The Manifestations of the Spirit

Dr. Brian Allison

I had an unusual experience recently. It was a particular manifestation of the Spirit. After a Sunday evening service, we had our Prayer Watch – a time to seek the Lord – and the Spirit was present. Prayer was free and fluent – very short pauses between the prayers. The Spirit lifted that small group up and bore us along. And something unusual happened to me as we were in prayer. One Christian brother had come into the room at the start of the meeting and left his Bible on a chair, and said that he would return. He did not return until we were nearly done. He had missed most of our time together. When he returned, one Christian sister was just finishing her prayer; and when she had ended, there was silence. I sensed that the group thought that it was time to end the meeting. And then I heard, "Let the brother pray." It took me aback because it was my voice (not audible, but internal), and yet it was not my voice. It was louder than a thought, and quite distinct. It arrested me in my spirit. I don't recall ever having an experience like that before; and I knew immediately that the Lord had spoken to me (as unusual as that may sound). Now, there is no guarantee that he was going to pray. Sometimes he did not pray in a prayer meeting; and the silence persisted. The Spirit of prayer seemed to have lifted, and yet the Lord had said, "Let the brother pray." I struggled within as the silence endured, questioning whether the Lord really wanted him to pray.

I was tempted to close the meeting off, and yet I knew in my spirit that if I did, I would have been disobedient to the Lord; and so fighting the embarrassment, I waited. I then began to pray to the Lord to grant the brother grace to pray because when the Lord reveals something to us, He does not expect us to be passive or indifferent; but rather, He expects us to pray in accordance with that which He has revealed in order that we might see the realization of His purposes. With the revelation, the Lord was testing me to see whether I would believe and be obedient to His voice. The silence persisted, and the embarrassment became unbearable; and then it was like music to my ears as I heard the brother begin to pray.

Now, here is the wonderful thing about this whole matter, which sealed to my heart the reality that God had indeed spoken. Before this brother returned to the room, there were a number of us who prayed in succession for the salvation of a particular individual. And when he began to pray, not being privy to the spirit and direction of the prayer meeting, he prayed for the salvation of this same individual for 8-10 minutes, then he closed off. He prayed for nothing else. I said, "Thank You, Lord." That experience was exciting.

When we hear about these unusual manifestations of the Spirit, we can respond in a variety of ways. We can scoff, we can doubt, we can even deny or reject. I know, for I have done it. To be sure, we need to be careful in discerning what is of the Spirit and what is not; we need to examine and test these things. But the point is this: The Spirit is pleased, at different times, to manifest Himself in extraordinary ways, and if we do not respond in faith, we will lose the blessing. I do not know what the Lord will do in the future with respect to my own heart, but I know that if I had closed that meeting that Sunday night before that brother had prayed, I would have lost that grace for the future.

We ought not to be surprised at these extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit. Revival is a time in which we see these manifestations in a specific and concentrated way. In Brian Edwards' book, Revival, he writes, "On the other hand, we may well expect that in a time of increased activity by the Holy Spirit, when the minds of men and women are filled with eternity and absorbed with God, there will also be an increase in these unusual things. Revival is a time when spiritual forces are unleashed – on both sides – and we must expect the genuine and the counterfeit in spiritual phenomena. In his preface to Yet Not I, William Haslam [he was used of the Lord in the Welsh Revival in the mid-19th century] referred to his previous volume of autobiography, From Death Into Life: 'Some people have considered the statements in my former volume as exaggerated, not to say "untrue"! I will only say that persons who have been in such scenes and have witnessed the mighty power of God, will think that they are somewhat guardedly and tamely put forth. Indeed, for fear of taxing the credulity of some of my readers too much, I have understated some things, and left many others unsaid'" (p. 213).

The manifestation of divine power

There can be a tendency to despise spiritual manifestations. We are given a cautionary note in the Word of God that we are not to despise them, but rather, to approach them carefully, examining and testing them. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 reads, "Do not quench the Spirit [that is, do not continue to quench the Spirit, or stop quenching the Spirit]; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil." Here we have a number of warnings, a number of exhortations, given to the believers at Thessalonica. Keep in mind that these verses consist of one line of connected thought. There is logical progression. The apostle Paul is dealing with basically one theme in these verses before us.

By way of background, keep in mind that with the birth of the Church, God was doing a new thing. In order to put His stamp of approval on the birth of the Church, in order to authenticate the Word that came from Him through the apostles and the prophets, God was pleased to send forth His Spirit in power, and thus to evidence extraordinary manifestations. Great signs, wonders, and miracles were performed – God was at work. This kind of supernatural activity characterized the early Church. Notice Acts 5:12, by way of example, "And at the hands of the apostles many signs [i.e., attesting miracles] and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's portico." These signs and wonders were performed not only by the apostles, but also by other leaders in the Church. We read, "And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts 6:8); also Acts 8:13, "And even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip; and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed."

One particular extraordinary manifestation of the Spirit in the early Church was that God directly revealed Himself to people. God was pleased to communicate personally to certain human vessels through whom He made known His will and mind to believers. Now, with this direct revelation given, and the apostles or prophets conveying such in the form of prophesying (i.e., the foretelling or forth-telling of direct divine revelation), apparently some believers were somewhat suspicious and they despised these prophetic utterances. Thus, we read the warning and exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, 20, "Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances."

Apparently, these Thessalonian believers were guilty of scorning and reacting to prophesying. Notice the vital connection here between not quenching the Spirit and not despising prophetic utterances. In despising prophetic utterances (through lack of faith), these believers were, in effect, quenching the Spirit, that is, putting out or extinguishing the Spirit; and they were doing so because prophetic utterances were only possible by the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:8a,10a,11 reads, "For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit...and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy...But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills." Prophesying was a gift of the Spirit, and that is why this connection can be made in 1 Thessalonians 5. When these believers reacted to, when they rejected, these prophesyings, they were putting out the Spirit. They were denying that God was speaking. They apparently were in unbelief; and one can only receive, enjoy, and benefit from the Spirit's manifestations through faith and obedience.

There was a need for prophetic utterances in the early Church; and the obvious reason for this is that the early Church did not have the complete canon of Scripture. They did not have the luxury of the complete New Testament as we do. How were they going to receive teaching and instruction? How were they to know how to live and act as Christians? Hence, God was pleased to reveal Himself directly, given the nature of the situation, not only for the immediate benefit of these early believers, but also for the remote benefit of later believers who would have access to these recorded prophecies which were given through revelation. So, prophecies were necessary. The source of instruction, teaching, and guidance for the early believers were these verbal prophecies; and that is why these believers were not to despise them.

Pride, arrogance, and contempt

Despising prophetic utterances revealed a certain attitude held by these believers. We can translate the phrase "do not despise" as "do not hold in contempt" or, literally, "do not 'look down your nose at'." Consider Luke 23:11, by way of example. Here Jesus stood before Herod on trial, and we read, "And Herod and his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt [same term in the original] and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate."

Now, the question is this: Why did these believers despise prophetic utterances? We are not given a specific reason, but we can say generally that the expression of contempt reveals a superior attitude. These Thessalonian believers seemingly had a problem with pride. In their pride, they had a superior attitude which manifested itself specifically in contempt. We have a good Biblical illustration of these dynamics in Luke 18:9ff., "And He [Jesus] also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves [to certain ones who were self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-confident, who thought that they could make it on their own, that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt [same term]: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, "God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get."'" Again, a superior attitude is the fruit of pride, and the particular ensuing behavioural response or expression is that of contempt.

With their superior attitude, maybe the Thessalonian believers did not feel the need for certain teachings. Maybe they thought they were spiritually okay, that they were doing just fine. Or, with their superior attitude, maybe they were jealous that they themselves were not receiving this direct revelation and so they despised what they heard. We do not know. But we do know that something was desperately wrong in their hearts. Pride is the image of the devil. There are those in the Church today (and I speak generally) who think that they are spiritually okay. They think that they are just fine, and that they do not need to change. They believe that they have spiritually arrived, that they do not need to repent any more, that they do not need to examine their hearts any more. These people smack with the stench of self-righteousness; and as a result, they 'look down their nose' at others. They say, in effect, "We are so much better than others. Look at our class and status. Do you think we are going to keep company with other mean folk who seem inferior to us. We do them a service by even interacting or communicating with them. We are okay; they have a problem." However, Jesus says, "Wrong! If that is how you think, you have the problem. You are a Pharisee." Jesus never said that the self-righteous Pharisees would enter the kingdom. Read Matthew 23 and you will see Jesus' evaluation, and scathing condemnation, of the self-righteous Pharisees.

Humility and teachableness

What is to be the proper attitude that one should have toward any manifestation of the Spirit? One of humility. Let us continue to read the parable in Luke 18 concerning the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer, "But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me [God be propitious to me], the sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (vv. 13ff.). If your heart is characterized by pride, a superior spirit, a self-righteous disposition, then you need to confess and repent of it – and fast – for your spiritual safety. Paul says to these Thessalonian believers, "Do not despise prophetic utterances [that is, receive the Word of God in a spirit of humility and meekness]." Accordingly, James 1:21 reads, "Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls." My Christian brothers and sisters, we are to receive the Word of God, whether we are listening to it, or reading it, with a gentle, receptive, and teachable spirit; neither resisting, nor reacting.

Not only were the Thessalonian believers guilty of rejecting God's Word, they were in danger of extinguishing the Spirit because they were not acknowledging this particular extraordinary manifestation of the Spirit. And we too can put out the Spirit. We should not dismiss out of hand any apparent extraordinary manifestation of the Spirit simply because it does not fit into our theology, or because it does not conform to our creed, or because it does not agree with our Church tradition. We need to be careful, to be sure; but we also need to be open to the Spirit and to what God is pleased to do. When we think that we have figured out God, we are deceived. God cannot be figured out; He cannot be 'put into a box'. He is the ever-elusive, eternal Spirit; and we must follow Him, regardless of how He reveals Himself, because sometimes God is pleased to turn our theology upside down on its head, and to expose our folly and our pride so that we realize – in a deep, and even unsettling way – that we do not know this God, that He is much bigger than our imaginations, projections, and constructions.

God wants to take us further and deeper in Him; but we must remember that He is the infinite Spirit. No creed, no doctrine, no theology, no system can capture Him. Now, I am not despising such humanly crafted instruments as creeds, theology, tradition, etc., but sometimes God is pleased to do a new thing, which our current theological or traditional understanding cannot account for. Again, Edwards, in his book Revival, writes, "The same experience is reported from India when God came to the Khassi Hills in 1905 [the year of one of the Welsh revivals]. A group of Christians were on their way to the presbytery at Pariong and they stopped frequently on the road to pray. At one place, 'Some of them heard beautiful singing that no man could describe.' At first they thought it was another party on the road, but there was no one around. Others during this revival claimed to see angels. In the Khassi Hills at this time visions were common, 'But they all tend to bring men to see their sin and to see Christ as their Saviour.' There is no reason for us to be suspicious of these claims because they are paralleled in the New Testament, and the outcome in revival is always to draw people closer to Christ. Of course, there were 'spurious signs and prophecies', but the Khassi Christians soon learnt to sift the wheat from the chaff" (p. 211).

Testing the manifestations of the Spirit

The possibility of extraordinary spiritual manifestations demands that we need to be careful. We need to examine and test the alleged manifestations of the Spirit. There is the danger of abuse and excess. But let us not 'throw the baby out with the bath water'. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 reads, "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good." So, the prophetic utterances were not to be despised, and subsequently dismissed, but rather they were to be tested to see whether they were of God because God reveals Himself in supernatural ways. The early Christians were specifically instructed to judge the spiritual genuineness of divine revelations in order to determine whether God was speaking. Thus, 1 Corinthians 14:29ff. reads, "And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints."

The term 'examine' simply means to test the genuineness of something. It means to approve whether something is right or wrong, true or false. It simply means to authenticate. We are to test the spirits. 1 John 4:1 reads, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." So, we are to examine, we are to test, any alleged manifestation of the Spirit; and we are to reject abuse and excess; yet we need to be careful. We are to reject the visible extremes. That is what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:22, "Abstain from every form [outward appearance] of evil." That term 'form' suggests that which is concrete or observable. We are to stay away from every manifestation of evil, but only after we have examined and tested it.

The early Church was to test and examine, and to hold to that which was good, especially when it came to prophetic utterances. Consider, for example, 1 Corinthians 12:3, as Paul addresses the subject of spiritual gifts, "Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus is accursed'; and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." Different ones claimed prophetic genuineness in the early Church, but it was clear that not every 'spiritual' utterance was of the Lord. No genuine prophecy can deny the person (and work) of Jesus Christ – that He is the divine Son of God, the perfect Man through incarnation, and the anointed Saviour of humankind. In the Corinthian Church, believers were abusing the spiritual gifts. There were excessive and false manifestations. There was utter confusion. Thus, the apostle gave the corrective, "Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner" (1 Cor. 14:39,40).

Even in our day, there is abuse and excess with respect to the alleged manifestations of the Spirit. A case in point is the Vineyard Church. Is that of God? I think that there are some things of God in it; but there are other things that are not of God – there is abuse and excess. When people are flailing around on the floor and writhing uncontrollably, and barking like dogs, that is not of God. Show me in the New Testament that we should expect that kind of behaviour. History is replete with such abuse and excess. For instance, revival spread across Kentucky, North and South Carolina, and Western Pennsylvania in 1800. Many meetings were simply bedlam. Emotionalized people were jerking, dancing, shouting, etc. Edwards writes, "The genuineness of this revival cannot be doubted, but some of the responses were clearly exaggerated and unnecessary. Not only did these excesses divide churches and whole denominations, but the more extreme elements drew off into the Stonites (after Barton Stone) which slid into the sect known as the Shakers, a self-explanatory title!" (Revival, p. 201).

We are to stay away from such abuses and excesses, for we are to abstain from every visible form of evil. And yet, there are indeed extraordinary physical responses when revival comes. Read the accounts of revival, and you will find staggering accounts of people under the crushing weight of conviction when they were confronted with the claims and the holiness of God. Many would fall off their chairs, contort, and scream in agony out of deep guilt and shame. The Spirit is pleased to manifest Himself in extraordinary ways. We need to respond to such manifestations in faith, because if we do not respond in faith, when God is really making Himself known, we will lose the grace. Let's not put the Spirit in a box. Let God be God, and let us follow His Spirit, as God gives His light, as well as the internal witness of that Spirit. Revival, whether widespread or personal, may involve extraordinary manifestations. In conclusion, Edwards again writes, "Revival itself is unusual, and the great work of conviction, conversion and the creation of a holy life puts all other things into the shade. When Duncan Campbell was asked for an explanation of supernatural manifestations, he replied that the main reason was assurance: God granted them to encourage weak and trembling faith to grasp the promises of life. Campbell never encouraged such things, but did not despise what God allowed. That they are a feature of revivals we cannot, and need not deny, but their relatively small place should be recognized. In fact, considering that in revival men's minds are more in touch with eternity, and their spirits more sensitive to the Holy Spirit, it is not so much surprising that these phenomena exist, but that there are not more of them" (Revival, p. 214).