The Gift of Tongues as a Glorious Display of the Gospel (Part 5)Thursday, July 02, 2009
Part Five: Joy
I recall reading the testimony of a gentleman once named Elias Marion, a man who lived in Barre, England. In 1703 he was evidently converted...in a profound and interesting manner. He recorded with great detail the experience which entailed quite a bit of physiological occurrences to his body. In short, the presence of God seemed to have such an effect upon him that his breathing was significantly and profoundly altered. Incredible conviction of sin fell on him, in such a way that I have a hard time recalling when the last time was that I heard someone describe it in this manner. His brother was prophetically enabled to give a running list of sins in his thought life that no one else but God could have known. That in turn gave way to confession, which gave way to conversion. In his testimony, he wrote,
"I found myself somewhat eased; a calm succeeded, my burden grew lighter, and I relished with a great deal of pleasure of liberty restored me to raise my voice and heart up to God...my heavenly Father, who, according to His infinite mercies, spoke peace then to my soul, and wiped away the tears from my eyes."Here is what happened to him next. For about a month, he continued to struggle with this physiological overwhelming sensation with the presence of God. After spending that same time period in prayer and fasting about the matter, he wrote the following, continuing his testimony to what happened.
"At length it was a new spring of joys to my soul, when, after a month's silent ecstacies, if they might properly be so called, it pleased God to loosen my tongue, and put his word into my mouth...it was his pleasure to overrule my tongue and lips, and make use of those my weak organs according to his good will. I will not pretend fully to express what was my astonishment and joy when I felt and heard flow through my mouth a stream of holy words, whereof my mind was in no way the author, and which ravished my ears to hear it" (Testimony of Elias Marion, of Barre, England, 1703).I have personally heard many reports of people recounting a sense of joy, ecstasy, and sheer excitement when they speak in tongues, much like Elias Marion experienced. More "conservative" Christians will write off the experience, saying that such encounters prove nothing and weigh too heavily on the minds of charismatics. My response is simple: tell it to Isaiah, Peter, Gideon, Abraham, Moses, John, and the rest of the guys in the Bible who encountered God's presence. It's not something you can forget, and it's not something you want to forget. This response is similar to that of Henry Drummond (1786-1860), banker, politician, writer, and a remorseless hater of every kind of religious sham and pretense in his day. Regarding a supernatural word of prophecy and tongue spoken by a Mrs. Caird in a service he was attending one night, watching closely everything that followed, here is his own account of what happened to him personally.
"I felt an extraordinary anxiety for the souls of men, and particularly for some persons present, and a most earnest desire that they should enter into Jesus before the door was shut, upon His coming to judgment, which then appeared so peculiarly near; so that I was constrained to cry out to all present, with a loud voice, 'Enter Now!'..Upon rejoining some other persons afterwards, I felt their most religius expressions cold to express the sensations I myself had; there was a realization of the presence of God in Christ, and of my own oneness with Jesus, diffusing a joy such as no words can describe; and just as in proportion as I have been enabled ever since to abide all day long in Him, so is the power of the Spirit mighty within me to tell forth His mind and truth and praise...I am therefore as conscius as I am of my existence, of a power within me, yet distinct from me, not using me as a mere machine, I but bending my will and affections to love, to glorify Jesus, giving a peace and joy, and love to God and man, passing all understanding."
In fact, you want more of it. Why? Because we're seeking after experiences? Yes and no. I don't want the experience for experience sake. I want the experience because of its quality and content. It was an experience saturated in the truth about God combined with qualitative sensation of the presence of God. When that happened to me, I was filled with "joy unspeakable" as the famous Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote...and I simultaneously spoke on tongues. So have many other Christians as well, according to many credible reports. Let me try to break this down for a few minutes here.
1. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is a joy-producing Spirit. Paul wrote to the Galatians that part of the fruit the Spirit produces is joy (Gal. 5:22). In fact, he pairs the two - joy and the Holy Spirit - as rooting a Christian when he experiences suffering (1 Thess. 1:6). Luke describes the Christians of the early church being filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit, simultaneously (Acts 13:52). Paul wrote to the Romans that the kingdom of God is about experiencing joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Paul joins these two elements again as he closes Romans, praying that they would be filled with all joy so that by the power of the Holy Spirit they could abound in hope (Rom. 15:13).
2. Joy is rooted in liberty.
Isaiah prophesied hundreds of years before Jesus, that the Spirit would send the Messiah out t preach a gospel of liberty (Isa. 61:1). Jesus began His ministry by quoting from this text and introducing the very purpose of His existence (Luke 4:18). When the Holy Spirit sets a person free from condemnation, guilt, and power of sin...when all that is broken and done away with, there is liberty. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:17, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." And he wrote to the Galatians that it is "for freedom Christ has set us free" (5:1).
A liberated heart is freed from sin and God's judgment upon it. Therefore, a liberated heart is filled with joy. And a liberated heart can overflow with joy expressed in different languages. It should not be a shock to meet a Christian who tells of his tongues-speaking experience as being one filled with an unexplainable joy, even leading to a divine ecstasy filled with incredible excitement. It's an experience no drug can produce, yet one that people seek constantly through illicit means, such as drugs. But because it is a fruit of the Spirit, it never comes by those means, but only through a heart filled with the Spirit.
Remembering that the Spirit always points to Jesus, preaching Jesus to our souls, the Spirit's work in us will sometimes bring about a sense of unexplainable enrapture. One man described this in his early days when he was being raised in a Christian home. During family devotions one night he felt such an overwhelming sense of God's presence that He didn't know what to do. It was unexplainable. It was strange. Yet it was welcoming and comforting, and he wanted more of it. So after devotions, he went to his room and asked God, "if this is not some excitement or delusion, let the same thing return to me again quickly!" He then felt God's presence again, describing it this way: "there was a realization of the presence of God in Christ, and of my own oneness with Jesus, diffusing such a joy as no words can describe...giving a peace and love and joy to God and man, passing all understanding." This was and is today the work of the Holy Spirit. It is HE who produces and induces such a sense of God's presence (because He is God) IN Jesus Christ, producing inexplicable joy.
In a different story, John Wesley recounts how he and his brother, Charles, were up praying with a group of believers til three in the morning, on January 1, 1739. He wrote that, "the power of God came mightily upon us, in so much that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little bit from that awe and amazement, at the presence of his majesty, we broke out with one voice" in song.
Another gentleman wrote the following about his experience. "No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love, and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, 'I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.' I said, 'Lord, I cannot bear it any more;' yet I had no fear of death." This is a manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit who pours out God's love in the heart of a believer until they are overwhelmed with absolute joy.
Many Christians who have spoken in tongues, including myself, would tell of the inseparable entangling that takes place between tongues and joy. They seem wrapped up in each other, tangled, so that it's impossible to try to separate them. The Spirit brings God's presence which swallows a person up with the love of God in Christ, which liberates their hearts and sets them free from condemnation and guilt and judgment, which produces undaunting joy. And somehow, mysteriously, different languages seem to surface in that whole enrapturing experience.
(In fact, in a scientific research study performed on women who speak in tongues, the co-author of the study, also a Christian who believes tongues is a gift from God wrote, "You’re aware of your surroundings,” she said. “You’re not really out of control. But you have no control over what’s happening. You’re just flowing. You’re in a realm of peace and comfort, and it’s a fantastic feeling.” See the study for your own review.)
My point here has been to show that it is not at all unusual for a Christian to experience a divine ecstasy of sorts when a heart filled with God's love does not find an end to the joy it feels because of that love. That's the work of the Spirit who also brings His gift of tongues to bear during those moments in many Christians' lives.