THE church this day commemorates an event to which she owes her establishment, her stability and glory, and to which her members must ascribe all the holy graces and virtues which animate them.
The Holy Ghost, descending as at this time on the apostles, and releasing them from the gross prejudices which led them to regard the Jewish law as a system which was to last for ever, inspired them with a perfect and lively comprehension of that great mystery which was to be made known unto the Gentiles, "Christ, the wisdom and the power of God," w God manifest in the flesh," for the salvation of the whole world. Cloven tongues, as of fire, sitting upon them, were an emblem of the gift which then endued them with the power of speaking different languages, that thus they might carry the glad tidings of salvation into all the nations of the world; and the rushing mighty wind forcibly denoted those miraculous powers by which they commanded the operations of nature, and thus attested that God was with them. The Spirit of wisdom, of understanding, of strength, which came upon them from on high, enabled them to plant [388/389] throughout the world the cross of their Saviour, triumphant over its learning, its power, and its persecution.
But not only these mighty and splendid gifts, by which the apostles ruled all nature, did the Divine Spirit confer, he this day descended on his church, to abide with it for ever, enlightening, renewing, strengthening, and consoling its members.
The doctrine of communion between the mind and the Divine Being who formed it, though fully made known only in the Gospel of Christ, is so agreeable to reason, that it has been admitted and cherished by the wise and good in all ages. Man feels so sensibly his dependence--so many circumstances perpetually remind him of his weakness--so many objects in the world around him act upon his senses, and call up, in resistless force, those passions that war against his reason and his conscience, that he is prompted to invoke the aid of that superior Power who made and who sustains him, and who, therefore, can have access to every faculty and feeling of his soul.
What unbiassed reason and nature seek, the Scriptures reveal. That Being whose spiritual and infinite essence is past finding out, and whom, therefore, we should adore as he has displayed himself to us, is revealed as subsisting in three co-equal and co-eternal persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost--each divine, infinite, and eternal, and together incomprehensibly constituting one God. And in the stupendous and mysterious agency which each exerts in man's salvation, it is the Father who, being the infinite and eternal fountain of Deity, gave the Son to be incarnate for our redemption; it is the Son who, full of grace and truth, redeems us from [389/390] our bondage to sin, Satan, and death; and it is the Holy Ghost who sanctifies the powers and affections of our fallen nature, and thus renders us meet for the glory which Christ, the Son, bath gone before to prepare for us.
Various, powerful, and beneficent are the offices of the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost:--the quickening Spirit, that penetrates with conviction the hardened or secure conscience--the consoling Spirit, that applies the promises of divine mercy through a Saviour's merits--the enlightening Spirit, that sheds light on the darkened understanding--the directing and governing Spirit, that influences the determinations of our perverse wills--the renovating and sanctifying Spirit, that purifies our carnal affections; without him we can do nothing.
"I will pray the Father," said our blessed Lord, "and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth:" "he shall guide you into all truth." "The Spirit of God dwelleth in you." "God hath Sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts." "According to his mercy, God saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost." "God hath chosen us to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit." "It is the Spirit that help-eth our infirmities." "The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth."
The sacred writings thus stating most prominently the doctrine of the existence and agency of the Holy Spirit, we need not wonder at the important station which this doctrine holds in our church. To be born of the Spirit, she lays down as the characteristic of all the true children of God. She [390/391] teaches us to pray that, by this Spirit, we may have a right understanding in all things; that, by his inspiration, we may think those things that are good, and, by his merciful guiding, may perform the same; that, by this same blessed inspiration, God would cleanse the thoughts of our hearts; that this same Spirit may, in all things, direct and rule our hearts; and that, by this Holy Spirit, we may daily be renewed. It is impossible sincerely to unite in the prayers of our church, and not believe or realize the agency of the Divine Spirit on the soul. Let us beware, brethren, of doubting or neglecting a doctrine thus prominently set forth as a cardinal doctrine of the plan of salvation through a divine Saviour and Sanctifier. The Scriptures assure us that the Holy Spirit dwelleth in us, the Author and Preserver of our spiritual life, and we should gratefully adore God's wonderful condescension and goodness in making us the temples of the Holy Ghost. We should cherish his gracious influences and his consoling suggestions, and yield to his enlightening and sanctifying energies. We should take heed that we do not despite to the Spirit of grace, lest, provoked by our obstinate rejection of the inestimable gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, God swear in his wrath that we shall not enter into his rest.
For it is a truth, which renders this doctrine of the agency of the Divine Spirit in all respects sober and rational, and clears it from the charge of being enthusiastic, that his operations entirely accord with the movements of our own minds--are not to be distinguished from them--and may be resisted. When we check evil thoughts, when we resist evil purposes, when we subdue sinful passions--and on [391/392] the contrary, when we think a good thought, when we resolve to do what is right, when all our affections are in pious and virtuous exercise, we are not conscious of any agency within us, but that of our understandings, our wills, and our affections, and are also conscious of our perfect control over them. It is on the faith of revelation solely that we ascribe the quickening, predominating, and controlling influence in all our good thoughts, resolutions, and feelings, to the incomprehensible but powerful energy of the Spirit of God.
The various offices which the Holy Spirit sustains towards us, impose on us corresponding duties, by the neglect of which we resist and grieve him. The remainder of this discourse, then, will be usefully employed in considering in what way we may incur the guilt of resisting and grieving the Spirit of God, and the enormity and danger of this conduct.
It is the office of the Holy Spirit to enlighten, to sanctify, and to console. In each of these respects we may incur the guilt of rejecting and grieving him.
1. We may grieve him, by obstinately resisting his illuminations, or by our inattention to them.
"No man," says our blessed Lord, "knoweth the things of God, save the Spirit of God." It is the office of the Holy Spirit to conduct all the divine dispensations to the world, to declare a counsels and to unfold the revelations of God's will. It is his primary office, as the Saviour promised, to lead Christians, into the knowledge of divine truth, to open their understandings, to comprehend the hidden things of God's law, and by [392/393] his secret, but powerful influences, to give them that spiritual discernment by which they see, and acknowledge, and feel the nature, the excellence, and the glory of divine truth.
Brethren, do we then honour the Holy Spirit, as the dispenser of all saving knowledge, the almighty Agent by which God reveals his will and applies it to the heart? Sensible of the blindness and weakness of our understandings, and of the power of prejudice and of passion to obscure and enslave them--lamenting our aversion to divine truth, and our incompetency to discern, and duly to value the excellence, and importance, and glory of spiritual objects--do we thankfully look to the illuminating guidance of that Spirit by whom only we can have a right judgment in all things? Discarding a vain confidence in the powers of our own intellect, and humbling its aspiring claims, do we habitually and reverently recur to the word of God as the only source and standard of divine knowledge? Is every deduction of our own reason measured by this unerring rule? Is every system which human genius may have fondly formed and cherished, when opposed by the clear and explicit revelation of God's holy word, without hesitation, abandoned and renounced? Are we willing, and do we constantly endeavour to bring every aspiring thought and every lofty imagination info captivity to the will of God, who has a supreme claim to the homage of our intellect, and whose will is that perfect and eternal source of right which every created intelligence is bound to adore? Do we hear or read his holy word with minds deeply impressed with reverence for his glorious perfections, with devout gratitude for the gracious [393/394] manifestation of his will in the Scriptures of his truth, and with a sacred resolution to receive and cherish that holy will, whatever fond opinions it may require us to renounce, whatever passions it may command us to subdue? Do we earnestly, and constantly, and sincerely pray that this Divine Spirit may illumine our understandings, and subduing their pride and prejudices, impress on them the awful importance and value of divine truths? Do we receive and cherish with attention and zeal the holy inspirations of this sacred Guide, leading us to the knowledge of truth and duty by the deductions of reason, the admonitions of conscience, and the express declarations of the word of God? Do we cherish that humble distrust of the strength of our own reason, that lively and supreme love of divine truth, which are the only dispositions which will lead us to receive and to value the illuminations of the Holy Spirit?
My brethren, these are questions of high importance. The Divine Spirit will convey his enlightening influences only to the mind that is prepared with humility to receive them, and with diligent and devoted attention to cherish them. Obstinate and wilful blindness he will not remove. The good seed which he sows, scattered on a light and superficial mind occupied with vain and trifling pursuits, will not take deep and abiding root; or, however eager and sincere the attention which at first receives and cherishes it, it may be afterwards choked by the weeds of prejudice and passion. An indolent indifference to divine truth and to our spiritual interests, an obstinate insensibility to the admonitions of the Holy Spirit, will provoke him to withdraw his enlightening influences; and then pride [394/395] and prejudice gaining dominion over our minds, they will embrace and cherish error with a zeal and resolution which truth cannot excite; and following their own fallacious dictates, instead of the unerring light of the Divine' Spirit, we shall recede further and further from God and salvation, until we become confirmed in spiritual blindness and insensibility. Oh! deplorable condition! in which the soul is deserted by God, the infinite source of truth, and left to the ruinous sway of its own pride, and prejudices, and passions. Spirit of grace, let not our frequent resistance of thy inspirations, our indolence and insensibility under thy admonitions, provoke thee to seal us up in error and impiety! O God, measure thy dispensations to us, not by our deserts, but by thy infinite mercies, and keep us ever, by the light and power of thy Spirit, in the knowledge, the love, and service of thee.
2. It is the office of the Holy Spirit to sanctify our corrupt nature; and in this respect we may resist and grieve him, by our wilful impenitence and perseverance in sin.
"God hath chosen us to salvation," saith the voice of inspiration, "through sanctification of the Spirit." He saves us by "the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost." The conscience must be purged from dead works to serve the living God, the dominion of sin in our hearts must be subdued, and the image of God, in righteousness and holiness, must be restored in the soul, by the power and operations of the Spirit of God. It is indeed a dictate of reason, that the dominion of the passions of our sinful nature can be subverted, and the sway of those graces [394/395] established within us that will assimilate us to God and prepare us for heaven, only by an almighty power.
But it is also a dictate of reason, as well as a declaration of the word of God, that, treating us as reasonable and accountable agents, "his Spirit will not always strive with man." If we neglect find despise his warnings--if we disregard his admonitions--if we resist his holy and renovating influences--if, when he would convince us of our guilt, we quench the conviction in sensual gratifications--if, when he would redeem us from the dominion of unholy passions, we cling to the indulgence of them as our highest happiness--if, when he would restore the image of God in our souls, we are insensible of the glory and value of the gift, and prefer remaining under the degrading dominion of the principles and passions of our fallen nature--if we thus resist and grieve him, can we expect that he will force on us blessings which we despise--that by miraculous energy he will convert us? Oh! how great is their presumption and folly, who suppose that, while wilfully impenitent, that, while obstinately persevering in the ways of sin, they will enjoy the pure and renovating presence of the Holy Spirit of God!
Brethren, divine grace is tendered to us, to redeem us from our miserable bondage to sin; and shall we not ask, with earnestness and perseverance, for the inestimable gift--for the means of purifying our nature, and exalting it to immortal holiness and glory? Is the blessed Spirit of God, with all his divine graces and consolations, waiting to take possession of our hearts--even condescending to sue for admittance into them--and shall we disregard his solicitations? Who can [396/397] describe the guilt of resisting and grieving the Spirit of God? Yet this aggravated guilt he incurs, who continues in sin, in bondage to the world. That he may be redeemed from the evils of his corrupt nature, that he may be sanctified and restored to the favour of God, and fitted for immortal felicity, it is required that he earnestly seek the aids of divine grace, that he submit himself to its guidance, that, by sincere penitence and lively faith, he cherish its sacred influences; and the impenitent sinner not only refuses to implore the influence of this divine Sanctifier, but, obstinately continuing in sin, resists, and grieves, and does despite to him.
Will almighty Power be always thus resisted? Spirit of God, shall thy grace be always thus contemned? Ah! "God will arise to judgment:" he will "avenge himself of his adversaries." "Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
Christians, who have improved to your conversion from sin, and establishment in piety and virtue, the sanctifying grace of God, take heed lest, by inattention, or by confidence and presumption, ye fall into sin, and grieve the Holy Ghost whose temple ye are. Remember, the only evidence you have yourselves, the only proof you can give to the world of your change of nature, of the presence of the Holy Spirit within you, is your bringing forth the fruits, of the Spirit in holiness and righteousness of life. Watch and pray, then, lest ye fall into temptation, and forfeit your claim to his holy guidance and aids.
3. Lastly. It is the office of the Holy Spirit to console and succour us; and in this respect we [397/398] may grieve him, when, depending on the world and our own resolution, we contemn his consolations and succours.
Most absurd, indeed, and criminal, when almighty Power is ready to succour us, to depend on our own strength, which has so often failed us!--when the ineffable consolations of the Divine Comforter are offered us, to rely on the world, which has so often proved vain, and deceitful! To him who sincerely implores his succour, the Holy Ghost will prove a spirit of counsel in difficulty, of strength in temptation, of light in darkness, of courage and zeal under every difficulty. The soul that ardently desires to partake of his consolations, the Holy Ghost will visit with that peace of mind which passeth all understanding, which the world cannot give nor take away.
Christians, let us then, in our warfare with our spiritual foes, arm ourselves with the invincible power of the Spirit of God. Let us, in all our sorrows and trials, flee for consolation, to the blessed Comforter, the Fountain of living waters, disregarding the vain and disappointing comforts of the world. Let us not impiously distrust the grace and mercy of our divine Guide and Comforter, and, when an almighty arm is stretched out to defend us, rely on the arm of flesh. "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God."
Christian brethren, how great is the honour to which we are called, that we should be the subjects of the grace of God, the temple in which his Spirit dwells! What purity and circumspection, what zeal and holiness should distinguish and elevate us! Shall we defile the temple of God? "If any man defile the temple of God," saith the apostle, [398/399] "him will God destroy." In our natural estate, blind and erring, ignorant of the will of God, averse to his authority and laws, in bondage to sin and misery, with what gratitude should we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, designed to restore us from this miserable state, and to exalt us into the light of divine truth, into the holiness and the happiness of heaven! With what humble and grateful zeal and diligence should we submit to his inspection, follow his guidance, and seek his gracious influences in the worship and ordinances of his church, and especially in that supper, in which we this day commemorate his advent! If we resist, and grieve, and do despite to him, what plea shall we urge, at the tribunal of final judgment, against our condemnation? Almighty aid was offered us, and we refused it. Infinite wisdom undertook to guide us: we chose rather the erring lights of our own reason. Divine grace was seeking admission into our souls, to renew and purify them: we chose to remain in slavery to sin; we resisted God's grace, we did despite to his Spirit, we counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith we were sanctified, an unholy thing.
Spirit of God! save us from this consummation of impiety and guilt--blasphemy against thee--contempt of thy succours, rejection of thy grace.