Sermon 11. Christian Nobleness Seasons - Pentecost

"I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more; but ye see Me." John xiv. 18, 19.

[Note] {137} WHEN our Saviour was leaving His disciples, He told them that He would soon return to them, that their sorrow might be turned into joy. He was going away, yet they were to see Him, though the world saw Him not; for they were to be blessed with the presence of Him who was equal to Him and one with Him, and would unite them to Him, the Third Person in the Eternal Trinity, God the Holy Ghost.

He said that He was going away, and yet was coming again; for the Holy Ghost came, and His coming was really the coming of Christ. Christ said that it was to be but a short interval between His departure and His return; and such it was, ten days. He went on Holy Thursday; He returns on the day of Pentecost. {138}

But, though our Lord and Saviour sent His Holy Spirit to be with us on His going away, still there was a difference between the Spirit's office, and that which He Himself graciously fulfilled towards His disciples in the days of His flesh; for their wants were not the same as before. Christ, while He was with them, had no occasion to console them under affliction, to stand by them in trial as their Paraclete; for trial and affliction did not visit them while He was with them; but, on the other hand, the Holy Spirit especially came to give them joy in tribulation. Again, He came to teach them fully, what our Lord had but in part revealed; and hence too it followed, that the consolation which the Spirit vouchsafed differed from that which they had received from Christ, just as the encouragements and rewards bestowed upon children, are far other than those which soothe and stimulate grown men in arduous duties. And there were, moreover, other circumstances, much to be dwelt upon, which altered the state of the Apostles' feelings and ideas, after their Lord had died and risen again, and which made them need a consolation different from that which His bodily presence gave them. There is no reason for supposing that, while He was with them, they apprehended the awful truth, that He is very God in our nature. "I am among you," He said, "as He that serveth." But on His resurrection He revealed the mystery. St. Thomas adored Him in the words, "My Lord and my God;" and He forthwith withdrew Himself from them, not living in their sight as heretofore, and soon ascending into heaven. It is {139} plain, that, after such a revelation, the Apostles could not have returned to their easy converse with Him, even had He offered it. What had been, could not be again; their state of childhood, ere "their eyes were opened and they knew Him." Of necessity then, since they could not endure to see God and live, did He "vanish out of their sight." And if, according to His promise, He was to come to them again, it must be after a new manner, and with a higher consolation.

Accordingly, when the Spirit of Christ descended at the promised season, "He bowed the heavens and came down, and it was dark under His feet." He came invisibly, and invisibly hath He dwelt in the Church ever since. He does not manifest His glory to mortal sense. We do not hear the whisperings of His still small voice, nor do our hearts burn within us in token of His Presence. The truth is, we Christians know too much concerning Him to endure the open manifestation of His greatness. It is in mercy that He hides Himself from those who would be overcome by the sensible touch of the Almighty Hand. Still it is plain that, after all, in spite of this considerate regard for our frailness, His visitation cannot but be awful anyhow, to creatures who know what we know, and are what we are. This cannot be avoided; the very secrecy of His coming has its solemnity: is it not fearful to wait for Him, appalling to receive Him, a burden to have held communion with Him? and though we joy, as well we may, yet we cannot joy with the light hearts of children, who live by sight, but with the thoughtful gladness of grown men, who {140} are anxious, who feel difficulties, who look out for dangers, who, in St. John's words, know both that "the whole world lieth in wickedness," and "that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true," [John v. 19, 20.] and discover His real majesty and power.

And hence, as we might expect, the Apostles' fellowship with Christ through the Spirit, after His ascension, was very different from their fellowship with Him on earth. Though they waited continually on Him for His peace, "not as the world giveth," and continually received it; yet, the history shows us, they feared the gift while they rejoiced in it. Consider, too, our Saviour's own most overpowering words, to be fulfilled in the coming of the Comforter,—"Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven Him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him." Does not this Scripture imply thus much, whatever else it implies,—that our ascended Saviour, who is on God's right hand, and sends down from thence God's Spirit, is to be feared greatly, even amid His gracious consolations? Hence St. Paul says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling " and again, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God;" and again, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy." [Matt. xii. 32. Phil. ii. 12. Eph. iv. 30. 1 Cor. iii. 16, 17.]

This great truth is impressed upon the whole course {141} of that sacred fellowship with Christ, which the Church provides for her children; in proportion as it is more high and gracious than that first intercourse, which the Apostles enjoyed, so is it also more awful. When He had once ascended, henceforth for unstudied speech there were solemn rites; for familiar attendance there were mysterious ministerings; for questioning at will there was silent obedience; for sitting at table there was bowing in adoration; for eating and drinking there was fasting and watching. He who had taken his Lord and rebuked Him, dared not speak to Him after His resurrection, when He saw and knew Him. He who had lain in His bosom at supper, fell at His feet as dead. Such was the vision of the glorified Saviour of man, returning to His redeemed in the power of the Spirit, with a Presence more pervading because more intimate, and more real because more hidden. And as the manner of His coming was new, so was His gift. It was peace, but a new peace, "not as the world giveth;" not the exultation of the young, light-hearted, and simple, easily created, easily lost: but a serious, sober, lasting comfort, full of reverence, deep in contemplation.

And hence the keener, the more rapturous are the feelings of the Christian, the more ardent his aspirations, the more glorious his visions; so much the graver, the more subdued, the more serene must be his worship and his confession. Who was so intoxicated with divine love as St. John? who so overcharged with the Spirit? yet what language can be calmer than when He says, "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed {142} upon us, that we should be called the sons of God! … When He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is"? [1 John iii. 1, 2.] And who was possessed with a more burning zeal than St. Paul? yet observe his injunction to the spiritually-gifted Corinthians—"Let all things be done unto edifying; the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace ... Let all things be done decently and in order." [1 Cor. xiv. 26, 32, 33, 40.] And in like manner, in anticipation of Gospel perfection, we read of the impressive gravity and saintly bearing of Samuel and his prophetic company, when Saul came to Ramah; while Saul's extravagance when he came within the Divine Influence, prefigures to us the wayward and unpeaceful behaviour of heretical sects in every age, who, in spite of whatever tokens they may bear of the presence of a good spirit among them, yet, whether they preach or pray, are full of tumult and violence, and cause wild alarm or fierce ecstasy, and even strange affections of body, convulsions and cries, in their converts or hearers.

But if gravity and sobriety were seen even in that time, when the heirs of promise were under age, as children submitted to a schoolmaster, and when holy David "danced before the Lord with all his might, leaping and dancing before the Lord;" [2 Sam. vi. 14, 16.] much more is the temper of the Christian Church high and heavenly, noble, majestic, calm, and untroubled. For it is the state of heart imparted by the Divine Paraclete, who {143} stands by us to strengthen us and raise our stature, and, as it were, to straighten our limbs, and to provide us with the wings of Angels, wherewith to mount heavenward;—by Him who takes possession of us, and dwells in us, and makes us His agents and instruments, nay, in a measure, His confidants and counsellors, till we "comprehend the breadth and length and depth and height, and know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fulness of God." [Eph. iii. 18, 19.] Religious men, knowing what great things have been done for them, cannot but grow greater in mind in consequence. We know how power and responsibility change men in matters of this world. They become more serious, more vigilant, more circumspect, more practical, more decisive; they fear to commit mistakes, yet they dare more, because they have a consciousness of liberty and of power, and an opportunity for great successes. And thus the Christian, even in the way of nature, without speaking of the influence of heavenly grace upon him, cannot but change from the state of children to that of men, when he understands his own privileges. The more he knows and fears the gift committed to him, so much the more reverent is he towards himself, as being put in charge with it.

Consider the language in which our Lord and His Apostles describe the gift—"If a man love Me," says Christ, shortly after the text, "he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him." Again, in St. {144} Paul's words, "Ye are the temple of the Living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them." Again, "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" And St. John, "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God." [2 Cor. vi. 16. 1 Cor. vi. 19. 1 John iv. 15.] Is it not plain, that such a doctrine as is here declared will exceedingly raise the Christian above himself, and, without impairing—nay, even while increasing his humility, will make him feel all things of earth as little, and of small interest or account, and will preserve him from the agitations of mind which they naturally occasion?

Alas! I am not speaking of ourselves in this degenerate time, when we seem well nigh to have forfeited the Gospel gifts through our sins; but, without thinking of ourselves, surely it is not without its use to consider the high Gospel tone of thought in itself. He then, who believes that, in St. Paul's words, he is "joined to the Lord" as "one spirit," must necessarily prize his own blessed condition, and look down upon all things, even the greatest things here below. "Ye are of God, little children," says the beloved disciple, "and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. They are of the world; ... we are of God. He that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us." [1 John iv. 6.] Here is the language of saints; and hence {145} it is that St. Paul, as feeling the majesty of that new nature which is imparted to us, addresses himself in a form of indignation to those who forget it. "What!" he says, "what! know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?" As if he said, "Can you be so mean-spirited and base-minded as to dishonour yourselves in the devil's service? Should we not pity the man of birth, or station, or character, who degraded himself in the eyes of the world, who forfeited his honour, broke his word, or played the coward? And shall not we, from mere sense of propriety, be ashamed to defile our spiritual purity, the royal blood of the second Adam, with deeds of darkness? Let us leave it to the hosts of evil spirits, to the haters of Christ, to eat the dust of the earth all the days of their life. Cursed are they above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; grovelling shall they go, till they come to their end and perish. But for Christians, it is theirs to walk in the light, as children of the light, and to lift up their hearts, as looking out for Him who went away, that He might return to them again."

For the same reason Christians are called upon to think little of the ordinary objects which men pursue—wealth, luxury, distinction, popularity, and power. It was this negligence about the world which brought upon them in primitive times the reproach of being indolent. Their heathen enemies spoke truly; indolent and indifferent they were about temporal matters. If the goods of this world came {146} in their way, they were not bound to decline them; nor would they forbid others in the religious use of them; but they thought them vanities, the toys of children, which serious men let drop. Nay, St. Paul betrays the same feeling as regards our temporal callings and states generally. After discoursing about them, suddenly he breaks off as if impatient of the multitude of words; "But this I Say, brethren," he exclaims, "the time is short."

Hence, too, the troubles of life gradually affect the Christian less and less, as his view of his own real blessedness, under the Dispensation of the Spirit, grows upon him; and even though persecuted, to take an extreme ease, he knows well that, through God's inward presence, he is greater than those who for the time have power over him, as Martyrs and Confessors have often shown.

And, in like manner, he will be calm and collected under all circumstances; he will make light of injuries, and forget them from mere contempt of them. He will be undaunted, as fearing God more than man; he will be firm in faith and consistent, as "seeing Him that is invisible;" not impatient, as one who has no self-will; not soon disappointed, who has no hopes; not anxious, who has no fears; nor dazzled, who has no ambition; nor open to bribes, who has no desires.

And now, further, let it be observed, on the other hand, that all this greatness of mind which I have been describing, which in other religious systems degenerates into pride, is in the Gospel compatible—nay, rather intimately connected—with the deepest {147} humility. It is true, that, so great are the Christian privileges, there is serious danger lest common men should be puffed up by them; but this will be when persons take them to themselves who have no right to them. Did I not begin with saying, that the Dispensation of the Spirit is one of awe, of "reverence and godly fear"? Surely, then, they who pride themselves on the gift have forgotten the very elements of the Gospel of Christ. They have forgotten that the gift is not only "a savour of life unto life," but "of death unto death;" that it is possible to "do despite unto the Spirit of grace;" and that "it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance." [2 Cor. ii. 16. Heb. x. 29; vi. 4-6.] Again; if they do aught well, "what have they which they have not received?" and how know they but He, by whom their souls live, will withdraw that life—nay, will to a certainty withdraw it—if they take that glory to themselves which is His? Why was it that Herod was smitten by the Angel? O awful instance of the jealousy of God! "The people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man; and immediately the Angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory." [Acts xii. 22, 23.] He was smitten immediately: suddenly and utterly does our strength, and our holiness, and our blessedness, and our influence, depart from us, like a lamp that expires, or a weight that falls, as soon as we rest in them, and pride ourselves in them, instead of referring them to the Giver. God keep us in His mercy from this sin! St. Paul {148} shows us how we should feel about God's gifts, and how to boast without pride, when He first says, "I laboured more abundantly than they all:" and then adds, "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." [1 Cor. xv. 10.]

Accordingly, the self-respect of the Christian is no personal and selfish feeling, but rather a principle of loyal devotion and reverence towards that Divine Master who condescends to visit him. He acts, not hastily, but under restraint and fearfully, as understanding that God's eye is over him, and God's hand upon him, and God's voice within him. He acts with the recollection that his Omniscient Guide is also his future Judge; and that while He moves him, He is also noting down in His book how he answers to His godly motions. He acts with a memory laden with past infirmity and sin, and a consciousness that he has much more to mourn over and repent of, in the years gone by, than to rejoice in. Yes, surely, he has many a secret wound to be healed; many a bruise to be tended; many a sore, like Lazarus; many a chronic infirmity; many a bad omen of perils to come. It is one thing, not to trust in the world; it is another thing to trust in one's self.

But, alas! I repeat it, how unreal in this age are such contemplations, when neither in ourselves nor in the Church around us have they a fulfilment! How is it fit to speak of thoughts and tempers which men of the day not only fail to cherish, but are eager to reprobate! Yet perchance what is lost upon the many, may gain a hearing with the few; what is lost today, may be recalled tomorrow; what is lost in fulness, may be {149} retained in portions; what fails to convince, may excite misgivings; what fails with the heart, may create the wish. We must not grudge to speak, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear; knowing that "he that observeth the wind shall not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap." [Eccles. xi. 4.]

May we, one and all, set forward with this season, when the Spirit descended, that so we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour! Let those who have had seasons of seriousness, lengthen them into a life; and let those who have made good resolves in Lent, remember them in Eastertide; and let those who have hitherto lived religiously, learn devotion; and let those who have lived in good conscience, learn to live by faith; and let those who have made a good profession, aim at consistency; and let those who take pleasure in religious worship, aim at inward sanctity; and let those who have knowledge, learn to love; and let those who meditate, forget not mortification. Let not this sacred season leave us as it found us; let it leave us, not as children, but as heirs and as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. For forty days have we been hearing "the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." [Acts i. 3.] The time may come, when we shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and see it not. Let us redeem the time while it is called today; "till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." [Eph. iv. 13.]

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