This verse, together with many other passages in the Bible, shows us that a Christian has a responsibility for the kind of life he lives. Even if we have reached the point of living an exemplary Christian life, and are effective tools in the hands of the Holy Spirit, we shall never advance to the point of being exempt from responsibility. Here in life we are never free from danger or beyond the temptation to fall into sin. It is possible for the best Christian to sink into a hollow and powerless spiritual state; it is even possible for him to lose his spiritual life altogether. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
At no place in the world can a Christian be absolutely safe against strong temptations; he can never be quite sure of himself. It is for this reason that God has reminded us to be on our watch and encouraged us to fight the good fight, clad in the full armor of God. While we are resisting that which is evil, we are also to be on our guard against losing the good things which we have received. In the verse before us now we are warned against quenching the Spirit. This must indicate that it is possible for us to do just that. You and I can quench the Spirit in our own lives; it is also possible for us to do likewise in the lives of others.
Just think of it! That light which led us out from darkness, created life out of death and gave us a hope of glory; that fire which cleanses, sanctifies, warms us and sheds light upon the dangerous road that we are to walk in the future — that light and that fire we can quench. When the seriousness of such a possibility dawns upon us, this question rises in our heart: “How is it possible for us to quench the Holy Spirit?”
There are many answers to such a question. The constantly changing scene of life with its countless temptations and dangers to a Christian has more than enough of both questions and answers along this line. A Christian is nowhere safe from the evil powers. He is attacked by the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the air, by the mass of godless people in the world, and by his own sinful nature. These all combine to destroy the Christian’s life with God.
We shall try to point out some of the byways upon which a Christian may enter and which lead to a quenching of the Spirit.
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Let us in the first place be aware of this that we do not have to do anything in particular in order to quench the Holy Spirit. A fire can be extinguished without the use of a fireman’s hose. A lamp goes out when there is no more oil left. The fire dies in the stove when the fuel has been burnt up. The fire within us — God’s Spirit in our hearts —will likewise be quenched when our spiritual life no longer is nourished.
All the externals of our life may be in order; in the eyes of men we may appear to be the best of Christians. Our moral life may be in harmony with the best rules and regulations on this score. But the spiritual power within is gone; the spiritual fire in the heart has been quenched quietly and little by little — as happens to the lamp when the oil has been used up. So it was in the churches at Ephesus and Laodicea; so it was also with the five foolish virgins. These are examples of how the spiritual life may decline quietly and almost imperceptibly.
What is it, then, in our spiritual nature which must be nourished if the Spirit is not going to be quenched?
Spiritual life must have the Word of God, and requires communion with Him through prayer. The Word is meat and drink for the spiritual life. Prayer is the outreach of the inner man to God for help. It is the arm that moves the arm of God. It is the organ by which we receive the grace of God. If a Christian lays the Bible aside and forgets his prayer chamber, he will surely though slowly sink into that unhappy state of having the Spirit quenched in his heart. God’s Spirit cannot work in us when we violate the laws of the Spirit’s operation.
It was a characteristic of the early period of our Christian life that we loved to read the Word of God and to pray. In our prayer closet, with the open Bible before us, we held sweet communion with God. There we were both chastized and comforted. The joy in the Lord and the testimony of the Spirit in our heart made us courageous, and at the same time careful Christians. The fire upon the altar was fed with the right fuel. The fire is the Holy Spirit. But we are certain to lose this treasure to the same extent that we fall to open our hearts in prayer and neglect to use the Word of God.
We are thus quenching the Holy Spirit.
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There is also another way in which we may be certain to quench the Holy Spirit. That is by excusing sin in our lives.
The Spirit makes sin exceedingly sinful for us. When it ceases to do so we will be at peace with the old nature in us rather than at war with it. Then there is grave danger that the Holy Spirit will lose the hold He gained on us when we were converted. Here it is not only a question of the sin which is in the open and is seen by all men, but it is also the sin that no man can see. This is the selfish mind, the evil thoughts, the “I,” “me” and “mine” which we are so fond of; it is the spirit of miserliness which seeks only its own; it is to speak evil of our fellow men and use their sins as a whitewash for our own; it is the spirit which urges us to become great rather than to be of service; it is quarreling and strife in the home and sharp words from an unkind heart.
Our old nature is fertile soil for all this evil, and we often see these sins grow to frightful proportions even in the lives of Christians. Is it strange that one has to ask, “How can it be that Christians live like that?”
Was it not over sins like these that we were given such wonderful power during the early period of our Christian life? Was not this one of the contributing factors to our great joy then? And to think that we should again turn to these same sins now and permit them to rule in our lives!
Christian friends, what can be the reason?
You have been excusing sin in your life.
God’s Spirit has not been permitted to prove to us that sin in our lives is really sin. Little by little we have been easing up on the demands of God upon us, and we take the edge off the Spirit’s reproof by our refusal to take sin seriously. Our own will silences the voice of the Holy Spirit. We have begun to slide down hill, and we are not able to stop; the Holy Spirit is not permitted to direct us.
We are quenching the Spirit in our lives.
Right on this point it seems that Satan has a large field of activity in our day. This is so not only in the life of the individual Christian, but also in the larger society of Christians.
As compensation for our defeat in this area we seek to hide our spiritual poverty in one of two ways. We may harden our hearts into a cold formalism which consists in mere talk about sin. We have been sinners, and we are sinners; we shall likely continue to be sinners for as long a time as we are on earth. The words sound so meek and humble and full of wisdom, but it is only talk; the words become a cloak for an emaciated spirituality. In spite of all talk to the contrary, we have permitted sin to rule in our hearts.
It is also possible to go in the opposite direction. We may say that we are not so sinful after all. The evil in our hearts is not sin, but a temptation to sin; and temptation is not sin. In this way we may try to sneak out of all responsibility and away from the goading conscience. The situation becomes worse with each passing day. To effect a remedy we seek, usually in company with others who are like us, to whip our emotions into a high degree of intensity; this we like to think of as being filled with the Holy Spirit.
But our everyday life speaks loudly to the opposite effect. We have a Sunday Christianity that reaches up into the clouds, but a week-day religion that is lower than the earth. Life neutralizes our profession because the Spirit has begun to lose His hold upon the inner man.
Christian friends! When we are trying to find some of the reasons for the quenching of the Spirit in our lives, we must not fall for the temptation of looking only at others. Let us take a look at ourselves in the presence of God. This is fitting for all of us. If we should find that the judgment of God does not strike us, we have the greater reason to be thankful. But if it should be that we are affected by God’s judgment, the Lord’s admonition to us is this: “Repent, and do the first works.” He who wishes to help others must first receive help himself.
There is also another side of this question to which we do well to pay attention. We who are Christians may quench the Spirit when the Word of God is being preached. We may listen to the sermon with a purpose of criticizing it rather than to pray for the preacher; we are not giving free course to the Word then. If we become distant and cold when an awakening comes, we are also quenching the Spirit. We may have prayed for an awakening, but we have had our own ideas of how it ought to come; when it does not come exactly as we have thought that it should, we become aloof. The Spirit is quenched very effectively that way.
It is one of the spiritual laws in the Kingdom of God that all who have the Spirit of God should be obedient to that Spirit. He who resists that Spirit becomes an obstacle to his fellowmen rather than a servant of the Spirit. Many Christians have permitted themselves to be used thus to hinder the work of the Holy Spirit, perhaps without realizing fully what they were doing.
“And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:27).
Our hearts let new-created be, Our walk make pure and holy. Help us offense and sin to flee, And ever serve God solely, So that our faith in Christ, our Lord, May prove itself in deed and word Before the world about us.