Some who gladly admit that the church, generally, may advance in Christian virtues, yet hesitate to believe that individual Christians in our day are to enjoy the same comforts of the Spirit as were so conspicuous in the primitive Christians. Among these latter nothing is more noticeable than filial confidence and joy: their reconciliation to the Lord, their interest in the death and intercession of Christ, their consciousness of regeneration, of deliverance from sins once reigning over them, their clear foretaste of heaven, and their peace in the prospect of death, shine throughout the New Testament, and all the early records of the church. This was the natural “fruit of the Spirit,” the natural effect of such a Comforter as the Redeemer had promised dwelling in the heart. Take this characteristic away, and they would at once fall from the level of “children of light,” of “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,” down to the admirers of other religions, among whom personal “joy in God,” and prospects of immortal bliss, are things unknown.
As we said before, that a religion without the Holy Spirit would not be Christianity, so we may say that religionists without the Spirit in their hearts would not be Christians. “Ye are in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” It requires much of that cold daring which men may acquire as to things spiritual, for anyone who even respects, though he should not study, the record of Christianity at its source, to teach that it is not a common privilege of believers to enjoy a sense of their salvation, and to walk in the light of God’s forgiving countenance. No scrap of holy writ even seems to favor this attempt to sink modern Christians to a point almost infinitely below that of ancient ones; for who can measure the distance between a soul which is singing, “We know that we have passed from death unto life,” and one that is saying, “I cannot hope to know, till death strikes me, whether or not I shall escape dying forever”?
A change more serious can hardly be imagined in the relations of the Lord to His people, than would take place under the Christian dispensation, if, beginning by enabling believers to say, “We have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” He ended by leaving them in utter doubt as to their future destiny; if, beginning by giving them a sense of His favor, clear as day, unspeakably joyful, He ended by leaving them to serve Him throughout life, without ever feeling conscious that He smiled upon them; if, beginning by holding communion with them, He ended by leaving them to doubt whether He was even reconciled.
It is trifling at once with a man’s common sense, and with his most sacred hopes and fears, to tell him that he is called with the same calling as the early believers, by the voice of the same Redeemer, under the same covenant of grace, and with the same promise of adoption; but that, while his brother, ages ago, had “peace with God,” and “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” knew himself to be a child and then an heir of God, and daily felt that heaven was his home, he is to proceed on his pilgrimage without any of these comforts, and learn at the end whether or not his soul is to perish. Who has given any man the right to assert that such a change has taken place in the relation of the adopting Father to His adopted children, affirming Him to have grown, in our age, too indifferent to soothe their hearts, and make them partakers of the joy which He spreads among the angels when He declares that the “lost is found”?
The change which the supposition we are combating would require in the office, or, at least, in the operation, of the Spirit Himself, under the very dispensation of the Spirit, is sufficiently grave, one might imagine, to make the least careful pause, ere he assumed that it had taken place. The act wherein the Everlasting Father absolves a guilty being from his offenses, and recognizes him before the angels as an heir of His glory must ever be of deep importance in the government of God. Of old time, when that great act took place, heaven rejoiced; but the deed did not remain without effect upon earth.
The King had proclaimed a pardon, and that proclamation must have effect. The Comforter sped to the mourner’s heart. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” With the presence of the Comforter, the captive found “deliverance,” and he that was bound, an “opening of the prison”; and, tasting the liberty of the children of God, he sang, “O Lord, I will praise Thee: though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortedst me.”
Are we, then, on the word of some men, without one intimation of Scripture to support them, to believe that the Spirit has so essentially changed His mode of dealing with a forgiven sinner, that now the decree of pardon promulgated above, and hailed by angels, receives no effect in the soul of him whom it absolves? that the Comforter abstains from comforting, leaving the ransomed captive still to mourn his captivity, without relieving him of his load or of his chain?
O Dove of Peace, ancient Comforter of the pilgrims who traveled this heavenward road before us, they say that Thy wing has grown weary with the lapse of time!
This is an excerpt from Tongue of Fire by William Arthur. By the time Tongue of Fire was first published in 1856, the once strong Methodist movement in Great Britain was slowly declining into a “form of religion without the power,” as John Wesley feared it would. Now an established denominational body, it bared more resemblance to the tired Church of England than the spirit-fired movement which defined the first Methodists.
Born in 1819, William Arthur was one of a rising generation Wesleyan leaders who saw that the Holy Spirit, who had so mightily breathed life into the movement, was being slowly omitted from Methodist preaching and practice. His Tongue of Fire or the True Power of Christianity is, in essence, a manifesto inviting Methodists to again recover their birthright as an Apostolic movement living in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.