were astonished. It was too late for baptism or prayer, or the laying on of hands, or any ceremony prior to the spirit's coming. The flesh had such a large place with them that God's gracious action seemed inexplicable. Since Cornelius and his household received the spirit, Peter is forced to join them by baptism to the cleansed company at, Jerusalem. Though he was chief of all the apostles, he had to answer for such a flagrant transgression as this! "You came in to uncircumcised men and ate with them! "It took much talking to stop the mouths of these believers.

Until this time the disciples, the repentant, the baptized, the proselytes, received this gift. But nowhere did He promised it to His enemies. If we read His word aright, they were to be utterly destroyed from among His people. The most malignant enemy Messiah ever had among mankind rose and wrought havoc among the ecclesias and destroyed His saints. In the very height of his rebellion Saul of Tarsus is stricken to the ground, blinded by the glorious brightness of Messiah's presence. Ananias (meaning whom Jehovah graciously gives) is sent to him to restore his sight and that he might be filled with holy spirit. He eventually becomes a prophet and a teacher at Antioch (Acts 11: 19-29; 13:1).

The first mission ever directed by holy spirit was that of Barnabas and Saul. Christ Himself, before His ascension, had sent out the twelve. This new ministry was not only distinct from theirs, but also from the previous service of Saul and Barnabas themselves. The holy spirit separated them. The holy spirit sent them forth. It is only as we see this that we realize the intensely spiritual character of the work they did.

The first extended account of this mission is concerned with their visit to another Antioch, in Pisidia (Acts 13:14-52). For the first time we hear of justification. For the first time we read that the law is superseded by faith. For the first time the nations are brought into the light and receive eonian life. After Barnabas and Paul are forced to leave, we find that the disciples are filled with joy and holy spirit. What stress is laid on the operation of the spirit in all this! They are sent by holy spirit. The blessings proclaimed are spiritual. The disciples are filled with holy spirit.

When the mission had been accomplished, and they had returned to Antioch, from whence they started, certain men came to Antioch from Judea, insisting on the necessity of physical circumcision for salvation. In the subsequent discussion the one point which outweighed all others, and which finally decided the matter against the Judaisers, was thus put by Peter: "God, the Knower of hearts, testifies to them, giving the holy spirit according as to us also, and does not discriminate at all between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:1,5,8,9). So it was acknowledged, even by their opponents, that believers among the nations received holy spirit by faith, when they believed, apart from repentance, baptism, or laying on of hands.

This seems to be a departure from the strict letter of the promise, for it contained no hint of spiritual blessings for the other nations until after the Lord had entered upon His earthly glories. Perhaps the reason is this: Though His glorious feet have not yet stood upon Mount Olivet nor touched a spot in Israel's land, He has come, in sun-dismaying splendor, outside that land, upon the distant Damascus road, leading to an activity (such is the meaning of the city's name), in harmony with such grace, for He claims the worship and fealty of His worst enemy.

The ministry of Saul (or rather Paul, his spiritual cognomen) is based upon and proceeds from this glorious sight. Just as John the Baptist anticipated Elijah, being endued with his spiritual capacity, so Paul anticipates the mission of Israel in the coming eon, by means of his enduement with the nation's spiritual power. Messiah cannot be present in person among His people in their land, nevertheless, in spirit, He now goes outside the land, where He never could have gone while still on earth. In spirit, He now walks up and down the land of aliens, who have no claim on Him in flesh.


The characteristic feature of Paul's itinerant ministry was that all received holy spirit on believing. Nothing but faith was required for the gift. It was by faith in order that it might accord with grace. Consequently, while it was not, strictly speaking, the promised gift (for it was so gracious that it came to them apart from any promise) it, is a gift with promise. It is a promissory gratuity. God does not give His spirit without, at the same time, pledging Himself to further favors. Hence it is called the holy spirit of promise (Eph.1:13).

An earnest is not only a pledge of future payment, but is a part of it. It is the same in character. All our blessings are spiritual, hence we are given the spirit as an earnest. This, of course, is temporary, pending the deliverance of all that has been procured for us. Our heavenly honors cannot be realized until the usurping powers of darkness, who now reign among the celestials, are cast out. Meanwhile, we have not only the promise in the Scriptures, but the pledge in our hearts. We have a small foretaste of our spiritual wealth the moment we believe.

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