Sermon 10. Connexion between Personal and Public Improvement Seasons - Pentecost

"The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." Isa. xi. 9.

[Note 1] {126} IT was promised that "the waters should no more become a flood to destroy all flesh;" [Note 2] that "the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth;" [Gen. ix. 15. Isa. liv. 9.] and yet a flood there was to be, a mighty flood of waters, all-compassing, all-absorbing, in God's good time, and in His merciful foreknowledge, when He spake the former word; but not to destroy all flesh, but to save it. And in its season, as on this day, this second, and more wonderful and more gracious deluge came to pass; the rain of grace descended; "the heavens dropped down from above, and the skies poured down righteousness;" [Isa. xiv. 8.] "the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew;" [Matt. vii. 25.] "the sea made a noise, and all that therein is; {127} the round world, and they that dwell therein;" [Ps. xcviii. 8.] the earth began to fill with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord; for "the Spirit of the Lord filled the world; and that which containeth all things had knowledge of the voice." [Wisd. i. 7.]

How different a fulfilment was this from that for which the Apostles had been waiting! For ten days had they waited for the fulfilment of a promise, the coming of a Comforter. And surely they imagined, that such as Christ had been, would be the Paraclete which was to come. Christ was a present, visible, protector; a man, with man's voice and man's figure. Who was to be their Comforter, how could they conjecture, seeing He was to be such, that it was expedient for them that Christ should depart? Some one greater than Elias, who was expected to come before the last day; greater than the Baptist, of whom Herod thought that he had risen again in Christ, with miracles; greater than "Jeremias, or one of the prophets;" greater than Moses, who saw God face to face; more than a prophet, more than any born of woman, more than man; perhaps an angel, such as had appeared in bodily form to the Patriarchs (for of a spiritual nature He was to be), but still surely a present, a visible Being, one whose individuality and intelligence they could not doubt, and need not take on faith.

For such an one they waited during ten days to guide them into all truth, little deeming that knowledge about Himself was one main portion of the truth He had to teach them; and then, when they were waiting for this {128} Angelic Messenger, Prophet, and Lawgiver, One higher than all created strength and wisdom, suddenly came down upon them; yet not as a Lord and Governor, but as an agency or power. "Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 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." [Acts ii. 2-4.]

Such was the coming of the Comforter; He who is infinitely personal, who is one and individual above all created beings, who is the One God, absolutely, fully, perfectly, simply, He it was who vouchsafed to descend upon the Apostles, and that, as if not a Person, but as an influence or quality, by His attribute of ubiquity; diffusing Himself over their hearts, filling all the house, poured over the world, as wholly here, as if He were not there; and hence vouchsafing to be compared to the inanimate and natural creation, to water and to wind, which are of so subtle a nature, of so penetrating a virtue, and of so extended a range.

And most exactly have these figures, which He condescended to apply to Himself, been fulfilled in the course of the Dispensation; nay, even to this day. His operation has been calm, equable, gradual, far-spreading, overtaking, intimate, irresistible. What is so awfully silent, so mighty, so inevitable, so encompassing as a flood of water? Fire alarms from the first: we see it, and we scent it; there is crashing and downfall, smoke and flame; it makes an inroad here and there; it is {129} uncertain and wayward;—but a flood is the reverse of all this. It gives no tokens of its coming; it lets men sleep through the night, and they wake and find themselves hopelessly besieged; prompt, secret, successful:— and equable; it preserves one level; it is every where; there is no refuge. And it makes its way to the foundations; towers and palaces rear themselves as usual; they have lost nothing of their perfection, and give no sign of danger, till at length suddenly they totter and fall. And here and there it is the same, as if by some secret understanding; for by one and the same agency the mighty movement goes on here and there and every where, and all things seem to act in concert with it, and to conspire together for their own ruin. And in the end they are utterly removed, and perish from off the face of the earth. Fire, which threatens more fiercely, leaves behind it relics and monuments of its agency; but water buries as well as destroys; it wipes off the memorial of its victims from the earth; it covers the chariot and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh, and sweeps them away; "the waters overwhelm them, there is not one of them left."

Such was the power of the Spirit in the beginning, when He vouchsafed to descend as an invisible wind, as an outpoured flood. Thus He changed the whole face of the world. For a while men went on as usual, and dreamed not what was coming; and when they were roused from their fast sleep, the work was done; it was too late for aught else but impotent anger and an hopeless struggle. The kingdom was taken away from them and given to another people. The ark of God {130} moved upon the face of the waters. It was borne aloft by the power, greater than human, which had overspread the earth, and it triumphed, "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts." [Zech. iv. 6.]

And what the power of the Spirit has been in the world at large, that it is also in every human heart to which it comes; and by attending to the figure under which it is represented in the text, we shall understand (what concerns us most intimately) whether we are personally under its influence, or are deceiving ourselves. For if, as has been said, the characteristics of the Spirit's influence are, that it is the same every where, that it is silent, that it is gradual, that it is thorough; not violent, or abrupt, or fitful, or partial, or detached; and if, on the other hand, the stirrings of heart which we experience, the impulses and the changes, are of this imperfect character, we have cause to suspect that in no sense do they come from the One True Sanctifier, the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.

For instance: any spirit which professes to come to us alone, and not to others, which makes no claim of having moved the body of the Church at all times and places, is not of God, but a private spirit of error; because "the river of God is full of water; Thou visitest the earth and blessest it; Thou makest it very plenteous. Thou crownest the year with Thy goodness, and Thy clouds drop fatness." [Ps. lxv. 10-12.] God's Spirit dwells in the Catholic Church, and has visited the whole world. New creeds, private opinions, self-devised practices, are {131} but delusions.

Again: vehemence, tumult, confusion, are no attributes of that benignant flood with which God has replenished the earth. That flood of grace is sedate, majestic, gentle in its operation. If at any time it seems to be violent, that violence is occasioned by some accident or imperfection of the earthen vessels into which it vouchsafes to pour itself; and is no token of the coming of Divine Power. Sudden changes of feeling, restlessness, terror, vehement emotions, impetuous resolves, ecstasies and transports, are no signs of it; and often they proceed from false spirits, who are but imitating heavenly influences as best they may, and seducing souls to their ruin.

And again: the Divine Baptism, wherewith God visits us, penetrates through our whole soul and body. It leaves no part of us uncleansed, unsanctified. It claims the whole man for God. Any spirit which is content with what is short of this, which does not lead us to utter self-surrender and devotion; which reserves something for ourselves; which indulges our self-will; which flatters this or that natural inclination or affection; which does not tend to consistency of religious character;—is not from God. The heavenly influence which He has given us is as intimately present, and as penetrating—as catholic—in an individual heart as it is in the world at large. It is every where, in every faculty, every affection, every design, every work. And the surest test that we are members of the Catholic Church is the evidence of this Catholic influence, or religious consistency, "casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge {132} of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." [2 Cor. x. 5.]

Thus the heart of every Christian ought to represent in miniature the Catholic Church, since one Spirit makes both the whole Church and every member of it to be His Temple. As He makes the Church one, which, left to itself, would separate into many parts; so He makes the soul one, in spite of its various affections and faculties, and its contradictory aims. As He gives peace to the multitude of nations, who are naturally in discord one with another, so does He give an orderly government to the soul, and set reason and conscience as sovereigns over the inferior parts of our nature. As He leavens each rank and pursuit of the community with the principles of the doctrine of Christ, so does that same Divine Leaven spread through every thought of the mind, every member of the body, till the whole is sanctified. And let us be quite sure that these two operations of our Divine Comforter depend upon each other, and that while Christians do not seek after inward unity and peace in their own breasts, the Church itself will never be at unity and peace in the world around them;—and in somewhat the same manner, while the Church throughout the world is in that lamentable state of disorder which we see, no particular country, which is but a part of it, but must be in great religious confusion too, within its own limits.

This is a point much to be kept in view in this day, as it will moderate our expectations, and sober us: we cannot hope for peace at home, while we are at war {133} abroad. We cannot hope for the recovery of dissenting bodies, while we are ourselves alienated from the great body of Christendom. We cannot hope for unity of faith, if we at our own private will make a faith for ourselves in this our small corner of the earth. We cannot hope for the success among the heathen of St. Augustine or St. Boniface, unless like them we go forth with the apostolical benediction. That we are thus at disadvantage may not be our fault; it may be our misfortune; but at any rate it is not, what we too often consider it, our boast. Break unity in one point, and the fault runs through the whole body. There is a jar and a dissonance throughout; from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness. The flood of God's grace keeps its level, and if it is low in one place it is low in another. Surely we have abundant evidence on all sides of us, that the division of Churches is the corruption of hearts.

As then we would forward that blessed time, when the knowledge of the Lord, as the text speaks, will in its fulness cover the earth, as the waters cover their bed, let us look at home, and wait on God for the cleansing and purifying of ourselves. Till we look at home, no good shall we be able to perform for the Church at large; we shall but do mischief, when we intend good, and to us will apply that proverb—"Physician, heal thyself." Let us learn first to "come" diligently "to the waters," and ask for that gift of God, which will be "a well of water in us springing up unto everlasting life." [Isa. lv. 1. John iv. 14.] And let us not doubt that if we do thus proceed, we {134} shall advance the cause of Christ in the world, whether we see it or not, whether we will it or not, whether the world wills it or not. Let us but raise the level of religion in our hearts, and it will rise in the world. He who attempts to set up God's kingdom in his heart, furthers it in the world. He whose prayers come up for a memorial before God, opens the "windows of heaven, and the foundations of the great deep," and the waters rise. He who with Christ goes up into the mountain to pray, or with St. Peter seeks the house-top, or with Mary, the mother of Mark, is in company with many, praying, or with Paul and Silas, singing praises at midnight, he is overcoming the world, let the world do what it will. Elijah went up to Carmel, and cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, and bid his servant look towards the sea seven times, till at his prayers a little cloud rose out of the sea like a man's hand, which at length covered the whole heaven, and there was abundance of rain [1 Kings xviii. 42-46.].

Let these instances be our encouragement now. Let us try to serve God more strictly than heretofore; let us pray Him to send down that influence which converted the world in the beginning, and He surely will answer our prayers far beyond what we think or hope. He will raise up for us saints and guides in this dreary time, when sanctity and wisdom seem well nigh to have failed; He will bring together the different parts of the Church, and restore peace and unity as at the first. He will give us that true and perfect faith which was once delivered to the saints, and which our sins have forfeited. {135} "He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness, because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth." [Rom. ix. 28.]

And mean time we shall have our true reward, which is personal, consisting in no mere external privileges, however great, but in the "water of life," [Rev. xxii. 1.] of which we are allowed to take freely. "How excellent is Thy mercy, O God! and the children of men shall put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings. They shall be satisfied with the plenteousness of Thy house, and Thou shalt give them drink of Thy pleasures, as out of the river. For with Thee is the well of life, and in Thy light shall we see light." [Ps. xxxvi. 7-9.] We shall be as "trees planted by the water-side, that will bring forth their fruit in due season;" [Ps. i. 3.] "trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified." [Isa. lxi. 3.] Let the high mountain, and the awful solitude, and the sun-bright clime, and the rich and varied scene, be the boast of the foreigner and the heritage of the south. Enough for us, if we are allowed, what Scripture singles out as the choicest of God's blessings, the green meadow and the calm full stream, and the bounteous rain, and the thick foliage, and fruit in its season. Enough for us, in this age and country, if so be, to "dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places;" [Isa. xxxii. 18.] "to be fed in a green pasture, and led forth beside the waters of comfort." [Ps. xxiii. 2.] "The mountain of myrrh, and the hill of frankincense, the orchard of pomegranates, the camphire with spikenard and saffron, {136} calamus and cinnamon, myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices," [Cant. iv. 6, 13, 14.] let others taste, for it is their portion. But who shall find, except at home, "the rivers of water in a dry place, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land"? [Isa. xxxii. 2.] Who shall find us elsewhere, "butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat"? [Deut. xxxii. 14.] Let us be content with what supports life, while that is given us, though we dwell in a humble place, and have not the riches of the world. Let us "take no thought for our life what we shall eat, or what we shall drink, or wherewithal we shall be clothed; but let us seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto us." [Matt. vi. 25-33.] "Let our conversation be without covetousness, and let us be content with such things as we have, for He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." Let us nourish ourselves "in the words of faith and good doctrine, whereunto we have attained." Let us be "filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God." And let us not doubt, that "if in any thing we be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto us." [Heb. xiii. 5. 1 Tim. iv. 6. Phil. i. 11; iii. 15.]

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Notes

1. Whitsuntide.
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2. Preached during a very wet season.
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