Author: Ron Graham
Note:— The Wording of This Tract is unchanged from the original published in 1965, except for these alterations: 'Holy Ghost' has been changed to 'Holy Spirit', 'operative gifts' has been changed to 'miraculous gifts'. A very few other words or phrases have been edited, but without changing their meaning.
A passage of scripture which has intrigued most Bible readers and become the motto of myriads is this one:
"And Jesus said unto them, Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then, after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word with signs following." (Mark 16:15-20).
Today large numbers of people are deceiving and being deceived on the subject of miraculous signs, and it is hoped that this tract will do something to promote the truth.
Are these signs for today? Do these things still occur? The Holy Spirit, through the Scriptuires, answers such questions and a look at what He has to say will be found to be enthralling and profitable.
The first thing that should be made clear is this: in the days of the apostles, there were two distinct areas of administration of the Holy Spirit. These two administrations or dispensations may be described as
1. the common gift of the Holy Spirit
2. the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit
If we just take for granted that whenever the Scripture speaks of receiving the Holy Spirit it always refers to the same thing, we cannot hope to get straight the scriptural facts about miraculous signs.
We must realise that there were two entirely different ways in which the Holy Spirit was received. There was the common gift that is in a category by itself, and there was Holy Spirit baptism and the miraculous spiritual gifts that are in a different category altogether.
Dealing first with the common gift, we quote Peter:
"Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto...all" (Acts 2:38-39).
Here it is made clear that everyone baptized in the name of Christ —with his authority— was given the gift of the Holy Spirit". This was the common gift, in that it was part of "the common salvation" imparted equally to every Christian (Jude 1:3).
Of inestimable value to the experience and welfare of the inner man, it means that the Holy Spirit dwells within us, producing in our lives "the fruit of the Spirit (1Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 3:16, Galatians 5:22-23).
The common gift allows every Christian to come to God in prayer, to overcome temptation, and to increase in spiritual stature and understanding of the truth.
Keeping in mind that there were different administrations of the Spirit, we pass next to the group of special spiritual gifts. In this connection Paul says,
"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations..." (1Corinthians 12:4-6).
There were two operations that were like breathing air and drinking water to the early church; upon these two operations the church depended for its life.
The young church's power was not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth..." (1Corinthians 2:4-13).
Without the word of God the church would have died and the world remained lost. They had no New Testament Scripture such as we have it, so they needed some instrumentality by which God's word could be revealed. It was partly this that was the very purpose of the spiritual gifts.
Some gifts were miraculous in revealing the word. Some gifts had another purpose: confirming the word with signs following. It was one thing for the disciples to be able to speak the mind of God, and another thing to be able to prove that they could. They not only affirmed that they had a revelation from God, they confirmed the fact.
Unfortunately today there are plently of affirmations to be heard, but no confirmation to be seen.
The two operations of revealing and confirming the word of God were done through the spiritual gifts; hence the description "miraculous gifts". These gifts were operative in, and used only in connection with, revealing and confirming the word.
The nine gifts —listed in 1Corinthians 12:7-10 following the previous quotation— were those of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues.
Whilst some gifts such as wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, and tongues provided for the revelation of the word, gifts like healings, miracles, mountain-moving faith (1Corinthians 13:1) and tongues provided for the signs which gave confirmation to the word.
Through the operation of the special gifts, more and more of God's word was revealed and confirmed. This brings us to an extremely important observation. The time came when God's word was revealed and confirmed in its entirety. Both revelation and confirmation were accomplished fully.
The miraculous gifts had done their job. The faith was "once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 1:3); "the whole counsel of God" had been declared (Acts 20:27); "all things which pertain to life and godliness" had been given (2Peter 1:3).
The New Testament Scriptures were completed to provide all that God revealed through the miraculous gifts.
Not only so, but these Scriptures contained duly attested records of signs wrought by the Lord through miraculous gifts —records sufficient as confirmatory evidence for all time. "These are written that ye might believe" (John 20:30-31).
So the jigsaw puzzle was complete and the picture finally revealed in its entirety. Piece by piece the word of God was revealed and confirmed until the piecemeal ministry of miraculous gifts was eventually replaced by the written scriptures, perfect and complete.
Today, the New Testament Scriptures render the spiritual gifts inoperative. God's word is perfect now, revealed not in part but in whole. Looking forward to this Paul said,
"Love never fails; but where there are prophecies, they shall be done away; where there are tongues, they shall cease; where there is knowledge, it shall be done away. For we know in part, and we prophecy in part, but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away" (1Corinthians 13:8-10 RV).
There is another reason why the miraculous gifts, and consequently the signs, do not obtain today. We have noticed their purpose and found it no longer exists.
Now we should notice the means by which these gifts were imparted. We shall see that the means of receiving the gifts, like their purpose, no longer exists. If Acts 8:5-18 is read carefully, the following facts will be observed:
1. Philip preached in Samaria confirming the word with signs (Acts 8:5-8)
2. Many believed and were baptized (Acts 8:12). In Acts 2:38 it is said that everyone who is baptized in the name of Christ receives the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This was a gift common to all baptized into Christ, including these Samaritans. They must have received the common gift of the Holy Spirit.
3. Yet we read that they had not received the Holy Spirit and did not until the apostles' hands were laid upon them. "As yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" must be taken to mean that as yet they had received only the common gift of the Spirit.
When Peter and John, two apostles, came from Jerusalem and laid their hands on the new converts, the Holy Spirit was received in a special way. This was a dispensation of the Holy Spirit in a different category altogether from the common gift.
What the apostles conferred through their hands were the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. They could not be imparted through baptism. Philip, who worked many signs, could not impart the Holy Spirit in this way. That this was the imparting of the miraculous gifts is evidenced by the attendant signs that were so visibly impressive.
"When Simon saw" the operation of these gifts from the apostles' hands, he wished to buy the power to impart through his hands the Holy Spirit as the apostles did (Acts 8:9-11,14-20).
What were the means of imparting the miraculous gifts? The laying on of the hands of an apostle. While we can all be baptized and receive the common gift of the Spirit, no one can have an apostle's hand laid on him to receive the miraculous gifts, because the apostles are all dead.
The miraculous gifts have passed away because the purposes and means of receiving them have passed away.
Those baptized in the Holy Spirit evidently possessed every one of the miraculous gifts. This baptism was received by the apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2).
This marked the beginning of the gospel to the Jews. At most two later cases of Holy Spirit baptism occurred. Corneilius' household and Saul received it, marking the extension of that same gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9 and 10).
In connection with causes and reasons quite apart from miraculous gifts, the hand of God continues to work before our eyes today. While God no longer reveals and confirms his word, those works having been done, He still performs acts of grace and love.
The Lord was working with the early Christians, and he still works with us today: for lo, he is with us alway, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:18-20).
When we pray, we can behold God's answering hand working. Untold things are wrought through prayer, including much healing of the body.
When we preach the gospel to the hearts of men, we see greater works than any seen when early Christians confirmed the gospel before the eyes of the people.
What God does to a man's soul through the preaching of the word is probably what Jesus referred to when he said, "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do..." (John 14:12).
Faithful preaching of the gospel brings about works of a kind God wants. He no longer wants the lesser works —no matter how miraculous— of a past dispensation.
"Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name cast out devils? and in your name have done many wonderful works? And then I will profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you who work iniquity (Matthew 7:21-23).
In the following words with which we close, we see a possibility that with the help of Satan, there may be false prophets today who "shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Matthew 24:24).