JOHN W. AMERMAN, PRINTER.
NO. 47 CEDAR STREET.
BEFORE the coming of Christ, these words would have had no meaning; before His ascension, though feebly grasped at and dimly understood, their meaning would have seemed obscure. For, until the return of our Lord to heaven, the Holy Ghost was not given; until He was given, and felt as a power in the soul, He could not be intelligently received; until He could be intelligently received, and therefore rejected, He could not be grieved. Thus, one of the latest of God's revelations to man was that of the office and nature of the Holy Spirit. We see this in the services of our Christian year. Behind these, back of all revelation, as its source and life, stands the truth of the eternal being of God; then at the opening of our Christian year, comes the heralding of the Redeemer at the Advent season; then His birth; then the various events of His life; then the mystery of our redemption by His death; then the revelation of our immortality through His resurrection; then His ascension as our forerunner; finally, the promised descent of the Holy Ghost; and last of all, the great truth of the Triune God. This is the order of the sublime march of Christian truth out of mystery into the world. Beginning with the message to the shepherds, and passing upward in various gradations of knowledge, the world in less than a century was sufficiently instructed to receive the germs of that stupendous revelation which we celebrate on Trinity [3/4] Sunday. Never, in so short a space of time, has such a flood of celestial knowledge and spiritual glory been poured in 'upon our race. When the tidings first arrived, men seemed to stand in the midst of events which they could not understand, like children in a crowd at some great spectacle, turning one to another, and saying, what should these things mean. In half a century Christianity had, as it were, lifted them up to so high a plane, that their eyes could follow the entire sweep of the spiritual horizon, and from the cradle at Bethlehem to the Pentecostal baptism, they saw a living chain of divine revelations, whose links now fell into their appointed places, and made order of the whole. A new heaven and a new earth opened before them; yet it was, after all, not so much newness as transfiguration which they saw. As a Polar midnight, with its groping darkness and freezing barrenness, its black billows and icy caverns, is transformed by the returning king into a glistening palace fit for fairyland, so to the apostles and early saints was this world re-created, and life filled with a new strange joy, and the future peopled with hope, by the sun of righteousness. It is true, that God had always been a God of love as well as law; that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world; that the office of the Holy Ghost is an eternal one; but men knew this not, and therefore, while these truths were not created, they were first revealed by Jesus Christ. Man had no power to see or understand them, till One came with authority to anoint and open his eyes.
If we look back over Biblical history, we shall readily see that it divides itself into three periods, in which God was pleased to differently manifest himself, and in which different degrees of godly knowledge prevailed.
These periods we may call dispensations, and say that there has been a dispensation of Jehovah, of Christ, and of the Holy Ghost. From Adam to John the Baptist, men knew God only in one way, as Jehovah. The first dispensation was under God, as creator and law-giver; [4/5] God was known through His works in heaven and on the earth, and through His moral law. For ages He was a supernatural king, a righteous law-giver, a judge and avenger of Israel. He forged the thunderbolts and stayed the course of the sun. He sent rain and pestilence at His pleasure, and His breath dried up the sea. He inspired prophets and defeated armies--nothing small or great escaped Him; the heavens declared His glory, and His unerring eye discerned the guilty Achan among the millions of Israel. This was the first dispensation, the earliest revelation of God. Now this revelation, while it was in one sense temporal, is in another sense eternal. It was temporal, inasmuch as it served as a basis for further revelations; but, as containing godly truth, it is eternal. It has come down to us in the conception known as "the God of nature and law."
About this conception I have a word to say. There are a great many people who have no practical God, no God who is real, a personal Father and Friend, who are very fond of getting off among pastures and mountains, and talking about this God of nature. They grow sentimental over the May blossoms, and are affected by a fine sunset in much the same way as a Romanist by an old minster, or a Calvinist by a modern sermon on unconditional election; that is, they feel a tranquil, self-satisfied emotion in their soul, and mistake it for religion or piety. There is of necessity no more religion in such an emotion, than in the ecstasy of a painter, or the fine frenzy of a poet. If we analyze it, we shall find a mere soothing and sensuous pleasure at the bottom of it; nay, it is often accompanied by a relaxing of moral fibre and an aesthetic languor, such as leads young men to look upon the tragedies of Byron as examples of true and worthy passion, or young maidens to see in brigands at a safe distance, romantic and picturesque creatures. In like manner, there are people who have paddled a little in science or philosophy, and having hardly wetted their [5/6] intellectual ankles, proceed to give up the New Testament and talk about the God of law, meaning, by the phrase, an abstract something that presides over the union of an acid and a base, and busies itself in propagating species and regulating the tides. There is a vast amount of this shallow folly abroad. Catching up the phrase, "the God of nature and law," a flippant unbelief makes a fetish of a lovely forest, or an idol of the law of gravitation; and ignoring the creator in the one case and the law-giver in the other, proceeds or pretends to worship, and troubles his mother and sisters by letting dust collect upon his Bible.
Now, we believe that this God of nature is a being, of whom but for the revelation of Christ it would be death to think. He was terrible even to the ignorant Jews, whose conceptions of him were utterly inadequate, and to whom He was little more than an exceptionally powerful king. They, rugged of soul and limited in vision, could dare to look upon God untempered by the revelation of His son. But the man who talks to-day of the God of nature and ignores the testimony of Christ, would do well to consider what manner of being He is, and how the modern centuries have added to His awfulness.
The God of nature only, is nothing else than the revelation of nature herself. Now it is true that nature does reveal a certain inscrutable wisdom, a seeming design and providential arrangement of parts and means; but there is little comfort in this revelation of naked intellect.
The God of nature may be wise, but He crushes us with the vastness of His material environment. He is utterly careless of individual life, sacrificing for every tree, brute or man that reaches maturity--a thousand of its kind. He is indifferent to suffering, and deaf to the cry of pity. He is stern and impassible as the eternal hills, as remorseless and unpitying as the sea, as consuming in His anger as His servant the flame, as swift in execution of vengeance as His messenger the lightning, as distant and [6/7] unapproachable as the aphelion of His most infinite comet, as unfathomable as His garment--space. May blossoms are not all there is of the God of nature; and if our unbelievers will but fill their minds with just conceptions of what He is, they will find less time for worship and more for fear.
The conception of God as a God of nature and law is a true, but a low and imperfect one. It is the foundation upon which Christ and the Holy Spirit builded; and before men had any adequate notions of the majesty and fearfulness of nature, the naked conception could be endured. But it is not too much to say, that without the revelation of Christ a full conception of this God who is so glibly talked about and unthinkingly trusted in, would crush and blast the human soul, and modern skeptical science has only saved herself by wisely declaring that she knows and can know nothing about him.
As Christians, we may well worship God in nature, for the cross has transformed it and us, and has revealed a side of God's character which nature alone does not show, but rather seems to deny. With our hand clasped in that of Christ, we look forth upon the seemingly unpitying and unreasoning devastations of nature's God, and pray for faith to trust Him still, for faith to believe that righteousness and judgment are the habitations of His throne. But without Christ, just in proportion as we attain any just conception of God, He crushes us, and we only escape by a sentimental lack of logic, or a refusal to manfully face the problems that He offers us.
My friends, when we henceforth see men who have never got beyond the God of nature, we may be well assured that they have never even reached it. This period to the Jews was one of spiritual intellectual and national growth; a period of law and obedience; a laying of foundations, a planting of seeds; and as the conception of God grew in sublimity from Adam to Isaiah, the nation felt that a new dispensation was at hand. This second [7/8] dispensation was under God manifested in Christ, Isaiah had sung of the High and Holy One that inhabited eternity, and now from out of this eternity, down from the infinity which had shrouded their king, there comes--no fiery chariot, no sovereign terrible in majesty, no angelic host sweeping with shield and sword from the four quarters of heaven, but a man full of grace and truth. Now begins the period of love and son-ship. God the father, man the child. The "God with us" of the prophecy realized. God dwelt with man, became his friend, spake with him, healed him, loved him. Religion changed; it became personal, it was a simple following of the new God; a listening to His marvellous words; a reverent obedience from love of His commands; above all, a drinking in of His life, a sharing of that intense personality which went out to all who approached Him. This dispensation was a short one; being a personal one, it was of necessity limited to the life of Christ; it was also a period of transition from a life of sense to a life of spirit, and ages of transition are brief. We live to-day in the dispensation of the spirit. God has disappeared from the world. He no longer walks in the garden at the cool of the day; prophets no longer see Him in the burning bush, nor an afflicted people in a mighty fiery pillar. He indeed works ever; He is about us, His power sustains us, but He manifests Himself no more. And Christ no longer speaks; there is no passing Nazarene to heal our sick and call our dead back to our hearts again; it is the age of the spirit. We miss the former ages; we long to see a manifest act of creation; we cry out with Elijah, Oh, Lord, reveal Thyself. Heathen say, as they did to David, where is thy God? and our poor faith trembles as we remember how we have longed for Him. Oh! for one miracle to prove that He is there! Oh! for one utterance to break the everlasting silence! But the stars look down with shining eyes as they swing on in their eternal circles and make no sign; the caverns of space stretch out into mystery, cold [8/9] and unpeopled by God or angel, and the unbroken order of the world weighs upon our spirits like the dead silence of a sea-calm. We long for Christ to come, to utter but one word of comfort for His Church, to abash His enemies with but a glance of wrath, to prop up but for an instant, this arch of faith which, in its leap toward heaven, has spanned now these eighteen hundred years with no visible support. But it is just this which would defeat God's plan. The Jews sought after a sign, but they needed Christ crucified. It is not meant that our religion should be primarily through nature or ritual, or any avenue of sense; neither is it to be personal, as in the time of Christ. It is to be inward, spiritual, the religion of prayer, meditation, silent sacrifice. A new life is to be built up within us, that we may know God with our souls, instead of looking upon Him with our eyes. In this way alone faith becomes actual.
I know this religion is difficult, harder far than that of nature, or the personal religion of the dispensation of Christ. But it is a much loftier religion. From a King to a Father, from the God of Abraham to the God of St. John, from the simple attachment to Christ of the early Apostles to the faith of St. Paul, what gigantic steps! Let me illustrate. A certain king has a province whose inhabitants are ignorant and degraded; especially ignorant of their king and unfriendly toward him. He determines to teach and win them first through his works. He builds good roads, bridges, public offices, he orders works of art, establishes schools, makes the province prosperous and magnificent.
The people say naturally one to another, what a powerful king is ours, surely he is greater than all kings, and worthy to be obeyed. They forthwith worship and do him reverence for his works' sake. But the king says this is not enough, these people do not really know me, this is mere worship of wonder and fear. He therefore comes among them in person, lives with them, inquires [9/10] into their characters and habits of life, and reveals his superior nature and living to them. Soon they begin to admire, then to love, then to imitate him, they follow him as sheep the shepherd, they feel an intense affection for this exalted being, who has come out of his great love to lift them from sin and ignorance.
But the king says this is not enough, this is mere personal attachment, mere imitation; these good people have as yet no power of self-government, and to develop that I must go away. He therefore leaves the province, but by some potent magic influences the people still. He has given them an example; he has left them the principles of right living that they may grow thereby; but lest they forget these principles, he gives them by his magic power an inward light and knowledge, and this grows stronger as they desire it. Then these people begin to be laws unto themselves; instead of slavishly imitating their king, they grasp the principles by which he lived, and these govern their lives; they continue his works and in turn reveal his character to others. Such has been the history of the manifestations of God. First was revealed God the Creator, and there sprang up a religion of nature and ritual founded upon his supposed Kingship. Then He appeared in man, and there arose a personal religion founded in love for the person Christ. Now He comes as spirit, and our religion passes from without to within. It becomes free from sense and full of spirit.
God in nature still abides; God manifest in the flesh is an eternal truth; but God the spirit is the highest conception of all, and to it the others led. We may not think so always; we may long for a breaking forth of the glory of God, but He is silent through love; we may cry for a return of Christ, but he is absent for our good.
And now let as give in closing a few reasons why this dispensation of the spirit seems so necessary to our highest life.
First, it is disciplinary. How immature the apostles [10/11] were before the descent of the Holy Ghost. It is expedient that I go away, said Christ--otherwise His followers would have remained children, clinging about their master, timid when away from him, having no manly faith of their own, like overgrown boys who have never been from home, and consequently have never known what it is to feel the world beating and hammering them into well tempered manhood. The office of Christ was to give us an external authority; the office of the spirit is to impart an inward principle of life.
Christ was necessary to reveal truth and live it before our eyes--the spirit is needed to transform that truth into individual character.
Christ died to redeem us from sin; the spirit lives to perfect us in holiness. If Christ had lingered here, His saints would have shone as gems imbedded the glorious setting of his character, their light a reflection of His own. But it is the will of the spirit to make of each saint a separate jewel having its own individual lustre, and when they hasten at the last, rubies, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, each out of his own fire of discipline and purification, to take their places in their Savior's crown, it will be as fully developed and perfected characters.
This isolated probation then, this severance from the master, this spiritual conflict, is necessary for our discipline and perfection.
Again, it gives each a chance to exercise and develop his own individuality. I have often thought that one reason for the short ministry of Christ was, that He might not by prolonged intercourse with his disciples, so impress His personality upon them as to dwarf their own. You know the irresistible influence of a great man, good or bad; that he moulds human character as a potter his clay vessels, and destroys individuality.
Now the object of all great men should be to communicate their life and principles, but not to crush men with the weight of their own personality or transform them [11/12] into imitators. Suppose that God, wishing to create a forest, should choose a perfect tree of any given kind, and command all the growing shoots to imitate that tree. Each would be forced to cast away or destroy its own individuality and adopt that of the common example. The oak would strive to change the graceful outlines of its leaf, the birch to dim its silvery bark, the maple to lose its graceful symmetry, the fruitful trees would seek to hide their blossoms, and the unfruitful trees to put forth ridiculous and abortive little buds. Instead of a union of distinct individual trees, we should see a confused and vain attempt to imitate one tree; instead of freedom and beauty, we should see a strained and artificial monotony.
But God gives to a forest just what He does to the human race, certain general principles of life, and then having made ready the fertile earth and appointed the seasons of the sun and rain, He says grow, and each does grow in its own goodly way according to its own powers and character, and yet all are trees. We need to learn that we may be Christians and live in the power of the spirit of Christ, without dwarfing any thing in us but sin; that to follow Christ does not mean to imitate him literally or after the flesh, in baptism, in homelessness, in celibacy, but to be filled with His animating principle, and manifest the truths He taught in the fullest and freest individuality.
Again, this dispensation of the spirit compels us to be charitable. If the oak shall not say to the maple, as they both grow heavenward from the same soil and turn the same sunlight into living green, "I am more worthy than thou," neither may one Christian claim to be more churchly, or more orthodox, or nearer the master than his brother, who is looking and living to the same great head.
Oh, if we could ever learn that man may not force immortal spirits having different gifts into the same unyielding mould. Why, our poor bodies are given freedom to [12/13] grow as they will and clothe themselves according to their stature, and shall there be no soul growth, no spirit freedom? We may be all members of the same body, but we are not equal members; we have different endowments, and are born to different ends. May I refuse the coat or calling of my grandfather, yet be forced to wear his creed? Must I look forward to entering heaven with my Christian brother, and not to walking thither with him hand in hand? Shall I, the member of a little band, refuse the hand of fellowship to those who outnumber me five to one? Shall I not rather fear lest, in my isolation, I assume the position of a pigmy refusing toleration to an army of giants. My friends, be zealous in the maintenance and defence of essentials, but pray God for grace to discern non-essentials. Give no quarter to those who would destroy what is vital in Church or faith, but let your moderation be known unto all men when in a good conscience you may exercise it. Remember that the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness. The dispensation of the spirit finally stimulates faith. It is easy for a present king to reign, but shall the absent king still rule in the hearts of his remembering subjects? Do we care enough for the truth of our Lord to maintain it, when He is not here to rebuke and command? We of necessity walk through this world by sight; are we able to walk toward heaven by faith? These questions could never have been answered had Christ not gone away. Absence is the nourishment of fidelity. Faith, if it be of the true quality, grows best under a cloud. When it is easy to believe, belief is worth little, and it does us little good. So the dispensation of the spirit is a testing process. It gives us opportunity to be faithful. It enables us to know Christ inwardly by a kind of soul knowledge, and by thus strengthening our spiritual vision it prepares us to see heaven. For if we have no such soul knowledge of [13/14] God, no faith that is inward, born out of the experience of life, how shall we ever hope to know heaven should we reach it. No eye sees the glory there, no ear hears the melody of the saints, no language embodies celestial truth. It is revealed to the spirit by the spirit. If there are any Christians here who laugh at this sort of knowledge, and can't spare time for such inward revelation, I should like to ask what preparation they are making for heaven. Heaven is not only, not primarily, a change of place, but a change of character, a transformation of soul, the possession of spiritual faculties and the power to apprehend spiritual knowledge. You can no more understand heaven with your logical understanding, or measure its glory with your mathematical brain, than you can buy it with your gold. The things which are unseen are eternal, and spiritual things are spiritually discerned, and the eye of the spirit is faith.
My friends, grieve not the Holy Spirit. It is the life of God in the soul of man. It comes to teach, to elevate, to console, to transform. Without it we are mere wise material creatures, with a splendid endowment which dies with the body that encloses it. With it we may become conscious sons of God. We must grieve it if we do not welcome it, for it comes to all. There are quiet moments when we hear it whispering of a better life; moments of affliction, when it breathes upon the crushed soul the messages of Christ; moments of despondency, when it lifts the soul into the strengthening presence of the God of all comfort; there are great moments when it comes with power, and we are exalted to views of virtue which are transcendent, when we catch inspirations that carry us as on wings, when all things are possible; and there are moments of tenderness, when its voice is heard sweet, solemn, calling us back to the life we have forfeited and the Father we have lost. Oh! let us not grieve it, as we value our soul's eternal health.
 When a boy is sent from his Christian home with all the sweet influence of his mother clinging to his heart, how does she beg him, through her tears, to cherish it; and if he is faithful to his trust, how it does restrain him, strengthen him, morally elevate him. The sad, loving face rises between him and his temptations; that mother memory steals in to banish his unwise desire; women are nobler because of her; manhood more divine, because her ideal is seen in it. So let us cherish God's image in the soul; let it lead us on with mild; sweet constancy; let us be true to it, true to our better selves, our higher impulses, our truest thoughts. Do not let our ideals drag in the dust. Resist not this sacred influence, that calls us ever up. Reject not the most timid prompting of purity that dares to steal into our low and brutal life. Alienate not the influence of the skies. Did I say, do not reject it? Nay, that is not enough. Let us long for it, as the sun in our night, the water in our desert, the fire in our dead souls, the one thing that comes to us from above this world to call us out of it. Let us strive for it that we grow not material and cold, pray for it that we feel not the chill of honest doubt, struggle and cry aloud for it, that we be not led away by the foolish sneer of a shallow unbelief. With fervent affection let us go forth after it, for without it our moral character crumbles; our governors put on unblushingly their robes of shame; principle, public and private, rots away, and the wild creatures of the heart that hide or prowl within us, come forth in boldness to devastate the soul. Civilization and society become chaotic, and the spirit of man, like the body when life has fled, deprived of resisting energy, surrenders itself to the embrace of moral death.
We know not that there is any natural power in man by which he can extricate himself from the wreck of this mortal world. Heathen and Christian, Plato and Paul, alike bear witness to this. The former longed for a [15/16] divine life, the latter found it; but both testified that if man is ever to rise into a life of immortality and righteousness, it must be by the spirit of God visiting the soul, and conforming it unto the divine likeness.
Therefore, grieve not this Holy Spirit.