The Abiding Comforter
A Sermon preached in St. Mary's Church, Auckland, on the Evening of Sunday, 3rd of March, 1861 (being the day of His Consecration)
A SERMON PREACHED IN ST. MARY'S CHURCH, AUCKLAND, ON THE EVENING OF SUNDAY, 3RD OF MARCH, 1861 (BEING THE DAY OF HIS CONSECRATION.)
"If ye love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever."--JOHN XXIV. 15, 16.
THERE are, my brethren, in the lives of us all, certain times, as I suppose, of special trial and anxiety, when the sense of our weakness presses heavily upon us. When some heavy affliction overwhelms us, or the difficulty of any work committed to us appears almost insurmountable, when "our hearts are troubled, and we are afraid."
At such times, when we are more than usually conscious of our own utter inability to contend with the temptations to despondency presented by troubles from without and the weight of care within, the mind seems by God's blessing to be furnished with a more than ordinary power of appropriating and realising the words of Christ.
We naturally turn to the last discourse of our Lord, in which He unfolded for the comfort and support of His sorrowing disciples the counsel of God determined of old, by which He would provide for the wants of His people, when Christ's visible presence was withdrawn from them. We read again and again those words of consolation and blessing and peace, and as we read we grow into a comprehension of the reality of His presence among and in us; and we know that we have Him with us still, in greater power than ever, in more intimate communion: and our hearts become calm, and patient, and collected; and we feel that we shall be enabled to bear any sorrows that He may commit to us, because we have the promise of the Comforter to abide with us forever.
 If it were not so, how could we live through the trials to which all are liable, and under which so many are suffering? Sickness and pain and poverty are the lot of some, and what but the consciousness of the "love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost" can "comfort them when they lie sick upon their bed," or when they "eat their bread with carefulness?" They know that they are in the hands of their Father in heaven, and that "all things are working together for good to them that love God." Loss of friends, bereavement, loneliness, and desolation fall with heavier sorrow upon others--the flowers of life early faded, hopes destroyed, fond imaginations gone for ever, no human arm to help them along the weary, toilsome road to that rest which seems so far away; but the word of mercy speaks to the dull, grief-stricken heart, "Thou art not alone; the God of the fatherless and the widow is with thee; Christ who has endured it all and who knows thy present sorrow, is in thy soul comforting and soothing thee by the blessed influences of His Holy Spirit." He is bringing peace, His own peace He is giving to the mourner and the heavy laden; they see Him not, but He is present by His Spirit; He is calling them unto Him, that they may in Him find rest unto their souls.
And upon us all, in our several callings, this trial must come, viz.: That we have to lead a life of holiness, and purity, and self-denial in the midst of many sore temptations, that we are commanded to regulate our thoughts and actions by a rule which it is very difficult to observe, that the attempt to do so involves a continual struggle against our natural desires, that we must wait (and perhaps wait long) upon the Lord for the accomplishment of our hopes and anticipations of Rest and Peace.
What but the knowledge of the presence of God with us can enable us to carryon this daily struggle? The sinful propensities, the love of indolence and ease, procrastination and inactivity in our Master's work--these are ever present to us--what should we be, if God's Spirit were not ever present also, to urge us to withstand these sinful inclinations, and to enable us to do so? Our hearts might well sink down and die within us, when we contemplate the duties assigned to us; unless we could cling to Christ's own promise "of the Comforter to abide with us for ever."
This is the great gift which God has given to us, the complement, if we may so speak, of the gift of His Son Jesus Christ. The Spirit has indeed of old communicated His gracious influences; for we know that John the Baptist and his parents were "filled with the Holy Ghost," that the holy men of God spake in old time "moved by the Holy Ghost;" David prayed expressly, "Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me;" and all the saints of the Old Testament who walked with God did so only by the grace and power of the Holy Ghost. The very order of the words in the text teaches us that the Spirit of God was already working in men's hearts before the Comforter was given in the sense in which Christ then spoke to His disciples; for how could they "love" Him and "keep His Commandments" except by the Holy Ghost? Can we love in order to receive Him, without whom we cannot love: for it is "by the Holy Ghost that the Love of God is shed abroad in our hearts?" Can we keep His Commandments except by the Holy Ghost, when it is written, "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost?"
 But the full plentiful outpouring of the Spirit, which marks the special dispensation of the Spirit, was not, until Jesus was glorified; when He had cleansed His disciples by the sacrifice of Himself, then the Holy Ghost lighted upon them. The Spirit did not descend upon them while Jesus was yet visibly among them, because the sacrifice was not yet offered. But when they had been redeemed from their sins and were being sent forth to dangers, and were stripping themselves (as an old writer says) for the contest, then need was that the Anointer should come. For without the Holy Spirit we cannot love Christ and keep His commandments, and only by continual accessions of grace can we grow up into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. And this grace He divideth to each one severally as He will. God gave not the Spirit by measure to His own Son, because in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead. It is not without the grace of the Holy Spirit, that "He is the Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus," as He declares that in Himself the prophecy was fulfilled, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor." It is indeed not of grace but of nature that He is the Only-begotten equal with the Father, but the taking of Man into Unity of Person with the Only-begotten is of grace, not of nature, as we read, "The Child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.
But to all other than Jesus, the "Spirit is given by measure, and being given is more given, until each one, according to the measure which God wills, has his proper gift completed. And so Saint Paul bids each one "not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith."
So, as the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the whole company of Christ's disciples gathered together all with one accord in one place on the Day of Pentecost marked the commencement of that work which Christ by His Church should carry onward to the end of time, we read continually in the Acts of the Apostles of the "gift of the Holy Ghost" as the necessary grace by which each individual also might be qualified to live according to his profession after the example of his Master and Saviour. He dwelt in the Apostles and Evangelists, men filled with the Holy Ghost. He both sent Philip to the man of Ethiopia and "caught him away" when he had fulfilled his mission. In His Comfort the Churches throughout all Judæa, and Galilee, and Samaria were multiplied. He fell on the first Gentile converts to the Faith of Christ so that they of the Circumcision were astonished as many as came with Peter to the house of Cornelius. He separated Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto He had called them. He guided the Apostles assembled at Jerusalem to declare the liberty of the Gentiles. He forbad Saint Paul to preach the word in Asia, and suffered them not to go into Bithynia. He ordered and guided every action and prompted every good thought and word. He was with them in all places and at all times--the Spirit of their dearly loved Lord and Master: and He has been present with the Church of Christ ever since, animating, encouraging, strengthening every faithful servant of the Lord--the energy and life of the company of believers--convincing the world of its infidelity, the parent of all sins; working in men's hearts the knowledge of the righteousness of Christ; [240/241] proving that Christ is stronger than Satan, that truth shall prevail over error, and holiness over sin, that Christ has judged the princes of this world, that He will show that judgment unto the Gentiles, and that He will carry on His blessed work among all the nations of the earth "until He send forth judgment unto victory."
What this power is, what strength is derived into the soul from this indwelling Spirit of the Father and the Son, we learn most fully in seasons of peculiar trial--when the world fails us altogether, and no human friend can minister consolation; when no human wisdom can perfectly conceive, and no human energy can adequately execute, the plan by which the object of our desire may be obtained; when the issues of all our undertakings are clearly seen to depend wholly upon the will of God, because it is so evidently beyond our own power to control them--then it is that the confession of our weakness most brings with it strength from above, and that in the absence of all earthly help we have the most entire assurance of support from the Spirit of God.
Then we shall receive comfort when we most feel the want of it, then we shall be filled with the spiritual gifts when in our destitution we hunger and thirst after them.
And so when new responsibilities are laid upon us, new gifts are also conveyed to us; when to human eyes great events seem to depend upon individual energy, and wisdom, and forethought, the soul is upborne by the thought that prayers and hopes from many hearts are ministering to the same end; the Spirit is working invisibly amongst us and in us all, and the outward manifestation of His secret presence is given to every man to profit withal.
Had Christ in His spiritual body still dwelt visibly on earth, it might have been a blessed thing to have journeyed into a far land, and there like the Magdalene to have fallen at His feet, or like Thomas to have seen Him with our eyes and adored Him as our Lord and our God; but how could He then have been present with each and every one of His servants throughout the world; how could the consciousness of His indwelling power quicken the zeal and devotion of His Evangelists now in the crowded city or the lonely wilderness, in India an Africa, and among the vast multitude of China; or how could we hope to "bring again the outcasts and to seek the lost" ones, scattered throughout an hundred isles, unless we knew that the power of Christ is present by His Spirit, "pouring down gifts abundantly upon men to the spreading abroad His Gospel and the edifying and making perfect His Church?"
It is indeed a great and extraordinary grace of God to have an unwavering faith in the constant presence of his Almighty Spirit; yet the Spirit is present, though our faith may be weak; and His grace is given, though we are most unworthy of it; and the more feeble the instrument, the more evidently is the work, if work there be, seen to proceed from God, who will not suffer our unworthiness to hinder this operation of His Spirit in the hearts of His people.
Christ has said, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments," and this is His Commandment, that we love one another, and this love must be more than affection to our relations, and patriotism to our country; for He has said again, "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." And since the whole map of destiny of the world was unrolled before His spiritual [241/242] eye when He gave commission to His disciples to evangelise all nations, and since He well knew the opposition that would be raised to this blessed work by the malice of the evil one and the sinfulness of men, since He foresaw that His servants must needs sink and grow faint-hearted in the loneliness of their solitary tasks, since He knew what it must be to dwell among nations wholly given to idolatry and heathenism, without God in the world; therefore He added His blessed promise to cheer and sustain them with the certainty of the final triumph of Light over Darkness, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." He is with us by His Spirit, who is one with Him and the Father--"always"--for the Comforter abides with us for ever. His word must stand fast, His prayers must be effectual. He, God and Man, is Himself the Dispenser and Ruler of the economy of the world; for "all power is given unto Him in Heaven and in Earth."
And the Power seems to come to us, while we read and meditate on such words as these; but we lose our hold upon them amidst the details of every-day life; and so by continual Prayer and frequent Communion we need to renew our strength, to confirm our faith in the abiding presence of Christ's Spirit:--And not by prayer for ourselves only, but by intercessory prayer for each other, by United Prayer for the stability and increase of the Churches, for the extension of Christ's kingdom throughout the world. He is praying for us, and His Spirit is making intercession for us, and He spreads the power of His Prayer over our unworthy petitions, and presents them all efficacious in His Name before His Heavenly Father. Pray therefore, my brethren, daily and fervently for the conversion of these poor islanders lying in darkness and the shadow of death, that the Spirit of Christ will mightily sway their hearts to turn them from darkness into light and from the power of Satan unto God. They are specially committed to the prayers and the charity of the New Zealand Church. And pray for me, called too young, as in years so in all else, to an office of which I dare not say that I realise the responsibility; that the Holy Ghost may ever abide with me to comfort and guide me in all doubts and difficulties, and that I may daily increase in God's Holy Spirit more and more, and may come at length to His everlasting kingdom.