Ethnic and Christian Views of Divine Influence
1 Corinthians 12:11
But all these works that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

So much of our knowledge comes through the senses, it is not wonderful that many persons believe that all our knowledge comes through the senses. So large a part of our time is occupied with this outward world of sights and sounds, no wonder many think that this is all we have to do with. What is spirit, what is soul, but a higher development of matter? What do we know of either, except what we see through forms of material organisation? This is modern materialism, which does not deny spirit but maintains that all we know of it is what comes to us from without, through forms of matter. It is not curious that multitudes of men should have been materialists; for matter impresses itself constantly and necessarily on all. But the really curious fact is that the great majority of mankind should have always been Spiritualists; believing in spirit more than in matter — in the infinite more than the finite; believing not in evolution, but emanation; accepting as the origin of the universe a dropping downward out of the infinite, into the finite, or a creation of the world by the Gods.

I. CHRISTIANITY DIFFERS FROM ALL OTHER RELIGIONS, IN MAINTAINING THE UNIVERSALITY OF THIS INFLUENCE. Other religions, so far as I know, have limited inspiration, either to a few select souls, as prophets and saints; or, secondly, to some select class; as priests; or, thirdly, to those who sought it by seclusion, by meditation, by solitary prayer, by self-denial, going apart into caves and cells to macerate the body by starvation and asceticism. But on the day of Pentecost, in the first words which Peter said, he declared that the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled — "It shall come to pass, in the last days, saith the Lord, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy." Accordingly, through the Book of Acts, and in all the Epistles, we find that wherever the gospel was preached, all were told that they were to receive the Holy Spirit. All Christians were inspired; but their inspiration showed itself in different ways. It inspired some of them with knowledge, helping them to a clear sight of truth. It inspired some of them with wisdom, helping them to see what was the best thing to be done in any emergency. It inspired some of them with faith, enabling them to feel the presence and love of God amid bereavement, loneliness, bitter disappointment, and sharp trial. It inspired some of them to be good physicians, tender and careful nurses of the sick. If they saw a man or a woman who had a gift of healing, they said, "She is inspired by the Holy Ghost to heal disease, as the Apostle Paul is inspired to preach." Gifts were special, but the inspiration was universal; one and the same for all, from the lowest to the highest. God was in every heart in this happy community of brothers and sisters. This, therefore, is one of the characters of the true Christian doctrine of Divine influence, that God's influence comes to all of us whenever we wish for it. This is what Jesus says: "If a hungry child asks his father and mother for bread, will they give him a stone? No! Do you think, then, "that if any of you ask God for power to do right and be right, He will not give it to you? So certain it is that God will give His Holy Spirit to them who ask Him."

II. According to the New Testament, the Divine influence is not only universal, but IT IS CONTINUOUS, CONSTANT, A NEVER-FLOWING STREAM, DESCENDING INTO EVERY OPEN SOUL. It is not only for all men, but it is at all times. Undoubtedly there are seasons when the human heart is more tender, more susceptible, more open to Divine influence, than at other times. So in this opening season of the year, the seeds and buds are more susceptible to the influence of the sun. The buds are swelling by millions on the trees; every day they become a little larger; presently they open into delicate, soft leaflets; then they hang out their pretty forms more and more unfolded. Some immense force is pushing them from within, and attracting them from without. The small plant in the sick girl's window in some narrow city lane feels the same influence; the weeds and grasses over ten thousand miles of latitude feel the influence. Every twenty-four hours swells this tide of vegetable life which flows in upon us like the ocean. Thus, too, there are doubtless spring seasons in the human soul, when we are more susceptible to Divine influence than at other times. God is not necessarily nearer than at other times, but our hearts are turned more towards Him.

III. A third peculiarity of the Christian view of Divine influence is, that IT CONSIDERS INSPIRATION AS NATURAL, RATIONAL AND PRACTICAL.

1. It is rational. It does not come to confuse she mind, but to give it more insight, deeper knowledge. Part of our knowledge comes to us from the outward world by observation; but another part, and often the best part, comes to us from within, by intuition.

2. The Divine influence, according to Christianity, is not only rational, but also practical. We have seen that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of "healing." We also read of the "gifts" of "helping," of "governing," of "discerning of spirits." One man who believes in inspiration, and looks up for it, will be filled with a Divine power of helping those in difficulty, of showing them what they ought to do, of lending a hand to a weak brother or sister. Another man will, in answer to his inward prayer, be gifted with executive ability to direct and guide and govern. We know how some persons can govern without seeming to govern. Some are born leaders, but some are also inspired leaders. They are enabled by a power not their own to guide, repress, restrain, uplift, and bring together many hearts, till they beat as one. This is also a gift of the Holy Ghost. And others are made discerners of spirits. The eye is made clear and penetrating to discern shams. The hypocrite and deceiver is unmasked in their presence. These various powers of the soul are all as much quickened and fed and vitalised by the Holy Spirit as that of the prophet who speaks with the tongue of men and angels, or the rapt devotee who wears the stones with his knees in constant prayer. It is one spirit by which all God's servants are baptised into that one body, the invisible church of good men and women.

3. Although this influence is supernatural it is also natural. The Divine life, flowing down through human souls into the world, must be, and is in harmony with the same Divine life flowing down into the world through external nature. Consequently, wherever God sends a fuller tide of religious inspiration into any period, it is followed by a greater growth of art, science, knowledge and civilisation. What we ought to believe, therefore, is that God is always inwardly near to us, in the depths of our soul, and always ready to strengthen us, and lighten our darkness, when we turn inward to Him. But it is a mistake to speak of any irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit. God respects our freedom, and, if we choose to resist these tender attractions and illuminations, they are never forced upon us. Let us not harden ourselves against the voice within, whether it comes to give us better insight into truth, or to show us how acceptably to work: whether it open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, our hands to act, our lips to speak, or our hearts to love.

(James Freeman Clarke.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

WEB: But the one and the same Spirit works all of these, distributing to each one separately as he desires.

The Universal Gift
Top of Page
Top of Page