Unknown Tongues

By John David Clark, Sr. - December, 1992

"And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon
each of them. And they were all filled with the holy ghost, and began to speak
with other tongues, as the spirit gave them utterance.
"

If we believe the Apostle Paul's words, then we must admit that there is such an experience as being empowered by the holy Spirit to speak in a language which one has not learned. That the Scriptures bear witness to the reality of such an experience in the lives of Jesus's followers is indisputable. Beginning on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and throughout the New Testament books, we find references to this extraordinary experience among both Jewish and Gentile believers.

It was a few years after the initial outpouring of the holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost that the first Gentiles were admitted into the church by receiving this experience. This event, which the Jews did not expect to happen, is recorded in Acts 10: "And they of the circumcision [Jews] which believed and came with Peter were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God." Several years later, another group of Gentiles spoke in tongues when they received the holy Ghost. From Acts 19:6 we read, "And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the holy Ghost came on them, and they spake with tongues and prophesied." There is no indication that these were isolated events; on the contrary, the context suggests that Paul was surprised that these men had not already received the baptism of the holy Ghost. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul certainly speaks of this blessing as if it were a normal part of church life.

In reality, there is no church life without the language of the Spirit, for receiving the holy Spirit and speaking in tongues are indissolubly united as two parts of one experience in Christ. The moment one receives the holy Ghost, he begins to speak in a language he has not learned. This is true in every case, as Jesus explained to Nicodemus (Jn. 3:8). When all the evidence is rightly divided and justly weighed, it becomes clear that every person who receives the holy Ghost speaks in tongues when he receives it, and that if one has not spoken in tongues, then he has no basis on which to claim that he has received the Spirit of God.

There is only one way to receive the holy Ghost, my friend, and that is by repentance and faith toward God. And there is only one proof that is always present when this happens in a person's life: speaking in tongues. Jesus said it this way, "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me" (Jn. 15:26). Or, as Paul would phrase it, "The Spirit itself beareth witness" (Rom. 8:16). Now, when the Comforter testifies, or the Spirit bears witness, we find it to be in an unknown tongue - that is, unknown to us who are speaking, but not unknown to God, nor to whomever He might choose to direct it.

The "Unknown Tongue"

"Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also. I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.... I thank my God, I speak in tongues more than ye all. . . . Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues" (1Cor. 14:13-15,18,39).

When we speak of an "unknown tongue", what we mean is that it is unknown to the speaker. It is certainly not unknown to God, "for he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh . . . unto God" (1Cor. 14:2). Those who received the holy Ghost when it was first poured out spoke in languages which were unknown to them, but the languages those Spirit-baptized disciples spoke were known to the Jews from various nations who heard them speak. These Jewish travelers, gathered at Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, marvelled that the "ignorant and unlearned" Galileans spoke fluently in foreign languages. They asked, "Behold, are not all these that speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?" What was "unknown" about the tongues spoken on this day was that the speakers did not know the languages they were speaking.

Speaking in Tongues Foretold

Long before Jesus came and died to make the holy Ghost available to men, God chose tongues as the sign of this new covenant, and He announced His decision through the prophets. Through Zephaniah (3:9), God promised to reverse the curse of many languages among men (Gen. 11) by saying, "For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent." Through Isaiah (28:11-12) He said, "For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people, to whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshing, yet they would not hear." And God is still, after all these years, speaking through believers in the languages of both men and angels, though many still haven't heard or believed that this is His rest, the relief from sin which God promised He would give to the weary.

The Purpose for Speaking in Tongues

Referring to Isaiah's words, Paul wrote, "In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people, and yet for all that they will not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore", Paul concludes, "tongues are for a sign . . . to them that believe not" (1Cor. 14:21-22). No passage of scripture is more applicable to the present age than these words of that dauntless apostle of Christ. Notice the words, "tongues are for a sign", and ask yourself, "A sign of what?" It is a sign to men, God's designated sign, of the right way to go, the way of the Spirit. Around the world, people of various faiths claim to be in fellowship with God, but God Himself gives a sign when He brings a soul into His kingdom. Now, therefore, my friend, we see just what tongues are for, do we not?

My father was given a dream in which he was carrying our crucified Lord to a cemetery to bury him. As he was lowering the Lord Jesus into the grave, Jesus raised his hands, each one holding money, and said, "Take this. This cannot be buried with me." Obeying the Lord, my father took the money into his hands and, counting it, he found that one hand held 28 dollars and 11 cents, while the other held 11 dollars and 28 cents. As he felt himself beginning to awake, still staring at the money in his hands, the 28 dollars and 11 cents changed into the word "Isaiah", and the 11 dollars and 28 cents changed into the word, "Matthew". When he awoke, he knew the Lord had shown him something of remarkable value from those two books. He turned with great anticipation to Isaiah 28:11 and to Matthew 11:28, wondering what this revelation should mean. In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus is pleading with the people, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take of my yoke and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls."

And what does this promised rest have to do with tongues? Everything, my friend, for the Scriptures from Isaiah 28:11-12 are none other than the verses we have already mentioned, and they tell how one may recognize the true rest of God when he sees it. "For with stammering lips and another tongue shall he speak unto this people. To whom he said, this is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshing, yet they would not hear." So, the chief purpose for tongues is to distinguish those who really repent and receive God's forgiveness from those who only claim to have done so.

Reader, get real with God and accept the truth of the gospel. Only those who have repented and have received the holy Ghost, with the evidence of speaking in tongues, have found the rest which God promised to His people. I know this is a hard saying, and I would not say it unless I knew it to be true.

Another wonderful purpose for speaking in tongues is to help us communicate with our heavenly Father. Paul explained, "Likewise the Spirit helpeth our infirmities. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. 8:26).

The Gift of Diverse Tongues

In his list of a few gifts of the Spirit (1Cor. 12), Paul mentions a gift of "diverse tongues". This is not the same thing as speaking in tongues when a person receives the holy Ghost. It is an added measure, a deeper walk in the Spirit for those who already speak in tongues. It should be noted that Paul never says that "speaking in tongues is a gift." He knew better. The gift is "diverse tongues".

Many a would-be preacher has tried to excuse his lack of the Spirit by teaching that speaking in tongues is a gift that only a few in the church have received. Don't you swallow that poison, my friend. It is the gift of diverse tongues that is given to only a few. As for speaking in tongues, every member of the church does that, because every member of the church has the Spirit of God, which testifies when He comes in. Many thousands of people have received the holy Ghost and pray in tongues always, but very few have the gift of "diverse tongues".

The divine act of the Spirit entering into and speaking in tongues through a person is God's witness that He has received that soul into His kingdom. It is God's sign of the new birth. Every born again person speaks in tongues, beginning the moment of his new birth. If you have not received this experience, please do not take this message as a condemnation or a belittling of your faith in Jesus. It is not. There were sincere followers of Christ in the days of the apostles who did not receive the holy Ghost until someone came along and "taught them the way of God more perfectly". The baptism of the holy Ghost is for you, and so are we. It is essential that you know that anything short of the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which Jesus suffered to purchase for us, will not suffice for the cleansing of your soul. It is the baptism of the holy Ghost that makes a man a member of the church (1Cor. 12:13), and it is the baptism of the holy Ghost that washes the soul from the stain of sin (Acts 22:16), removing even the desire for sin from the heart of man. The baptism of the holy Ghost is the experience which makes a man a new creature in Christ Jesus. And without it, no man can be a new creature, fit to live in eternity among the saints.


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