Chapter 17 – The Holy Spirit in the Book of Joel

“And it shall some to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” Joel 2: 28.

Joel was the oldest of the prophets of Judah whose writings have come down to us. His little book contains the substance and the text of the deeper and larger unfoldings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the later prophets, and is the keynote of the Day of Pentecost and the Christian Dispensation.

It is the text of all the volumes that have been written about the Holy Ghost, and the germ of all the manifestations of His power and grace throughout the ages that have followed this ancient message.

Just as God gave to Habakkuk, in one little verse, the text of the whole Gospel of salvation, so He gave to Joel the text of the whole doctrine of the Spirit. Like a rainbow upon the storm cloud, like a gleam of sunshine out of a dark sky, like a blossom amid the regions of eternal snow, so Joel’s beautiful vision comes out of a dark calamity, a great national catastrophe.

It opens with the picture of an invasion of locusts, one of the most frightful scourges of the East. But beyond this little picture there is evidently some greater trial suggested, and some more formidable enemy foreshadowed. Perhaps the locust plague was but the type of the invading armies of the Chaldeans, and of the more dreadful judgments that are yet to come to Israel.

In the midst of this great national trial the prophet was sent to utter the trumpet call to the people to come together in fasting, penitence, humiliation, and prayer, and to seek the interposition and deliverance of their covenant God. Nor did they call upon Him in vain. He sent the gracious answer; and, as He always does, He gave more than they asked, even the promise of His own personal coming to dwell among them, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the fullness of Pentecostal times, and the brighter promise of the glory which is to follow through the advent and reign of the Son of God Himself.

The whole vision is a kind of ground plan of the Dispensations, and especially of the Christian Dispensation and the times of the Spirit. It is also a sort of outlined sketch of God’s dealings with the Church still in the manifestation of His presence and the outpouring of His Spirit; and not only with the Church, but with every individual soul.

I. THE MINISTRY OF REPENTANCE. Before the promise of the Spirit could be fulfilled, there must come the dispensation of repentance, humiliation, and earnest prayer. There came, therefore, the call to national penitence. “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation.” It was to be a general and deeply earnest movement, including all classes. “Gather the children and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride of her closet. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, `Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach.'”

Such a dispensation of repentance must precede at every season of spiritual blessing. Its great type is John the Baptist and his ministry of warning and reformation. Doubtless it is prefigured by the vision of the prophet, and it preceded the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. So, still, before any church or people can receive the showers of heavenly blessing, they must humble themselves before God; turn from sin, worldliness, and disobedience; publicly recognize God as the Author of their blessing; and wait upon Him in definite acknowledgment of their dependence. Then there will come to them the same gracious answer which the Prophet Joel was sent to bear to God’s ancient people: “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things. . . . Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for He hath given you the former rain moderately, and will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain.”

II. THE COMING OF CHRIST. Next, there came the personal presence of the Lord Himself. “Ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.” This personal manifestation of the Lord in the midst of Israel was fulfilled in its most emphatic manner by the coming of Jesus, and His incarnation and ministry on earth after the preparatory ministry of John the Baptist. So Jesus must come personally before we can receive the full baptism of the Holy Ghost. Jesus does come to the penitent heart, the surrendered heart, the humble heart, and makes it His abode. “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”

Jesus is the giver of the Holy Ghost, “He that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost;” and we must receive Christ before we can receive the Spirit. The sinner’s first act is not to receive the Holy Ghost, but to receive Jesus, turning to penitence from all sin, and opening his heart to the Savior. “As many as received him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God.” And then He gives the heart in which He dwells the same Spirit which dwelt in Him.

IV. THE COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered.” This is the very promise the Apostle Peter quoted on the day of Pentecost as the explanation of that extraordinary manifestation of the presence of God.

1. First, we will notice that it is a personal coming of the Spirit. It is not, “I will pour out of my Spirit,” but “I will pour out my Spirit.” It is the Spirit Himself who comes.

The Third Person of the glorious Trinity removed His residence from heaven to earth, just as literally as the Second Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, removed His residence from heaven to earth when He became incarnate and dwelt for thirty-three and a half years in Galilee and Judea.

This world is now the home of the Holy Ghost, a real personal Being, with affections, intelligence, and will like our own. The very Spirit that dwelt in Jesus during His earthly ministry is now residing among us, and is willing to dwell within every consecrated heart.

2. The abundance of the outpouring is very strongly expressed. The Hebrew word “pour” means a very large effusion, a boundless filling of the Spirit. God does not give some of the Spirit, but gives the Spirit in all His infinite fullness. There is no limit whatsoever. He gives the Spirit “without measure” unto Jesus, and Jesus gives us all that He has of the Spirit’s fullness.

We have not yet begun to realize the illimitable power and resources which God places at the call of His people’s faith and obedience.

3. The extent of the outpouring is universal “upon all flesh.” Hitherto the Spirit’s manifestations had been confined to individuals and to a single nation. Now there was to be no distinction of race or nation. It was to be a universal blessing for Jews and Gentiles, and equallyopen to all the human race.

There is, perhaps, an intimation of the physical aspect of the blessing. The Holy Ghost makes our flesh His home and our body His temple.

4. There was to be no distinction of age. The promise was to “the young men and to the old men,” to “the sons and daughters” as well as to the sire. Henceforth even experience, age, and natural advantages were not to count; but the Holy Ghost was to be the wisdom and power of all that trusted Him. He would use the youngest; as well as the oldest, and “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings” would “ordain strength” and “perfect praise.”

As we reach nearer to the climax of the age, the fullness of the Spirit, and the coming of the Lord, we find God choosing the young as well as the old, and making them the special instruments of His power. Many of the saintliest lives of today are those of young men heroes and young women heroines of the mission field, the holy ones whose consecration is more marked because it is not expected so much from them, amid the attractions and allurements of their youth and their worldly surroundings. Oh, that the young might know that the blessed Holy Ghost is willing and able to possess them in all the enthusiasm of their nature, in all the freshness of their love, in all the glow of their ambition, and not only to fill and satisfy their own hearts, but to use them as “burning and shining lights”!

The saintliest man that ever lived in Scotland was young McCheyne, whose spirit still lives in the present generation. The most influential lives that have ever adorned the mission field have been those of the young men and the young women who have given up their life as a sacrifice for Christ. Yes, and the very Leader whom we love to follow was Himself a young man, and never will be old. He will put His young heart, and His glorious Spirit, into the youngest as well as the oldest, and will accept the bright and beautiful offering of a consecrated youth, and give to it the glory that the world can never bestow. Let us receive Him, and give Him our brightest and best.

5. All social classes and conditions without distinction had the promise. “The servants and the handmaids,” mentioned in the next verse, literally mean the slaves, for the servants in ancient families were bond-slaves, and the absolute property of their masters. Upon this class the especial gifts of the Holy Ghost were to descend under the Christian Dispensation.

There is no record of a slave’s having been called specially into service and divine enduement in the Old Dispensation; but under the New, the poorest, the lowliest, and most unlikely classes were to be elevated and to receive the enduement of power from on high, and the honor of special service in the kingdom of God. So we find in the New Testament, Onesimus, the slave, recognized as the friend of Paul, and commended to the affection of Philemon, his former master. In his epistles the Apostle Paul enjoins the servants to accept their position as service for Jesus, and promises them an equal recompense in the kingdom of the Lord, when all social positions maybe reversed and they may win the crown of highest service in the millennial age.

Indeed, the outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon the servants and handmaids is specially emphasized in this verse. The two little words, “and also,” are meant to designate this class as the particular objects of the divine care and blessing. Surely it has been true that the outcast classes of society have been raised up under the Gospel to be the vessels of God’s richest mercy, and many of them the instruments of His noblest work.

N o man is so low nor so pressed down by natural hindrances as to prevent his taking the highest place in the kingdom of Christ. Let the young, let the lowly, let even the illiterate know that the Holy Ghost is willing to choose them as the vessels of His grace, and is able to train them for the highest spiritual culture and the most honored service for that blessed Master, with whom is no respect of persons.

6. Special gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit were to be bestowed. “Your sons and your daughters shalt prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” These various expressions have reference to the peculiar gifts of the Spirit in the revelation of His will to man, and the high service for which He fits us.

Prophesying is speaking the divine message in the power of the Spirit. Dreams and visions refer to the special illuminations which He is pleased to give to His consecrated servants.

Of course, it includes the peculiar ministry of inspiration of which we have formerly spoken, and which is not continued in the Church. But there is a sense in which God still opens the inner ear to hear His voice, and illuminates the “eyes of the heart” to behold the visions of His glory and His Word.

It would seem as if to the aged it came in dreams and to the young in visions. To the old, the faculties of nature being somewhat suspended, the voice of God has to be more direct. In the young the spiritual and mental powers are still in vigorous activity, and they are illuminated and quickened to catch the heavenly vision.

We do not encourage such an interpretation of these words as would give liberty for the extravagant and dangerous spiritualistic manifestations of the trance and medium, the pretended revelation, and other illusions and vagaries of our times. But after we have made necessary provision for holy caution, and the sober regulation of all spiritual manifestations, there is ample room for the quickening of the spiritual mind, the illuminating of the spiritual eye, and the unfolding of the mind of the Spirit to the humble, holy, and listening ear. God does give His visions still, especially to the young. He gave them to Joseph, He gave them to Timothy. He gave them to Paul. He gave them in the hour of consecration, in the season of waiting upon God, in the retirement of the closet, in the time when the nearest heart looks out upon a world of sin, and upon the vision of prophecy and inspired truth. God does make real to us His purpose for our lives, His purpose for the world, and the great prophetic plan which He is pleased to unfold through the Holy Ghost to the humble heart. He will “show us things to come.” He will give to us inspirations, illuminations, aspirations, hopes, assurances, which become to our faith and hope like the little glimpse of sunlight which comes to the mariner on the pathless ocean, when for a moment the clouds divide, and a single observation can be taken of the sun in the blue heavens; and then the clouds return and the ship sails by that little glimpse of sunlight for the days to come.

God does give the holy heart its visions. Let us be sure they are the voices and the visions of God; then let us cherish them, let us live by them, let them lift up, and lead us on to all the heights of His love and will. “Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.” “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

7. The coming of the Holy Ghost will bring salvation to all who are willing to receive it. Not only does He endue the few with power for special service, but he opens the doors of mercy to all who are willing to believe and receive the Savior.

In the day of His coming it shall come to pass that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And so the Day of Pentecost is not only a day of blessing to the disciples, but a day of salvation to the multitude, and when He comes to us, “he will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.”

How easy it is to lead souls to Christ when we are filled with the Holy Ghost! How the whole atmosphere charged with heavenly power when God’s waiting people are baptized with the fullness of His Spirit! Then the consciences of men are stricken sometimes without a single word, and hearts are led to seek the Savior through an influence that they cannot understand.

Doubtless, as the days go by and the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, there shall be great revivals, times of wonderful awakening, seasons of special blessing, when multitudes shall seek the Lord, both at home and abroad, and there shall be great ingatherings from among the unsaved.

Our own generation has witnessed some examples of these great movements; and we may be encouraged to look for them still, as we go forth in the power of the Spirit, and give the Gospel in its fullness and simplicity to men.

8. This promise also includes the supernatural manifestation of divine power. “I will shew wonders in the heavens above, and signs in the earth beneath.”

The Holy Ghost came at Pentecost with supernatural power; and He still operates through the faith of His people in His healing and wonder-working might, as a testimony to His word and a witness to an unbelieving world that He is still the living and the present God.

These wonders also include the manifestations of His providence in answering prayer, in removing difficulties, in breaking down barriers, in providing means for the carrying on of His cause, and in all those wonders of providence and grace of which so many examples have been given in our own time.

The Holy Ghost, who dwells in the Church, is the omnipotent Executive of the Godhead, and is able to control the hearts of men, the elements of nature, and the events of providence, and to work together with His people, not only in the ordinary operations of His grace, but in the extraordinary manifestations of divine power which may best bear witness to His word and work.

We may trust Him for all the power we need for the carrying on of His work, and for the accomplishment of His will. If He dwells within us, He will work without us. If He is pregnant in our hearts, He will show His dominion in the whole empire of His Divine power, both in the things that are in heaven, and the things that are on earth, and the things that are under the earth.

9. Once more we see the coming of the Holy Ghost leading up to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The vision of the wonder-working Spirit leads right up to the events that preceded and ushered in the advent of Christ. The next chapter is the picture and prophecy of His coming. It is full of profound prophetic interest.

Among its pictures are the restoration of Israel from their long captivity, the final conflict of the ungodly nations with Christ and His people, the great battle of Armageddon, the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the establishment of His blessed kingdom.

Just as the coming of Jesus brought the Holy Ghost, now the coming of the Holy Ghost in the fullness of His power will bring the second coming of Jesus; and as that advent approaches, His power will be more gloriously manifested, and His people will better understand His great purpose and His infinite resources. Oh, let us understand His special business, which is to gather out of the nations a people for Christ, to finish the work of the Gospel, to sanctify and prepare the Bride for her coming Lord, then to present her to Jesus, and hand over to Him the government of the millennial world.

The Holy Ghost is longing for Christ’s coming, and longing for a people that can understand Him and can cooperate with Him in bringing it about.

Just as the coming of the Holy Ghost in His fullness will bring the millennial Advent, so there is a sense in which His coming to each heart will bring a millennial blessing to that heart.

There is a millennium for the soul as well as for the Church. There is a kingdom of peace and righteousnessand glory into which, in a limited sense, we can enter with Him here. There is a Kingdom of God which in within us, which is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Come, blessed Comforter, and usher it into every willing heart.