Thursday, December 29, 2005

Some Reflections on "The Interpretation of Experience" from Iain Murray's 'Pentecost Today?'.

This post is the second part of my book review of Iain Murray's excellent book. The particular chapter under review caused me some trouble when I first read it, as it was obvious to me that Murray's view on the baptism of the Holy Spirit would not agree with my own, and this is primarily what the chapter is addressing, although Murray takes a broader view.

So in re-reading the book prior to 2006 and the New Year, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I have actually a great deal more in common with Iain Murray than I first thought although having a few points of disagreement or discussion. So firstly here are the points of common ground:

1. Murray insists we begin with the Bible first and with the Work of Christ.

He makes the point quite rightly that if one is to begin arguing for a point of theology from their experience, then this is opening the arguer up to serious error. Both the flesh and the devil are also capable of causing and giving experiences. We must start with the Scriptures. I found Murray's comments on the Work of Christ particularly encouraging, as it bolsters a real concern of mine. He said;

"We are liable to suppose that Christ's work for us ended with his death (that certainly was my experience in SGM) and resurrection, and that now it remains for the Holy Spirit to do all that we need. This is certainly not the New Testament perspective. There we are directed to not only what Christ HAS done but to what He IS DOING".

Murray then brings an outstanding quote from John Owen and his awesome commentaries on Hebrews;

"That Christ died for us, all who own the gospel profess in words; that He lived for us here in this world ... all men will grant ... but that Christ now lives a life of glory in heaven, THAT most men think is for Himself alone".


2. Murray argues that no one experience is to be seen as a standard for all - no stereotypes and no formulas!

He noted that the older evangelicals to whom we owe so much knew nothing of "how to obtain the baptism of the Holy Spirit". They did indeed believe in it, and in sudden and extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit's power - but attributed them solely to God's sovereign hand.

He quotes William Guthrie in referring to experiences of a glorious manifestation of God unto the soul;

"This is the thing that doth best deserve the title of sensible presence and is NOT GIVEN UNTO ALL BELIEVERS ... this is so absolutely let out upon the Master's pleasure and is so transient or passing or quickly gone that when it is, no man may bring his gracious state into debate for want of it".

3. Murray insists that the view that argues that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit must occur simultaneously with regeneration is "prone to minimise the experiential dimension of His work in the Christian".

This has most certainly been my experience and I can testify to this. Murray writes of those who believe this:

"In their anxiety to counter Pentecostalism, (they) leave no room for larger communications of the Spirit. These authors too often write as though they were unaware of the older evangelical position".

Ern Baxter would call them; "Men who should know better".

Murray continues;

"But in so far as they leave out or give little space to the experimental dimension found in authors from the Puritans down to George Smeaton, they are unlikely to win those whom they are concerned to help".

Once again this has been proved so accurate and so true, hence leading to the polarisation of views that we see today.

4. Murray pleads that "those who serve ... in the public teaching of the church have the most urgent obligations to be filled with the Spirit".

Enough said!

Finally on common ground with Murray:

5. He writes that the New Testament shows not two levels but many degrees of Christian experience and operations of the Spirit.

To quote Robert Haldane:

"This testimony (Romans 8:16) although it cannot be explained, is nevertheless felt by the believer; it is felt by him too in its variations, as sometimes stronger and more palpable and at other times more feeble and less discernable".

I would hesitate to even calls these points of disgreement, but rather areas where I feel there are certain gaps in Murray's logic. I wanted him to write more to explain himself!

1. He writes: "We cannot suppose that everything which marked the church at Pentecost is a permament part of all Christian experience" (p113).

I do agree, but surely he should have clarified that argument by saying it is not permament but should be ideal? Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones also agreed that we are far from where the church was at Pentecost but when the Spirit was poured out in revival, we attain to that degree of life and glory.

2. He writes: "One would assume that the conditions necessary (to obtain the baptism of the Holy Spirit) would be clear (p115).

I find it difficult to understand why a scholar and teacher of Murray's stature would not deal with Christ's words clearly concerning the impartation of the Holy Spirit; "If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink". The condition it seems is therefore ... thirst!

3. Concerning the laying on of hands, he writes: "Teaching which requires the laying on of hands for the baptism of the Spirit is contradicted by all the testimonies from Christian biography" (p115).

I would tend to agree, one does not often see it occuring in Puritan or Reformer biography, although it may be seen in Roman Catholic tradition - however it is somewhat ironic that Murray later argues on page 126 against the use of biography saying;

"By building on the experience of some Christians and making these normative for all, an unrealistic model of the Christian life is created".

Surely consistency should be expected! If biography can be used to argue against the laying on of hands, then it can also be used to argue for the intensity of experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit!!

In Conclusion:

That said, this chapter has been extremely useful to bringing another perspective to the debate concerning the giving of the Spirit and has opened my eyes once again to see that the void between charismatics and cessationists - who are both loyal to the Scriptures - is not quite as wide as first thought. My concerns are where the "open-but-cautious" camp stand as they seem reluctant to commit on anything.

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