By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
Text: "Quench not the Spirit." -- 1 Thess. 5:19.
Here we have another grade of Christians. These are in a better shape than those Who grieve the Spirit. There are two classes of individuals: Those who are of the passive and those who are of the active make up. Those who are of the passive make up have a tendency to suppress and quench the Spirit, while those who are of an active disposition are given to getting ahead of the Spirit. God has a great task in balancing us up. When He has His perfect way, He intensifies those who are too passive and indifferent, and tames down those who are too active and intense. In other words, He weakens those who are too strong and strengthens those who are too weak. He gets the quiet people noisy and the noisy people quiet. He slows down those who are too fast and gets a move on those who are too slow. Oh, if He only could have his perfect way with us what mighty things would be accomplished for His glory.
The Holy Spirit is very easily insulted and quenched. We have known individuals, who in the past were mightily wrought upon, such as falling under the power of God, or shouting aloud his praises. For this they were criticized and in order to escape the criticism, suppressed their emotions. The Spirit was insulted and ceased his mighty operations. Then they besought Him to return, but though he continued to abide, He never again trusted them with his supernatural manifestations. Be careful how you dictate, or let others dictate to the Holy Ghost!
The next verse following our text warns us not to "despise prophesyings." Now, those whose tendency it is to quench the Spirit, may try to console themselves that they are better behaved than the other class, but they are in danger of committing a greater offense -- that of "despising prophesyings." One step leads to another and, he who quenches the operations of the Spirit in himself will soon he led to despise and criticize the manifestations of God in others. Let us notice more particularly how one can quench the Spirit:
I. By becoming tame and formal in worship.
II. By discounting and criticizing others.
III. By becoming narrow and unduly attached to certain manifestations.
IV. By getting under a strain lest we get out of the Spirit.
Let us study these separately.
I. By becoming tame and formal in worship. It is easy to drift into formality. For instance: Not expecting the supernatural and extraordinary in family worship. Very few people have family prayers regularly and even where this is the case the children often dread prayers because thy are not inspiring. The father generally does all the reading, and praying, until the children have learned his prayers by heart; they know when he begins, just what he will say and when he will end. The occasion is so dry and mechanical that seldom if ever anyone is broken up, or shouts for joy. It is too bad that such a good thing becomes fruitless and largely a legal task. How much better it would be to have each member of the family read around, or occasionally conduct the entire service alone, rather than "Daddy" do everything. Better take more time for prayers and less time for eating, or reading the morning paper. This can be done if more system and method is employed in getting up early and hustling around. Mark my word! When you crowd secret or family prayers into the background, in the end you will be the loser; something will break, burn or go wrong before the day is over. Yes, it is one thing to sing, "Take time to be holy," and it is another thing to practice it. Then in public worship it is easy to quench the operations of God. He is ever anxious and waiting to manifest Himself, but we hinder Him in our loose and careless way of doing things. For instance: Here comes the pastor or leader of song, who opens a book at random and says, "Let us sing number so and so, or read chapter so and so." This is what Mr. Wesley called "a wretched way of worshipping God." If, during the day we did not quench the fires of God with earthly cares, or sensual delights the result would be, we would come to His sanctuary with a song, or a passage of scripture begotten by the Holy Ghost and -- oh, what singing, preaching and praying would follow. God help us not to be satisfied with routine worship, but always expect something refreshing and out of the ordinary!
II. By discounting and criticizing others in mind. Here is a more certain and serious way of putting out the fires of God. The Holy Spirit works a little like the current of electricity; in fact, some have thought that electricity comes the nearest being the manifestation of God of anything we can understand. Electricity, though a mighty and unseen force, is very sensitive and can easily be diverted and deadened. In order to make a room totally dark, or stop machinery, it is not necessary to cut a yard of wire, nor a foot, nor an inch, nor a sixty fourth of an inch, but simply insert a little grit, or piece of tissue paper in the switch and everything stops. In like manner, the current of God starts from the heavenly dynamo, passes down through the eternal ages, into the preacher's heart and mind and out through the congregation. Now if everyone is in perfect accord, this current will augment rather than diminish, but when this holy current comes to a biased, or critical mind, prejudice acts as a non-conductor and everything stops, or, to say the least, is impeded. We read that "the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous." If we who profess to be righteous were truly so, and would not quench the fires of God, no doubt we would see this literally fulfilled in our services.
There is such a thing as sending mental waves of hate, or good will. It is possible for one to sit in the rear of a congregation and in spirit criticize the sermon, song or prayer, so that the tendency is to chill the meeting. One can come from his home, the street, or counting-room to a good meeting and be like a cake of ice in influence. Why? Because he is not prayed up, or prayed through and consequently is out of tune and cannot strike the true harmony. Such an one can sit beside another and without saying a word hinder his yielding to the Spirit's drawings. Personally, we have experienced hard times in preaching, until an opposing mind left the audience and immediately we had great freedom. And again, we have felt great depression of spirit and in a few days received an unkind letter that had traveled hundreds of miles. We felt the force of a critical mind long before we received the unkind thrust.
Yes, if we could as fully harmonize and "be in one accord" in prayer and supplication as were the disciples on the day of Pentecost, no doubt we would see the place "shaken" as did they and many would cry out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
III. By becoming narrow and unduly attacked to certain manifestations. Here again we work against our own interest and God's glory. Ever since the fall we have been lopsided and see truth from different angles and if we are not careful we will magnify one truth out of proportion, with another of equal importance. Next, we will become intolerant in spirit, toward those who do not fully accept our "ipsi dixit." Dear man, you may be unduly attached to a certain view to your own hurt. And you may go through life with your head up, only to awake at the judgment and find you have hindered God, yourself and others. Go to any institution of learning and you will find in the basement a lot of text-books that ten years ago were considered invaluable, but now they have been replaced by others more up to date. In like manner, it is barely possible that what you and I are now ready to fight for, later on, may need modifying or perhaps repudiating. Dear Lord, save us from becoming tenacious over some ordinance, or gift of the Spirit, or church polity, or our particular nationality and thus lose God! I have seen zealous souls lose the tender, teachable Spirit while "earnestly contending" for what they believed to be the correct view on baptism, feet washing, speaking in tongues and other essentials or non-essentials. A certain holiness preacher testified that he defended the "second blessing" so vehemently that he lost the first blessing.
I do not refer now to conscientious scruples which are God given. Such light and convictions are always binding. But, remember, whatever is wholly of the Lord will survive all opposition without any self-vindication or effort to compel others to see the same.
One old writer said that it was possible for man's spirituality to be buried in the grave of his intense activities. It is certainly sad the way some churches have been rent, friends have been separated and the work of God crippled, or totally wrecked because of one or two persons being married to a certain way of doing things.
IV. By getting under a strain and high tension lest we get out of the Spirit. While many get out of the Spirit, here we find one who gets under a needless strain to keep in the Spirit. Many times has God been hindered in a service, because some leader felt commissioned from high heaven (?) to hold the reins tightly and keep everybody straight. Grant that some people do get out of the Spirit, yet when any one insists on correcting these things he gets in the way of God.
The better way to get rid of "wild-fire" is not to thrash it for this only spreads it, but pray down more Holy Fire. At times I have felt mortified, thinking that some one acted in a way to offend, or disgust a prominent visitor and I headed him off at the door half-way apologizing for it, when to my surprise he gave me a deserved reproof by saying, "I enjoyed it myself." And here, I was "sitting on the meeting" instead of letting it run for God. What a pity!
Yes if we could only get out of the way and keep out of the way, then invite the Holy Ghost to work as He will, we would see mighty displays of the supernatural. Shall we not henceforth do so?
"O that in me the sacred fire
Might now begin to glow,
Burn up the dross of base desire,
And make the mountains flow.
"O that it now from heaven might fall
And all my sins consume!
Come, Holy Ghost, for thee I call,
Spirit of burning come.
"Refining fire go through my heart,
Illuminate my soul;
Scatter thy life through every part,
And sanctify the whole."
-- C. Wesley.