Great Texts of the Bible
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.—Acts 2:4.
1. The Day of Pentecost, or Whitsun Day, is the birthday of the Christian Church. On that day the Divine society was constituted. Not till Pentecost were Christians a distinct corporate body. On that day the Divine life, the life of the Holy Spirit of God, was infused into its members, and the first cry of the newborn Divine society was praise—“They spake in other tongues the wonderful works of God.”
The day chosen was striking and suggestive. Proselytes from various countries were all gathered together with the Jews of Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Weeks. It was Pentecost, the fiftieth day—a week of weeks—since Passover. At Passover a sheaf of ripe barley had been waved in the Temple; at Pentecost the two loaves of fine flour made from the newly gathered wheat were now being waved in the Holy Place. And it was harvest. What better occasion for the outpouring of the Spirit, the “Giver of life,” than this feast of Pentecost, when the first-fruits of the great Spiritual harvest of both Jews and Gentiles were offered unto the Lord who had redeemed them?
Moreover, Pentecost was celebrated as the anniversary of the giving of the law from Sinai, after the wanderings of the children of Israel for seven weeks from the first Passover in Egypt. How fitting a festival for the first outpouring of the Spirit, whereby that law might be observed in its fullest meaning, not as uttered amid the terrors of Sinai, but as revealed in Him who fulfilled the law and the prophets to the uttermost.
2. On this great festival the apostles and disciples were assembled together in Jerusalem. They were praying. They were waiting for the promise of the Spirit. Suddenly the whole place was shaken as with a tempest, and bright flames, like tongues of fire, flickered for a moment over every head. These were, indeed, wonderful outward signs; but we must not think of this rush of tempest, and this shower of flaming tongues, as the most wonderful thing that happened. They were but the outward signs of something more wonderful still. The Holy Ghost filled the hearts of all that were present—not only the apostles, but also the men and women who were with them; and they burst out into loud shouts of praise and thanksgiving to God.
3.“They were all with one accord in one place.” There is no absolute certainty what that place was or who were the recipients of the gift there bestowed. Some have thought that it was within the precincts of the Temple, and the early testimony of Josephus (Antiq. 3. 2) is appealed to in support of this. He says the term here used (οἶχος) was applied to describe the thirty Chambers which ran round the Temple of Solomon; but though open and easily accessible, none of them could have held so large a multitude; and it is extremely difficult to believe that the Priests and Pharisees would have allowed such a gathering of the despised followers of One whom they had crucified but a few weeks before. Although, then, it would have been intensely significant had the New Covenant been inaugurated within the very shrine of the Old, we are compelled to look for some other scene. Tradition has placed it in that Upper Chamber, in which we know that the first Christians were wont to hold their religious meetings.
4. On whom was the gift bestowed? It is impossible to say whom St. Luke intended when he spoke of “all.” Perhaps the more general belief has limited it to the Apostles, as the Whitsuntide preface in the Book of Common Prayer unhesitatingly teaches; there is ancient testimony, however, to the inclusion of “the one hundred and twenty,” and some extension beyond the Twelve is almost necessitated by the language of Joel’s prophecy, which, St. Peter says, was fulfilled on this occasion. The expression was perhaps intended to embrace all the believers in Christ then congregated in Jerusalem.
Can it surprise us that the world, which has no eyes and no heart for spiritual things, usually appreciates this feast least of all, and rather seeks its satisfaction in the enjoyment of nature than in gratitude for the copious outpouring of the Spirit? Men must in some degree be filled with the Holy Ghost in order to value aright the blessing of this day; they must with the eye of the Spirit have seen something of the glory of the New Dispensation, in order to know fully the value of the declaration: “The promise is to you and to your children, and to as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Just this is the glory of the feast of Pentecost, that it not merely renews the remembrance of a most interesting event in the past, but, moreover, points us to the source of richest blessing for the present, and opens to us the brightest prospect for the so frequently beclouded future.1 [Note: J. J. van Oosterzee, The Year of Salvation, i. 475.]
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
The words of Jesus concerning the Holy Spirit seem to have made but little immediate impression upon His sorrowing disciples. Probably they were too full of trouble to comprehend their meaning, and too indifferent to consolation to care to understand. Love in tears is apt to be petulant. The suggestion of any possibility of compensation for impending loss is resented as an insult and a reproach. The promise that Another should fill His place brought no comfort. They did not want Another. To speak of a successor was a reflection upon their devotion, and to say the exchange would be to their advantage could be nothing but the exaggeration of compassion. Grief for impending loss refuses to be comforted. So the promise of the Paraclete brought little light to their understanding, and apparently less comfort to their hearts. It was not until the Ascension that their eyes were opened. The Resurrection filled them with a great joy, but not until they witnessed His return to the Father did they realize the true greatness of their Lord and the meaning of His Mission in the world. As they beheld Him rise, the mists lifted from their understanding, and they returned to Jerusalem, not like bereaved and broken men, but rejoicing and praising God. The vision of the opened heavens had given them a new conception of all things in heaven and on earth. Infinity had received a new centre, for the eternal glory was embodied in a Person they knew; prayer had a new meaning, for it was through a Name they uttered with familiar affection; faith had received a new basis, for it was in the Christ they had loved and proved. For ten days they waited with their eyes set upon the heavens where they had seen Him disappear from their sight. With Pentecost came the fulfilment of His word, and the gift in which they found the complete realization of all that He had said.
1. Let us first see how the disciples were prepared to receive the Gift.
The coming of the Holy Spirit involved the preparation of a people to receive Him. There was an extended and an immediate preparation. The extended preparation of the disciples covered the whole course of Christ’s ministry and fellowship. Unconsciously, they had come to know the Spirit in Christ. Everything in the life, teaching, and work of Jesus was a manifestation of the power and method of the Spirit. As the end approached, He prepared their minds for His coming by definite instruction and promise. He talked with a glow and enthusiasm of the Spirit calculated to kindle their desire and expectation. They were told of His wisdom and power, and the wonders He would do for them, exceeding all they had seen in their Lord. Faith cometh by hearing; after the Resurrection they seem to have heard of little else but the wonders of the Coming One; and the last words of the ascending Lord were words of promise concerning Him. “Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence.” “Ye shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” If they had not heard they would not have expected, and could not have received.
The final stage of their preparation was in united and believing prayer. The baptism came to the prepared. For ten consecutive days they remained in prayer. They were of one accord and in one place. A common object drew them together, a common expectation focused their faith, and focused faith always prevails. The fact that they continued for ten days proves both their earnestness and their faith. They waited earnestly for God, pleaded the promise of Christ, and had faith in His word.
2. The coming of the Holy Spirit is symbolized in the elements of wind and fire. Let us then consider the meaning which underlies these Symbols.
What a gentle thing wind is! What a powerful thing wind is! You hear of an evening the gentle breeze whispering so sweetly through the trees; you turn your face to it, and the wind falls so softly on your opened eye, that even that eye, which the smallest speck of dust can injure, is unhurt by it. The bubble which a touch of your finger will destroy floats unharmed in it; the thistledown is borne unbroken for miles by it; and, even in winter, the snowflakes, so fragile that your touch is destruction to them, are whirled round and round uninjured in their purity and beauty. How gentle the wind is, but how strong! Those great trees of the forest that have stood for ages, and clutched the earth far and wide with their spreading roots, fall before the storm; and the mighty ships, that seem so majestic in their power, are driven to destruction before the tempest, and cast in splintered wreckage on our shores. Even so is the Spirit of God: speaking so tenderly to the heart of some little child; filling young souls with every true, and beautiful, and loving thought that they have, and moving the strongest men to penitence and faith. The Spirit of God is gentle as the breeze, strong as the storm.
The wind is a favourite Biblical image for the movements and goings of God’s Spirit. Prophet and psalmist alike speak of the wind as symbolizing God’s power. “Come from the four winds, O breath,” cried Ezekiel, in the vision of the dry bones. “The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet,” says the prophet Nahum. In the Book of Job the poet represents God as speaking in the wind. And so, too, Jesus, who came to fulfil the sayings of the prophets, said: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”1 [Note: D. L. Ritchie.]
(1) One of the psalmists speaks about God bringing the wind out of His treasuries. That must be the wind that blows healthily to heal our sicknesses; whose every kiss is tonic, whose rude and wild embrace is strength. Whether it comes rushing over the mountains, or tearing down the gullies, or skipping over the summer sea as a gentle breeze to cool the fevered brow, it comes as a cleanser, as life-giver, as health-bringer. Its very buffetings are health. Now that is what God’s Spirit is to the spirit of a man. It is life and health and peace. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about birth by the Spirit and compared it to the wind, the reference was to the evening breeze just whispering among the olive groves. A ripple and a rustle and it is gone, and thou canst not the whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
It is an old Jewish saying that Moses died from the kiss of God. How true it is to say that many people, especially young people, live because of the kiss of the Spirit. One imprint on their young hearts and they give themselves in love to the great God and His Christ. Yes, God’s Spirit still comes like the zephyr, wooing and winning, like the breeze which you can scarcely feel upon your hand, though you know it on your more delicate brow. So He comes to many hearts in pensive hours, in times and seasons of holy quiet and blessed meditation; so He comes, too, in life’s morning to young souls.1 [Note: D. L. Ritchie.]
The Lord of brightness and of warmth,
Of fragrance and of dew,
Who having joy in life and growth,
Finds pleasures ever new;
To herbs the earth, and trees the heaven caressing,
Alike He gives His soft and sunny blessing.2 [Note: T. T. Lynch, The Rivulet, 149.]
(2) But the Holy Spirit also comes as a mighty rushing wind, as He came of old, and then He comes with great and stirring power; and the Church has so known the Holy Spirit’s coming in the times of great revival. He comes to spirits, invigorating and renewing them until they have a new life, as if it were life from the dead.
And every virtue we possess,
And every conflict won,
And every thought of holiness
Are His alone.
Oh! that God’s Spirit would come in both ways to the Church to-day, kissing spirits until they live, moving and thrilling the heart of the Church until there is a great revival of spiritual religion, and a quickening and bracing of all the powers of righteousness in our beloved land.
Hail, mightiest and bounteous wind,
Distributor of wealth,
Who giving, comest to confirm
Or to restore our health;
A blessing thou, bright energy diffusing,
For every other blessing’s happiest using.1 [Note: T. T. Lynch, The Rivulet, 149.]
(3) And there is another function of the wind. It is sometimes a winnowing wind, separating chaff from grain, the false from the true; or it sometimes comes as a blight. There is, for example, the sirocco that starts in the heart of Africa, and, with its blighting breath, passes over whole tracts of country, leaving nothing but destruction in its train. Yes! the wind blights as well as gives health and strength; and so does God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit gives health and vigour to every virtue we possess, and it seeks to blight for ever every sin that besets our nature or reigns in our life.
A rushing, mighty wind across the sky,
A swirling, swinging, roaring, ringing breath
Which seems to fill the world, as, flying by,
It sweeps the pathway both of life and death.
Into our hearts it blows, and bears away
All evil thoughts, all hate, and strife, and sin,
All dust of hopes and fears and sorrows grey,
To let the light of love and truth within.
So Charity shall come, a living flame,
A fire divine, a firm and steady glow,
The pulsing light of life, for aye the same,
To make us tender kindly words to know.
Thus, year by year, the nodding, bending trees,
Whose sentient branches swiftly bear along
The cleansing, rushing, purifying breeze,
Shall sing Earth’s mighty Pentecostal Song of Solomon 2 [Note: M. A. B. Evans, The Moonlight Sonata, 118.]
Fire has three uses—it gives light, it gives heat, and it purifies.
(1) The Spirit of God comes to us as light. It comes to enlighten us, to show us the meaning of God’s blessed Word, to explain to us what God is, and what our blessed Saviour’s life and death meant for us; and so to teach us many things which we cannot know without Him. So we say in the Collect for this day that God did teach the hearts of His faithful people, by sending to them the Light of His Holy Spirit. And so, according to one interpretation, the Day of Pentecost is called Whitsun Day because God gave to His disciples “wit,” i.e. “wisdom,” as the word “wit” used to mean.1 [Note: T. Teignmouth Shore.]
“It is with man’s Soul,” says Carlyle, “as it was with Nature: the beginning of Creation is—Light.” And of Conversion he says: “Blame not the word, rejoice rather that such a word, signifying such a thing, has come to light in our modern Era, though hidden from the wisest Ancients. The Old World knew nothing of Conversion; instead of an Ecce Homo, they had only some Choice of Hercules. It was a new-attained progress in the Moral Development of man: hereby has the Highest come home to the bosoms of the most Limited; what to Plato was but a hallucination, and to Socrates a chimera, is now clear and certain to your Zinzendorfs, your Wesleys, and the poorest of their Pietists and Methodists.”2 [Note: Sartor Resartus, Bk. ii.]
Spirit, guiding us aright,
Spirit, making darkness light,
Spirit of resistless might,
Hear us, Holy Spirit.
(2) Fire gives heat as well as light. The Holy Spirit not only teaches us about God and about Christ, but He makes our hearts flame up in love to Him.
With feet of burning brass,
When times are dark as night,
Thou through the world dost pass,
Consuming in our sight
Dry trees and withering grass,
With dreadful, happy light.
O thou consuming fire,
Why should I fear thy flame,
Who purpose and desire
To burn what Thou shalt blame,
Ill weeds, and every brier
Of folly and of shame?
With shining beams that smite
The chains of darkness through,
Thou smilest in the height,
And all things smile anew;
Thy heat, in subtle might,
Works with the gentle dew.
O Thou creating fire,
I feel thy warmth benign;
My hopes a flowering spire
Arise, unfold, and shine;
And fruits that I desire
Shall soon be mine and Thine.1 [Note: T. T. Lynch, The Rivulet, 121.]
(3) And fire is used to purify. Have you ever seen a piece of ore? It looks like a bit of common, hard, dirty rock, with just here and there a little, tiny, bright spot. You might hammer away at it for a long time trying to get those little pieces of metal out of it, and you would splinter it all about, and not succeed in getting the metal after all. But take it to a furnace, and there the fierce red and white heat will burn up all the dross, and the pure metal streams forth. A great deal of what is earthy is mixed up in our natures with a little that is pure; then the Spirit of God descends like illuminating and purifying fire. By all our trials and discipline, that Spirit purges out of us all that is base, and false, and earthy. “Our God is a consuming fire,” but He will consume only the dross, and will set free the true gold of our nature, so that it may be one day pure enough to be formed into part of the Crown of the King, and to flash in its loveliness and beauty in the eternal glory of the Father’s presence.
Those delicate wanderers,
The wind, the star, the cloud,
Ever before mine eyes
As to an altar bowed,
Sighs and dew-laden airs
Offer in sacrifice.
The offerings arise:
Hazes of rainbow light,
Pure crystal, blue, and gold,
Through dreamland take their flight;
And ’mid the sacrifice
God moveth as of old.
In miracles of fire
He symbols forth His days;
In gleams of crystal light
Reveals what pure pathways
Lead to the soul’s desire,
The silence of the height.1 [Note: “A. E.”]
Filled with the Holy Spirit
Let us now inquire what is meant by the words “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Very many people have had their minds more or less exercised touching the blessing of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” as it is often termed. Not a few have been hindered, if not actually thrown back, in their spiritual course, simply for lack of a little instruction in the very first principles of the doctrine concerning the Person, offices, and work of the Holy Spirit.
1. The first point to be recognized, as clearly set forth in the Scriptures, is the fact, that all Christians have the Holy Spirit. They have not only been brought under His influence, but they have received the Holy Spirit Himself. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9).
2. At the same time we must recognize the fact that to have the Spirit is one thing, but to be filled with the Spirit is quite another thing. We know from what is recorded in St. John’s Gospel that even before the Ascension the Holy Ghost had actually been given to the disciples, that Christ breathed upon them the Holy Ghost. But on the Day of Pentecost they were filled with the Holy Ghost.
There are upon the whole two main aspects or phases of the fulness of the Spirit. There is a special, critical phase, in which at a great crisis it comes out in marked, and perhaps wholly abnormal, manifestation, as when it enables the man or woman to utter supernatural prediction or proclamation. And there is also what we may call the habitual phase, where it is used to describe the condition of this or that believer’s life day by day and in its normal course. Thus the Seven were not so much specially “filled” as known to be “full”; and so was Barnabas. Into this holy habitual fulness Paul entered, it appears, at his baptism. On the other hand, the same Paul experienced from time to time the other and abnormal sort of filling; and it thus results that the same man might in one respect be full while in another he needed to be filled.1 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, Veni Creator, 211.]
3. What, then, have we to do in order to be “filled with the Spirit”? The answer to this question is not far to seek, for Christ has said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” For “if ye being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Luke 11:9-13). If, therefore, we want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, then indeed we are not far from receiving the rich blessings of the gift, but we must want the blessing and want it earnestly, for the Holy Spirit will not fill unwilling hearts. But we have great encouragement to ask. He has promised, and He has repeatedly fulfilled His promise. We cannot ask more than He has already given in many lives.
Did we dare
In our agony of prayer,
Ask for more than He has done?
When was ever His right hand
Over any time or land
Stretched as now beneath the sun?
Transformed by the Holy Spirit
“They began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
The words of the text are significant, and not the less so because, in some measure, symbolic. We must find the meaning which the symbolism contains. We have already been thinking of the symbols under which the Holy Spirit came—wind and fire, and how these Symbols characterise the work of the Holy Spirit in us; we shall now see how the same symbols are connected with the gift of speaking with tongues. Wind is symbolic of power; fiery tongues are symbolic of inspired speech—“they spake as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
i. The Immediate Results
1. Speaking with tongues. The Authorized Version by speaking of “cloven” tongues, and Christian painters by their pictorial representations, have imported into the scene an unauthorized feature. It has been supposed that a bishop’s mitre, with its divided crest, was first suggested by this erroneous idea of the shape of the tongues which rested upon the heads of the Apostles. The word translated “cloven” should be rendered “dividing” or “distributing themselves.” The flame-like forms descended into the Upper Chamber in a body or compact mass, and then at once scattered themselves over the assembled company, one lighting upon the head of each. The original language seems to imply that it rested there for a moment only, and then suddenly vanished, symbolizing perhaps its transitory nature as a gift of tongues.
Now in histories of this kind we are always under a temptation to seize upon the most extraordinary feature of the story, and to take that as the essence of the whole. Thus one of the popular ideas of Whitsun Day has been that it commemorates the gift of languages to the Apostles, by which, though uneducated men, they were qualified in a moment of time to preach the Gospel to every nation under heaven. But, indeed, this gift of tongues (even if it were what is here supposed) is but a small part of the matter. The gift of tongues concerned only one generation, at any rate, and a very few individuals.
2. The greatest miracle of that day was the transformation wrought in the waiting disciples. Their fire-baptism transfigured them. Every part of their nature was vitalized, invigorated, and transformed in fire. Its effect upon their knowledge was all that Christ had promised it should be. Their eyes were opened, their memories quickened, and their minds inspired. How clear all things appeared now that the Spirit shone upon them! The Cross, the Resurrection, and the Kingdom were all seen in their true meaning. Peter’s address reveals an illumined intelligence, an apt and accurate interpreter, an Apostle on fire. The coming of the Spirit had turned the fisherman into a teacher, orator, and evangelist. The tongue of fire gave forth the word of wisdom and of power. As men listened they found their minds informed, their reasons convinced, their souls convicted, and their wills persuaded. The Apostles themselves became new men. They now no longer coveted wealth or power, or the honour of this world; they no longer desired to have again the kingdom restored to Israel, so that the Jewish dream of earthly dominion should be theirs, one of them sitting on the right hand of the King, and one on the left, each and all anxious to be first and highest. No, the unseen and everlasting world had been opened to their gaze, and they now saw all earthly things in their true light. The only real wealth was wealth within, purified and loving hearts. The only real honour was the honour that comes from God, the honour of God’s likeness; above all, the honour of bringing many sons to God, multitudes of men and women delivered from evil and saved eternally. So they now preached with power; even the power of the Holy Ghost Himself; and this very day of Pentecost three thousand were added to their number, three thousand who the other day might have been among those that cried, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
The moral change wrought in the disciples, by the new baptism of the Spirit, is strikingly displayed in the case of one man. A difficult service was to be performed in Jerusalem that day. Had it been desired to find a man in London who would have gone down to Whitehall a few weeks after Charles was beheaded, and, addressing Cromwell’s soldiers, have endeavoured to persuade them that he whom they had executed was not only a King and a good one, but a Prophet of God, and that, therefore, they had been guilty of more than regicide, of sacrilege; although England had brave men then, it may be questioned whether any one could have been found to bear such a message to that audience.
The service which had then to be performed in Jerusalem was similar to this. It was needful that some one should stand up under the shadow of the temple, and, braving chief priests and mob alike, assert that He whom they had shamefully executed seven weeks ago was Israel’s long-looked-for Messiah; that they had been guilty of a sin which had no name; had raised their hands against “God manifest in the flesh”; had, in words strange to human ears, “killed the Prince of Life.” Who was thus to confront the rage of the mob, and the malice of the Priests? We see a man rising, filled with a holy fire, so that he totally forgets his danger, and seems not even conscious that he is doing an heroic act. He casts back upon the mockers their charge, and proceeds to open and to press home his tremendous accusation, as if he were a king upon a throne, and each man before him a lonely and defenceless culprit.
Who is this man? Have we not seen him before? Is it possible that it can be Peter? We know him of old: he has a good deal of zeal, but little steadiness; he means well, and, when matters are smooth, can serve well; but when difficulties and adversaries rise before him, his moral courage fails. How short a time is it ago since we saw him tried! He had been resolving that, come what might, he would stand by his Master to the last. Others might flinch, he would stand. Soon the Master was in the hands of enemies. Yet His case was by no means lost. The Governor was on His side; many of the people were secretly for Him; nothing could be proved against Him; and, above all, He who had saved others could save Himself. Yet, as Peter saw scowling faces, his courage failed. A servant-maid looked into his eye, and his eye fell. She said she thought he belonged to Jesus of Nazareth: his heart sank, and he said, “No.” Then another looked in his face, and repeated the same suspicion. Now, of course, he was more cowardly, and repeated his “No.” A third looked upon him, and insisted that he belonged to the accused Prophet. Now his poor heart was all fluttering; and, to make it plain that he had nothing to do with Jesus of Nazareth, he began to curse and swear.
Is it within the same breast where this pale and tremulous heart quaked that we see glowing a brave heart which dreads neither the power of the authorities nor the violence of the populace; which faces every prejudice and every vice of Jerusalem, every bitter Pharisee and every street brawler, as if they were no more than straying and troublesome sheep? Is the Peter of Pilate’s hall the Peter of Pentecost, with the same natural powers, the same natural force of character, the same training, and the same resolutions? If so, what a difference is made in a man by the one circumstance of being filled with the Holy Ghost!1 [Note: W. Arthur, The Tongue of Fire, 63.]
ii. The Permanent Results
1. The descent of the Holy Ghost was preceded by “a rushing mighty wind” which “filled all the house where they were sitting.” It bespeaks the irresistible force of the Spirit, and the fact that it filled the whole chamber would seem to be emblematical of the universality of its influence. Apart, then, from its immediate effect upon the assemblage there gathered together, it was the first-fruits of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the whole mystical Body of Christ’s Church in all places and through all time. It is this that marks off the Dispensation of the Spirit from those Dispensations which had preceded it. God had deigned to be present with special people, and at special times; He had even caused an embodiment of His presence to be manifested in a special place, resting like a cloud of glory above the mercy-seat. And again, God had been present in the Person of His Incarnate Son among the inhabitants of Palestine, but in both cases the Divine Presence had been circumscribed and local only; but from that first Whitsuntide and onwards God has enabled men, through the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, to realise His Presence everywhere, and what before seemed to men to be local only has become universal.
2. To the Jews in the wilderness and to the people in Palestine, the Presence of God was wholly external, outside of themselves, but now it is within; “Know ye not,” says St. Paul, “that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” He meant to remind us of the inspiring thought that as the indwelling Spirit is felt to be ever prompting us to do what is right, so it should act as a deterrent from doing what is wrong. He meant us to realize that every time we yield to temptation, we sin not only against a God above and about us, but also against a God within us.
3. The life so filled is transformed. There may be some who will ask, Does the Holy Spirit still fill the hearts of men and transform their lives, as we read that He did in the days of the Apostles? The answer to the question is one which rests on experience; it is not a matter of correct interpretation of symbols. We may easily go astray in interpreting symbols, and we need the valuable reminder which Dr. Swete gives us that when we have translated the words of the Bible into the terms of modern philosophy we have only substituted one set of symbols for another. The modern symbols may be more intelligible and less likely to be misunderstood than the old ones; but the ultimate truths will not be reached until we have passed, in the words which Cardinal Newman chose for his own epitaph, ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem.1 [Note: The Guardian, 3rd February 1911.] Let us quote the words of Dr. Swete in answer to this question: “Communion with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit is not a theory or a dogma, but a fact of personal knowledge to which tens of thousands of living Christians can testify as the most certain of actualities.”2 [Note: Swete, The Ascended Christ.]
Let us go back a century and a half ago, and compare the condition of things then with the condition of things to-day. In the year 1724 “gin-drinking infected the mass of the population with the violence of an epidemic.” It is said that every sixth house in London was a gin-palace. Hogarth’s cartoon retains the sign which stood outside the doors of these drinking dens—“Here you may get drunk for a penny; dead drunk for twopence—straw provided.” The public-houses were open all night. Public opinion did not hold the character of any man to suffer through drunkenness. Dr. Johnson says to Boswell: “I remember, sir, when every decent person in Lichfield got drunk every night and nobody thought the worse of them.” It was the mark of a gentleman to get drunk, and the standard of comparison was as “drunk as a lord.” Again, in the social habits of the upper classes profane swearing was held to be a mark of good breeding, and to take the name of God in vain in almost every sentence was the mark of a gentleman and even of a lady. Look again at the sports of the people, perhaps the truest index to their character. On the Sunday the people gathered for cock-fighting, bull-baiting, and other cruel sports. If we could have stepped into the midst of the eager and excited crowd we might have cried indignantly—“This ought to be put down by law.” But how impossible it would have seemed. How indignantly it would have been scouted. The members of Parliament were the ringleaders of the sport. The clergy thought themselves fortunate to own a winning bird. Now where is all that gone? What has made drunkenness a low and beastly habit? What has made swearing an utterly vulgar thing? Why has the law stepped in and put down cruel sports? Do you say that education has become more general, and that culture has brought in other and more refined tastes? No; it was the educated and cultured classes who led the fashion in these things. There is but one explanation. Wesley and Whitefield were filled with the Holy Ghost, and as they preached here and there a little company of men and women were converted—not many in comparison with the masses of the nation. And these converted men and women went forth amongst the neighbours and began to live a Christlike life. Each became a new moral standard amongst them. Each was a skylight through which the heavens shone down into the midst of the little community. Each of them witnessed that there was another life than that to which they had been accustomed, and that in every way a better and happier life. Each became a living conscience in which things were so much more definitely black or white than they used to be—blessedly good or uncomfortably bad. Each was a window through which men and women saw beyond the little present out into the eternities and the infinities. That wrought the reformation—witnesses unto Me.1 [Note: M. G. Pearse.]
Oh, turn me, mould me, mellow me for use.
Pervade my being with thy vital force,
That this else inexpressive life of mine
May become eloquent and full of power,
Impregnated with life and strength divine.
Put the bright torch of heaven into my hand,
That I may carry it aloft
And win the eye of weary wanderers here below
To guide their feet into the paths of peace.
I cannot raise the dead,
Nor from this soil pluck precious dust,
Nor bid the sleeper wake,
Nor still the storm, nor bend the lightning back,
Nor muffle up the thunder,
Nor bid the chains fall from off creation’s long enfettered limbs.
But I can live a life that tells on other lives,
And makes this world less full of anguish and of pain;
A life that like the pebble dropped upon the sea
Sends its wide circles to a hundred shores.
May such a life be mine.
Creator of true life, Thyself the life Thou givest,
Give Thyself, that Thou mayest dwell in me, and I in Thee.2 [Note: Horatius Bonar.]
Adamson (T.), The Spirit of Power, 1.
Benson (R. M.), The Final Passover, iv. 628.
Chadwick (S.), Humanity and God, 205.
Church (R. W.), Pascal and other Sermons, 336.
Fuller (M.), The Lord’s Day, 303.
Hopkins (E. H.), The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, 203.
Jowett (J. H.), The Transfigured Church, 9.
Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year: Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, 269.
Luckock (H. M.), Footprints of the Apostles, 54.
Macmillan (H.), The Garden and the City, 326.
Miller (J.), Sermons Literary and Scientific, 1st Ser., 259.
Oosterzee (J. J. van), The Year of Salvation, i. 475.
Ritchie (D. L.), Peace the Umpire, 123.
Robertson (A.), Venetian Sermons, 247.
Shore (T. T.), Saint George for England, 109.
Westcott (B. F.), Village Sermons, 213.
Wheeler (W. C.), Sermons and Addresses, 188.
Woodford (J. R.), Sermons, ii. 67.