Master Sermon List
God Advances His Work By Outpourings Of His Spirit
by A. W. Tozer
"Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till He come and rain righteousness upon you." Hosea 10:12
Here are two kinds of ground: fallow ground and ground that has been broken up by the plow.
The fallow field is smug, contented, protected from the shock of the plow and the agitation of the harrow. Such a field, as it lies year after year, becomes a familiar landmark to the crow and the blue jay. Had it intelligence, it might take a lot of satisfaction in its reputation: it has stability; nature has adopted it; it can be counted upon to remain always the same while the fields around it change from brown to green and back to brown again. Safe and undisturbed it sprawls lazily in the sunshine, the picture of sleepy contentment.
But it is paying a terrible price for its tranquility: never does it see the miracle of growth; never does it feel the motions of mounting life nor see the wonders of bursting seed nor the beauty of ripening grain. Fruit it can never know because it is afraid of the plow and the harrow.
In direct opposite to this, the cultivated field has yielded itself to the adventure of living. The protecting fence has opened to admit the plow, and the plow has come as plows always come, practical, cruel, business-like and in a hurry. Peace has been shattered by the shouting farmer and the rattle of machinery. The field has felt the travail of change; it has been upset, turned over, bruised and broken.
But its rewards come hard upon its labors. The seed shoots up into the daylight its miracle of life, curious, exploring the new world above it. All over the field the hand of God is at work in the age-old and ever renewed service of creation. New things are born, to grow, mature, and consummate the grand prophecy latent in the seed when it entered the ground. Nature's wonders follow the plow.
There are two kinds of lives also: the fallow and the plowed. For example of the fallow life we need not go far. They are all to plentiful among us.
The man of fallow life is contented with himself and the fruit he once bore. He does not want to be disturbed. He smiles in tolerant superiority at revivals, fastings, self-searching, and all the travail of fruit bearing and the anguish of advance. The spirit of adventure is dead within him. He is steady, "faithful," always in his accustomed place (like the old field), conservative, and something of a landmark in the little church. But he is fruitless.
The curse of such a life is that it is fixed, both in size and in content. To be has taken the place of to become. The worst that can be said of such a man is that he is what he will be. He has fenced himself in, and by the same act he has fenced out God and the miracle.
Broken To Bring Forth Fruit
The plowed life is the life that has, in the act of repentance, thrown down the protecting fences and sent the plow of confession into the soul. The urge of the Spirit, the pressure of circumstances and the distress of fruitless living have combined thoroughly to humble the heart. Such a life has put away defense, and has forsaken the safety of death for the peril of life.
Discontent, yearning, contrition, courageous obedience to the will of God: these have bruised and broken the soil till it is ready again for the seed. And as always, fruit follows the plow. Life and growth begin as God "rains down righteousness." Such a one can testify, "And the hand of the Lord was upon me there" (Ezek. 3:22).
Corresponding to these two kinds of life, religious history shows two phases, the dynamic and the static. The dynamic periods were those heroic times when God's people stirred themselves to do the Lord's bidding and went out fearlessly to carry His witness to the world. They exchanged the safety of inaction for the hazards of God-inspired progress. Invariably the power of God followed such action. The miracle of God went when and where His people went. It stayed when His people stopped.
The static periods were those times when the people of God tired of the struggle and sought a life of peace and security. They busied themselves trying to conserve the gains made in those more daring times when the power of God moved among them.
Bible history is replete with examples. Abraham "went out" on his great adventure of faith, and God went with him. Revelations, theophanies, the gift of Palestine, covenants and promises of rich blessings to come were the result . Then Israel went down into Egypt, and the wonders ceased for four hundred years. At the end of that time Moses heard the call of God and stepped forth to challenge the oppressor. A whirlwind of power accompanied that challenge, and Israel soon began to march. As long as she dared to march God sent our His miracles to clear the way for her. Whenever she lay down like a fallow field He turned off His blessing and waited for her to rise again and command His power.
This is a brief but fair outline of the history of Israel and of the Church as well. As long as they "went forth and preached every where," the Lord worked "with them... confirming the word with signs following" (Mark 16:20). But when they retreated to monasteries or played at building pretty cathedrals, the help of God was withdrawn till a Luther or a Wesley arose to challenge hell again. Then invariably God poured out His power as before.
In every denomination, missionary society, local church or individual Christian, this law operates. God works as long as His people live daringly: He ceases when they no longer need His aid. As soon as we seek protection out of God, we find it to our own undoing. Let us build a safety-wall of endowments, by-laws, prestige, multiplied agencies for the delegation of our duties, and creeping paralysis sets in at once, a paralysis which can only end in death.
Miracles Follow The Plow
The power of God comes only where it is called out by the plow. It is released into the Church only when she is doing something that demands it. By the word "doing" I do not mean mere activity. The Church has plenty of "hustle" as it is, but in all her activities she is very careful to leave her fallow ground mostly untouched. She is careful to confine her hustling within the fear-marked boundaries of complete safely. That is why she is fruitless; she is safe, but fallow.
Look around today and see where the miracles of power are taking place. Never in the seminary where each thought is prepared for the student, to be received painlessly and at second hand; never in the religious institution where tradition and habit have long ago made faith unnecessary; never in the old church where memorial tablets plastered over the furniture bear silent testimony to a glory that once was. Invariably where daring faith is struggling to advance against hopeless odds, there is God sending "help from the sanctuary."
In the missionary society with which I have for many years been associated I have noticed that the power of God has always hovered over our frontiers. Miracles have accompanied our advances and have ceased when and where we allowed ourselves to become satisfied and ceased to advance. The creed of power can not save a movement from barrenness. There must be also the work of power.
But I am more concerned with the effect of this truth upon the local church and the individual. Look at that church where plentiful fruit was once the regular and expected thing, but now there is little or no fruit, and the power of God seems to be in abeyance. What is the trouble? God has not changed, nor had His purpose for that church changed in the slightest measure. No, the church itself has changed.
A little self-examination will reveal that it and its members have become fallow. It has lived through its early travails and has now come to accept an easier way of life. It is content to carry on its painless program with enough money to pay its bills and a membership large enough to assure its future.
Its members now look to it for security rather than for guidance in the battle between good and evil. It has become a school instead of a barracks. Its members are students, not soldiers. They study the experiences of others instead of seeking new experiences of their own.
The only way to power for such a church is to come out of hiding and once more take the danger-encircled path of obedience. Its security is its deadliest foe. The church that fears the plow writes its own epitaph. The church that uses the plow walks in the way of revival.
Power In Action
If we are to advance we must have power. Since "power" is a word of many uses and misuses, let me explain what I mean by it.
I mean that effective energy which God has, both in Biblical and in post-Biblical times, released into the Church and into the circumstances surrounding her, which made her fruitful in labor and invincible before her foes. Miracles? Yes. Answers to prayer? Special providence? All of these, and more.
It is summed up in the words of the Gospel of Mark: "And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following" (Mark 16:20). The whole book of Acts and the noblest chapters of Church history since New Testament times are but an extension of that verse.
By power I mean that divine afflatus which moves the heart and persuades the hearer to repent and believe in Christ. It is not eloquence. It is not logic. It is not argument. It is not any of these things, though it may accompany any or all of them.
It is more penetrating than thought, more disconcerting than conscience, more convincing than reason. It is the subtle wonder that follows anointed preaching, a mysterious operation of spirit on spirit.
Such words as those in the second chapter of Hebrews stand as a rebuke to the unbelieving Christians of our day: "God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will" (Hebrews 2:4).
Unhandicapped By Doctrinal Prejudices
A disinterested observer, reading without the handicap of doctrinal prejudice, would surely gather from the Scriptures that God desires to advance His work among men by frequent outpourings of the Spirit upon His people, as they need them, and are prepared to receive them.
We make this statement with the full knowledge that it will be hotly challenged by some teachers. "It is not scriptural, " they say, "to pray for or expect an outpouring of the Spirit today. The Spirit was poured out once for all at Pentecost and has not left the Church since that time. To pray for the Holy Spirit now is to ignore the historical fact of Pentecost."
That is the argument used to discourage expectation, and it has been successful in damping down the fervor of many congregations, and silencing their prayers. There is a specious logic about this objection, even an air of superior orthodoxy; but for all that, it is contrary to the Word of God and our of harmony with the operations of God in Church history.
Filled with The Spirit - And Refilled
The Bible does not sponsor this chilling doctrine of once-for-all blessing. Rather, it encourages us to expect "showers of blessing" and "floods upon the dry ground" (Isa. 44:3). The Spirit must fill not only that first company of "about an hundred and twenty," but others as well, or the blessings of that experience would cease with the death of the last member of the original band.
All this seems reasonable enough, but we have a more sure word of Scripture: come time after Pentecost a company of believers met to pray for strength and power to meet the emergency then facing them, and to enlist the help of God on their behalf.
"And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spoke the Word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31).
Some of these were of the original number filled at Pentecost. It is hardly conceivable that God acted contrary to His own will in filling them again after Pentecost. Still other outpourings are recorded in Acts 8, 10, and 19. All these occurred some years after the original act.
Dispensation Of The Holy Spirit
In brief, the teaching of the New Testament is that the outpouring at Pentecost was the historic beginning of an era which was to be characterized by a continuous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Through the prophet Joel, God had promised that He would, in the last days, pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. That God's promise of poured-out power is meant for the Church for the whole time of her earthly warfare is confirmed to us by the recorded experiences of 1900 years.
Powerful movings called "reformation," rushes of missionary activity, sudden breakings out of revival flame over communities and nations, have been the sign of the fire to indicate the goings forth of God. In these days in which we live there are evidences that God is still pouring out His Spirit upon men. These mighty works can be explained only as new chapters in God's unfinished Book - the Acts of the Holy Ghost.
Now if God wills to pour our His Spirit upon us, why do not more Christians and more churches receive an experience of power like that of the early Church? That some have so received is joyfully admitted, but why is the number so few? When the provision is so broad and the promise so sure, what doth hinder us?
One obstacle to the reception of power is a wide-spread fear of our emotions wherever they touch the religious life. This has gone so far that it has become a phobia with many serious-minded people. Men who should know better will kneel for an hour beside a seeker, all the time warning him against his emotions as against the devil himself.
Bible teachers declaim against feelings till we are ashamed to admit that we ever entertained anything so depraved. Feeling and faith are opposed to each other in modern teaching, and the listener is given to understand that any exhibition of emotion is indelicate, if not carnal, and should be avoided at any cost.
This anti-emotionalism, though it is sponsored by some good people and travels in pretty orthodox company, is nevertheless an unwarranted inference, not a Scriptural doctrine.
Where in the Bible are feeling and faith said to be at odds? The fact is that faith engenders feeling as certainly as life engenders motion. We can have feeling without faith, it is true, but we can never have faith, without feeling. Faith as a cold unemotional light is wholly unknown in Scriptures.
The faith of those bible heroes listed in the Book of Hebrews invariably aroused emotion and led to positive action in the direction of their faith. A statement, a promise, a warning always produced a corresponding excitation of feeling in the heart of the believer.
Noah was "moved with fear," Abraham "rejoiced" and "obeyed." The Book of Acts is almost hilarious with joy. Perhaps the best summary of the whole matter is made by Paul when writing to the Romans, "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Romans 14:17). And Peter says, "Believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8).
Another hindrance is fear of fanaticism. Instinctive revulsion from fleshly excesses and foolish, undisciplined conduct on the part of some who profess lofty spiritual attainments have closed the door to a live of power for many of God's true children.
Such victims must be taught that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, and is as gracious and beautiful as the Savior Himself. Paul's words should be kept in mind:
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). The Holy spirit is the cure for fanaticism, not the cause of it.
Another thing that greatly hinders God's people is a hardness of heart caused by hearing men, without the Holy Spirit, constantly preaching about the Spirit. There is no doctrine so chilling as the doctrine of the Spirit when held in cold passivity and personal unbelief. The hearers will turn away in dull apathy from an exhortation to be filled with the Spirit unless the Spirit Himself is giving the exhortation through the speaker!
The hearers sense the lack and go away with numbed hearts. Theirs is not opposition to the truth, but an unconscious reaction from unreality.
Then I would mention another thing which clearly hinders believers from knowing the power of the Holy Spirit: it is the habit of instructing seekers to "take it by faith" when they become concerned with their need of the power of the Spirit.
It is a fact written all over the New Testament that the benefits of atonement are to be received by faith. This is a basic in redemptive theology, and any departure from it is fatal to true Christian experience. Paul teaches emphatically that the Spirit is received through faith, and rebukes anyone who would teach otherwise. So it would seem, on the surface of it, to be sound procedure to instruct a seeker to "take it by faith." But there is something wrong somewhere.
One is forced to wonder whether the words "by faith," mean the same thing when used by modern teachers as they did when used by Paul.
A sharp contrast is observable between Spirit-filled Christians of Paul's time and many who claim to be filled with the Spirit today. Paul's converts received the Spirit by faith to be sure, but they actually received Him! Thousands now go through the motion of taking Him by faith, but show by their continual feebleness that they do not know Him in real power!
Faith-Living And Flaming
The trouble seems to be with our conception of faith. Faith, as Paul saw it, was a living, flaming thing, leading to surrender, and obedience to the commandments of Christ. Faith in our day often means no more than a mental assent to a doctrine.
Many persons, convinced of their need of power, but unwilling to go through the painful struggle of death to the old life, turn with relief to this "take it by faith" doctrine as a way out of their difficulty. It saved their face - and enables them to march along with the true Israel.
But it is they who constitute the "mixed multitude" which slows down the progress of the Church and causes most of the trouble when things get tight. And unless they see it differently and decide to go through the hard way, they are fated to spend the rest of their powerless lives in secret disappointment.
Let it be remembered that no one ever received the Holy Spirit's power without knowing it. He always announces Himself to the inner consciousness. God will pour out His Spirit upon us in answer to simple faith, but real faith will be accompanied by deep poverty of spirit and mighty heart yearnings, and will express itself in strong crying and tears.