When Richard Baxter was first introduced to the Irvingite testimony in the early 19th century, his perspective on the work of the Holy Spirit was naive and unguarded, leaving the door wide open for him to be led astray by their Pentecostal errors and deception. The same kind of errors and deception are rife in our day. But men don’t have to be deceived. Three vital truths, understood and embraced, would close the door to Pentecostal error and deception.
First of all, we must recognize the distinction between spiritual gifts and supernatural gifts.
Spiritual gifts do not refer to either miracles or revelations. They refer to the Holy Spirit’s work of equipping men with ministry gifts and spiritual power so they can effectively carry on the work of God in evangelism, church planting, discipleship, pastoring, and teaching.
Supernatural gifts, on the contrary, do refer to miracles and revelations. The miracles were sign gifts which authenticated the apostles of Christ and gave men a foretaste of the powers of the kingdom. The revelations were communication gifts — “thus saith the Lord” — that were equally authoritative with Scripture, gave the official interpretation of Scripture, and even superseded other Scripture. Communications that are not “thus saith the Lord” and not equally authoritative with Scripture are not revelation gifts, but either man-originated or lying-spirit-originated communications.
Secondly, we must recognize the truth of Cessationism — the supernatural gifts were temporary. They were given to accomplish specific purposes at a specific time. Once they had accomplished these purposes — as proving God’s reception of the Gentiles and directing the people of God until the completion of the canon of Scripture — they ceased. The spiritual gifts, on other hand, were given for open-ended purposes whose need would endure for the entire church age.
One difficulty that clouds the question of whether or not God is still dispensing the supernatural gifts is that men regularly confuse — somewhat dishonestly — God’s generic practice of healing in answer to faith with his special practice of empowering men with the supernatural gift of healing, enabling them to perform healings on command. God is still in the business of answering prayer and working miracles. Throughout the entire age he has come to the aid of his people — answering their prayers and working occasional miracles on their behalf. But a few scattered healings is not the same thing as the astounding record of miracles that was evident in the early days of the church when the Lord distributed the gift of healing to some of its members — primarily his apostles and their immediate associates.
Make no mistake, when the apostles and their near associates operated in the gift of healing, they experienced 100% success, even over serious maladies as blindness, deafness, muteness, leprosy, and paralysis. So how can we know if men have this gift today? With a very simple test. If we observe men emptying hospitals and shutting down clinics, then we can safely conclude that God is still dispensing the gift of healing today. But if all we see are men who claim the gift of healing, yet leave in their wake no discernible evidence of a healing ministry that mirrors the glory of what transpired through the hands of Christ and his apostles — no wholesale displays of immediate and permanent healing of serious ailments — then we can safely conclude that God is not dispensing the gift of healing today. The proof is in the power not the profession. And we can further safely conclude that those who profess the gift of healing are guilty of pretending — they are deceiving and being deceived.
The outpouring of the Spirit during the apostolic age, with its vast display of miracles and revelations, was never intended to be a permanent institution of the church. On the contrary, it is one of a small group of windows in history — three short periods of time — when God manifested supernatural power through his chosen servants to authenticate his chosen direction at vital crossroads in Jewish history. These three were the days of Moses and Joshua, the days of Elijah and Elisha, and the days of Christ and his apostles. A fourth window of supernatural display shall occur during the seventieth among the Jewish remnant, spearheaded by Moses and Elijah -— when fire shall again be called down upon the earth.
Thirdly, the outpouring and manifestation of supernatural gifts — communications and miracles — did not depend on exceptional degrees of holiness and faith. This is obvious from several things evidenced in the New Testament: the carnality that was manifested in the Corinthian church, Peter’s fall into legalism which Paul had to reprove, and the weakness of the apostles’ faith and character that was evident throughout Christ’s ministry and even at the time of the cross. The apostles and their immediate associates did not receive supernatural gifting at Pentecost because they had climbed beyond the realm of “men of like passions” and attained profound degrees of faith and character never before seen on earth. They received supernatural gifts because the Lord was pouring them out on “men of like passions.”
Once we understand this point, it becomes obvious that we cannot fall back on the stratagem of claiming that Pentecostalism is valid in principle, yet we fail to experience genuine miracles and “thus saith the Lord” because we fall short of the degree of faith and holiness necessary to receive and operate in such gifts. The supernatural gifts never depended on profound faith and holiness, only on the simple fact of faith. If you had enough faith to be saved, you had enough faith to receive supernatural gifting. This holds true yet today. If men are not receiving the gift of healing today — and emptying hospitals — it is not because they have significant shortcomings in their faith and holiness. It is because God is not dispensing such gifts today.
Lee W. Brainard 2016