Quenching the Spirit
Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"Do not quench the Spirit." 1 Thessalonians 5:19
All God's gifts, temporal and spiritual — may be used either rightly, or wrongly. He gives us life — we may either waste it, or spend it well. He gives us talents — we may use them either for good purposes, or for evil purposes. He gives us the offers of the gospel — we may reject them. He gives us His Holy Spirit — but the Holy Spirit may be quenched. For though it is true that a saving work of grace in the soul cannot finally be destroyed — yet the promptings of the Spirit may be resisted, and His sanctifying power crossed and opposed. We would not find this exhortation, "Do not quench the Spirit" — unless it might be done, and unless there were a danger of doing it.
What is meant then by quenching the Spirit? The work of the Spirit is in the heart. There He . . .
convinces men of sin,
touches the conscience,
moves the feelings,
applies the word of God,
and leads to Christ and to holiness.
Now quenching is doing anything to stop or hinder this work. It is a figure of speech, taken from the quenching of fire. Water will quench fire — either by putting it out, or by making it burn less brightly. A heap of dirt or rubbish thrown on a fire will have the same effect. In like manner the Spirit may be quenched in various ways. Let us consider some of them:
1. By grieving Him. The apostle writes to the Ephesians, "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" (Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit is grieved when . . .
we sin against conscience,
indulge willfully in any evil habit,
or do what we know to be wrong.
This was the charge against Israel; "But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore He turned to be their enemy, and Himself fought against them" (Isaiah 63:10). This is a sure way of quenching the Spirit. God said of old, "My Spirit shall not abide in [or strive with] man forever" (Genesis 6:3). When the Spirit is grieved by willful sin, the conscience becomes blunted, impressions fade away, and the Spirit at length ceases to strive.
2. By neglecting Him. The promptings of the Spirit in the heart are to be diligently attended to — the inward voice is to be listened to and obeyed. We should welcome the Spirit, watch for His presence, and submit ourselves to His leading. Otherwise we quench the Spirit by indifference and neglect.
3. By worldliness of mind. The work of the Spirit is in the heart. But if the heart is filled with the world, there is no room for the workings of the Spirit. Or if the love of the world is allowed to gain a hold upon those who have received the Spirit — then His work is smothered and quenched, as fire is by water or dirt thrown upon it. This may be done by the world in any shape — by gain, pleasure, folly, by too great keenness about even lawful things, and even by human affections unduly indulged. In every heart there should be room left for the Spirit — the chief place, or the Spirit is quenched. Alas, in how many hearts is the Spirit quenched by the world.
4. By a lack of watchfulness. If a Christian has found anything to interfere with spirituality of mind in time past — such as any amusement, any company, any pursuit, any book, any train of thought — he must watch against that thing especially. Otherwise he quenches the Spirit. If he lives generally in an unwatchful way, as if there were no snares around him, not keeping guard within and without — then again the Spirit is quenched, and His gracious work is checked.
How often at the close of the day, when we kneel down for our evening prayer and think over all we have done and said and thought, are we deeply humbled because we have quenched the Spirit through unwatchfulness.
We began the day perhaps with earnest prayer. In the early morning, before entering on the duties of the day, we committed ourselves to God and sought His grace and guidance. We prayed — but we forgot to watch. And so when some sudden temptation came — it prevailed against us, and we fell. We spoke unchristian words, or harbored a wrong feeling, or did a wrong action, or were ashamed of Christ, or gave way to folly. Thus the Spirit was quenched; our peace was broken, and the closeness of our walk with God was interrupted — and we find at the end of the day a ruffled mind and a special need of pardoning mercy.
5. By spiritual idleness. I mean by this — backwardness in prayer, and neglect of the Bible, and of the other means of grace. God usually works by means, and especially the Spirit is promised in answer to prayer. But if we neglect prayer, we do, as it were, stop up the channel by which the Spirit would come to us. Thus we quench the Spirit.
These are some of the ways — but by no means all, in which the Spirit may be quenched. Perhaps conscience may recall others to the mind.
This is not a thing of small importance. In quenching the Spirit, we do ourselves much evil and bring on ourselves great loss. For thus we lose spirituality of mind, and "to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6). The spiritual mind is that mind in which the Spirit dwells. If the Spirit is quenched — then this indwelling is injured. We lose also the sense of acceptance. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:16-17). But this too is lost, if the Spirit is quenched. There is no inward witness then.
In like manner, when the Spirit is quenched — spiritual growth is stopped, for growth is the Spirit's work. The heart becomes cold and dead. It no longer feels and melts and loves. There is — no nearness to God, no love of His word, no warmth in prayer.
Let those who have already experienced the work of the Spirit, beware of quenching the Spirit. Have not your best and happiest times been those in which you have most walked in the Spirit? Cherish the Spirit then. Let no sinful indulgence, no neglect of His voice, no love of the world, no careless walking, no slothfulness — be allowed to hinder the inward work. As you value spiritual comfort, as you desire spiritual progress — beware of quenching the Spirit!
Many are not conscious of any work of the Spirit in their hearts. Yet the Spirit may have begun to work there. Have you ever convictions of sin, uneasy feelings that all is not right with your soul, some faint desire after better things — fears, misgivings, apprehensions? Do not try to stifle these feelings or fly for relief from them, to the world — lest you should thus be quenching the Spirit. These may be the strivings of the Spirit within your heart, the pleadings of God with you — to lead you to Himself. Cherish them, yield to them, pray over them. Your greatest misery would be to succeed in driving away all serious thoughts — and to go on in your own way unchecked and undisturbed. For then the Spirit would have left you. Your highest happiness would be to listen to the still small voice within, to follow that gracious guidance, to draw near to God, to seek and to find Christ the Savior.