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No words are adequate to express the excellence and dignity of the gift of the divine Spirit. While Solomon was dedicating the temple, his great soul appears to have been put into a rapture at the very idea, that he whom the heaven of heavens could not contain, should deign to dwell with man upon the earth. How much more should each of us be transported when he finds the idea realized, by his own heart having become the seat of the Divine presence! There are two considerations drawn from Scripture, which assist us in forming a conception of the magnitude of this blessing.
The first is, that it is the great promise of the Christian dispensation, and stands in nearly the same relation to us, that the coming of the Messiah did to pious Jews. They waited for the consolation of Israel in the birth of Christ; and now that event is past, we are waiting in a similar manner, for the promise of the Spirit, of which the Church has hitherto enjoyed but the first fruits. To this, the Saviour, after his resurrection, pointed the expectation of his apostles, as emphatically the promise of the Father, which they were to receive at the distance of a few days; and when it was accomplished at the day of Pentecost, we find Peter insisting on it as the most illustrious proof of his ascension, as well as the chief fruit that converts were to reap from their repentance and baptism. Repent and be baptized, said he, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost: for the promise (that is, the promise of the Spirit) is to you and to your children, and to all that are afar off", even as many as the Lord your God shall call. The apostle Paul places it in a similar light when he tells us, Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having been made a curse for us, that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles: and in what that blessing consists, he informs us, by adding, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit by faith. On this account, probably, he is styled the Spirit of promise, that is, the Spirit so often promised; in the communication of whom, the promises of God so centre, that it may be considered as the sum and substance of all the promises.
Another consideration, which evinces the supreme importance of this gift is, that, in the esteem of our Lord, it was more than a compensation to his disciples, for the loss of his bodily presence; so much superior to it, that he tells them, it was expedient he should leave them in order to make way for it. "If I go not away, the Spirit will not come; but if I depart, I will send him unto you." Great as the advantages were they derived from his society, they yet remained in a state of minority; their views were contracted, their hearts full of earthly adhesions, and a degree of carnality and prejudice attended them, which it was the office of the Spirit only to remove. From his more ample and effectual teaching, a great increase of knowledge was to accrue, to qualify them for their work of bearing witness to Christ, and a powerful energy to go forth, which was to render their ministry, though in themselves so much inferior, far more successful than the personal ministry of our Lord. In consequence of his agency, the apostles were to become enlightened and intrepid, and the world convinced. "I have many things to say to you, but ye cannot bear them now. But when the Spirit of truth is come, he will lead you into all truth. He will convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment." Accordingly, after his descent, we find the apostles strangely transformed: an unction, a fervour, a boldness, marked their character, to which they had hitherto been strangers; and such conviction attended their preaching, that in a short time a great part of the world sunk under the weapons of their holy warfare. Nor is there any pretence for alleging that this communication was confined to miraculous gifts, since it is asserted to be that Spirit which should abide in them for ever, and by which the Church should be distinguished from the world. He is styled, the Spirit of truth, whom the world could not receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but, it is added, ye know him, for he dwelleth in you, and shall be in you.
As we are indebted to the Spirit for the first formation of the divine life, so it is he who alone can maintain it, and render it strong and vigorous. It is his office to actuate the habits of grace where they are already planted; to hold our souls in life, and to strengthen us that we may walk up and down in the name of the Lord. It is his office to present the mysteries of salvation; the truths which relate to the mediation of Christ and the riches of his grace, in so penetrating and transforming a manner, as to render them vital, operating principles, the food and the solace of our spirits. Without his agency, however intrinsically excellent, they will be to us mere dead speculation, an inert mass: it is only when they are animated by his breath, that they become spirit and life.
It is his office to afford that anointing, by which we may know all things; not only by a light which is merely directive to the understanding, but which so shines upon the heart, as to give a relish of the sweetness of divine truth, and effectually produce a compliance with its dictates. It belongs to him to seal us to the day of redemption; to put that mark and character upon us, which distinguishes the children of God, as well as to afford a foretaste and an earnest of the future inheritance. And hereby, saith an apostle, we know that we are of God, by the Spirit which he hath given us. It is his office to subdue the corruption of our nature, not by leaving us inactive spectators of the combat, but by engaging us to a determined resistance to every sinful propensity, by teaching our hands to war, and our fingers to fight, so that the victory shall be ours, and the praise his. To help the infirmities of saints, who know not what to pray for as they ought, by making intercession for them with groanings which cannot be uttered, is an important branch of his office. He kindles their desires, gives them a glimpse of the fulness of God, that all-comprehending good; and by exciting a relish of the beauties of holiness, and the ineffable pleasure which springs from nearness to God, disposes them to the fervent and effectual prayer which availeth much. In short, as Christ is the way to the Father, so it is equally certain, that the Spirit is the fountain of all the light and strength which enable us to walk in that way. Lest it should be suspected that in ascribing so much to the agency of the Spirit, we diminish the obligations we owe to the Redeemer, it may not be improper to remark, that the tendency of what we have advanced, rightly understood, will be just the contrary, since the Scriptures constantly remind us, that the gift of the Holy Ghost is the fruit of his mediation, and the purchase of his death. It was his interposing as Emmanuel, God with us, to repair the breach between man and God, that prevailed upon the Father to communicate the Spirit to such as believe on him, and to intrust the whole agency of it to his hands. As the reward of his sufferings, he ascended on high, and received gifts for men; of which, the right of bestowing the Spirit is the principal, that the Lord God might dwell among them. The donation, in every instance, througli the successive periods of the church, looks back to the death of the Redeemer, as the root and principle whence it takes its rise, and consequently is calculated to enlarge our conceptions of his office and character, as the copiousness of the streams evinces the exuberance of the fountain. To him the Spirit was given above measure; in him it resides as in an inexhaustible spring, to be imparted in the dispensation of his Gospel to every member of his mystical body, in pursuance of the purpose of his grace, and the ends of his death. It is his Spirit: hence we read of the supply of the Spirit of Christ Jesus, not only by reason of the essential union which subsists between the persons of the Godhead, but because the right of bestowing it was ascertained to him in the covenant of redemption.
2. If we would wish to enjoy much of the light and influence of the Spirit, we must seek it by fervent prayer. There are peculiar encouragements held out in the word of God to this purpose. "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." To illustrate the readiness of our heavenly Father to bestow this blessing, our Lord borrows a comparison from the instinct of parental affection, which prompts a parent to give with alacrity good things to his children. He will not merely supply his wants, which benevolence might prompt him to do with respect to a stranger, but he will do it with feelings peculiar to the parental relation, and will experience as much pleasure in conferring, as the child in receiving, his favours. It is thus with our heavenly Father: he delights in exercising kindness to his children, and especially in promoting their spiritual welfare. He gives not merely with the liberality of a prince, but with the heart of a father. It is worth remarking, that in relating the preceding discourse, while one evangelist makes express mention of the Spirit, another speaks only of good things, intimating that the communications of the Spirit comprehend whatever is good. Other things may, or may not, be ultimately beneficial: they are either of a doubtful nature in themselves, or are rendered so by the propensity our corruption gives us to abuse them. But the influence of the Spirit, by its efficacy in subduing that corruption, must be invariably beneficial; it is such an immediate emanation from God the fountain of blessedness, that it can never fail of being intrinsically, essentially, and eternally good. It is also deserving our attention, that the injunction of seeking it by prayer is prefaced by a parable constructed on purpose to teach us the propriety of urging our suit with importunity. In imploring other gifts (which we are at liberty to do with submission), it is still a great point of duty to moderate our desires, and to be prepared for a disappointment; because, as we have already remarked, it is possible the things we are seeking may neither conduce to the glory of God, nor to our ultimate benefit; for " who knoweth what is good for a man all the days of this his vain life?" But when we present our requests for a larger measure of his grace, we labour under no such uncertainty, we may safely let forth all the ardour and vehemence of our spirits, since our desires are fixed upon what is the very knot and juncture, where the honour of God and the interests of his creatures are indissolubly united. Desires after grace are, in fact, desires after God; and how is it possible they can be too vehement or intense, when directed to such an object? His gracious presence is not like the limited goods of this life, fitted to a particular crisis, or adapted to a special exigency in a fluctuating scene of things; it is alike suited to all times and seasons, the food of souls, the proper good of man, under every aspect of providence, and even the exchange of worlds. My soul, said David, panteth after God, yea, for the living God. My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me. The most eminent effusions of the Spirit we read of in Scripture, were not only afforded to prayer, but appear to have taken place at the very time that exercise was performed. The descent of the Holy Ghost, at the day of Pentecost, was while the disciples were with one accord in one place; and after the imprisonment of Peter and John, who being dismissed, went to their own company, "While they prayed the place where they were assembled was shaken with a mighty wind, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost." When a new heart and a new spirit are promised in Ezekiel, it is added, "I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them."
3. Habitual dependence on divine influence is an important duty. This may be considered as opposed to two things; first, to depending on ourselves, to the neglect of divine agency; next, to despondency and distrust. When the Holy Spirit has condescended to take the conduct of souls, it is unquestionably great presumption to enter upon duty in the same manner as if no such assistance were needed, or to be expected; and the result will be as with Samson, who said, "I will go forth and shake myself, as in time past, while he wist not that the Lord was departed from him." It is one thing to acknowledge a dependence on heavenly influence in speculation, and another thing so to realize and to feel it as to say from the heart, "I will go in the strength of the Lord God." A mere assent to this proposition, that the Spirit must concur in the production of every good work, (an assent not easily withheld without rejecting the Scriptures,) falls very short of the practical homage due from feeble worms to so great an Agent; and a most solemn and explicit acknowledgement of entire dependence may reasonably be expected. When you engage in prayer, or in any other duty, endeavour to enter upon it with a serious and deliberate recollection of your need of the Spirit. Let the consciousness of your weakness and insufficiency for every good work be a sentiment rendered familiar to your minds, and deeply impressed on your hearts.
But while we recommend this, there is another extreme against which we think it our duty to guard you, and that is, a disposition to despondency and distrust. The Spirit of God is a true Spirit; and it is impossible to conceive how either faith or prayer should have an intrinsic efficacy in drawing down influence from heaven. There is, however, a connexion established by divine vouchsafement, which entitles believers to expect, in the use of means, such measures of gracious assistance as are requisite to sustain and support them in their religious course. The Spirit is spoken of as the matter of promise to which every Christian is encouraged to look: "the promise is to you and to your children, and to as many as the Lord your God shall call." Agreeable to this, it is represented as the express purpose of Christ's becoming a curse for us, that the "promise of the Spirit might come on the Gentiles through faith." The same expectation is justified by the Saviour's own declaration, when on the last and great day of the feast he stood and cried, Whoever is athirst, let him come unto me and drink: for he that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flaw rivers of living water. This, says the evangelist, he spoke of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.
The readiness of the Holy Ghost to communicate himself to true believers, is also evinced by the tenour of evangelical precepts: "be ye strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." To command a person to be strong seems strange and unusual language, but is sufficiently explained when we reflect that a portion of spiritual power is ready to be communicated to those who duly seek it: "be ye filled with the Spirit," which is the exhortation of the same apostle, takes it for granted that a copious supply is at hand, sufficient to satiate the desires of the saints. We are at a loss to account for such precepts, without supposing an established connexion betwixt the condition of believers and the further communication of divine influence. To the same purpose Paul speaks with apostolic authority, "this I say, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh;" and Jude inculcates the duty of praying in the Spirit, which would be strange if no assistance were to be obtained; and as prayer is a duty of daily occurrence, the injunction implies that it is ready to be imparted to Christians, not by fits and starts, or at distant intervals, but in a stated regular course.
For this reason, when we hear Christians complaining of the habitual withdrawment of the Divine' presence, we are under the necessity of ascribing it to their own fault. It is possible hope may languish, and comfort be reduced to a low ebb, yet the divine life may be still advancing, and the soul growing in humility, deadness to the world, and the mortification of her own will, as the sap during winter retires to the root of the plant, ready to ascend and produce verdure and beauty on the return of spring. "This is the will of God, even our sanctification;" and though he delights in comforting his people at proper seasons, he is much less intent on this than in promoting their spiritual improvement, to which, in this their probationary state, every thing is made subservient. Let us not then confound the decay of consolation