The Presence of the Spirit.

John 16:7.

1869 289 I mean to speak a little of the general truth of the presence of the Holy Ghost, and in truth there cannot be a more general statement than that which the Lord Himself furnishes in these words. But the two great parts of the testimony and work of the Holy Ghost are also brought before us here: and, first, the presence of the Comforter. Never was there a time till Christ went to heaven when this was true; and this is why there is such amazing importance attached to Christ's going away, because even His very absence was essential to the bringing out of the full and proper character of Christianity. The going away of Jesus was, therefore, a circumstance of the deepest moment. We know that the presence of Jesus on the earth is the essential feature of the day of the Lord, and so we have these two broad facts in direct contrast: Jesus in heaven away from this scene, and Jesus coming again. The one is for the heavens; the other for the earth, when that bright day comes, when Christ, the bringer-in of glory, is making glory good and maintaining it. Now we have only the hope of glory.

Glory, as far as the earth is concerned, is not come. But this gives occasion for the display of the deepest thoughts and ways of God. There are two things brought out. First, rest in Christ through the knowledge of the work of Christ, whereby sin is put away and we are brought nigh to God. But in order to the soul being blessed yet more, they needed not only to have perfect rest for the soul, but that He should carry them out of the present scene, by His fixing their affections on a person who is out of the scene altogether. These two things combined in the Christian are found nowhere out of the Church of God. There was no rest before the death of Christ, no ease for the soul. Israel, though heirs, were under tutelage, shut up in prison, filled with the fear of death and alarm of soul, as the Psalms show us. There was no such thing as established rest and peace in an object. It could not be before the death of Christ. It would have been a making light of sin, and the soul could not consent to anything inconsistent with the holiness of God. The Holy Ghost wrought on souls, it is true, but He never dwelt there as the Comforter. Yet there never was before a divine work in which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were not employed. From the first the Son of God did act, and a soul never looked out for Christ but by the immediate agency of the Holy Ghost. But He was never before sent down to take His place here. And when, beloved friends, does He take His place? When the Son came down, a body was prepared for Him with no propensity to sin, as free from it as when He went up again into glory. It is a remarkable thing that the same word is used in Hebrews in speaking of His coming again in glory, as was used when speaking of His coming to redeem. "In all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin:" (Heb. 4:15.) "Unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." (Heb. 9:28.)

And if the Son had a body prepared for Him, shall not the Holy Ghost have a body prepared for Him, some suited dwelling-place? Yes; He has one in the saved child of God, the believer, and in a larger sense the Church. But what is the believer, and what is the Church? Is there no sin remaining? We know too well that there is. But yet it is all gone to faith though not to sight. To sight there is only a poor weak believer, to faith a temple of God. The Holy Ghost has come down. Has God then lowered His character? How can He come down and dwell on this sin-stained earth and in those who themselves are the first to acknowledge how weak and failing they are? Is it that the Holy Ghost feels it not (none can say that He sees it not)? Nay, but He is true to the redemption of Christ, and He comes and dwells where the blood has cleansed. The Holy Ghost thus fulfils the type seen in the priests — the oil was put where the blood had been sprinkled. Because of the blood-shedding of Jesus, the Holy Ghost can dwell in us. If I have seen Him and believed in Him, and can trust Him, I am entitled to know what the Holy Ghost witnesses. "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." (Heb. 10:17.) The Holy Ghost stands to and rests upon the blessed completeness of the truth of God's own grace that sin has been judged and put away. There is a scene prepared for Him, a suited body for the Holy Ghost to dwell in.

After having shown on what terms the Holy Ghost was sent, I desire to speak a little of the different relations He bears. The actings of the Holy Ghost went on in the Old and still go on in the New Testament times. There is nothing in Christianity to forbid what the Holy Ghost wrought before, but another thing which is absolutely true now could not have been known before — the Holy Ghost coming down to dwell. When do we first hear of His coming down? On Christ Himself. "Him hath God the Father sealed." And He goes not away till He has made His people fit for the Holy Ghost to come down and abide with them. And this was a necessary attraction, so to speak. He could not but come to dwell in those who had been washed in the blood of Christ. He does come, and we have here in the passage I have read His different actings. First, "He shall reprove the world of sin." How that? The world is not a suited place for Him to dwell in, and He does not dwell in the world. This does not mean that He convinces persons of sin; it is another thing from His reproving the soul that God is dealing with.

There is the twofold relation of the Spirit of God on earth. First, His relation to the world. "He shall convince the world of sin." For breaking the law? No; but because the world would not have Jesus. There is no mention of the law, and no one can afford to maintain the law but those washed in the blood of Jesus. Therefore the apostle says that through faith we establish the law, and nothing does it but faith. Faith shows me that, so far from the law being weakened by the cross, the law had there its most solemn sanction. Then why not take up the law? The Holy Ghost is entirely occupied with Christ. If they did believe in Christ, He would come and dwell in them; but now He testifies against them, and this is very solemn. It shows not what God the Father thinks of the world; He testified that when He raised up Christ from the dead, Him whom man had cast out; but here the Holy Ghost adds His testimony to the world's guilt, "Of sin, because they believe not in me." All their other sins are not forgotten; but the Holy Ghost does not speak but of this sin — their refusing not only the Son in humiliation, but the Son at the right hand of God the Father.

"Of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye see me no more." The proof of sin is not the breaking of the law, as in Israel. There is a new standing altogether, and the Holy Ghost stands to this and to no other. So in righteousness, it is not here but up in heaven. Jesus is rejected, and righteousness is not here. It is the fruit of His work, and the work of the Holy Ghost is in answer to His; but righteousness is seen only in heaven. God the Father raised up a rejected Christ, and set Him at His own right hand. So the world lost Jesus, and God was righteous when He received Him to His own right hand in heaven. "Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged." It is not merely the terrible thing which is coming on the world at a future period — it is done. Judgment is true to faith now. The world is judged: only the sentence is not yet executed. This is the key to the Christian's remarkable attitude towards the world. How could he tamper with and allow that which he sees to be judged? When he does so, he has got away from his moorings and is seeing things with his own eyes instead of believing what God says about them. "Of judgment because the prince of this world is judged." He (the prince of this world) led it on and he is judged. By the believer Christ is seen, heard, and felt, and the Holy Ghost convicts all outside of Him of these three things.

But what is He to the believer? The believer stands on the confines of all that has been or will be. He is able to look back, and, as to the mind of God, to look onward. It is no presumption, not imagination. Christ is come. We have seen Him; and He is the truth; and the Holy Ghost helps us to understand things better than ever they could have been understood before. Christ says so. The veil is removed. I am brought to God. It is not that God is brought to me. It is not only that Christ is come to me in my misery, but now I am brought to God. I see Christ as God beholds Him, and all the believer does here is learning more (and oh what joy it is!) of what we have for ever in Christ. He is the standard for everything.

To the Church the Holy Ghost's main office is the unfolding of Him. "He shall not speak of himself." This does not mean He shall not speak about Himself, but He shall not speak on His own authority. As Christ when here on earth was always a dependent One, always spoke as He had heard of the Father, so the Holy Ghost takes His place.

We never hear of the rule or reign of the Holy Ghost. Though the expression is much in use among Christians, and even well-taught ones, it is not in scripture, and it tends to falsify the relation of the Holy Ghost to Christ. I allow He is the power and energy, but Christ is the Lord. When speaking officially the apostle says, as there is one God, so there is one Lord — Christ. The truth is, we lose the blessed present force when we put things in one general expression, and power in dealing with souls is lost too.

The Holy Ghost takes the place of subordination to Christ, "He shall glorify me." This is the official relation He is pleased to take upon Himself as a divine Person come down to act towards the world and in the saints. "He shall show you things to come." It is not only understanding truth, but showing future things. Can we wonder at this? The wonder would be if a divine person had come down to earth and did not show things to come. To Daniel the command was, "Seal up the vision." To the believer, "Blessed is he that readeth and they that understand." "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book." How comes this? Christ being come, and the Holy Ghost being come, it was natural that it should be so (I mean natural in a true holy sense). Now that God has met sin, and dealt with evil and blotted it out, so that it is gone as an abstract truth: if I believe, it is mine that is gone

Now it is for communion that the Holy Ghost is given. When the Holy Ghost acts by and by, when the Church is gone, it will not be as a Spirit of communion, but of prophecy. This will throw the saints back into the position which they had before the Lord's death. But this is not our position.

As the Bride we are conscious of the Lord's love. There is a hymn which speaks of the "earnest of His love." It is not the Spirit of God who uses this language. God does not love us in part, but perfectly. The Holy Ghost is the earnest of the inheritance, giving us a foretaste of glory, as it said, "the Spirit of glory and of God resteth on you," associating our souls with it because we are associated with Christ in glory. But when the Lord tells us that the Father loves us as He loves the Son, did He love Him with a bit of His love, with the earnest of His love? No. And it is true of every christian person now that the Father loves him as He loves His Son. In glory the love will not be more or better than it is now, but then things will be brought into accordance with the perfectness of the love that rests on us now.

I desire to look at a few other scriptures in the Acts of the Apostles which bear on the subject, before I close, which show us that, as the descent of the Holy Ghost was the Lord's promise, so it was accomplished fully.

In Acts 1 we see that the Lord saw His disciples before He was taken up, and led them out to the wonted scene where He had so often spoken to them words of love. He commanded them to tarry in Jerusalem till they should be baptized of the Holy Ghost, saying, "John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence."

Thus we see that there was no such thing as the accomplishment of the promise yet. It is true the Lord breathed on His disciples and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost;" but we must carefully distinguish between this and the promise of the Father. There is no question of the difference. I consider that it is a weakness, if not a sin, to talk doubtfully, where God speaks plainly, just as it ill becomes us to speak strongly when God speaks darkly. There is a feeling in some minds as if it were gracious to talk undecidedly, even where God speaks clearly. I therefore feel bound to press this point and to maintain it: first, that when on His resurrection He gave the Holy Ghost to His disciples, this was not the promise of the Father; but, secondly, that when on Pentecost the Holy Ghost came down, this was the promise of the Father. The first proves that the promise was not given yet, the second proves that the promise was given then. "Being by the right hand of God exalted [mark, it is not risen, but exalted], and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear." (Acts 2:33.)

It is wrong to confound the gifts and energy of the Spirit with the gift of the Holy Ghost. The gift of the Holy Ghost and the gifts are two things entirely distinct, and it is a deep dishonour done to the Holy Ghost and a loss to the soul to confound them. The difference is this as to its practical application: — many gifts have departed, and the unbelief of the heart is manifested by the thought that the Holy Ghost given on that day is no more here; but the Lord declares that the Holy Ghost, unlike Himself, should abide for ever. It is a matter of simple faith as to the truth of Christ. While the gifts for signs have disappeared (and it is not so difficult to justify the wisdom of their disappearance), the Holy Ghost abides in the Church and in the believer, and cannot but abide; as His presence is not the mere recognition of our faith but of Christ's redemption, which abides eternally. The Holy Ghost cannot but abide, and this is a truth about which there can be no compromise. Compromise must be dangerous and it is unbecoming those who have been brought out of a state of unbelief to get back into it. Beware of disallowing the truth of God, or of in any way weakening it. This is a truth which we are called to maintain, that the Holy Ghost is on the earth and in the believer till the return of that blessed One who is coming again and coming shortly.

I should like just now to refer to two or three scriptures which sometimes perplex souls. One difficulty felt is this, that in some cases the Holy Ghost was given with the laying on of hands (and we know how this fact has been worked up into a system of superstition); but Christians should beware that the abuse of any truth does not make them let that truth slip altogether. We know that on the mightiest occasion on which the Holy Ghost was given, which was at Pentecost, there was no laying on of hands. So that it is a mistake to think that it is a necessary thing. "Repent," says Peter, "and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." This was the order: first, the mighty work of God in the conscience — repentance; second, baptism; and third, the gift of the Holy G host — not the gifts of the Holy Ghost nor miraculous power (they might have that too), but the presence of a divine person in them. They had to be baptized; they were obliged and commanded to be baptized. There was no laying on of hands in this case.

In Acts 10 there is another striking occurrence. Cornelius heard first the words of the gospel as sent to the Gentiles. The first time when God sent to declare salvation to the Gentiles as freely as to the Jews, the Jews might be startled that it was given as freely to the Gentiles as to themselves. So here there is no word of baptism first and then the gift of the Holy Ghost. Are there then different modes in the actings of God? In anything is there caprice in the divine dealings? Let no such thought enter our minds as to Him. There is none in the ways of God. But there is divine wisdom. Let us inquire wherein the wisdom shines, wherein the blessed wisdom and consistency in the ways of God that the Jew should be baptized and then receive the Holy Ghost, and that the Gentile should receive the Holy Ghost and then be baptized. The reason was this. To a Jew it was a most painful thing. In becoming a Christian he had crossed a fearful gap, which separated the man from Judaism. It was a stepping out of all that which he had been in before and putting himself under the banner of the crucified One. Therefore he must be baptized. The apostle insists on it. They must bow to Him whom they had crucified — bow to Him who was the nation's shame. So they bowed and the Holy Ghost came upon them. This was the order as to the Jew. But why not as to the Gentiles? Peter had been sent to them by a particular revelation, but contrary to his own inclination. Christ had told them to make disciples of all nations; but he had as good as forgotten it. It was as if he had never heard it. Nay, in the vision we read, he even disputed with the Lord. His Jewish feelings were strong. But the Lord compelled him by His grace, Cornelius sending to him too; and, though at first disposed to shrink back at their approach, he was led out of Judaism. In proclaiming salvation, Peter maintains the place of the cross to the Jews in baptism, but with the Gentiles all was done to encourage them. The desire of God was not only to give them confidence, but to remove the prejudices of the Jew. It was as if the Lord had said to the Jews, You despise these men, but I am doing to them what I did not to you, giving them the Holy Ghost before baptism: they are only too glad to get Jesus. So the Holy Ghost fell as soon as the words came from the lips of the apostle. God was thus humbling the proud Jew, confirming the despised Gentile, and silencing every heart by the wonders of His grace. Is there then any change in the Holy Ghost? Is there any change in Christ? Away with such thoughts!

But there are cases where we find hands laid on for the Holy Ghost to be given. Is there no wisdom in this? Surely there is, beloved friends. In Acts 8 we find that on the persecution which arose at Jerusalem the disciples were scattered, and "Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them." Now this might have been thought to be an irregular thing. Samaria was the last place where a Jew would go to preach, so great was the jealousy with regard to it (and there is no jealousy so bitter as that of religion). But Philip goes and works many wonders, so that we may say, if Jerusalem rejected, Samaria accepted the message of salvation, and there was great joy in that city as became those who heard of the name of Jesus. But the Holy Ghost had not yet been given, for God had determined to set His seal on the work in the most significant manner. Those at Jerusalem might have said, We cannot accredit the work. Who sent Philip there? for the apostles had not been scattered. But Peter and John go down to Samaria in distinct recognition of the work. It was owned to be of God by those put in the place of church pillars, in order to meet the charge poor man might have made of irregularity. Peter and John laid their hands on the disciples, and they received the Holy Ghost. It was not merely God overruling what had been done; no, it was God sanctioning it by an unusual step. But so far from its being a regular mode, it was exceptional, done for the purpose of meeting peculiar circumstances and stopping the mouths of gainsayers. There could not have been a method more gracious and wise. As God had given the Holy Ghost to the Gentiles without the laying on of hands, now in blessed grace and perfect wisdom He bestows Him by this means.

The last passage to which I shall refer is in Acts 19 "Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus; and finding certain disciples he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost, etc. They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus: and when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues and prophesied." The persons mentioned in these verses were believers, but they were not Christians. A Christian is a saint that has the Holy Ghost. True, every Christian is a saint, but he is something more; and that something is a very great deal more, for it is the Holy Ghost. This we learn clearly from the passage. Paul asks, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? It was no question of believing. Paul did not doubt the existence of faith in their hearts. They were disciples of John; and all John's disciples believed that Christ would baptize with the Holy Ghost; but they were not aware that the promise had been accomplished, which is all that is meant by their saying, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. Paul commands them to be baptized, and when he had laid his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came on them, and they spake with tongues. You see these two things are quite distinct. Is it not contrary to the word of God to confound the gifts of the Holy Ghost with the Holy Ghost Himself? These were only the outward vouchers to other people that the Holy Ghost had come upon the disciples. But why was it necessary that Paul's hands should be laid on them? I undoubtedly think that it was because the question might be raised whether Paul was an apostle. And here the same result follows as with Peter and John in Samaria. This seems to be the great point here, as in Samaria it was the connection of the work there by the great heads of the circumcision with the work in Jerusalem. Here the apostle of the Gentiles has the same voucher conferred on him as on Peter and John: only that what they did together he did alone, as he says, "In nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles." "Are they ministers of Christ? I more."

Let none then be afraid of the question, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost?" It is a subject full of comfort, so that we need not be alarmed. Have I received the Holy Ghost? To know this I must ask first, Have I submitted to the righteousness of God? Am I resting on Christ and His work? Whoever rests thus has the Holy Ghost. It is not a question of the person's knowing it. He may or he may not understand it. Intelligence does not give the Spirit; nor does a bad system nullify the gift of God. Arminianism or Calvinism may hinder the enjoyment, but not the blessing itself.

But let us at all times carefully distinguish between the Holy Ghost and His gifts. When the Father sent the Son into the world, His presence here was accompanied by miracles, and so the presence of the Holy Ghost was also accompanied by miracles, and it was yet more needful as the world could not see Him. Not that the Church deserved them, but there was more danger of the work being gainsaid and denied.

Attention to the fact that some believers had not received the Holy Ghost gives us the key to the condition of souls in a certain state. When being convinced of sin, there is no ability to rest on Christ; when they are still putting forth fresh efforts after Christ, and have not yet submitted themselves to God's righteousness in Christ, I should hesitate to say that the Holy Ghost was there. That He is working there is true; that He dwells there as the seal of adoption and the earnest of the inheritance I could not say. It would be bold to say so while the soul is in an Old Testament condition, under the legal groaning and darkness which accompanies that condition. But when the soul submits to Christ, all is over. There may be conflict afterwards; but where there is real peace, the Holy Ghost is; where there is only joy, I could not say He is. But when God begins a work, He completes it and never rests when He works in grace by His Spirit till He dwells there. But operation in quickening or awakening, when evil is being learned, is not the same as the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in peace and power.