“The real cause of the loss [of the gifts of the Holy Spirit] was that the love of many, almost all the so-called Christians, had grown cold.”
One of the chief arguments I hear against the continuance of modern day gifts of the Holy Spirit goes something like this: “if they are real today, why don’t we ever see them?” I fear that the underlying presupposition of this question assumes that if the gifts did exist, we in America would certainly possess and see them because we are so enlightened. And I fear even more that the question then exposes the littleness of our faith when we proceed to dismiss firsthand accounts of the gifts that are happening elsewhere (even sometimes in the States). But, all this aside, I do believe this question merits a sincere answer.
RARITY DOES NOT MEAN EXTINCT
Please understand that I’m using the language I hear most commonly used toward this subject; not because I agree with it, but because it is widely used. Words like “extinct” should not be used in relationship to any work of God, including His gifts (think of the ramifications if the gifts of God could really become “extinct”?) It always gives me a slight chuckle when I hear people say “the gifts ceased when the apostles died out” as if they were talking about Dinosaurs or something.
However flawed our language may be, the “rarity” of God’s gifts do not equate with them “being extinct” or “ceasing”; in fact, I would suggest it reveals more about the state of our heart and life towards God than anything else.
In Samuel’s day, prophetic words and visions were very rare (1 Samuel 3:1), yet, they did not assume that God had ceased speaking appointing prophets. And they certainly could have made that assumption by all human logic, the same logic we often use, seeing as how Moses had already given the law and confirmed it many times.
But when we look at the situation we see a priesthood that was out of order. Eli was old, and his sons very corrupt. The people had become dull!
We see the same thing throughout Church history; long periods of dullness followed by periods of great revival and awakening.
RARITY OF LOVE
John Wesley wrote the above referenced statement in regards to his own time. Previously the gifts of the Holy Spirit had been considered “ceased”, yet, the Methodist movement experienced a number of miraculous occurrences.
His contemporaries had the same fundamental attitude as we often do: if the gifts do still exist, why don’t I see or have them?
Rarely do we ever say a sincere heart, “God! Show me my error that I might repent!”
But Wesley’s answer deserves careful consideration: he wrote that the gifts of the Holy Spirit had only ceased because the love of so many Christians had grown so cold. Wesley’s observation here possesses what I believe so many similar revivalist answers lack: heart. Namely, many revivalist’s may preach a form of holiness that is dependent on external observance of form, and sight our lack of spiritual gifting to be because we have failed to observe their form, but Wesley went straight to the heart of the matter and showed that we do not have the gifts because our love is so cold! His answer is less concerned with the form and more focused on the power!
We should not be surprised that it is our lack of love that has driven away God’s giving of the gifts. For love is smack in the middle of Paul’s discourse on the Spiritual gifts! The grand 1st Corinthians 13 discourse on love sits right between Paul’s two greatest discourses on spiritual gifts. Love is the “more excellent way”.
Jesus’ command is love (John 12:15). The law of Christ is love (Galatians 6:2). If I do not have love, I am nothing (1 Cor. 13:2).
But genuine Christian love may be even more rare in our time than genuine the gifts of the Holy Spirit! Worldly love is everywhere. But the love of Christ is a hard thing to find today. It is easy to find a plethora of pastors working hard to get a name for themselves or get money, but very hard to find a pastor who seeks the glory of God alone and to serve as Christ served in humility. In fact, it may not be an exaggeration to say that the vast majority of Christians in Church today do not want a pastor filled with the genuine love of Christ in their pulpit!
Yet, look closely at the churches where genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit do exist, whether abroad or locally (however rare that may still be), and you will never fail to find an assembly where the love of Christ is chief among their gifts!
And you will find another attribute among them: they are less consumed with joy over their spiritual gifts as they are over the fact that they are known by God and have had their names written in the Lambs Book of Life (Luke 10:20)!
I believe that I have seen a few assemblies in the U.S. begin to have a genuine outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s gifts, but, boasting quickly set in, along with sin, and what they once had quickly became lost to them- and whatever they retained was not what they once had.
God is our chief joy and desire as Christians; nothing is to replace that. Yet I often hear Christians making more of “walking in POW’AH” (you have to say “power” the right way to get the full affect) than they make of God. I sometimes hear more made of “having a word” for someone than having His word dwelling richly within us!
My point is that we need to be spending more time examining ourselves than we are arguing over whether or not the gifts of the Holy Spirit exist. We need to be preparing ready hearts to receive all the gifts God has for us. We need to be seeking the things that God tells us in His word to seek (one such thing is spiritual gifts- 1 Cor. 14:1).
It is much easier to get caught up in a movement on one side or the other of this issue- whether with the charismatic chaos or with cessationist doubt- than it is to profoundly humble ourselves before God and accept whatever He has to give us instead of telling Him what He can give us.
May you be blessed with the full measure of Christ’s grace and peace, amen!