The Authority of the Holy Spirit by Martyn Lloyd Jones

The Authority of the Holy Spirit by Martyn Lloyd Jones

All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Authority.” The sermon was preached at Glen Orchard, Ontario, in September 1957 and subsequently published in 1958 and re-published in 1997.


     How is this authority manifested? We have already seen one way in our study of the authority of the Scriptures. But now we must come to the way in which we see the authority of the Holy Spirit demonstrated in the earthly life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is, of course, a most important aspect of our subject. We remember how He was baptized at the very beginning of His ministry at the age of thirty. He went to John the Baptist and asked John to baptize Him. John remonstrated with Him and pointed out that it should rather be he (John) who should be baptized by Him, but our Lord replied: ‘Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.’ It was at this point in His life, when He was baptized by John, that the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and the voice from heaven declared, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’

     Now this is something unique. Our Lord was being filled by the Holy Spirit in order that He might exercise His ministry as the Messiah. Let us notice how this is put in John 3:34, ‘God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.’ God gave Him the Spirit in complete fullness for His task. This is a mystery, but it seems clear that even the Son of God (for the purposes of His mediatorial work on earth) could not have done the work that had been given Him to do unless the Father had thus ‘given’ Him the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ was still the eternal second Person in the blessed Holy Trinity, but He had laid aside the insignia of His glory. He had humbled Himself, and He had come on earth to live as a man. That is why He had to pray, and that is why it was essential that He should thus receive the plenitude of the Spirit. The Spirit was not given ‘by measure’ unto Him.

     He made this very point Himself. The leaders of the Jews were arguing with Him about His authority and His power. They were rather impressed by His feeding of the five thousand by means of a miracle, but they misunderstood its significance. Our Lord said to them: ‘Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed’ (John 6:27). This is a reference to what had happened there at His baptism. ‘Sealing’ is always ‘with the Holy Spirit’. The Lord Jesus Christ was saying in effect, ‘Here is My authority. My Father authenticated Me when He sent the Spirit upon Me and the Voice spoke. I have been sealed by the FatherWhy are you still in doubt about Me? It is not so much the miracles, it is the sealing of the Spirit that authenticates Me.’ It was a public proclamation of the fact that He is the MessiahThat is the significant accompaniment at His baptism.

     Then, after the baptism, He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil forty days and forty nights. At the close of this period He went back to His home town of Nazareth and there, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath, and began to read out of the book of the prophet Isaiah: ‘And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears’ (Luke 4:17ff.). What is He saying? ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He hath anointed me.’ Again, let us notice He was anointed at His baptism there in the Jordan. He received that special anointing and authority of the Spirit for His task. As the God-Man, the Son of man, He is given the Holy Spirit in His fullness that He might proceed to preach and to do His work of redemption. The conclusion, again, to which we must come, is that even the Son of God could not have done His work if He had not thus received the authority, the anointing, this unction which the Holy Ghost alone can give (see also Acts 10:38).


a. The work of the Spirit in conversion

     This is a great subject which could occupy our attention for a long time. I am simply going to give some suggestions. We see, first, the authority of the Holy Spirit even in the initial matter of coming to a belief in the gospel. How often this is clearly described in the Scriptures. Our Lord emphasizes it in His interview with Nicodemus who clearly took the position that this was merely a matter of understanding. He is a master of Israel, but here he is confronted by Someone who clearly has more than he has himself. But he thinks to himself, ‘It is only a more advanced stage than that which I have already reached.’ So he really went to our Lord to say ‘What have I to do in addition to what I am already doing? What do I need in addition to what I have so that I can become like you? You are obviously a teacher sent by God, for no man can do these miracles that you do except God be with him.’ He is on the point of saying, ‘What do I need in addition?’ And our Lord turns upon him and says, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ ‘You are all wrong’, said our Lord to Nicodemus, in effect. ‘What you need is to be born of water and of the Spirit. There are things which belong to the flesh. There are things which belong to the Spirit. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not (do not try to understand). The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit. You need the illumination and power of the Spirit. You cannot do this thing for yourself.’ Our Lord emphatically lays down this principle once and for ever.

     You see the same thing in practice in the Acts of the Apostles. The first Christian convert on the continent of Europe according to the record was a woman called Lydia, a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira. How was she converted? Was she carried away by the personality of the apostle Paul? Did he ‘put over’ his great personality? You remember how he started his campaign in Europe. He went out to a little prayer meeting of women only, outside the city wall on a Sunday afternoon. It was the most inauspicious and unheralded beginning that can ever have taken place. There in the little prayer meeting he just sat down and spake to them the Word of the Lord.

     ‘Still’, someone may say, ‘it must have been Paul’s personality. It must have been his learning, his eloquence.’ This is not what the record says. In Acts 16:14 we read, ‘Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.’ Even Paul could not save a soul, mighty man that he was. The Lord the Holy Spirit alone can open the heart and enable us to receive the truth. A Specific statement of this fact in 1 Corinthians 12:3 should settle this matter, ‘Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.’ If you need something further, you need only go to Ephesians 2 and there you will find that there is only one hope for those who are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’, those who are ‘the children of wrath’ and who walk ‘according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience’ and are slaves to lusts and passions of the mind as well as of the flesh and the body. There is only one hope for them. ‘You hath he quickened.’ ‘We are his workmanship.’ Without the work and authority and power of the Holy Spirit there would never be a single believer in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

b. The work of the Spirit in assurance

     But the authority of the Spirit does not end there. It is the Holy Spirit alone who finally can give us an unshakable assurance of salvation. Now this subject of the assurance of salvation is a very important one, and one, it seems to me, which is very frequently misunderstood. There are three main ways in which assurance comes to us, but often in these days, unfortunately, only the first one is stressed. The first is that which is to be obtained by believing and applying to ourselves the bare word of the Scripture as the authoritative word of God. It tells us that ‘he that believeth on him is not condemned’. There is God’s word, we believe it and rest upon it.

     Yet that is only the first way assurance may come to us. Indeed, that alone can sometimes be dangerous. It can be a kind of ‘believism’. A man can say that for his own peace of mind and for his own purposes. We accept that, but alone it is not enough. We need something further, which is the second ground of assurance. The First Epistle of John provides us with certain criteria. John says that there are certain tests of spiritual life. (i) ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.’

(ii) We know again that we have passed from death unto life because we no longer find the commandments of the Lord to be grievous. They are a delight to us. And there are other tests. (iii) We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. (iv) We are aware of the Spirit working in us. (v) We examine ourselves to see if any of the Spirit’s fruit is being manifested in us. If we find these things, we can be assured that we are born again. Life must always manifest itself. The life in the tree produces the apples or pears or peaches. Life is bound to show itself, and if you find any signs or evidences of life, that is the guarantee that there is the presence of life. That is a much safer form of assurance than the first, which was entirely objective. This is subjective also.

     There is yet, however, a further form of assurance. It is the highest and most certain of all. The apostle Paul expresses it in Romans 8:15-17: ‘For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.’

     This is not a form of assurance that I may deduce from the Scriptures, or from evidences which I find in myself. Here is a direct witness of the Spirit; the Spirit Himself beareth witness with my spirit. It is possible for us to have the first two grounds of assurance without having this third. Here is something that the Spirit Himself alone can give us. It is He alone who can speak with a final authority which gives me certitude with regard to my being a child of God, a certitude as great, or greater indeed, as my certainty with regard to anything else in life. Such a fact is constantly asserted by the saints throughout the centuries. They declare that the Holy Spirit made them so certain of the reality and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and His love for them, that they were more certain of that than of any other fact whatsoever.

     The same truth is put in other forms elsewhere. In 2 Corinthians 1:22 we find it like this, ‘Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.’ In Ephesians 1:13,14 it is put in this form: ‘In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.’ You will notice that the same word is used as was used concerning our Lord at His baptism—’sealed’. Here then is the final assurance of salvation, and only the authority of the Holy Spirit can give us this.

c. The work of the Spirit in giving understanding 

     It is also the Holy Spirit alone who can give us true spiritual understanding of the Scriptures, an understanding of the doctrine. John puts this clearly (1 John 2:20). He is dealing with the ‘anti-Christs’, those people who had been in the Church, but who had gone out of the Church because they were not of it. They had thought that they were converted, and had been accepted as such. But they had now gone out. They had never really been true believers. They were temporary, false believers. The question arises as to how we can differentiate. How were these ignorant first Christians, most of whom were slaves, to discriminate in these matters? John says: ‘But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.’ He repeats it in verse 27, ‘But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you.’

     There is an anointing and an unction given by the Holy Ghost which gives us understanding. And thus it has often come to pass in the long history of the Church that certain ignorant, more or less illiterate people have been able to discriminate between truth and error much better than the great doctors of the Church. They were simple enough to trust to the ‘anointing’, and thus they were able to distinguish between things that differ. The saintly Samuel Rutherford, that mighty man of God who lived three hundred years ago in Scotland, commented one day: ‘If you would be a deep divine, I recommend to you sanctification.’ Ultimately the way to understand the Scriptures and all theology is to become holy. It is to be under the authority of the Spirit. It is to be led of the Spirit.

d. The work of the Spirit in defence of the truth 

     A fourth way in which the Holy Spirit shows His authority in the individual believer is in the defence of the truth. Now this is something which we are very concerned about these days, and rightly so. We are told in Jude 3 that we should ‘contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints’ (RV). But how are we to do this? We tend to do it in terms of apologetics. Again I want to say that I am not denouncing or dismissing apologetics. I believe that apologetics has its rightful place, but I am certain that we are attaching far too much importance to it, and far too many of our books are defending the faith in this way. We are trying to reason, to show our knowledge and to make accommodations. But it does not seem to avail much. We do not seem to be making much of an impression on our opponents.

     How, then, is the truth to be defended? In Acts 6 you find Stephen in this self-same position. And this is what we read in verses 9 and 10: ‘Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.’ Stephen’s secret was that he was full of wisdom and faith and power because he was full of the Holy Ghost. Because of that he could meet these disputers in such a way that they could not resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. That is the way to defend the faith and stand for the truth.

     Let us consider some other examples of this same method. The apostle Paul had many adversaries in Corinth, and they were saying bitter things about him. They were trying to ridicule him. They said, ‘His presence is weak and his speech contemptible.’ (I am afraid that the apostle Paul would not be a popular modern evangelist. It seems that he was not much to look at. We are told that he was a short man, bald-headed with a hooked nose, and that he had a horrible inflammation of his eyes, an opthalmia, which made him utterly repulsive to look at.) That was the sort of thing they were saying about him. And the apostle writes to them as follows: ‘I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power’ (1 Corinthians 4:19, 20). The thing that matters, he says, is not understanding or mere speaking; it is the authority, the power of the Holy Ghost.

     The apostle says very much the same thing to that same Church in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, where he puts it thus: ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.’ That is his method. He is in the flesh, he walks in the flesh, but he does not war ‘after the flesh’. He has another authority, another power. It is the power and authority of the Holy Ghost that was in him. He is ready to meet the whole world, and he can bring down all authorities, strongholds and dominions.

     Surely it is important for us to realize that here we have the only authority still. We can put up our own little authorities, and the world puts up its authorities. It is simply one authority against another. We spend our time in quoting ‘authorities’ and discovering this detail and that. We see sometimes in the newspaper that some person or other has now become a believer. And we may think that this will make a great impression on the public. But the essential situation remains unaffected. The only authority that will avail us in all these respects is the authority of the Holy Ghost.

e. The work of the Spirit in evangelism

     That brings me to the most practical matter of all, the authority of the Holy Spirit in evangelism, and in witnessing.Here we consider the task of taking the truth out into the world among those who are not believers. I remember once reading a phrase in an article written by a man about a meeting in which he had listened to two speakers. It was a political, not a religious meeting, but what he said about those two speakers came to me as a conviction from the Holy Spirit. He said that, as he listened to the two men, he felt that this was the main difference between them: the first had spoken brilliantly as an advocate; the second had spoken as a witness. And I asked myself, which am I? Am I an advocate of these things or am I a witness? You can be an advocate of Christianity without being a Christian. You can be an advocate of these things without experiencing them. If you have intelligence, if you have been rightly trained, you can understand the Scriptures in a sense, and you can lay them out before others. You can present all the arguments, you can put the case for a kind of Christian philosophy. And it may sound wonderful. But you may be standing outside the true experience of it the whole time. You may be talking about something which you do not really know, about Someone you have never met. You are an advocate, perhaps even a brilliant advocate. But note what the Lord said to the apostles: ‘Ye shall be my witnesses.’

     Let us then work this out together. What the Holy Ghost does with His authority is to make us witnesses. I have already shown how our Lord Himself needed this authority before He could preach, do His mighty works and exercise His ministry. The same is true of His disciples. After the resurrection, just before the ascension, our Lord came to these men who had been with Him for three years and said: ‘But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). Do we realize the full significance of that? Here were men who had been with Him for three years. They knew Him intimately, they had listened to His sermons, they had seen His miracles. They had stood there and had watched Him as He died upon the cross. They had seen Him buried in the grave. They knew that He had risen from the dead. He had spoken to them, and He had eaten the broiled fish and honey with them. They had had contact with Him during the forty days and He had taught and instructed them about Himself (see Luke 24). If ever men were in a position to testify to the resurrection and to all the facts about the Lord, it was these disciples. And yet what our Lord told them is that they would be quite unable to do it until they had been baptized with the Holy Ghost. Even they could not witness to Him and His works, about who He was and what He had done, until they had received the power. Knowledge of the facts is not enough. Before you can witness effectively there must be this power of the Holy Spirit.

     The disciples received that power on the day of Pentecost. The result was, of course, that Peter began to preach immediately with boldness, authority and power, and three thousand were converted. We read in Acts 4 that the authorities could not dispute the boldness with which Peter and John bore witness to the resurrection and said these things. It was nothing but a manifestation of the Holy Ghost. The same Peter who had been so nervous and so apprehensive (indeed, who had been such a coward that, because he was afraid of losing his life, he had denied his own Lord, his greatest Friend and Benefactor), now stands up with boldness ready to confront the whole world and all the devils in hell, and proclaims this Jesus whom he had so recently denied, saying: ‘I don’t know him. I don’t belong to him.’ What is this? The authority of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit manifesting His authority in an extraordinary manner.

     We read later that after these men had been arrested and had become free again, they met together and had a prayer meeting (Acts 4:23-33). ‘When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.’ That is His authority. When He comes upon a meeting, He not only takes hold of men: He can even shake walls and buildings. Again, in Acts 4:33 we find that ‘with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.’ What was the secret of their power? That they were able to argue scientifically that resurrection is possible? That they were able to reconcile the miraculous with the scientific? No! It was the authority and power of the Holy Ghost turning these men into living witnesses who were irresistible. ‘And great grace was upon them all.’

     As you read further in the Acts of the Apostles, you find exactly the same thing happening in the mighty ministry of the apostle Paul. On one occasion when Paul was preaching he was resisted by a man called Elymas, the sorcerer. What happened? ‘Then Saul, . . . filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him (Elymas), and said, 0 full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand’ (see Acts 13:9 ff.). Such is the authority given by the Holy Spirit to the servant of God.

            There are certain specific statements in Scripture which define this quite clearly. Take for instance 1 Corinthians 2. I am of the opinion that for Evangelicals today this chapter is in many ways the most important single chapter in the whole Bible. Look at this colossus of a man, Paul, who had one of the greatest minds the world has ever known. There is no question about that, judged from any standpoint. And yet Paul tells us that when he went to Corinth he was ‘in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling’. He did not bounce on to a platform radiating self-confidence and self-assurance and authority. And he did not let off a few jokes to put himself right with the congregation. He was not perfectly at ease, a ‘master of assemblies’. ‘Weakness, fear and much trembling.’ Why? Because Paul knew his own limitations. He knew what he could not do, and he was terrified, indeed he trembled, lest in any way he or his personality might come between those souls and this tremendous message which had been committed unto him. He did not put on things which he knew would appeal to them. He did the exact opposite. He determined ‘not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.’ Moreover, he says, ‘My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.’ Both with regard to his matter and manner he would not pander to the popular taste. And the result was that when he spoke, though some might say that ‘his speech was contemptible’, there was power, and men and women were convicted and converted, became Christians and were established in the Church. What was the secret? It was ‘the demonstration of the Spirit and of power’. It was this Holy Ghost authority. In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 the apostle puts it thus: ‘For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.’ I believe that the assurance was in the apostle as well as in the people who believed. It was not the mere word of man. They were not listening to a mere human exposition. He did not set forth some new and strange philosophy. It was the Word of God that came ‘in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance’.

     The apostle Peter says exactly the same thing. He talks in 1 Peter 1:12 about the ‘things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.’ It is ‘with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven’ that the gospel is preached with assurance and conviction, with authority and with power.

     Surely this is the greatest need at the present time? Go back and read the history of the great revivals in the Church, and you will find that this power of the Holy Ghost and authority is always present. Two hundred years ago a great evangelical awakening was witnessed in England, in America, in Scotland and in Wales. One of the leaders in Wales was a man called Howell Harris. As you read his journals you find that he keeps on saying something like this: ‘Arrived at such and such a place; preached. Felt the old authority.’ Then another time he says that when he preached in a certain place, ‘No authority’. It grieved him and he was unhappy. He fell down before God, searched his heart and confessed his sin and sought ‘the authority’ again. He was never happy unless he was aware of ‘the authority’. It was always the same message, but that was not enough without the authority. He knew that preaching, in a sense, was vain apart from ‘the authority’.

     One cannot read the journals of Whitefield and of Wesley without finding exactly the same thing. I remember reading in the journals of Whitefield a statement which he makes of what happened while he was preaching in Cheltenham. This is how he expressed it, ‘The Lord came down amongst us.’ The authority! ‘There was a shout of a King amongst us’, he said on another occasion. And John Wesley constantly expresses the same thought. That was the essence of his experience in the meeting at Aldersgate in London when he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’It was from that moment that he had this authority, with the result that his ministry was entirely transformed. Jonathan Edwards experienced exactly the same thingDwight L. Moody is also a special instance of this matter. It was after that experience while he was walking down Wall Street in New York City, when the Holy Ghost came upon him, that Moody received his authority. He preached the sermons he had preached before, but they were transformed. Why? He now had the authority of the Spirit.

     It is unmistakable. I remember reading again in Whitefield’s journal of his first visit to Northampton, Massachusetts, the first time he met the saintly Jonathan Edwards. Whitefield remarks that he would never forget how, as he had the privilege of standing and preaching in the pulpit, he noticed that Edwards listened to him with tears streaming down, and a most heavenly smile upon his face. Why was it? It was not merely the preaching of Whitefield, matchless orator though he was. Jonathan Edwards was experiencing the authority of the Holy Spirit. He had known it for himself. He could see it in his brother, his fellow-servant of God, and he was rejoicing in it. It is a wonderful thing when a preacher can enjoy another man’s preaching as much as his own. Nothing but the Holy Ghost can do that for him.

     Let me end this section with one further story. There was an old preacher in Wales about one hundred and fifty years ago who was invited to preach at a preaching convention held in a little town. The people had already assembled, but the preacher had not come. So the local minister and other leaders sent a maid back to the house where the preacher was staying to tell him that they were waiting for him and that everything was ready. The girl went and when she came back she said: ‘I did not like to disturb him. He was talking to somebody.’ ‘Oh’, said they, ‘that is rather strange, because everybody is here. Go back and tell him that it is after time and that he must come.’ So the girl went back again and again she returned and reported, ‘He is talking to somebody.’ ‘How do you know that?’ they asked. She answered: ‘I heard him saying to this other person who is with him, “I will not go and preach to those people if you will not come with me”.’ ‘Oh, it is all right’, replied the ministers. ‘We had better wait.’

     The old preacher knew that there was little purpose in his going to preach unless he knew of a certainty that the Holy Ghost was going with him and giving him authority and power. He was wise enough, and had sufficient spiritual discernment, to refuse to preach until he knew that he had his authority, and that the Holy Ghost was going with him and would speak through him. You and I, however, often preach without Him, and all our cleverness and learning, and all our science and all our apologetics lead to nothing because we lack the authority of the Holy Ghost. (71-88)

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