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The Spirit-Filled Life

The Spirit-Filled Life

by John MacNeil

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I have been asked by the publishers to write a few lines introducing this book to American Christians. I count it a privilege to be allowed to do so.
The one thing needful for the church of Christ in our day, and for every member of it, is to be filled with the spirit of Christ. Christianity is nothing except as it is a ministration of the Spirit. Preaching is


I have been asked by the publishers to write a few lines introducing this book to American Christians. I count it a privilege to be allowed to do so.
The one thing needful for the church of Christ in our day, and for every member of it, is to be filled with the spirit of Christ. Christianity is nothing except as it is a ministration of the Spirit. Preaching is nothing, except as it is a demonstration of the Spirit. Holiness is nothing except as it is the fruit of the Spirit. These truths are so little taught or emphasized as they should be, and the blessings they speak of are so little experienced that one gladly welcomes every voice that draws attention to them.

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The Spirit-Filled Life

By John MacNeil

Moody Press

Copyright © 1984 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8024-8835-0


The Starting Point

Reader, are you a B.A.? This little book is only for those who possess that degree from the King's College. If you are not "Born Again," please put it aside, for this is our starting point in considering the fullness of the Spirit as the birthright of every believer. If you have not been born again you have no right by birth to this, the chiefest of New Testament blessings. Your first concern is to become one of the children of God, and then you may inquire as to your inheritance. If you are born again, ask that you may read with the anointed eye and with an unprejudiced mind, for the amount of prejudice that exists against this subject is saddening in the extreme.

In nothing that he ever wrote does John Bunyan's masterful genius flash forth more clearly than when, in The Holy War, he places that old churl Mr. Prejudice, with sixty deaf men under him, as warder of Eargate. Nothing that even Emmanuel may say can reach Man-soul while Prejudice and his deaf men keep that gate. "There is nothing about this in the Standards of our Church." "I have not met with this truth in my favorite authors." "It is quite new to me, and I never will believe it," etc., etc. These and such like are illustrations one meets with of how well Prejudice keeps his word! In the name of the Lord let us displace him and determine to give what of God's truth may be set forth in the following pages a fair field, no favor being asked for. Deep-rooted prejudice is one of the causes of the appalling spiritual poverty that abounds—yes, appalling when we consider the treasures within our reach.


Every Believer's Birthright

On every hand a lack of something is being felt and expressed by God's people. Their Christian experience is not what they expected it would be. Instead of expected victory, it is oft-recurring, dreaded defeat; instead of soul satisfaction, it is soul hunger; instead of deep, abiding heart rest, it is disquiet and discontent; instead of advancing, it is losing ground. Is this all Christ meant when He said, "Come unto Me"? Is this life of constant disappointment the normal life of the Bible Christian? To these sad questionings the divine Word answers with an emphatic "No," and the testimony of an ever increasing number of God's children answers "No."

For this widely felt, though sometimes inarticulate demand, the divine supply is the fullness of the Spirit; and this fullness is the birthright of every believer, his birthright by virtue of his new birth. Sometimes we hear it said that to be filled with the Spirit is the Christian privilege; but birthright is a stronger word. Reader, it is your birthright to be filled with the Spirit as Peter was filled, as Stephen was filled, as the one hundred and twenty men and women in the upper room were filled (Acts 2:4, 1:14-15), as the men and women in Cornelius's house were filled (Acts 10:44-47). "And ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, for to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off" (Acts 2:38-39).

What have you done with your birthright? Have you claimed it? Are you living at this moment in the possession and enjoyment of it? Or are you, Esau-like, "despising your birthright" (Genesis 25:34)? Or, if not despising, are you neglecting it? Esau's eyes were ultimately opened to his folly in parting with his birthright for "one mess of meat," and he then desired to inherit the blessing, seeking it "diligently with tears"; but alas, his awaking came too late (Hebrews 12:16-17).

May every reader of these lines have the desire graciously awakened (if it has not yet been awakened and satisfied) to inherit his birthright blessing while place of repentance is to be found. May the prediction be fulfilled in our glad experience: "The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions" (Obadiah 17).


A Command to Be Obeyed

But lest some one should think, "It is optional with me whether I claim my birthright or not; no doubt it would be a very fitting thing for some people to be filled with the Spirit, but I need not trouble about it"—in case anyone should be tempted to speak and act like this, let us learn that "Be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18) is a command to be obeyed, a duty to be done. Many of God's people are acknowledging that they did not know that "Be filled with the Spirit" was a command; but it is, and there is no excuse for not knowing.

You will notice that in Ephesians 5:18 there is a double command, a negative, "Be not drunk," and a positive, "Be ye filled." The positive command is as authoritative as the negative and was binding on just as many of those Ephesian Christians as was the negative command. Now what was true for those believers there in Ephesus in the long ago is equally true for all believers on God's footstool today.

Is it a sin for a believer today to disobey the command "Be not drunk," and is it then a virtue to disobey the equally authoritative command "Be ye filled"? If it is a sin for a Christian to be drunk, it is just as surely, truly, really, a sin not to be filled. We are commanded and expected to live a Spirit-filled life, to be filled, not with wine, the fruit of the vines of earth, but with the new wine of the kingdom, the fruit of the "true Vine."

Reader, if you are asked, Do you obey the command "Be not drunk with wine," what is your answer? If it is "Yes," that is obedience. Now, if you are asked, Do you obey the command "Be filled with the Spirit," what is your answer? If it is "No," that is disobedience; you are guilty of breaking one of God's plainest commandments. You have no more license to break this command than you have to break any command in the Decalogue. Before you read further, had you not better confess your sin and tell the Master that you purpose in your heart new obedience?


Something Different from the New Birth

This being "filled with the Spirit" is a definite blessing, quite distinct from being "born of the Spirit." Some would object to this and reply that every Christian has the Spirit; quite true, for "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Romans 8:9); and "no man can say Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3); but to "have the Spirit" and to be "filled with the Spirit" are two different things. "Egypt always has the Nile," as someone has said, "but Egypt waits every year for its overflow"; having the Nile is one thing, but having the Nile overflowing is quite another. Now it is the Nile's overflow that is Egypt's salvation, and to overflow it must first be filled. So it is the Christian's overflow that is the world's salvation, and in order to have the overflow there must first be the filling.

As far as God is concerned, there is no reason why this filling should not take place at the hour of conversion, of the new birth. See the case of Cornelius and his friends, in Acts 10:44-48. They believed, were saved, "received the Holy Ghost," and were baptized with water the same day. But it were a fatal blunder to assert that all men on believing received the Holy Ghost in a similar manner or were thus filled with the Spirit. Most certainly in Bible times it was not so.


In Acts 2:4 we read, "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit," all in the upper room, men and women, including the twelve apostles. Now these men had the Spirit before. When Christ called them to follow Him, when they were converted, they received the Spirit. After His resurrection, but before His ascension, Christ breathed on them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (John 20:22), and of course they did "receive" the Spirit then; but it is never said of them that they were "filled with the Holy Spirit" till that morning in the upper room, for the simple reason that it could not be said of them, for "the Spirit was not yet given" (John 7:39). Yet these men were Christians before that morning.


In Acts 8:5-13 we find that under the preaching of Philip the evangelist there was a work of grace in the city of Samaria, the people believed and were baptized. These people, then, were Christians, but they were not "filled with the Spirit" till Peter and John came down and prayed for them, thus perfecting the work Philip had been doing (Acts 8:15-17).


Saul was converted when the omnipotent, omnipresent Christ, standing as Picket-guard for that little church at Damascus, unhorsed him and took him prisoner on the Damascus road. "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" That question sounds like conversion, surely. For three days he lay in darkness in Damascus, a surrendered, believing man, and therefore a Christian man; but it was not till Ananias came to him that he was "filled with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 9:17). And who was this Ananias through whom this man Saul, destined to prove himself the truest, bravest, grandest servant the Lord Jesus ever had—through whom even Saul received the greatest of the New Testament blessings? He was an obscure, obedient believer of whom we know nothing else than that he did this service for Saul. Here is the ministry of the saints. So it may be today, some big Paul may be blessed through the ministry of some little Ananias.


Here were twelve men who were disciples, they had been believers for some time when Paul found them; in other words, they were saved, they were Christians. But Paul's first question to them was "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" Plainly showing that Paul thought it possible for them to have been believers and yet not to have received the Holy Ghost. Indeed, in this case, what Paul deemed a possibility turned out to be a fact; they had not yet "received" the Spirit.

Of course, in a certain sense, they had the Spirit; it was by the Spirit they had believed, and if they had not the Spirit of Christ, they were none of His; but for all that, they had not yet "received" the Spirit in the Pentecostal sense of the word, in the sense in which Paul meant it. They had not yet come to their Pentecost. In the Revised Version, Paul's question is rendered, "Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?" proving (1) that it is possible to "receive" the Holy Ghost at the moment of believing, and (2) that it is possible to believe without "receiving," as has already been pointed out from the rendering of the Authorized Version. After Paul had instructed them more fully in the word and way of the Lord, we read that "the Holy Ghost came on them." From this we gather that these men of Ephesus obtained a blessing subsequent to their conversion, spoken of here as "receiving" the Holy Ghost, as the Holy Ghost "coming" on them. This is in strict accord with what Paul himself says of this event when writing to the Ephesians in Ephesians 1:13, "After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise." First, they "believed," and then, some time after "believing," they were "sealed," they "received," they were "filled."

From these four cases—(1) apostles, (2) Samaritans, (3) Saul, (4) Ephesians—we conclude that in New Testament times men actually lived as Christians, were saved, converted men, and yet knew nothing of the "filling" with the Spirit—this knowledge, this blessing coming to them some time after their being born again. Yet this is the very thing some today deny! Whom are we to believe? These objectors or the sacred Record? The divine Word declares it, and there is then no room or need for argument. So we affirm that it is equally possible for believers, for saved, converted men, to live in our own time, as well as in Bible times, without the "fullness"; nay more, it is possible for them to live for years, then die and go home to heaven to be there forever with the Lord, and to have known nothing on earth of what it was to be "filled with the Spirit." But what a loss they have suffered! Eternal, irreparable loss!

So we conclude it is abundantly plain from Scripture that for the regenerate soul there is in Christ another blessing over and above the being born of the Spirit, spoken of as "the fullness of the Spirit." "I am amazed at a man like you going to these conventions," said a man to his minister once. "What new thing can these convention speakers tell you? It is all in the New Testament." "Yes," he replied, "that's the trouble; and we have left these things in the New Testament; whereas we want to get them out of the New Testament and into our hearts and lives."

In Jesus Christ, God's Treasury, our share of Pentecost's blessing has been deposited for each of us by our Father God. Have we claimed and received our share? Not likely, if we are not aware that there is such a blessing for us; but once we recognize the fact that it is there, we surely will not rest till we have made it our own. The Scottish bankers have published the fact that they have lying in their vaults a sum of 40,000,000 pounds in unclaimed deposits. Some of those who owned a share of this money may have died in the workhouse; some of them may be living to this moment in direst need, and they might have their money for the claiming; but they do not know that it is theirs. What vast unclaimed deposits are lying in God's Treasury, Christ! Some of His people have died spiritually poor; some are living today in spiritual penury, a hand-to-mouth existence, with such "untrackable riches" lying "at call," on deposit in their name. What have we done with our deposit? We are responsible for its use and disuse. Remember the reckoning day is coming (Matthew 25:19).


Everybody's Need

Some have the idea that this blessing of the fullness is only for a favored few, for such as have some special work to do for God, but not for ordinary folk "for auld wives and wabsters" in their homespun. Surely this is one of the devil's champion lies! Alas, alas, that it has found such credence! The infilling is what makes this promise true, "He that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God" (Zechariah 12:8), so that "one man of you shall chase a thousand" (Joshua 23:10). This means defeat for the devil, so no wonder that he strives to keep us back from the "fullness"!

We are here on earth that through us Christ may be glorified; but there is only one Person that can glorify Christ, and that is the Holy Ghost. "He shall glorify Me" (John 16:14). To the glorifying of Christ as He ought to be and might be glorified the filling with the Spirit is necessary. Mothers in the home, "with thronging duties pressed," need the "fullness" to enable them to glorify Christ as surely as the apostles needed it; the washerwoman needs it as well as the pastor; the tradesman as well as the evangelist. To live the Christ-glorifying life in the station in which God has placed us, we individually need to be filled with the spirit.

"They were all filled" (Acts 2:4), men and women, the one hundred and twenty in the upper room, the rank and file as well as the apostles. "Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, for the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off" (Acts 2:38-39). From Acts 8:17 we gather that all the converts in Samaria, without any favor or distinction "received the Holy Ghost." From Acts 10:47 we gather that all in the house of Cornelius "received the Holy Ghost" while Peter was speaking. From Acts 19:6 we gather that "the Holy Ghost came on" all the disciples to whom Paul was speaking. They all received because they all needed. Do not we all need? Why then should we not all receive? And if we do not receive we will suffer loss, the church will suffer loss, the world will suffer loss, and, above and beyond all, Christ will suffer loss.


Preventive Against Backsliding

It is most instructive to note how exceedingly anxious the early Christians were that, as soon as a man was converted, he should be "filled with the Holy Ghost." They knew no reason why weary wastes of disappointing years should stretch between Bethel and Peniel, between the cross and Pentecost. They knew it was not God's will that forty years of wilderness wanderings should lie between Egypt and the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:2). When Peter and John came to the Samaritans and found that they were really turned to God, their first concern was to get them filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:15). When Ananias came to the newly-converted Saul of Tarsus, his first word was, "Jesus ... hath sent me, that thou mayest ... be filled with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 9:17). When Paul found certain disciples at Ephesus, his first business with them was to find out if they had "received the Holy Ghost" (Acts 19:2).

These early teachers did not wait for a few months or years till the young converts had become thoroughly disheartened because of the disappointments of the way, thoroughly demoralized by encountering defeats where they had been led to expect that they would come off "more than conquerers"; neither did they wait until the novices had become more established or more fully instructed in the things of God; but straightway, at once, they introduced them to fullness of blessing, taught them the open secret of the overcoming, ever-victorious life, and they did not leave them until the secret was their very own.


Excerpted from The Spirit-Filled Life by John MacNeil. Copyright © 1984 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

John MacNeil (1854-August 1896), was a Presbyterian author and evangelist in Australia. He is best known for his 1894 book, The Spirit-Filled Life.
MacNeil was born into a Presbyterian family in Scotland, but was brought up in Ballarat, Victoria. He studied theology at New College, Edinburgh and was ordained in 1879. Shortly afterwards he was introduced to the Higher Life movement.

He experienced "an anointing of the Holy Spirit" and in 1881 began evangelistic ministry. Poor health, however, hindered his itinerant work until he recovered after laying on of hands by an Anglican minister. He then toured Australia, seeing many people turn to Jesus.

In 1890, together with a few others, he formed a prayer group which came to be known as "The Band". They met regularly to pray for revival. They also focused strongly on the need for an infilling of the Holy Spirit, and prayed for "the full Baptism of the Holy Spirit for themselves and for all ministers, officers and members of the Churches."

From their prayer times came a decision to hold a Keswick-style convention in Geelong, with George Grubb, who had addressed Keswick Conventions in England, as the primary speaker, along with MacNeil, Webb and others.

In 1896, MacNeil toured Queensland a final time. At the end of his tour, in late August, he collapsed and died in a city shop.

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