The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, Chapter 10: Filled With the Holy Spirit

“You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” – Acts 1:8.

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 2:4.

“Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” – Acts 2:33.

“At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” – John 14:20.

“Be filled with the Spirit.” – Eph. 5:18.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” – 1 Thess. 5:23.


MANY of God’s children have been aroused to seek afresh that power for service with which the Holy Spirit alone can clothe them. They have found in their experience that the blessings realized at their conversion have by no means exhausted the “riches” treasured up for them in Christ; and that the fresh needs that have sprung up in their path, since first they set out to follow the Lord, cannot be satisfied by the fact, blessed though it be, that, “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

They have seen that though, like the Ephesian converts, they have understood what it is to “have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace,” still there is for them the further blessing, which the apostle sought on behalf of these converts in the words, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16 – 19).


Very many have had their minds more or less exercised touching the blessing of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” as it is often termed. We believe not a few have been hindered, if not actually thrown back in their spiritual course, simply for lack of a little instruction in the very first principle of the doctrine concerning the Person, offices, and work of the Holy Spirit.

[Basics about the Holy Spirit]

[1] The first point to be recognized, as clearly set forth in the Scriptures, is the fact that all Christians have the Holy Spirit. They have not only been brought under His influence, they have received the Holy Spirit Himself. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:9). “It is remarkable,” observes Professor Godet, “that the Spirit of Christ is here used as the equivalent of the Spirit of God in the preceding proposition. The Spirit of Jesus is that of God Himself, whom he has converted by appropriating Him perfectly here below into his personal life, so that He can communicate Him to His own. It is in this form that the Holy Spirit henceforth acts in the Church. Where this vital bond does not exist between a soul and Christ, it remains a stranger to Him and His salvation.”

[2] At the same time we must recognize the fact that to have the Spirit is one thing, but to be filled with the Spirit is quite another thing. We know from what is recorded in St. John’s Gospel (20:22) that even before the Ascension the Holy Spirit had actually been given to the disciples, that Christ breathed upon them the Holy Spirit. But on the day of Pentecost they were filled with the Holy Spirit.


[Four Ways of Filling in the book of Acts]

A careful study of the New Testament Scriptures with a view to an understanding of what is said of the fullness of the Spirit, has led us to notice four distinct ways in which men were filled with the Holy Spirit.

[1] First. After a season of waiting. This is recorded in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The disciples had a distinct promise to rest on, and a definite direction to obey. The promise was, “you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). The command or direction was, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but “wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me” (Acts 1:4; also Luke 24:49). After this season of waiting, there came the filling we read of in the second chapter of the Acts: “They were all filled with (the) Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:1 – 4).

[2] Secondly. After a season of prayer. “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4: 31). We must not fail to observe that the words here used are precisely those we have in Acts 2:4. The repetition of the phrase seems to teach us that even the apostles themselves needed the continual renewal of the Holy Spirit. They were not resting on a past experience, nor depending on the provision received at Pentecost. The blessing they received then, brought them into the attitude of looking up to the risen Lord for the “supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19). What we have here recorded in this fourth chapter of the Acts, teaches us also that the wonderful blessings of Pentecost did not make them independent of prayer.


[3] Thirdly. After the laying on of hands. “Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17). And again: “When Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

[4] Fourthly. After preaching, or during the very act of proclaiming the gospel. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word” (Acts 10:44). “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, as on us at the beginning” (Acts 11:15). The italics are not in the original, but we emphasize the words to show that it was during the time the word was being preached the blessing came.

From these facts we see that men filled with the Spirit in more than one way, and that it is not correct to conclude that, unless there has been a season of waiting with this definite object, the particular blessing here referred to cannot be received.

Another point it is instructive to note, in connection with the events recorded in the Acts, is the distinction between being “full” and being “filled.” The first indicates an abiding or habitual condition, the latter a special inspiration or illapse – a momentary action or impulse of the Spirit for service, at particular occasions.

These passages should be carefully noted.

We read, for instance, “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts vi. 3 – 5), etc. And again, touching Barnabas, “For he was a good man, and full of (the) Holy Spirit and of faith.”


The word “full” in these passages denotes the abiding characteristic – these were men who had been filled and were habitually full of the Holy Spirit.

But for special service – times of need and occasions of peculiar difficulty or trial – this was not enough. To those thus full there came additional or special supplies, which caused them to overflow. There was, so to speak, a welling up of the spring within. Compare John 4: 14 with John 7:38.

[Full and Overflowing]

Thus we read, “Then Peter, filled with (the) Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8), etc. He who was already full received there and then a fresh filling. And again, “Then Saul (who is also called Paul), filled with (the) Holy Spirit, [Acts 13:9]” etc. The word here points to a sudden illapse for a special occasion.

Now what believers should seek, or claim as that which is their privilege, is the habitual condition – always to be full of the Spirit.

This does not necessarily suppose any wonderful experience of joy, ecstasy, or consciousness of power; but a sense of nearness, of childlike confidence, of constant and entire dependence on the Lord. It gives us a sense of His indwelling.

If we are “full of (the) Holy Spirit,” we shall find, as special difficulties arise, and special calls for service come to us, that there will always be that “filling,” or momentary supply, which will enable us to triumph, to witness, to serve, or to bring forth fruit, as the case may be, according to His will. And it is when these fillings come that we overflow.


This abiding condition of being full of the Spirit [Eph. 5:18] should characterize every child of God at all times and in all circumstances. It is not a privilege that belongs only to a favoured few, nor is it something to be expected only at certain seasons, and under peculiar circumstances.

The normal condition of the believer may be illustrated by a vessel filled with water to the brim. This does not render him independent of further supplies, nor does it make him self-satisfied. On the contrary, to be thus “full” is to be conscious of one’s own utter insufficiency, and the necessity of God’s sustaining and renewing grace, moment by moment. It is the soul who is “full of the Holy Spirit” who really looks up, and trusts with childlike simplicity, for the momentary supply.

These “fillings” come just when God sees they are needed; and then it is that the soul overflows with those “rivers of living water” which our Lord declared should be the characteristic of Pentecostal days.

But the experience of so many of God’s children is often sadly different. While they may know what it is at certain times to receive the fullness, and for a season to be “full of the Holy Spirit,” so great and subtle is the spiritual leakage, that, too commonly, it is not long before they relapse into a condition of emptiness, which renders them unfit for the Master’s use. Though they may find that special times of need, and of service, are met by special supplies, they no longer find that with these supplies there are also the overflowings. And the reason is obvious. The high-water mark of their spiritual life, so to speak, is far below the level of their own capacity.


Now it is clear that what is needed is, first to be made “full,” and then to abide in that fullness. The “fillings” will come in the path of service according to our need. We need not be anxious about receiving the momentary supplies. God will fill to the full all our need, “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus [Phil. 4:19].”

[The Fullness of the Holy Spirit]

This blessing of being made “full” is ordinarily realized in connection with three things – waiting, desiring, and receiving.

[1] Waiting. – We would not say that the fullness of the Spirit can be known only after a season of waiting, for we have it recorded in Acts 10: 44 that “while Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.” There had been no tarrying for this special gift, no definite expectation had been awakened; but suddenly, while they listened to the gospel message, they were endued with the Holy Spirit. That St. Peter recognized the blessing as identical with that which the apostles themselves received at Pentecost we learn from the 47th verse, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?”

Still, we know that one of the divinely appointed means by which our spiritual strength is renewed is that of waiting on the Lord.

We have to wait, not because He is not ready to bless – He waits to be gracious – but in order that we may be made ready to receive His blessing.

An essential condition of all spiritual progress and power is soul-rest. The believer must know what it is to enter into God’s rest, if he would be filled with His Spirit [Heb. 4:9-11].


This is one of the chief purposes of waiting. We wait on the Lord rather than for the Lord. And as we wait He prepares the vessel He is about to fill, by bringing it into a state of stillness before Him.

It is a rest that comes from casting all our cares upon Him [1 Pet. 5:7]. If, instead of bringing them to the Lord, laying them upon Him, and leaving them there, we are carrying them, we shall fail to comply with the primary condition of being filled with the Spirit. But if, as we wait on the Lord, we let down our burdens, and lay aside every weight, we then take the first steps that lead to this blessed result.

It is a rest that comes from ceasing from self. This brings us into a still deeper experience of tranquility. By this means the adjustment of our inner being is brought about. This is to exchange our strength. “They that wait on the Lord shall renew (change) their strength” (Isa. 40: 31). The Lord Himself, instead of our renewed nature, becomes the centre of our activity. Then it is we learn the true meaning of self-denial, which is to ignore one’s self, and to know no other but Christ as the source of our life.

It is a rest that comes from submitting to God in everything. By waiting we get down; we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God; we get under His power, under his control. Then it is that we become like the clay in the hand of the potter; then it is that all self-energy and eagerness and anxiety cease, and the whole being is surrendered, unreservedly into the hands of God, that He might work in us “that which is well-pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ [Heb. 13:21].”


[2] Desiring. – Faith sees that to be “full of the Holy Spirit” is a blessing not peculiar to apostolic days, but the great privilege of every believer in the present dispensation, that it is a blessing which may be now known and realized, and that to live without this “fullness” is to live below our true normal condition.

Let this be seen and felt, and at once a desire is awakened in the soul which is the forerunner of the blessing itself. Without this desire our prayers for the Spirit’s fullness would be cold, formal, and unreal. The longing to be filled is often brought about by a painful sense of barrenness of soul. Language like that of David in Psalm 63: 1 is felt to be the exact expression of the soul’s desire after the life and freshness which God alone can bestow: “My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.” How many a Christian is in this “desert land” as to his experience! It is sad indeed to be in such a condition, but more sad to be thus barren and unfruitful, and yet have no longings for the “water brooks.” Is not this the secret of the Church’s weakness to-day – dry, barren and unfruitful, and yet little or no real desire to be “filled with the fullness of God”?

But when God is about to fill the soul He allures her into the “wilderness” (Hos. 2: 14). He brings her to see and feel her need. It is “from thence” that He causes her to receive “the fullness of blessing.” To be brought to know one’s parched and barren condition, is to see the utter folly and sin of all worldly compromise, and the necessity of a full and complete surrender to God. We are no longer shrinking from the thought of being ‘too “out and out” for God’, or of losing too much of this world’s treasures.


We are no longer afraid of going all lengths with God; we are now willing that He should have His own way with us.

Have you, my reader, been brought to this point of self-despair? Have you been brought to know by bitter experience, that a half-hearted life brings us, sooner or later, to a “thirsty land where no water is?”

Thank God, if now the language of your heart is that of David’s: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42: 1, 2). This desire, let us observe, is not for God’s gifts merely, but for God Himself – “the living God.”

The same intense longing of soul after the presence and fullness of the Lord Himself is expressed in another psalm: “I spread out my hands to You; my soul longs for You like a thirsty land” (Ps. 143: 6).

Now we know that to this spirit of desire itself a blessing belongs. Our Lord gave it a beatitude. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled [Matt. 5:6].” Still, let us not stop at the desire. The “thirsting” is only the preparation for the “filling.” This brings us to the receiving.

[3] Receiving. – While we plead God’s promises, let us not forget to obey His commands. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” “Be filled with the Spirit,” are Divine commands [Eph. 5:18]. When Peter and John came to the Christian converts at Samaria they “prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15). When Paul came to Ephesus and found there certain disciples, he put this question to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19: 2).


Quite apart from the question as to what kind of disciples these were, it seems clear that the apostle put the question supposing them to be disciples of Christ – believers who had been baptized into His name, who had therefore been born of the Holy Spirit. We see that they were in truth only the followers of John the Baptist – disciples who had not experimentally entered into the Christian dispensation. But the point, after all, is not what was their spiritual condition, but what was the apostle’s intention, what was the purport of his question?[1]

Does not his question indicate the fact that it is possible to be a believer, to be born of the Spirit, and yet not to have the Holy Spirit in the same sense as the apostles received Him on the day of Pentecost?

So we find the same apostle writing to the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal. 3:2). “Faith consists not in working but in receiving.”

Compare with this our Lord’s words: “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him” (John 14:17), etc. “With the world, want of vision prevented possession. With the disciples the personal presence of the Paraclete brought knowledge, and with that knowledge the power of more complete reception” (Canon Westcott).

If many are hindered for want [lack] of desire, how many are hindered for want [lack] of reception! Here seems to be the difficulty with really earnest souls. There is much asking but little or no blessing – because there is not a corresponding reception.


And yet it is through this door – a present believing reception – that the fullness of the Spirit, as well as every other blessing, is to be realized.

Our Lord’s direction in this matter is clear and explicit:

“Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). That is, “We are to believe, not that we shall one day have what we pray for in a future more or less distant, but that we actually receive it as we pray” (New Testament Commentary. Edited by Bishop Ellicott).

To believe that we are receiving, is more than to believe that we are desiring and asking. It is when our faith passes from the stage of seeking, to that of receiving, that the fullness comes.

To ask truly is to ask in Christ’s name. When we thus pray we not only ask but also receive. “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).

Let us notice our Lord does not say here, “Ask, and it shall be given you.” That is true, but He is here speaking of the other side – man’s side of receiving: “Ask, and you will receive.” True asking will surely be followed or accompanied by an actual and present reception.

But many are perplexed, because they fail to recognize the nature of this filling.

Instead of seeking to have more of the Holy Spirit, we should yield ourselves to Him, that He might have more of us.

A simple illustration may help us here.

You receive someone into your house, and you let him have possession of one room.


It is, let us suppose, the best room in your house, but still you give him only that one room. After a while you let him have another apartment. And so you go on, letting him take room after room, until at last the whole house is in his possession and under his control.[2]

Now in this case what has taken place? It is not that more and more of the man has come into your house, but that more and more of your house has come into his possession.

So let us never forget when we speak of being filled with the Spirit that the blessing consists, not in receiving a mere influence or emanation from God. He is a Person. We have received Him. He entered our hearts when we passed from death unto life. We received the personal Holy Spirit when we believed and became converted to Christ. But the blessing consists in this, that we have been brought more completely under his power and control. It is He who has taken a fuller possession of us.

This is to be sanctified wholly. When not only the spirit – the central part of our being, where the work of regeneration commences – but when the “whole spirit and soul and body” [1 Thess. 5:23] – every room in the house, so to speak, is yielded up to Him, then it is that we are “full of (the) Holy Spirit.”

[Conclusion: Cautions and Evidences]

But one word by way of caution. In seeking this blessing let us see to it that we do not lose our rest. If we have been brought into the rest of faith, if we have entered into His rest, let us not be allured out of it on any consideration. Nothing is more essential than restfulness if we would wait upon God.


But many have so prayed for the “baptism of the Spirit” that they have completely wrestled themselves out of rest. Let us see then that our earnestness does not degenerate into impatient anxiety.

Another warning is needful. Let nothing tempt you to look away from Christ, or lead you to imagine that the blessing you seek is something outside of Him or apart from Him. Remember that “all fullness” – therefore the fullness of the Spirit – dwells in Him [Jesus Christ].

Again, see that you do not set your heart upon getting an experience – some extraordinary afilatus [a divine creative impulse or inspiration]. Be willing to rest in God’s will. Let Him “take you, break you, and make you,” then He will possess you.

One word as to evidences. Does any one ask, “How shall I know that I have the fullness of the Spirit?” You will be assured of this by knowing it. Compare the two verses in John 14:11 and 20: “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me”; “At that day (the day of the Spirit’s fullness to you) you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” “You shall come to know, by the teaching of the Spirit, what is for the time a matter of faith only.” At that day you shall “in that knowledge realize the fullness of your fellowship with Me.” The fullness of the Spirit makes Christ to our consciousness a real, indwelling, and all-sufficient Saviour. The Spirit never draws away our attention from Christ to any other object. He glorifies Christ. The more we know of the fullness of the Spirit, the more we shall glory in Christ, and the more shall we be occupied with Him. “The dispensation of the Spirit is the revelation of Christ” (Canon Westcott).

Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life

The End

[1] With all due respect to the author, Paul’s question specified whether or not they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. The Apostle wrote elsewhere, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. …Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 8:9b). Therefore, it is probable that the issue was whether or not these “disciples” were New Covenant, reborn believers.

A proposed clarification of terminology:

  • “The baptism of the Holy Spirit” – initiation into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; p. 170, 181)
  • “The fullness of the Holy Spirit” – full control through abiding in Christ; our intended ongoing condition (Eph. 5:18; p. 175-180.)
  • “The overflowing of the Holy Spirit” – special enablement for ministry opportunities through Christ (John 7:38,39; Acts 4:8; p. 173)

[2] This analogy is developed in the popular booklet My Heart, Christ’s Home by Robert Boyd Munger.

Page numbers based on the edition of Christian Literature Crusade. Outline, footnotes and bracketed content added – JBW

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