From the Foreword . . .
WHILE BROWSING in a Christian used bookstore in 1979, I spied an original edition of A. J. Gordon’s The Ministry of the Spirit, which I purchased for $1.00! Thirteen days before I purchased Gordon’s book (typically, I note the date of a purchased book on the flyleaf), I bought a booklet authored by my old theology professor, Dr. Leslie D. Wilcox (1924-1991), titled Power from on High. Although Wilcox did not subscribe to every doctrinal jot and tittle Gordon espoused, he said the book was “among the most outstanding ever written on the subject.”1 Recently, while re-reading Gordon’s cherished work, I decided it should be edited and reprinted for the twenty-first-century reader.
Adoniram Judson Gordon (1836-1895), named after the renowned Baptist missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), is known in today’s Evangelical circles by two Christian institutions bearing his name: Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. However, long before these schools were founded, Gordon (he went by A. J. Gordon) became widely known as the pastor of Clarendon Street Baptist Church, Boston. In the early years of his ministry at the church, Gordon experienced a remarkable dream and a dynamic cleansing and anointing of the Holy Spirit, which changed his life and ministry.
Dr. Gordon traveled in saintly company and was singularly influenced by individuals who contributed to his depth of Christian experience: men such as Frederick B. Meyer (1847-1929), Arthur T. Pierson (1837-1911), and Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899). Moody once conducted a six-month campaign within three hundred feet of the Clarendon Street Church when Gordon was its pastor. A. T. Pierson was the successor to London’s renowned pastor, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), and a close and trusted British friend of F. B. Meyer, who authored over forty books. Meyer wrote the Introduction to Gordon’s The Ministry of the Spirit (the original edition). These, and many more, left their mark on Gordon.
Every church age presents unique challenges for the man of God; the generation in which Gordon served his Lord was no different. End-time events were much talked about in Gordon’s day. Concerning the doctrine of eschatology, the prevailing teaching was postmillennialism, on the one hand; on the other hand (as in our day), some seminaries and pulpits that did not believe in the personal, physical return of Christ to earth for his church. Gordon was convinced the New Testament taught the imminent return of Christ before his millennial reign on earth; thus, he was a convinced premillennialist, believing in Christ’s personal, physical return as well. He addressed his convictions fully on this subject in his book, Ecce Venit: Behold He Cometh! “It is such a momentous event, the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven—and the contemplation of it so overpowers the imagination that we can easily understand why, in this age so averse to the supernatural, attempts to explain away its literalness should multiply on every hand.”2
As a pastor, Gordon faced several cultural issues, which became a heavy burden for him: pew rentals, filled with the wealthy, and a paid choir with many members who did not make a profession of faith. In his early years at the church, he was also troubled by his own spiritual shallowness and that of most of his parishioners. God’s remedy for these concerns—and many more—began with a stunning dream and a powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit. The dream, with its subsequent implications, is related in his book, How Christ Came to Church, which this editor reprinted.
While some issues facing churches and church leaders may be different in our day than Gordon’s, the fundamental questions remain the same: Is the person of the Holy Spirit genuinely and practically welcome in my life and church? Will we allow the Holy Spirit to be the Administrator, or will we merely treat him as a bystander? Through the Holy Spirit’s dealings with him, Gordon became convinced that most ministers and Christians lived beneath their gospel privileges. In reviewing his walk with Christ and his ministerial labors, the Holy Spirit revealed to Gordon that so much of what he had been engaged in as a minister was done through human effort instead of in the strength and wisdom of the Spirit. He longed for a greater sense of reality in his walk with Christ; he craved a holy heart and a crucified ego; he desired to be a truly fruitful branch in the Vine.
While wading through the struggles of his personal and ministerial desperation—in addition to his God-given dream—the Lord providentially used two men to influence this restless, burdened, and conflicted pastor. And by influencing Gordon, God used them to impact the cultured and cold church. The one man was a godly member of the Clarendon Street Church; the other was a converted shoe salesman and Spirit-filled evangelist from Chicago. As for the godly church member, Ernest Gordon (A. J. Gordon’s son) wrote, “Among all the influences, which touched and vivified the early ministry at Clarendon Street, none was stronger than that of Uncle John Vassar, a devoted laborer for souls.” A. J. Gordon said of Vassar after his death,
Far beyond any man I ever knew was it true of him that his citizenship was in heaven, and so filled was he with the glory and the power of the heavenly life that to many, he seemed like a foreigner speaking an unknown tongue. I have never been so humbled and quickened by contact with any living man as with him. Hundreds of Christians, while sorrowing that they shall see his face no more for the present, will bless God as long as they live for the inspiration which they have received from his devoted life. The nights which he [Vassar] spent at my home were nights of prayer and pleading for my congregation and my ministry. Again and again, would I hear him rising in the midnight hours to plead with God for the unsaved, till I had frequently to admonish him that he must not lose his sleep.3
Ernest Gordon later said of Vassar, “He wrought and prayed and instructed the young minister [A. J. Gordon], meekly teachable before such a master of spiritual things, in those hard-learned and rarely acquired secrets which open the way to the heart of hearts of sinful humanity.” Then he made a telling observation: “The inspiration which this faithful man brought with him accrued principally to the pastor of Clarendon Street.”4
The Spirit-filled evangelist from Chicago, who was to have such a profound and lasting effect on Gordon and the church, was Dwight L. Moody. “The influence of Mr. Moody’s meetings in 1877 affected both pastor and people,” writes Ernest Gordon. “Indeed, this year was the turning point, the climacteric which, after seven years of lethargic religious life, opened a new period of spiritual health. When the revival meetings were finished, Gordon realized that the crest of the hill had been passed and that the crisis in the struggle for a spiritual as against a secular church was over.”5
Because of Gordon’s personal experiences, prayerful reading of the Word, conversations with godly people, and observing the Spirit’s work in the lives of many saints, he preached and wrote much about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He believed it was a privilege for all God’s people to experience what he termed “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Gordon taught that this experience was usually—but not necessarily—subsequent to one’s initial conversion to Christ. In his writings, he variously calls this experience an enduement or a baptism of (with, by, or in) the Spirit, the anointing of the Spirit, and the infilling of the Spirit. He was not as theologically precise in his use of language regarding this experience as some may wish; nevertheless, no one who was acquainted with A. J. Gordon, personally, nor has carefully explored his works, could honestly deny that God had done a mighty work of grace in and through this pastor-evangelist. And history has witnessed multitudes of Christ’s God-thirsty followers experiencing a similar encounter with the promised Paraclete.
I remind the reader that while there are many theories about the doctrine of sanctification and the ministries of the Holy Spirit, one should not allow a particular theological bias to prevent them from being edified by Gordon’s views on these matters. Throughout church history, God has periodically raised up a variety of men and women to re-emphasize a biblical truth that had long been neglected. Our Lord graciously used A. J. Gordon—and others—in the latter half of the 19th century to remind the church of her necessary dependence upon the indwelling Spirit for the life and health of the churches. And God continues to use Gordon today, long after his death, through the printed page.
About this edition. Gordon primarily used the King James Version of the Bible, but he did not always quote it verbatim; he also occasionally used the Revised Version. Furthermore, as was often the case with earlier generations of authors, Gordon did not always provide complete resource data of the authors he quoted, often excluding their first names. I have mostly been successful in discovering data he excluded. Also, in addition to reformatting the book, I have inserted birth and death dates for individuals Gordon quoted, added missing Bible references, and included a few hymns about the Holy Spirit. The reader can be assured that this updated edition excludes nothing which appeared in the original copy except for F. B. Meyer’s Introduction.
The Holy Spirit, as promised by the Father, descended on thirsty-hearted, prayerful disciples over two thousand years ago. And that same Spirit awaits to be welcomed by the individual believer and Christ’s church today. I hope to thank Adoniram Judson Gordon in the next world for reminding us of our essential need. “[Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ ” (John 20:22).
— Ralph I. Tilley, Editor
Soli Deo Gloria
- Leslie D. Wilcox, Power from on High (Salem, OH: Schmul Publishers, 1979), 45.
- A. J. Gordon, Ecce Venit: Behold He Cometh (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1889), 208.
- Ernest B. Gordon, Adoniram Judson Gordon: A Biography (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1896), 94.
- Ibid., 95.
- Ibid., 95.