My task tonight is that which I am persuaded ought to be the business of every Christian man, not in word only, but in deed and in truth — to assert the rights of the Spirit of God in the church of God. I say, “to assert His rights;” for I assume here the personality of the Holy Ghost. It is needless now to give any proofs of this any more than of His Deity. These truths can be taken for granted, not as if there were not abundant proofs in the word of God, but because they are at present uncalled for. But it is another thing, beloved friends, when we speak of the rights of the Holy Ghost — His proper sovereign action in the church, flowing from His personal presence as sent down from heaven. On this subject many find difficulties and obscurities; and great ignorance exists even among the children of God, and those too who may have been greatly blessed; in and by whom the Holy Ghost may have acted powerfully for the good of souls. Unless however we know this truth from God, unless we have it as a divine certainty in our souls, it is clear that whatever grace may do in giving us practical subjection, yet there must be much lost if we do not know the special ways in which it is the will of God that the Holy Ghost, present both in the individual and in the church of God, should be honoured. On this theme — a large one for a single discourse — I propose now to enter.
Here too, as in treating of the “one body,” I would show from God’s word that which was always true of the Spirit, and which therefore has no special connection with the present time, in order that we may the better discern in what God is now manifesting Himself, and how it is that Christians — for of them I speak — are apt to be mistaken as to this. A mistake here is so much the more serious a thing, as it is a question of duly recognizing a divine person. If we maintain the title of the Holy Spirit to act as He will in the church, no question is raised about His work in souls from the beginning. No person intelligently acquainted with the Scriptures doubts the fact or its importance; neither is there the least thought, wish, or motive to do so. The Holy Spirit has always been the direct agent in whatever God Himself has undertaken. If we look at creation, the Spirit had His part there. If we look again at the elders who obtained a good report through faith, no believer questions for a moment that it was only by the operation of the Holy Ghost that man believed then as now. He wrought in Abel, Enoch, Noah, and in all others whom the Scriptures testify as the line of saints. So again when God espoused His people Israel, if He wrought in any especial fashion suited to the display of His glory in their midst, it was the Spirit of God who was the energetic power behind and within. It was He that wrought, for instance, from a Moses down to a Bezaleel, from Samson up to David. When we come to the prophets, it need scarcely be said it was under the power of the Holy Ghost that holy men of God spoke; the Spirit of Christ made them to be witnesses beforehand of His sufferings, and of His glories that were to follow, little as they might themselves understand His sufferings. Thus, in those who stand for present privileges, there is no disposition whatever to obscure, but on the contrary to give the fullest value to all that the Holy Ghost has ever wrought; for in truth there never was anything of God in which He did not work.
But when we come to the New Testament, a new thing comes to view. A despised, crucified, departing Son of man was a strange sound. (John 12:34) They looked for Christ to abide for ever, and to reign in glory and righteous blessing upon earth. But gradually, as man and Israel especially rejected Him, the truth — astonishing to the Jew — dawned more and more, that He, the Messiah and Son of God, was going to leave the earth. Gentiles, I am aware, think little of this; but do they therefore show superior wisdom? To the Jew it was a most startling announcement, and at first sight irreconcilable with the law and prophets. They had looked for Him, the promised One, and their hearts delighted in His presence: it was what kings and prophets had desired most earnestly. God had put the desire into their souls; but now that it was gratified in His coming, He is going to leave them, to sink down in sorrow and shame and death — the death of the cross! under man’s, ay, and under God’s, hand! And not merely this, but when He rose again — instead of maintaining His glory from the throne of His father David, and filling the earth with the blessedness that was foretold, and accomplishing, and more than accomplishing, all that their hearts had so fondly hoped was just about to dawn and for ever brighten this world — He was about to leave the world in its darkness; at any rate, He was about to retire again to the heavens whence He came. But if He was about to go on high, it was not as He came down; for as the Son of God He had come down to become man — “the Word was made flesh;” and now as man, risen from the dead, He was leaving the world to take His place at the right hand of God; and during His absence on high, He would send down the Holy Ghost in a way never before known. The Old Testament prepares the heart for a present Messiah, and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost as the needed appropriate meed paid to the reign of the Messiah over the earth; but the Messiah, on His death and resurrection, disappearing from the view of the world that had cast Him out, entering into a new and heavenly scene, and the Holy Ghost sent down personally in His absence to be here while He was there — all this was something wholly unexpected by the Jew. If Gentiles do not turn aside and wonder at the great sight, it is certainly not from excess of spiritual feeling or intelligence. We may find of course the wonder of stupidity; but there is such a thing as no wonder, just because there is no real thought about it. I believe this is the reason why, if there be on the one hand the wonder of men who are surprised, there is a lack of wonder in others because they are too engrossed in earthly things to be really concerned.
Now this, next to Christ, is the central truth of the New Testament; but so far from its being the solid ground on which Christians are now walking, in point of fact all is reduced in their minds to a mere continuation of the influence which the Holy Ghost has always exerted. The consequence is, that all men who reject His special presence in person on earth as a consequence of redemption are driven into the most painful expedients in order to evade the plainest scriptures. I may just mention one case: it will perhaps startle some that such assertions should be made, and especially by a person of large reputation for spiritual knowledge. It will show where want of faith as to the great truth of the actual presence of the Holy Ghost in a way never experienced before lands those who oppose it systematically. In order to escape the clear intimation of a new and incomparable blessing in the shape of the Comforter, they allege that the Holy Ghost (who had always been given!) departed from the earth when the Lord was here, in order that the Lord should give Him once more on His own ascension to heaven. Thus, the time of the Saviour’s presence on earth would be, not a bright and happy feast, but dearth as regarded the Spirit of God! I just name the thought, in order that you may see the excessive violence, not to say worse, to which unbelief reduces even intelligent men of God. Need I say, on the contrary, that those who surrounded the Saviour and were blessed by His teaching had all the Old Testament saints ever enjoyed, and a great deal more? The Holy Ghost had quickened their souls, like their predecessors, by giving them faith in Christ. Besides, the disciples had the Messiah’s presence and the manifestation of grace and truth in Him, and all His words and ways. No doubt there was much they could not then bear, as the Lord Himself told them; but still they were as truly believers as any had ever been before them. The fact is that such reasoning is the puny effort of man to escape from the solemn truth of God.
The New Testament is most explicit. Our Lord first of all brings out the doctrine of the Spirit; and this as fully meeting the need of man to be born of the Spirit and to have the Holy Ghost, in order that he should be able to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. But more than this, He prepares the disciples for the mighty work in spreading the truth and the grace of God. The Holy Ghost was necessary for this; and accordingly we have it in John 7 — a scripture which it is impossible to escape. The Lord had put it in a figurative way, that out of the belly of him who believed should flow rivers of living water. “This spake he of the Spirit,” (which should not be given to a person in order to make him believe, but) “which they that believe should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet [given], because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” Lengthy reasoning on such a scripture would be a dishonour to the word of God. Where there is an obscurity, we may try to explain and illustrate; but where the language employed is plainer than any that could be substituted in its stead, I feel that it is due to Scripture simply to press that plain meaning.
In the later chapters of the same gospel again we have our Lord bringing out, not merely the fact that after the glorification of Jesus the Holy Ghost was to be given, as He had not been before; but, besides, we have His personal action, when sent and come, entered into fully and definitely. Hence in John 14 He is spoken of as the Comforter. Mark the importance of this. We may reason about the Holy Ghost being given, as if it meant no more than a spiritual power, but we cannot thus attenuate the sent Comforter. Who is He but the Holy Ghost Himself? No one can say that “Comforter” means a miracle, or a tongue, or any operation you please. Doubtless He works in all these various ways; but it is a real person who replaces the Messiah when He leaves the earth. Just read a few verses of the chapter in order that it be made still plainer: “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.” There again we have what is most evident. Miracles have been; tongues cease; prophecies and knowledge pass away; but here we have a divine person who abides with the saints for ever — “even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” The world was bound to receive Jesus, and after an outward manner it had Him there; but here we find One who, not having become incarnate, could not in any way be brought before the eyes of the world. I admit of course that the world does not really receive Jesus in a spiritual manner any more than the Holy Ghost; but still there is a pointed reference to the manner of the Holy Ghost’s presence here below, which excludes Him from all apprehension on the world’s part as an object either of sight or of knowledge.
Again in John 14:26 we read, “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you.” It is not a gift or power or influence merely, but one who is really sent — a person who teaches all things and brings all the Lord’s sayings to their remembrance. Then in John 15:26, “But when the Comforter is come.” It is not merely in this case “sent” (because some might argue perhaps about the sending of an influence) but “come.” “When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth [in every way guarding this most weighty theme], which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.” Assuredly we have the Holy Spirit’s coming presented with solemnity and distinctness. In the former chapter the Father sends Him in Christ’s name; in this Christ sends Him from the Father. In the one case He is said to bring all things Christ had spoken to their remembrance; in the other He comes down from the Son, and bears witness of Him. They had been conversant with Him upon earth, and were to attest it as witnesses; also the Spirit from Him in heaven comes down, that there should be as it were these joint witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then in the sixteenth chapter of John we have the truth still further unfolded, and, if possible, with increasing energy, as it is indeed of the deepest interest and importance. In John 14 the Lord had told them that they ought to rejoice because He went to the Father. He was leaving a scene of humiliation and suffering to be in the home of the Father’s love and glory. Had their love been simple, had they been thinking of Him, not of themselves, they would have rejoiced because He was going to the Father. But now in John 16 He puts it upon other ground: “It is expedient for you [and not only as it were for me] that I go to the Father.” What! expedient for those poor weak trembling disciples that He had watched over, in the face of all Israel who despised Him and would not be gathered to Him? Surely under His wing He had gathered those little ones, and sheltered them; yea, in the very hour of His own rejection He had turned His hand upon them. And now He must leave them. It was expedient for them that He should go to the Father. How could this be? There is but one answer; and it is the answer that the Lord gives. It is what in His mind made it expedient. Blessed as it was to have the Messiah, His presence (just because He was a man upon earth with a group of disciples around Him) was necessarily limited. He could not thus be as man everywhere throughout the earth. The Holy Ghost had not, like the Son, taken human nature into union with His person. But more than that, when redemption was effected, He could in the most intimate way bring into the hearts of the disciples all the value that flowed from Christ and His work — Christ exalted to heaven and estimated of God the Father there.
Thus then were the great foundations of truth laid. The Lord Jesus would not leave this world or go to the Father, until every question that God had with guilty man was settled for ever. When sin was put away by the sacrifice of Himself on the cross, when righteousness was established in Christ risen from the dead and exalted on high, it was not merely all pure grace as before, but now it became a question of God’s righteousness through the work of the Saviour. The efficacy of His blood turned the scale in favour of man; for it was the man Christ Jesus who had thus glorified God about sin. No doubt He was His own beloved Son, the inestimable gift of His own grace; and man could boast nothing, for He was despised and rejected of man — hated without a cause. Still, there was the fact that God had so looked down upon earth, more especially upon the cross, to find the man who suffered all, that God Himself might be glorified. This truth changed everything. Now it became a question, so to speak, for God: what could He do for this blessed man? If He was God’s Son, was this a reason why He should love or exalt Him less? He raises up from the grave the man Christ Jesus, and sets Him at His own right hand. That was not only a personal act in honour of Christ, but for believers it is the measure, in infinite grace, of acceptance which is now theirs in virtue of Him. All heaven was filled with wonder and praise at the sight of man, made a little lower than the angels, taken up in the person of Christ far above all principalities and powers to sit on the throne of God. Yea God Himself from that moment has made it His business and delight to show His value for the man who, in the face of sin and death and Satan and divine judgment, retrieved all His character, and brought glory to His name in delivering, by suffering for, the guilty to the uttermost. Before this, man had been the constant public agent in dishonouring God. Never was God so slighted, insulted, provoked by any of His creatures as by man. Satan, when he left his first estate, once and for ever forfeited his place. There might still be a more terrible judgment awaiting him; but there was no mercy — no beam of hope pierced through the darkness into which sin plunged a fallen angel. But now, after man had preferred darkness to light, after his manifold course of rebellion against God was run, the tide was turned in the death of Christ, and God was placed by His work under an obligation, so to say, to man to bless him by faith through and in Christ the Lord.
Hence that expression of which St. Paul is so full “the righteousness of God.” If man was more than ever proved to be lost, God now had a debt to pay. As a part of His discharge of it, He sets the Lord Jesus as man at His own right hand; He justifies freely and fully every believer; and He sends down the Holy Ghost in order that He might be the divine link between that blessed Man in glory and those who believed in Him, even such as had trembled at the thought of His departure. What a change there is now! Not only was there spiritual intelligence now, but power also. Peter, who had denied the Lord, could now stand boldly forward and say, “But ye denied the Holy One and the Just.” They were all dumb. His denial was completely gone, and I might venture to say with more glory to the Lord than if he had never uttered it. A positive strength and triumph glowed in his soul, a knowledge not only of his own weakness and worthlessness, but of God, of resurrection, and of His grace — a sense of what Christ was for him that was beyond all he had ever known before. I do not say beyond grace, unless Peter had done what he did; but surely there was immense force in his words. They knew well what he had done, publicly done, in the high priest’s hall, and before people ready enough to see the faults of a disciple. Yet he who repeatedly and recently denied his Lord was, through abundance of grace, so full of courage as to stand forth and confront and tell them that it was they that “denied the Holy One and the Just.” His conscience was purged; he had no more conscience of sins (Heb. 10): all was blotted out that could be against him before God. Yea he was justified from all things.
This was merely one fruit, precious as it was; and out of what did it grow? Peter had been a believer before, and was already born anew: what then was its spring? It was part of the result of the great salvation made good in the power of the Spirit of God come down from heaven, and thus working in Peter. No doubt, there was previous moral exercise, deep penitence for his sins, and the restoration of his soul; but more than all this followed, — the gift and positive power of the Spirit. It is here, though not here only, that the church shows its weakness through unbelief. To the believer it is not a mere negative question now, but one of real present power; as was said of Timothy — who needed to be reminded of the fact — that it was not a spirit of fear he had received, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
But now we must return to the great truth: the Lord Jesus, in John 14, 15, 16 shows what was to replace His personal presence upon earth — a real divine Paraclete — He whom we call the third person in the Trinity. I do not however admire the expression “second” or “third” person; and for this reason, that it tends to bring in a subordination in the Godhead where scripture does not. You cannot have a secondary God. You may bring human reasonings into the subject, and talk about a son, and his subjection to his father; but therein is the very thing which is so dangerous, and of which, to my mind, the devil has taken great advantage. The scripture shows that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Ghost is God; that they are one and all equally Jehovah. Subordination in respect of Deity is only a means of undermining the proper Godhead of the Son and the Spirit. The notion of subordination is true only when we look at the place of manhood the Son deigned to take, or at the office the blessed Holy Ghost is now filling to the glory of the Son, just as the Son served and will yet reign to the glory of God the Father.
To return, however — the Lord Jesus tells us it was expedient that He should go away; — “For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” Any particular notice of this scripture is not the point now, but rather the general truth. This was the twofold purpose of the Holy Ghost in coming here below. He proves that the world was under sin; that there is no righteousness here, but only in the Just One with the Father; and that as to the prince of this world, he is judged — the sentence not executed, but he judged. There was hope for the world with the Jew; but now, from the point of view in which the Lord speaks of His own going and the Holy Ghost’s coming, the world is evidently lost, and the Spirit here is but its reprover. Next, this same Holy Spirit should lead the disciples into the truth, taking of the things of Christ, and glorifying Him. There is thus a double relation of the Holy Ghost — to the world, as a system outside and condemned; to the saints, whom He leads, telling them of things to come, yea, of all things pertaining to Christ and His glory. Such is the plain doctrine of the Apostle John as to the Spirit.
Thence we come to the Acts of the Apostles: is there anything there that, as a matter of fact, answers to our Lord’s promises? There need not be a doubt. In Acts 1 the disciples are with the Lord, entering but very feebly into that which had filled His heart before He went away. They were still looking for the kingdom with great things for the earth and for Israel. They were not, it is true, sunk so low as the unbelieving thoughts of Gentile Christendom — i.e., a millennium without Christ! the shame of those who boast so proudly in our day; but still they were not far raised above the ordinary thoughts of Jews. They did not yet enter into the precious Christian hope, and for this simple reason: the thoughts of the Christian are the thoughts of heaven. They are the communications of the Holy Ghost that suit the Father, because centring in the Son and His heavenly glory. Into that communion we are brought; and truly it is not merely with the prophets and with their blessed visions of coming glory for the earth, but “with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” But as for the disciples in Acts 1 the power of entrance was not yet there, for the Holy Ghost was not personally come; and yet they had not only life at this time, but life in resurrection. The Lord had actually breathed upon them the very day He rose, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” Of course this was not the gift of the Comforter as such, the promised One that was to take the place of Christ upon earth; but rather the communication by the Holy Ghost of His own risen life. Therefore, I believe, did He breathe upon them: a clear allusion to the Lord God breathing on Adam. Of old it was the breath of natural life given to Adam. Here was One upon earth who was both Lord and God (as acknowledged by Thomas a little after), and also the risen man or last Adam, the quickening Spirit. Accordingly, He communicates this life, as life must always be communicated, by the Holy Ghost; and therefore it is said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” But for all that, we know from Acts 1 that the Spirit, the Comforter, was not yet come. Indeed, we ought to gather it from the simple fact, that the Lord was not yet gone. “And if I go not away, the Comforter will not come.” He was seen there; and He commands them, when assembled together, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father. Whatever the blessing, then, they had received on the resurrection-day, it was not the accomplishment of the promise of the Father.
The next chapter shows us the Holy Ghost acting on earth in the absence of Christ; and this in various ways. It records that extraordinary display of divine grace in the gift of tongues, which, without removing, surmounted the confusion that man’s sin and divine judgment had brought into the world in the various nations and tribes and tongues, which have subsisted since Babel to this day. Now the Spirit was going out with the news of God’s wonderful works of grace to all, just as they were proving that where sin had abounded, grace much more abounded. At the same time let us not forget that new tongues, although the magnificent fruit of the Spirit’s operation, are not the same thing as His presence; they were an effect and characteristic sign of a crucified but now exalted Lord, the witness of gospel grace and its universal testimony in contrast with the law, but not the same thing as the gift of the Holy Ghost Himself. This is exceedingly important, because the unbelief of some has gone so far as to think and say that if the tongues exist no more, the Holy Ghost is absent. What blindness to the Saviour’s promise! What a lowering of the Spirit’s presence! What denial of Christianity and the church! The truth is, that the tongues, and the other powers in which the Spirit of God was pleased then to work, were but the miraculous tokens that befitted His presence, besides inaugurating the gospel and the church. It was all a new and unprecedented state of things. When the Son was on earth, miracles followed His steps and word, as it was only meet, and the accomplishment of prophecy. Another divine person being come, was it not suitable there should be proofs of it, more especially as He took no permanent form, as the Son of God had done, so as to be visible? It was therefore the more needed that there should be palpable effects and tokens arresting the mind, and causing the heart of man to weigh what God is and is doing, not only as displayed in the Son, but as witnessed by the Holy Ghost present upon earth.
This is the cardinal truth upon which all hinges that we find in the great body of the New Testament. There was now before men a fact without precedent, altogether unknown to the world, if it did not surprise even those that had been taught by the Lord Himself to expect it — the wondrous fact that the Holy Ghost had come down in person, making His presence known by a signature of gracious power, so as to be then known and read of all men. Accordingly throughout the Acts of the Apostles you have ever and anon the testimony not only to His action and its results, but to the glorious truth that He Himself was there. Look at the first outbreak of the world’s religious rancour in Acts 4, and His answer to it in verse 31. Take again the first public sin and scandal, where Ananias and Sapphira were charged on the spot with lying not to man but to God. But how was this proved? They had lied to the Holy Ghost who was there. The standard of judgment was that dishonoured person who was in their midst. This measure of sin, let me say, is as true individually as it is in the church. Hence, in Ephesians 4:30, it is not merely that you should not violate this or that command, but “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” Let us note it well.
The more this is reflected upon, the more its immense moment will be felt by the children of God. Supposing you take the presence of one you most value and delight in, does not his or her coming affect all your ways and words just in proportion as you realize and love their presence? We might be ever so much at ease; but still, if there be one staying with us, who draws out our honour and esteem, the influence is felt deeply and at once except by a stone. Surely one does think of that which will give pleasure; one rightly fears to wound; the heart is on the alert and active, and it is a joy to do that which will gratify those we love. And so in virtue of redemption the Holy Ghost is here, because as regards each believer all is gone that was offensive to God; and the saint stands in divine righteousness before God — become this in Christ. How indeed could the Holy Ghost be away? He must have His part when that which was most precious to God and man was wrought. If the Father accomplished His thoughts in and by the Son, could the Holy Ghost be absent or inactive? And now God had done His greatest work — the atoning work of Christ. Where therefore the blood of the accepted sacrifice is, the Holy Ghost not only can work but must dwell. If Christ by His own blood has entered in once for all into the holies, having found an everlasting redemption, the Holy Ghost is come to abide with us for ever. All hangs on and is measured by this. Accordingly the book of the Acts is far more the acts of the Holy Ghost than of the apostles, important vessels of His power as they were, though not they only. We have seen, where it was a question of sin, He judges by His presence and acts upon this ground. We have seen that, when they were in danger of being alarmed by the threats of man, the Spirit gave cheering evidence of His mighty presence. It was not merely Peter and John, or anybody else; but the place was shaken where they were. Whose presence was this, or in whom particularly? It was the presence of the Holy Ghost, not merely in this or in that individual, but in the assembly of God. More than that, the Spirit of God in chapter 13 of the Acts takes an active place, and sends out Paul and Barnabas. “Separate me,” He says, “Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” “So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed.” I am now referring to the case only to show that it is not a question of miracles, tongues, or powers, but of a real divine person, who was the chief agent as present in the church of God; and that this personal presence of the Spirit in man was a new thing, previously unexampled in the plan and ways of God. (Compare also Acts 8:29, 39; Acts 15:28; Acts 16:7; Acts 20:23; Acts 21:11.)
Now we come to the Epistles, passing by the scriptures which attest the Holy Ghost’s presence in the individual. All-important as this is, it is not my subject, but His presence in the church. Hence we must omit the Epistle to the Romans, which takes up our individual relation towards God, and for the simple reason that there we are regarded as His children. We are brought out of the place of wrath and sin, made children of God, and if children, then heirs: the Holy Ghost gives the spirit of adoption, and fills the heart with hopes of the inheritance which is to follow. But in the Epistles to the Corinthians you have not merely the state of man and the revelation of divine righteousness, with their consequences in sinners and saints, as in Romans, but the church of God, in a grievous state of sin, shame, and disorder, but still the church of God. Accordingly the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as there dwelling is shown as in its capital seat. The portion read (1 Cor. 12:1-13) develops His action in the church. What can be plainer? Here we have the Holy Ghost viewed as a real person present and working in gifts of outward sign, no doubt, as well as in ways of edification. But whatever might be the form of His action, the great truth was that He was there and at work in the many members of God’s assembly. The question is, was all this a temporary display, or was His presence for ever the substratum of it all? Was that which we here read confined to a particular local assembly and a special epoch long past, or is there anything for us, for the church of God at large, for this time and all times? The answer cannot be doubtful, if we are subject to the word of God. Certainly our Lord had in John 14 laid down, in contrast with His own temporary absence, that the Spirit of truth was to abide with His disciples for ever.
But next the First Epistle to the Corinthians could not open without the Holy Ghost’s giving it the most enlarged application. In the first verse of the first chapter we read, “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours”. This is not said in the Second Epistle: indeed I am not aware that there is anything exactly like it anywhere else in the New Testament. Are we to suppose this was a mistake? Let who will be guilty of such a speech or thought, I trust there is no soul here that would not denounce it as a sin against God. A mistake in the word of God! On the contrary it seems to me to be the special wisdom and goodness of the Spirit who foresaw the unbelief of Christendom; it was the Spirit of God who knew that this Epistle would be treated as if it were of private application, as if it belonged to a bygone time and place, and did not appertain to all that call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ — “both theirs and ours.” This He has guarded against at the very threshold, and made such an objection to be plain fighting against the word of God. Thus it ceases to be a question of opinion. God has spoken and has written that we may believe Him; and this epistle has a purposely enlarged scope, so that unbelief as to the perpetuity of the Holy Ghost’s action in the assembly, as long as He and it are here, should be treated as a sin, as a positive rejection of God’s plain word. Is it not unbelief which makes null and void the Holy Ghost’s personal presence in the church?
It is not at all contended that the Holy Ghost necessarily works in every way as of old, and still less in the same measure of power. In the latter part of the New Testament we do not read much about miracles — very little — less and less too as time passes on. We can understand that, in the opening of a new dealing of God, there should be, in His goodness, a wonderful working and display of these mighty powers to awaken the attention even of careless men. But, as the truth of His presence was established, and the new communications of God were gradually written, and there was thus not merely the evidence of outward tokens, but positive scripture committed to human responsibility, we can easily see that external vouchers were no longer so requisite, and that the Spirit of God (grieved, as we knew, by much found in those who professed the name of Christ) might gradually withdraw, not Himself, but the manifestation of mighty signs, and refuse to put outward ornaments upon that which dishonoured the Lord Jesus.
It is certain and evident, at least when we come to the churches of the Apocalypse, that we see or hear no more of the powers of the age to come. Not a doubt have I that there was the wisdom of God in thus ordering in view of the state of things that was fast coming in. I think we can readily discern by spiritual considerations why it would not have been suitable to the glory of God to continue those miraculous powers. Supposing, for instance, God were to work now in the way of miracle, is it not evident that in one of two ways it must be? Either He must work wherever the name of Christ is preached and known at all; and what would be the consequence of this? Miracles in Rome, miracles in Canterbury, miracles among Presbyterians, Independents, Wesleyans, Baptists, Paedo-baptists, Calvinists, Arminians, Lutherans: Greek church and all sects and denominations in Christendom would have their miracles! There may be those who would enjoy the sight, but I envy them not. Every one here, I trust, would feel deeply the anomaly of such an outward seal on such a mass of confusion. On the other hand, supposing God were pleased to say that He could not give these tokens of His power and glory where the church was thus in disorder and rebellion, but must single out — whom shall I say? It could not be, it ought not to be: God forbid that we ourselves should desire it, as things are.
But let us for the moment imagine the Lord looking on any children of God anywhere gathered, and saying, “I see where My people are subject to My word; and where I find two or three here and there gathered unto My name, there I will work miracles.” What would be the consequence? We should not know how to behave ourselves! So weak are we, so foolish, so apt to be full of ourselves, even now in the face of continual weakness, as well as hatred and contempt, that we should not be able to contain ourselves if we had these displays of divine power. Besides, what a slight to those we own to be as truly members of Christ, and as truly indwelt of the Spirit, as any of us!
I am persuaded then there is perfect grace and wisdom as to this in the ways of God. He no longer works thus. But here is the truth on which I take my stand this night: the Holy Ghost was given, not merely as a display of power in the earth, but, if I may so say, as both sign and substance of the divine value for the cross. God the Father gave the Holy Ghost as the seal of that redemption which is always unchangeably perfect and infinitely efficacious. I dare to say it, and yet I say it with all reverence, that if the Holy Ghost were now taken from the poorest and feeblest of His saints upon earth, it would not be a dishonour to him so much as to the Son of God and His atoning work. It would be virtually to say that the ruin of the church has made the blood of Christ less precious; but will God ever confirm a lie? And here is the stronghold of faith — in this we can be confident — not only that the Lord Jesus has expressed the mind and intentions of God, but that we through His grace can and ought to enter in measure into its ground, reason, character, and aim, as well as meaning.
All this we may by faith appreciate and enjoy, for He has explained it to us. Wherefore indeed is the word of God given, if it be not that we should understand His mind, feel His love, and be sure of His truth, wisdom and goodness? Hence we are aware that God, in sending the Spirit to abide always whatever may be the sorrowful condition of believers individually and collectively, did not give a mere token of approving them, but rather the only adequate pledge of His delight in the personal work of His beloved Son. The Holy Ghost, we know, descended on Christ when He was upon earth without blood, because He was always sinless, as perfect here morally as He was and is in heaven, no less absolutely holy as man than as God. It is not forgotten, of course, that He had yet to be made perfect in another sense, as becoming captain and author of salvation, and to be consecrated as heavenly priest. It is clear that there was a work to be done, and an official place of glory to be taken; but nothing ever did or could add to His moral perfectness. Hence, I repeat, He could and did receive the Holy Ghost for Himself as man without blood. But when Christ went up on high, He received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost. What amazing comfort, confidence, and rest should this give us! Had the Holy Ghost been given directly to us, we might well think that, if we did not carry ourselves as we ought, there might be a revocation. We can understand a soul troubled with such a thought; but, thanks be to God, the Father gave the Holy Ghost a second time to Christ. When He went on high, He received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, and shed forth that which was seen and heard at Pentecost. Thus the gift is entirely in virtue of Christ, after He had blotted out our sins and received it as a consequence. There we have the firmest and surest ground on which the perpetuity of the presence of the Holy Ghost in the saint and in the church rests before God — His love to Christ, and His estimate of Christ’s work for us, not to speak of His immutable word.
And now for a few practical words on this before I have done. We shall have other applications and results of it in subsequent lectures, so that the less may be said now. If there be a divine person on earth who is now in each saint individually, and with all as the church of God, I ask, Can this be a secondary consideration? Is this a truth that can be subordinated to circumstances? Is it something that can be pushed aside for the sake of not disturbing oneself or others? Can men who so think, and speak, and act, believe in the reality of the Spirit’s personal presence and present operation according to scripture? Do they know that the Holy Ghost is really in the church on earth? I am not now, of course, alluding to His divine glory whereby He fills all things, because it is always true, — as true before Christ came as it has been since, and equally true of all the persons in the Trinity. But as the Son came down from heaven and was here a man for some thirty or more years upon the earth but is actually gone, so now the Holy Ghost is come down personally to abide with and in us in such sort as was unknown before, save only in Christ. The Holy Spirit, I say, has come now to be in us personally; and just as Christ was God’s only true temple, so now the church is the temple of God; for both these truths are taught in the word of God. But if this be believed, if it be received as God’s truth, what can compare with it in importance as a present practical fact, as well as privilege, for the saint and for the church? Accordingly the responsibility of Christians, if we apply it to their meeting, is that their assemblies should be governed by the truth that the Holy Ghost is there.
But how does the Holy Ghost work when owned as there? This we have answered, if it were only in the scripture already read. He distributes, or divides, to every one severally as He will. Is His presence then not to be recognized? Is His working not to be respected? What do we find, if we test the present aspect of Christendom by the word of God? It is far from my desire needlessly to trouble any one, nor is it my wish to provoke controversy; but there are truths which manifestly admit of no compromise: indeed, all divine truth refuses such unworthy dealing. How, then, I would ask, is it with our souls in the feeling, in the faith, in the allegiance that we pay to this truth, so vital to the church, so essential to the right honouring of the Holy Ghost and of the Lord Himself? Do you doubt that the church of God is in disorder? Where is the serious-minded Christian that does not own it more or less? Is there a spiritual man who would maintain that the present state of the church answers to what we read in the New Testament? Am I not to feel and to humble myself before God for my own and the church’s sin in this grave matter? Must I not seek to be where the Holy Ghost’s presence is owned? It matters not where I have been ignorantly; I have doubtless been where there was not even the show of owning His presence and action according to the scriptures; I may have joined others in praying God to pour out again the Holy Ghost, as if He were not come and in the church of God. And do you call such prayer as this a scriptural recognition of His presence? What can be conceived a more decided or more evident ignoring of the truth that the Holy Ghost is here? Were it prayed that the Spirit of God might not be grieved, or that the saints might be filled with Him, it were scriptural. What would it have been for a disciple in the presence of Jesus to have asked the Father to send His Son? — to raise up the Messiah when the Messiah was actually there? Is it not the spirit of the world, which cannot receive the Spirit, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him? But we know Him — at least we ought to know Him. Well, if we do know that He is here, is it a light thing whether or not we are subject to His operation in the church? It is in vain to say, “I acknowledge the truth of His presence;” so much the worse, if I am not subject to the scripture, which leaves no doubt how He acts for Christ’s glory. Mere words do not suffice: God looks for faithfulness, for subjection to His word, for practical recognition of the presence of the Holy Ghost.
We come together, it may be ever so few: what do we count on? We are weak and ignorant, but we have One in our midst who knows all things, and is the source of all power. Are we content with Him? Can we confide in Him in the face of dangers and difficulties? Why is it that the church is weak? Why is it that there is such want of power and joy and peace and comfort among the children of God? Can it be wondered at? What I wonder at is rather the mercy and astonishing patience of God, blessing as He does in spite of so much unbelief. Do you really suppose that it can be an indifferent thing to God? Does He not call for my unhesitating adhesion to His will, duly owning His Spirit’s presence and free action? What about your bowing down to the great present fact, that in virtue of redemption and in honour of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Ghost is here personally in the church on earth? This puts the soul to the test; indeed, it seems to me the great test for Christians. Christ, of course, abides the practical touchstone for everything and every person; but still if He is known and valued by my soul as the way, the truth, and the life, is it nothing to Him that my ways in the church of God should be on the ground He has given me — faith in the presence of the promised Holy Ghost? Is it not the truth God Himself presupposes as the very soul, the animating spring, of the church?
This does not in the slightest degree touch God’s working by individuals. He sends out one to preach the gospel to the world, He raises up another to edify the children of God. This is another branch of truth; and I refer to it now only to show that, when we contend for the church’s inalienable obligation to own the presence of the Holy Ghost, this does not in the least interfere with the individual action of the Spirit in ministry. Granting this in all its integrity and importance, I would put the question to the conscience of each before me, Where is there an assembly of God’s saints coming together, and His Spirit left perfect liberty of action that He may employ whom He will as the vessels of His power? Are there any Christians here present who never thus find themselves in the only assembly which God’s word sanctions? If there are, I can only say, Ponder that word with prayer, and ask your soul how comes this? You, a member of God’s assembly, yet you never know that assembly gathered according to scripture, or the action of the Spirit proper to it! You, a member of Christ’s body, yet the Holy Ghost never allowed to use you, or other members of it, to the glory of Christ and the edification of your brethren! If it be so, how comes it? Why should you go on thus?
It is granted that there are serious questions here, and many obstacles; and I am sure we ought to pray much for those that are thus perplexed and encumbered. Let me not disguise from them what it costs in this world to be true to the Lord and the unerring word of God. It is not for any one (the Lord keep us far from it!) to look lightly or coldly on those who are in this grievous trial: we may have known some of its bitterness ourselves. What do we desire for God’s children? Nothing less than their deliverance, yea, of every one. Do not all saints who rest upon the redemption of Christ belong to the body? Has not God set them as it pleased Him in His church? And what are we doing? Are we gathering together to improve on the Spirit’s action in the church of God? God forbid: rather is it to honour the Lord in the assurance that He is in our midst. Our only true reason, if we have a divine reason at all, for meeting together in the name of the Lord Jesus, is that it is His own will and way; it is to please Him. And if it has been done at cost, God blesses this greatly, and blesses it too to the softening of the spirit quite as much as to the exercise of faith: if it is not so, there is something wrong with our souls. Am I, then, as the centre of my church-action, cleaving to the presence of the Holy Ghost? If I am not, I have not got Gods centre for mine, and am still under the dominion of tradition in some shape or another; carrying on either what my father did, or something else that suits my mind better: but where is God in all this?
You may be taunted, as we all know, with bigotry and exclusiveness. Did these censors ever weigh what either means? I call bigotry an unreasonable attachment, without solid divine warrant, to one’s own particular doctrine or practice in defiance of all others. Allow me to ask, Is it bigotry to give up one’s most cherished associations because of God’s word, in order to do His will? Is it exclusive to abandon sects, one and all, in order to be always and only where I can meet all saints according to the word, and in dependence on the Holy Ghost, gathered unto Christ’s name? I am not assuming this for any one who does not own scripture as the unchanging truth of God; but I ask you who do, are you to allow yourselves to depart from the known ground of God, no matter what may be the trial within or the temptation without you? There are often attachments of other kinds that create difficulty. Friends may ask you to go here or there for once at any rate; and it seems hard to refuse, especially as they understand not the force of a divine conviction, which they lack themselves. You invite them, perhaps, to come with you, and you decline going with them. Does it not look proud and unbrotherly? Well, it may seem singular to them, but it ought to be perfectly plain to you; it may be real humility, and love too, haughty and unkind as rash ignorance counts it.
Let us conceive a godly churchman or dissenter to put this plain question: “How is it that you, who are so free and hearty in receiving Christians in the name of Christ, will not come with me to my church or chapel?” The answer is, “On your own principles, as a Protestant Christian, you can come here with a good conscience, where we are sure the one desire is to be subject to the Lord and His word, in the unity of His body, and in the liberty of His Spirit! You surely acknowledge it is no sin to meet as we do, according to scripture, and therefore you can meet with us. But I, for my part, am clear that it is unscriptural to desert the scriptural ground for that of dissent or Anglicanism, and therefore it is not want of love but fear of sin that keeps me from going with you, who do not pretend to be meeting on the ground of God’s assembly.” Surely he is a bigot or worse who would urge or expect me to join him against my positive conviction, that in so doing I should sin against God. Sin is a man doing his own will, or another’s, which is not God’s. If you ask me to depart from what I know to be the will of God, it would of course be sin in me to comply. It is not only a thing that is sinful in itself, but it would be most especially a sin in me, because I know, if you are ignorant, that it is infidelity to the Spirit’s operation in the church.
Be not moved, then, by reproaches, any more than by fair speeches. For there is no real love, save in obeying God. (1 John 5:2, 3) Never swerve from what you believe to be His will. You may have come in at first little acquainted with the truth or with the solemn responsibilities it involves; perhaps it was on that slender reason that you were here converted: but how is it with you now? Have you been searching the word of God to ascertain His mind and will? Do you see the presence and action of the Holy Ghost in the assembly to be the truth of God? Is it not perfectly plain and sure that God has sent down His Spirit, and that this truth has to be owned and acted upon by you and all Christians? That truth1you cannot deny; you know very well it is of God; you may not value it as you ought, (who does?) but this is another thing. The Lord grant that we may all value it more and increasingly.
Search the Scriptures, examine the word of God for your own souls; by this means we obtain true spiritual intelligence, but this only in obedience, and we do not want it otherwise. The intelligence that is gathered in disobedience seems to me perilous and untrustworthy; to learn the truth, step by step acting it out, is a happier and holier path, and of simpler faith too. At the same time that we value intelligence, we must remember that there is another thing yet more important — single-eyed subjection to the will of God, even if we seem to be unintelligent about much. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That scripture is not out of date; and I believe such is the divine and therefore the best way, as a beginning. There is blessedness in gradually growing up into the truth of God, above all looking to Him that we walk in that which we know.
For the present, I pray the Lord that the great truths of the “one body” and “one Spirit,” which have been before us, may be brought home by His own power; so that all of us who know them may be cheered and confirmed, and that those who are ignorant may be taught them of Himself.
1 That “the different denominations” present a state of things directly at variance with “one body and one Spirit” is too plain to call for argument with those who are used to bow to scripture, and to judge present facts by it. How painful then it is to read such sentiments as these in the recent words (June, 1869) of one whom I cannot but love and esteem for his work’s sake! “I sometimes think that these will continue for ever. They are of no hurt to the church of God (!) but a great blessing (!); for some of them take up one point of truth which is neglected, and others take up another; and so between them all the whole of truth is brought out (!); and it seems to me that the church is even more one (!) than if all the various sections were brought together into one grand ecclesiastical corporation [who contends for this but a Papist or Puseyite?]; for this would probably feed some ambitious person’s vanity, and raise up another dynasty of priestcraft like the old Babylon of Rome. Perhaps it is quite as well as it is; but let each body of Christians keep to its own work, and not sneer at the work of others.” Alas! the word of God does not occur in all this reasoning of unbelief (though in a believer); but as usual the very publication in which it occurs is a witness that this justification of sin is as hollow as its profession of love and order. For a large portion is devoted to sneering at the only Christians who at this time are seeking to give practical effect to their faith in the “one body and one Spirit.” With much, very much, of the paper on “Order Heaven’s first Law” I go so heartily that I am the more grieved to notice, in however friendly a spirit, such flagrant inconsistency both in principle and in practice. Let us rather humble ourselves for our common sin, seek to walk in obedience and love while waiting for the Lord Jesus, but never abuse the grace of God to deny His truth which condemns our ways.