April / May 2018 - Vol. 97
"You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you" (Romans 8:9)God the Son has graciously condescended to reveal the Father to his creatures from without; God the Holy Spirit, by inward communications. Who can compare these separate works of condescension, either of them being beyond our understanding? We can but silently adore the Infinite Love which encompasses us on every side.[Note: Minor changes, including capitalization style, were made to allow the text to be more accessible to modern readers. Sub-headings were also added. Editor]
The Son of God is called the Word, as declaring his glory throughout created nature, and impressing the evidence of it on every part of it. He has given us to read it in his works of goodness, holiness, and wisdom. He is the living and eternal law of truth and perfection, that image of God's unapproachable attributes, which men have ever seen, by glimpses, on the face of the world, felt that it was sovereign, but knew not whether to say it was a fundamental rule and self-existing destiny, or the offspring and mirror of the divine will.
Such has he been from the beginning, graciously sent forth from the Father to reflect his glory upon all things, distinct from him, while mysteriously one with him; and in due time visiting us with an infinitely deeper mercy, when for our redemption he humbled himself to take upon himself that fallen nature which he had originally created after his own image.
The condescension of the Blessed Spirit is as incomprehensible as that of the Son. He has ever been the secret Presence of God within the creation: a source of life amid the chaos, bringing out into form and order what was at first shapeless and void, and the voice of truth in the hearts of all rational beings, turning them into harmony with the intimations of God’s Law, which were externally made to them. Hence he is especially called the “life-giving” Spirit; being (as it were) the soul of universal nature, the strength of man and beast, the guide of faith, the witness against sin, the inward light of patriarchs and prophets, the grace abiding in the Christian soul, and the Lord and Ruler of the church. Therefore let us ever praise the Father Almighty, who is the first source of all perfection, in and together with his co-equal Son and Spirit, through whose gracious ministrations we have been given to see “what manner of love” it is wherewith the Father has loved us.
work of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit has from the beginning pleaded with man. We read in the Book of Genesis, that, when evil began to prevail all over the earth before the flood, the Lord said, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" (Genesis 6:3); implying that he had hitherto striven with his corruption. Again, when God took to himself a peculiar people, the Holy Spirit was pleased to be especially present with them. Nehemiah says, "You also gave your Good Spirit to instruct them" (Nehemiah 9:20), and Isaiah, "They rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit" (Isaiah 63:10). Further, he manifested himself as the source of various gifts, intellectual and extraordinary, in the Prophets, and others. Thus at the time the Tabernacle was constructed, the Lord filled Bezaleel "with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works" (Exodus 31:3,4) in metal, stone, and timber. At another time, when Moses was oppressed with his labors, Almighty God graciously agreed to “take of the Spirit” which was upon him, and to put it on seventy of the elders of Israel, that they might share the burden with him. “And it came to pass, that, when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease” (Numbers 11:17,25). These texts will be sufficient to remind you of many others, in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are spoken of under the Jewish covenant. These were great mercies; yet, great as they were, they are as nothing compared with that surpassing grace with which we Christians are honored; that great privilege of receiving into our hearts, not the mere gifts of the Spirit, but his very presence, himself, by a real not a figurative indwelling.
When our Lord entered upon his ministry, he acted as though he were a mere man, needing grace, and received the consecration of the Holy Spirit for our sakes. He became the Christ, or Anointed, that the Spirit might be seen to come from God, and to pass from him to us. And, therefore, the heavenly gift is not simply called the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God, but the Spirit of Christ, that we might clearly understand, that he comes to us from and instead of Christ. Thus St. Paul says, "God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts;" and our Lord breathed on his Apostles, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit”; and he says elsewhere to them, “If I depart, I will send him to you” (Galatians 4: 6; John 20:22; 16:7). Accordingly this “Holy Spirit of promise” is called “the earnest of our inheritance,” “the seal and earnest of an unseen Savior” (Ephesians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5); being the present pledge of him who is absent,— or rather more than a pledge, for an earnest is not a mere token which will be taken from us when it is fulfilled, as a pledge might be, but something in advance of what is one day to be given in full.
This must be clearly understood; for it would seem to follow, that if so, the Comforter who has come instead of Christ, must have condescended to come in the same sense in which Christ came; I mean, that he has come, not merely in the way of gifts, or of influences, or of operations, as he came to the Prophets, for then Christ's going away would be a loss, and not a gain, and the Spirit's presence would be a mere pledge, not an earnest; but he comes to us as Christ came, by a real and personal visitation. I do not say we could have inferred this thus clearly by the mere force of the above cited texts; but it being actually so revealed to us in other texts of Scripture, we are able to see that it may be legitimately deduced from these. We are able to see that the Savior, when once he entered into this world, never so departed as to suffer things to be as before he came; for he still is with us, not in mere gifts, but by the substitution of his Spirit for himself, and that, both in the Church and in the souls of individual Christians.
For instance, St. Paul says in the text, “You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Again, “He shall quicken even your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you.” “Do you not know that your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you?” “You are the Temple of the Living God,” as God has said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them.” The same Apostle clearly distinguishes between the indwelling of the Spirit, and his actual operations within us, when he says, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us”; and again, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Romans 8: 9,11; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Romans 5:5; 8:16).
for the Spirit’s divinity
To proceed: the Holy Spirit, I have said, dwells in body and soul, as in a temple. Evil spirits indeed have power to possess sinners, but his indwelling is far more perfect; for he is all-knowing and omnipresent, he is able to search into all our thoughts, and penetrate into every motive of the heart. Therefore, he pervades us (if it may be so said) as light pervades a building, or as a sweet perfume [pervades] the folds of some honorable robe; so that, in Scripture language, we are said to be in him, and he in us. It is plain that such an inhabitation [by the Spirit] brings the Christian into a state altogether new and marvelous, far above the possession of mere gifts, exalts him inconceivably in the scale of beings, and gives him a place and an office which he had not before. In St. Peter's forcible language, he becomes “partaker of the divine nature,” and has “power” or authority, as St. John says, “to become the son of God.” Or, to use the words of St. Paul, “He is a new creation; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.” His rank is new; his parentage and service new. He is “of God,” and :is not his own,: “a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Peter 1:4; John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 4:4; 1 Corinthians 6:19,20; 2 Timothy 2:21).
birth in the Spirit
By nature we are children of wrath; the heart is sold under sin, possessed by evil spirits; and inherits death as its eternal portion. But by the coming of the Holy Spirit, all guilt and pollution are burned away as by fire, the devil is driven forth, sin, original and actual, is forgiven, and the whole man is consecrated to God. And this is the reason why he is called “the earnest” of that Savior who died for us, and will one day give us the fullness of his own presence in heaven.
Hence, too, he is our “seal unto the day of redemption”; for as the potter moulds the clay, so he impresses the divine image on us members of the household of God. And his work may truly be called regeneration; for though the original nature of the soul is not destroyed, yet its past transgressions are pardoned once and for ever, and its source of evil staunched and gradually dried up by the pervading health and purity which has set up its abode in it. Instead of its own bitter waters, a spring of health and salvation is brought within it; not the mere streams of that fountain, “clear as crystal,” which is before the throne of God, but, as our Lord says, “a well of water in him,” in a man's heart, “springing up into everlasting life.” Hence he elsewhere describes the heart as giving forth, not receiving, the streams of grace: “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” St. John adds, “This he spoke of the Spirit” (John 4:14; 7:38,39).
Such is the inhabitation of the Holy Spirit within us, applying to us individually the precious cleansing of Christ's blood in all its manifold benefits. Such is the great doctrine, which we hold as a matter of faith, and without actual experience to verify it to us. Next, I must speak briefly concerning the manner in which the gift of grace manifests itself in the regenerate soul; a subject which I do not willingly take up, and which no Christian perhaps is ever able to consider without some effort, feeling that he thereby endangers either his reverence towards God, or his humility, but which the errors of this day, and the confident tone of their advocates, oblige us to dwell upon, lest truth should suffer by our silence.
Holy Spirit reveals the Father to us
He restores for us that broken bond, which, proceeding from above, connects together into one blessed family all that is anywhere holy and eternal, and separates it off from the rebel world which comes to nought. Being then the sons of God, and one with him, our souls mount up and cry to him continually. This special characteristic of the regenerate soul is spoken of by St. Paul soon after the text. “You have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” Nor are we left to utter these cries to him, in any vague uncertain way of our own; but he who sent the Spirit to dwell in us habitually, gave us also a form of words to sanctify the separate acts of our minds. Christ left his sacred prayer to be the peculiar possession of his people, and the voice of the Spirit. If we examine it, we shall find in it the substance of that doctrine, to which St. Paul has given a name in the passage just quoted. We begin it by using our privilege of calling on Almighty God in express words as “Our Father.”
We proceed, according to this beginning, in that waiting, trusting, adoring, resigned temper, which children ought to feel; looking towards him, rather than thinking of ourselves; zealous for his honor rather than fearful about our safety; resting in his present help, not with eyes timorously glancing towards the future. his name, his kingdom, his will, are the great objects for the Christian to contemplate and make his portion, being stable and serene, and “complete in him,” as beseems one who has the gracious presence of his Spirit within him. And, when he goes on to think of himself, he prays, that he may be enabled to have towards others what God has shown towards himself, a spirit of forgiveness and loving-kindness.
Thus he pours himself out on all sides, first looking up to catch the heavenly gift, but, when he gains it, not keeping it to himself, but diffusing "rivers of living water" to the whole race of man, thinking of self as little as may be, and desiring ill and destruction to nothing but that principle of temptation and evil, which is rebellion against God; – lastly, ending, as he began, with the contemplation of his kingdom, power, and glory ever-lasting. This is the true “Abba, Father,” which the Spirit of adoption utters within the Christian's heart, the infallible voice of him who “makes intercession for the Saints in God's way.” And if he has at times, for instance, amid trial or affliction, special visitations and comfortings from the Spirit, “plaints unutterable” within him, yearnings after the life to come, or bright and passing gleams of God's eternal election, and deep stirrings of wonder and thankfulness thence following, he thinks too reverently of “the secret of the Lord,” to betray (as it were) his confidence, and, by vaunting it to the world, to exaggerate it perchance into more than it was meant to convey: but he is silent, and ponders it as choice encouragement to his soul, meaning something, but he knows not how much.
Spirit glorifies the Son
He came for the purpose of unfolding what was yet hidden, while Christ was on earth; and speaks on the house-tops what was delivered in closets, disclosing him in the glories of his transfiguration, who once had no comeliness in his outward form, and was but a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. First, he inspired the holy evangelists to record the life of Christ, and directed them which of his words and works to select, which to omit; next, he commented (as it were) upon these, and unfolded their meaning in the Apostolic Epistles. The birth, the life, the death and resurrection of Christ, has been the text which he has illuminated.
He has made history to be doctrine; telling us plainly, whether by St. John or St. Paul, that Christ's conception and birth was the real Incarnation of the Eternal Word, – his life, “God manifest in the Flesh,” – his death and resurrection, the atonement for sin, and the justification of all believers. Nor was this all: he continued his sacred comment in the formation of the church, superintending and overruling its human instruments, and bringing out our Savior’s words and works, and the apostles’ illustrations of them, into acts of obedience and permanent ordinances, by the ministry of saints and martyrs. Lastly, he completes his gracious work by conveying this system of truth, thus varied and expanded, to the heart of each individual Christian in whom he dwells. Thus he condescends to edify the whole man in faith and holiness: “casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
By his wonder-working grace all things tend to perfection. Every faculty of the mind, every design, pursuit, subject of thought, is hallowed in its degree by the abiding vision of Christ, as Lord, Savior, and Judge. All solemn, reverent, thankful, and devoted feelings, all that is noble, all that is choice in the regenerate soul, all that is self-denying in conduct, and zealous in action, is drawn forth and offered up by the Spirit as a living sacrifice to the Son of God. And, though the Christian is taught not to think of himself above his measure, and dare not boast, yet he is also taught that the consciousness of the sin which remains in him, and infects his best services, should not separate him from God, but lead him to him who can save. He reasons with St. Peter, “To whom should he go?” and, without daring to decide, or being impatient to be told how far he is able to consider as his own every Gospel privilege in its fullness, he gazes on them all with deep thought as the church's possession, joins her triumphant hymns in honor of Christ, and listens wistfully to her voice in inspired Scripture, the voice of the Bride calling upon and blest in the Beloved.
Spirit keeps us in perfect peace
Such is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, whether in Jew or Greek, bond or free. He himself perchance in his mysterious nature, is the Eternal Love whereby the Father and the Son have dwelt in each other, as ancient writers have believed; and what he is in heaven, that he is abundantly on earth. He lives in the Christian's heart, as the never-failing fount of charity, which is the very sweetness of the living waters. For where he is, "there is liberty" from the tyranny of sin, from the dread, which the natural man feels, of an offended, unreconciled Creator. Doubt, gloom, impatience have been expelled; joy in the Gospel has taken their place, the hope of heaven and the harmony of a pure heart, the triumph of self-mastery, sober thoughts, and a contented mind. How can charity towards all men fail to follow, being the mere affectionateness of innocence and peace? Thus the Spirit of God creates in us the simplicity and warmth of heart which children have, nay, rather the perfections of his heavenly hosts, high and low being joined together in his mysterious work; for what are implicit trust, ardent love, abiding purity, but the mind both of little children and of the adoring seraphim!
of truth and holiness
It is our concern only to look to ourselves, and to see that, as we have received the gift, we “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption”; remembering that “if any man destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy.” This reflection and the recollection of our many backslidings, will ever keep us, please God, from judging others, or from priding ourselves on our privileges.
Let us but consider how we have fallen from the light
and grace of our baptism. Were we now what that holy
sacrament made us, we might ever “'go on our way
rejoicing”; but having sullied our heavenly garments, in
one way or other, in a greater or less degree (God
knows! and our own consciences too in a measure), alas!
the Spirit of adoption has in part receded from us, and
the sense of guilt, remorse, sorrow, and penitence must
take his place. We must renew our confession, and seek
afresh our absolution day by day, before we dare call
upon God as “our Father,” or offer up psalms and
intercessions to him. And, whatever pain and affliction
meets us through life, we must take it as a merciful
penance imposed by a Father upon erring children, to be
borne meekly and thankfully, and as intended to remind
us of the weight of that infinitely greater punishment,
which was our desert by nature, and which Christ bore
for us on the cross.
illustration above entitled "Breath of Life" by @ Graham Bradock at www.goodsalt.com.