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The Divinity of and Operations Of the Holy Ghost
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The Divinity of and Operations Of the Holy Ghost
THE DIVINITY AND OPERATIONS
OF THE HOLY GHOST
Operations Subsequent to the Incarnation
"It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, that I will pour out of my upon all flesh." Acts 2:17
With a view to conciliate your regard to the important subject which hath now, through several discourses, solicited your attention, and to recompense, in the best manner I have been able, the favorable indulgence you have granted me, it has been my study, as much as possible, to omit everything superfluous upon the occasion, and to avoid all unnecessary prolixity. The nature of my design indeed hath obliged me repeatedly to traverse the sacred volume, in quest of evidences connected with the grand object in view; and hence it is, that the same passages of Scripture have been more than once brought forward, in support of the different parts of the argument: perhaps in doing this, I may have been more circumstantial than was absolutely expedient. Yet when it shall be considered how very interesting the topic proposed to our discussion is, it is hardly possible, I think, to be too minute and attentive in its investigation. I should have thought myself extremely reprehensible, had I knowingly omitted anything material, which might have contributed to our information respecting an article of faith so intimately blended with the very existence of vital Christianity.
The arrangement I have wished to observe was, in a progressive manner, to go through the whole of the sacred records in the examination of their testimonies concerning the blessed Spirit. With relation, therefore, to this inquiry from the earliest period, my first object was naturally directed to answer that necessary question which forms the basis of the whole subject, "Whether there be any Holy Ghost?" And this I endeavored to perform, by examining such testimonies of his ministry, in the ages antecedent to our Lord's advent in the flesh, as might fully prove the certainty of his existence. In the pursuit of proofs on this point, you saw what a boundless prospect opened to our view, in the numerous and diversified operations, clearly imputable to his express agency in those early periods. Our next attention was therefrom unavoidably excited to inquire into the evidences concerning the Person and Godhead of a Being to whom such wonderful properties are ascribed. And though the entering upon the examination of these points hath, in some measure, occasioned a digression from immediately pursuing the track of the blessed Spirit's ministration, continued under the gospel dispensation; yet the establishing the clear conviction of this truth, which is among the prime articles of faith in the church of Christ, is surely of the highest consequence to prepare the mind for the reception of the doctrines connected with it, respecting the blessed Spirit's agency in the subsequent periods.
The gracious work, which Scripture teaches us this Divine Being wrought in the infancy of Christianity, and is now unremittingly employed in carrying on in the hearts of all true believers, whereby they are led, in a progression from grace to glory, depend altogether upon the certainty of his person and Godhead. For if the evidences of these be ill-founded, the conclusions drawn from them must come to nothing. The ground on which they are built being baseless and imaginary, the edifice erected upon it cannot but fall. Having however fully proved the certainty of these great truths, by the long train of testimonies which have been brought before you, I venture, to persuade myself, that a full conviction thereof is impressed upon your mind in the clearest characters, and shall therefore now proceed with the more confidence to the consideration of those works of the Holy Ghost, yet remaining to be noticed, of which we are informed by the gospel.
In order to the clearer apprehension of things, it will be necessary to call back your attention to the period at which we were arrived in a former discourse, when making researches after the testimonies of the blessed Spirit's ministration in the early ages of the world, (Sermon II). You may remember, that we traced the shades of his divine agency, under various manifestations of it, in a regular order, from the epoch of creation, to the morning of the evangelical day; at the dawn of which we discerned, that after a suspension of his operation by prophecy, for a long interval, from the last of the prophets, Malachi, to the very hour almost of our Lord's appearance in the flesh; the influence of the blessed Spirit upon the human mind began again to manifest itself, and a spirit of prophecy burst forth upon a few select characters, who were appointed to usher in the approaching Saviour. From this period it is that we are now to resume the subject. Everything hitherto noticed, in allusion to the operations of the Holy Ghost, is to be considered but as a prelude to those great events promised to take place in the latter days, from the pouring out of the Spirit. And as every step we now advance becomes more and more important, I should hope, there will need no other inducement than the interest we bear in it, to keep your attention awake; and no less to preserve the same unremitting dependence upon divine aid, while we prosecute the path of inquiry concerning the gracious operations of the Spirit, in the different periods of the gospel.
The prophets, under the divine inspiration with which they uttered their predictions, had led us to the expectation of some gracious, and, till then, unheard of manifestations of the Holy Spirit, which were to take place in the church of God, in the latter ages of the world. The words of the prophet Joel, quoted by the apostle Peter, are very express to this purpose. "In the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And on my servants and on my handmaids I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved," (compare Joel 2:28, with Acts 2:17, &c.). Neither is Joel singular in this prediction. The doctrine of the text is but parallel to the testimony of all the prophets, who have spoken on the same momentous subject. David had long before foretold the consequence of the Messiah's exaltation, that his ascension should be "to bestow gifts upon men," (Ps. 68:18-19). And the evangelical prophet Isaiah, in his abundant testimony concerning the gospel dispensation, very largely described the effects which would attend it, in the pouring out of the Spirit; that in its eventual happy consequences it would be "like water poured out upon him that is thirsty," and like "floods upon the dry ground," when the Lord should "pour out his Spirit upon the seed of Jacob, and his blessing upon his offspring," (Isa. 44:2-3). Jeremiah also describes the promised period to the Lord's people under the character of a new covenant widely distinguished from the old, not only in its privileges, but in its very nature. God declared that this new law "should be put in their inward parts, and be written in their hearts;" for that "he would be their God, and they should be his people," (Jer. 31:31, &c.). And Ezekiel being yet, if possible, more pointed and particular, as well by type as prophecy, shadowed the sketches of this illustrious event. The time was hastening, the prophet declared, when "the Lord would gather his people Israel from all countries whither they had been scattered," and he would "take away their abominations by putting a new Spirit within them," and removing the "heart of stone," and giving them "an heart of flesh." And to represent this important doctrine in still stronger characters, the Lord was graciously pleased, by the similitude of a vision of dry bones, animated by the wind breathing upon them at the divine command, to show the prophet the same truth in a figure. For when the Lord had caused his servant to behold the vision, and had taught him that it was a type of his people, he added, that he would "put his Spirit in them, and they should live."1 To the same purport the prophet Zechariah testified, that in the latter days, God would "pour upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication." And lastly, to close all, our blessed Lord himself, in addition to what he privately taught his disciples upon this subject, in his public preaching to the people, made similar declarations. "He that believeth on me (says Christ), as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this (St. John adds) spake he of the Spirit which they that believe on him should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified," (John 7:38-39). To collect all the passages which are to the same amount in the various writings of the prophets, would be to fill many pages with quotations. I can only speak of them, therefore, with a general reference, and their completion will appear with abundant evidence in the progress of this discourse.
Assuming, then, for granted, what seems to be unquestionable, that the prophets of distant ages, in their writings, spoke of those things, and that the great and Holy Spirit, who guided the prophets' pens, in the predictions he inspired them to publish concerning himself, could not be supposed to suffer anything of error, or void of meaning, to mingle with their sacred documents; I have only to show the correspondence of the prophecy with the event: and from the testimony of facts in such an unity of evidence, brought together from periods so remote from each other, to confirm the certainty of the great doctrine itself.
It might indeed be expected, (and, according to the order which I have hitherto observed, in treating of the blessed Spirit's operations, it would now meet us in this place), that the more peculiar instances of his divine agency should not be passed over unnoticed, which he wrought upon the person of Jesus. The human nature of our Lord was a subject on which the exertions of his almighty power were necessarily exercised. And these, no doubt, are the highest of all proofs of the Godhead of his person, and such as distinguish the very exalted dignity of his character in the scale of being. But of all the parts of our subject, this becomes the most difficult. It far exceeds, indeed, the power of man to speak of it as it ought, if possible, to be represented. It is enveloped in so thick a cloud, that the human eye cannot penetrate it. That the miraculous conception of Jesus was effected by the power of the Holy Ghost, is a truth to which the Scripture gives a direct testimony.2 That the sanctification of the human nature of our Lord was no less the result of his divine work, we are equally authorized to assert. But with respect to the mode of operation, how these and the like mysterious events were accomplished; how "God anointed Jesus with the Holy Ghost," (Acts 10:38): by what means the "Spirit was upon him," (Luke 4:18), and "given to him without measure," (John 3:34): how in that great oblation of Jesus on the cross, which Christ himself declared, was a free and voluntary act of his own, that "no man took his life from him, but he had power to lay it down and power to take it again," (John 10:18); while yet it is said, to be an offering "through the Eternal Spirit," (Heb. 9:14): as also in the resurrection of Christ from the dead, which is at once referred to the effect of his own personal power, (John 10:18); to the power of the Father, (Acts 2:14); and no less to the operation of the Holy Ghost, (1 Pet. 3:18): how these ascriptions of the same act, to the several persons constituting the Godhead, are to be accounted for in terms which come within the clear apprehension of the human mind, I presume not to say. There are mysteries certainly which can only be contemplated, not explained. They excite indeed our admiration; they call up our reverence; and they awaken in minds, duly impressed with a sense of the infinite greatness of God, and the humble state of man, proper and becoming sentiments of veneration, humility, and faith: but they serve to convince most sensibly, that any, and every subject, which has a relation to the Divinity, is in its nature incomprehensible, and does not come within the grasp of the human intellect, in the present imperfect state of being.
It is sufficient to all the purposes intended, and to the great ends of our spiritual improvement in this life, that we are enabled to demonstrate the certainty of the agency of the blessed Spirit, by the events which are revealed, and from the effects which appear. And when with the common operations of his grace, we discover the more peculiar influences of his ministry, exercised upon the person of our Lord: that the miraculous incarnation of the one was the immediate consequence of the overshadowing the pure Virgin by the other: the acts in the ministry of the former consecrated by the anointing of the latter: the miracles of Christ the effects of the power of the Spirit: and in short, that all the acts of the life of Jesus in his human nature, were sanctified by the agency of the same Spirit: let it be shown what higher evidences could be given than these in proof of the blessed Spirit's operations. And though it baffles all the faculties of man to conceive how Jesus should derive sanctity, who was himself immaculate, and to what purpose the several effects of the blessed Spirit's ministry were wrought upon him; yet, if the facts themselves be attested by an authority which cannot be doubted, it is our duty to receive, with implicit faith, what inspiration has condescended to relate on this mysterious subject; without demanding reasons, either for the necessity of the measure, or explanation of the method by which it was accomplished.
But I retire from the contemplation of a topic so awful with the most profound reverence, to attend to such revelations of the agency of the Holy Ghost, as are more commensurate to our understanding. In the review of the plainer manifestations of his grace, as they respect his operations on our nature, we shall find an ample scope for awakening the most devout affections. And though under every possible idea, in which we humbly examine into the ways and works of a Being so infinitely great and incomprehensible, the subject cannot but be attended with much difficulty in the apprehension; yet, in those instances, where he has been graciously pleased to reveal himself somewhat more openly, in the effects which indicate his operation, we may discern the evident traces of his ministry. And here it is, indeed, that we are more immediately called upon to direct our researches, because here we are principally interested in the discovery.
It has been shown from the general testimony of the prophets, that some great event was foretold, which should take place in the latter days in the church of God, from the "pouring out of the Spirit." And the completion of this prophecy, whether considered in the greater and more open manifestations of it, shed on the apostles and first preachers of the gospel, to qualify them for the work of their ministry; or whether, in the less and more private instances, given to believers in every age of the church, for their own personal sanctification; in either point of view, or in both, a very extensive subject will be found to open for tracing the operations of the Holy Ghost, sufficient to excite the noblest powers, and to reward the closest attention, of mankind.
That I may bring it, however, within the narrowest compass possible, I shall pass over all inquiries respecting the agency of the blessed Spirit during the season of our Lord's continuance upon earth. For notwithstanding a great variety of the manifestations of his grace, is evidently to be seen in that period in which he bore witness, both to the mission of Jesus and to the ministry of his apostles; yet, to notice every circumstance of this nature, would make our subject to diffuse. And though, no doubt, this testimony is in itself highly important in proof of the certainty of his operation, yet the time all along predicted, when it should be displayed by him in a more eminent manner, was the season when Christ should have finished his labors and have returned to his Father. A manifestation this, so infinitely surpassing all preceding ones, both in greatness and in manner, that, comparatively speaking, every former testimony he had given was reputed to be as nothing in the review of it: for it is said by the evangelist, that "the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified," (John 7:39).
It is to this period, therefore, that we must direct our attention, in order to discover the more open and illustrious evidences of the agency of the blessed Spirit. Christ had prepared the minds of his disciples for the reception of the Holy Ghost, in that farewell conference he held with them the night before his passion. Every part of his own personal ministry, except the concluding scene of it, his oblation on the cross, was now accomplished. He had instructed them, so far as they were then competent to learn, in all the important events for which he came into the world. And respecting such circumstances in the great scheme of salvation, as, from the dullness of their understanding, they could not apprehend, or from the strength of their prejudices they were unable to bear, Jesus referred them for further information to His future teachings, whom he would send unto them from the Father; who was "to guide them into all truth," and "bring all things to their remembrance, whatsoever he had taught them." By this plain and familiar declaration, and by a minute description, both of the character and agency of the Holy Ghost, the divine Redeemer awakened the expectation of his disciples to this great event. And, as if all this was not sufficient, after his resurrection, when giving them his final commission, respecting all the interesting concerns of his church, he once more renewed the impression upon their minds, by a revival of the subject; and, now in the very moment of his ascension, he roused their attention to the auspicious advent of the Holy Ghost, by intimating that his approach was at hand. "Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high," (Luke 24:49).
From this era we take up the history of the Holy Ghost's mission, when God began to fulfill that gracious promise of "pouring out his Spirit upon all flesh." And this is the period from whence we date the commencement of the most illustrious events which ever distinguished the annals of mankind.
The glorious evidences and effects of the first descent of the Holy Ghost, on that ever-memorable day of Pentecost, when the poor timid disciples of Jesus were assembled together to celebrate this Jewish feast, are too well known to require any detail. And, indeed, they are related with that beautiful simplicity and plainness by the sacred historian, as matters of fact usually are, without the studied labor of words or pomp of description, that it is with much pleasure I refer to the account itself, as being infinitely more calculated to impress the mind with a just sense of the solemn events there recorded, than any heightening of representation which could be given to it, (see Acts 2). What is more to my present purpose will be, to observe the very important ends which such an illustrious attestation of the work of the Spirit was designed to answer.
The church was now to be converted by a gradual and progressive influence, to the faith of a crucified Redeemer. The hour was come, when that stone, which the prophet saw "cut out without hands," was now to swell in bulk, until "it became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth," (Dan. 2:34-35). And the instruments chosen to bring about this vast and arduous event were the humble and despised fishermen of Galilee. In them we behold God committing the sacred designs of the kingdom of his Son, to an handful of the most ignorant and illiterate of men! To qualify them for an execution of a commission so important, certainly required supernatural endowments and powers: and, therefore, the imparting these gifts unto them, and in a manner which might overawe and command attention, was among the first great objects designed in the visible descent of the Holy Ghost. And let the imagination take its utmost scope, to find, if it can, any circumstances which could more powerfully induce these effects, than what the sacred historian hath related, in the miraculous events of that day!3
But how is the mind carried to the highest pitch of admiration, in the contemplation of that wonderful profusion, and rich variety of spiritual endowments, which the great Saviour of the world sent down upon his despised apostles, when he "had ascended up on high, and led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men!" (Eph. 4:8). Surely, this is an evidence which brings with it the fullest proof of the most consummate wisdom in the contrivance, and at the same time admirably displays with what unremitting attention the divine Author of our faith continued to preside over the interests of his church. "He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers: for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ," (Eph. 4:11-12).
The apostle Paul, in one of his Epistles to the Corinthians, hath enumerated nine distinct gifts of the Spirit, which immediately followed the mission of the Holy Ghost. "For to one (he says) is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will," (1 Cor. 12:8-11) To enter into a circumstantial relation of these gifts of the Holy Spirit, in showing their nature and design, and in following the steps of the apostles in their use and application of them, as exemplified in the course of their ministry, would be to furnish an historical account of the Christian church, during the apostolic age; and to open a very wide subject, which, however gratifying it might prove, would be a departure from the immediate object which I must keep in view. It will be sufficient to our purpose to observe, that every donation of the Holy Spirit to the apostles, had a direct tendency to answer some more especial design in the establishment of the Gospel; and thereby to afford the fullest demonstration, that it was God speaking in them, and by them, in the very powerful testimonies he gave to the truth of their commission.
For example: "The word of wisdom," (which St. Paul ranks in the very first class of the gifts of the Spirit, and which perhaps is the most eminent in the list), by which I apprehend is meant a perfect knowledge of all the great mysteries of the gospel: as nothing could be more important in itself, so no property could be more essential, to qualify the apostles for the sacred service to which they were now appointed. That they were altogether ignorant before this event took place of the real character of their Lord, and of the great purposes he came to accomplish, the smallest attention to the writings of the Evangelists is sufficient to prove. For notwithstanding all the interesting discourses of Jesus, on the sublime topic of his mission, during his abode with them, accompanied as they frequently were with every demonstration of Godhead, it appears by their confession, that their confidence in him only amounted to an hope, which his crucifixion soon dispelled, that it might have been "he who should have redeemed Israel," (Luke 24:21). And so riveted were they in the Jewish notions of a temporal Messiah, and so unwilling to receive him under any other character, that their most earnest inquiries were, respecting the time when he would assume this dominion. Nay even after his resurrection from the grave, and during the period of the forty days that he conversed with them, "concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God;" the subject which still continued uppermost in their thoughts, produced the same anxious question, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). From all these palpable truths, and from the general traits in the character of the apostles, it is more than probable that, very shortly after the ascension of Jesus, if the Holy Ghost had not come, they would have returned to their former occupations, regardless of everything which had happened. The hand of time, which effaces all impressions not deeply formed, would have worn away every remembrance of what Jesus had taught them, and of the kingdom which had so long soothed the vanity of their hearts, with the fond hopes of attaining. It is possible indeed the recollection of their dear Lord, his wonderful works of mercy and love, the gentleness and affability of his character, and more especially his kindness towards them, might frequently have crossed their minds; and like the affecting incidents in the history of a person or family, in whose concerns the heart feels interested, now and then, it would have called forth the tear and the sigh. But more than this it was unlikely to have produced. Every trace respecting the great things which he had taught them, would have been washed from their memory in the stream of forgetfulness. When therefore, in the descent of the Holy Ghost, they were "endued with power from on high," from that moment, "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shined in their hearts to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ," (2 Cor. 4:6). And from being perfectly instructed themselves, "in the word of wisdom," they were at once qualified to teach others also. "We speak (says one of them, in behalf of himself and his brethren in the ministry), the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory," (1 Cor. 2:7): "Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets, by the Spirit," (Eph. 3:5).
Much to the same amount is the second gift of the Spirit named in the list, "the word of knowledge;" and similar observations arise from the review of it, to show its aptness and utility to the apostolic character. The word of knowledge, it should seem, implied the clear apprehension of the Jewish Scriptures, and perhaps was distinguishable from the word of wisdom only in this particular. How very requisite such a qualification became for the work of the ministry, is obvious from the smallest consideration; for it could be by arguments drawn from that source only; that the Jew was to be converted from his bigotry, and the Gentile from his false wisdom. And while the commission of the apostles taught them to throw open the door of salvation for the latter, nothing less than an appeal to his own Scriptures, for the authority of such a measure, could carry conviction to the breast of the former, that one and the same Sun of Righteousness was to be "the light of the Gentiles," as well as "the glory of his people Israel."4
The same train of reasoning might be applied to every other grace of the Holy Spirit, shed on the apostles, to qualify them for their ministry; since we cannot but conclude, that every gift had some peculiar purpose for which it was imparted, and that occasions for the exercise of it were continually occurring in the course of their labors. But the limits I must observe confine me to a more general comprehension of the subject than is compatible with a particular illustration. The effects proceeding from the two eminent properties which I have endeavored to explain; "the word of wisdom," and "the word of knowledge," render it no very difficult matter to apprehend, that the same or similar happy consequences resulted from all. Without doubt, every situation or occasion to which the apostolic office might lead was amply provided for in one or other of those gifts of the Holy Spirit. That faith, by which (to use the bold metaphor of the apostle) mountains were removed, if they obstructed the path of duty; those gifts of healing, which powerfully demonstrated the commission they bore for the cure of the soul, while dispensing acts of mercy to the body; the miracles, which became an indelible seal to the truth of the faith; the prophecy, which enabled them to foresee and provide for the future events of the church; the discerning of Spirits, by which false teachers were detected and true ones appointed; the gift of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, becoming the most incontrovertible signs to them that believe not, and qualifying the apostles to accommodate themselves to the apprehension of every creature to whom they spake on the great topics of the gospel:5 all and every one of these miraculous gifts were the immediate consequence of the effusion of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, and became so many peculiar attestations to the seal of their apostleship, in the daily exercise of which "God bore them witness with signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on them abundantly." And these were all given, not for their own personal aggrandizement or sanctification, but "for the perfecting of the saints; for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."
But glorious as these manifestations of the blessed Spirit's ministry were on the minds of the apostles, had these been all the effects intended by his mission, wretched still would have been the condition of mankind respecting it! The world might have heard and admired the doctrine of salvation, and gazed with rapture on the beneficent miracles which the apostles wrought, in confirmation of it, but no converts could have been made by their preaching. The dry bones in the valley, under all the prophesying of the prophet, though divinely commissioned, had no breath in them, until the Spirit of the Lord himself caused them to live. To accomplish this, therefore, another thing intended by the descent of the Holy Ghost, equally important, though not attended with equal splendor, (and to which, indeed, the operation wrought on the apostles was but subsidiary), had a reference to mankind. The more copious effusions of the blessed Spirit became requisite, to enable them to preach the gospel; but the disposing the mind of man to receive and cherish the great truths which they taught, in opposition to all the corruptions of the human heart, and all the other difficulties which obstructed their way, required no less the aids of grace among those for whose conversion the apostles labored.
In order to illustrate this doctrine more fully, it will not be needful to enter into a minute detail of the state of the world respecting religion, in the season the Holy Ghost assumed his more peculiar ministry. I shall not call upon you to consider the prejudice of the Jew, nor the corruption of the Gentile. Neither the Pharisaic pride, nor the Sadducean skepticism are the topics on which my subject will render it necessary for me to enlarge. I shall beg you only to consider human nature, universally as it is now, as it was then, and has been, in all ages; and then ask your own heart, whether in the belief of the doctrine of a crucified Redeemer (which human reason, untaught by a higher principle, cannot digest), somewhat more than the merely cold conviction of the understanding must not have operated, to gain the warm and zealous approbation of the heart? Will any man suffer himself to be prejudiced enough to suppose, that the mere external miracles, wrought at the feast of Pentecost, were the whole efficient cause in producing the wonderful events of that day? The gift of tongues, which is the most considerable we read of, conferred on the apostles at that time, could have no very powerful effect in the conversion of their countrymen, the people of Judea; because, from the ignorance of the major part of them in foreign languages, the evidence to the truth of Jesus derived from it, could only be assured to them from the testimony of others. And with respect to miracles, there are none mentioned to have been performed by the apostles on that day. Indeed, had there been any, it is not very probable that the Jews, who had been so long in the habit of beholding with indifference the mighty works of Jesus, would have regarded those of his servants. "If they had called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more would they call them of his household." With these palpable facts, then, in view, when we are told that three thousand souls were, on that ever-memorable day, converted to the faith of the gospel through the instrumentality of the apostles' preaching, what are we to conclude to have been the efficient cause of such a miracle? Three thousand! pause a moment, and reflect on the number. Not one, or five, or fifty, or an hundred, but three thousand. And probably some of them the very characters amongst the clamorous rabble, which but a little before had demanded the crucifixion of Jesus. Could mere outward causes only, however accompanied with the fullest demonstration of power in the apostles, have produced such a change in the heart? Must there not have been some predisposing cause operating within also on the minds of the converts, to have given such efficacy to the apostle's preaching? Will any man be bold enough to admit the fact, and yet deny the cause? Is it possible to believe that such an host of Jerusalem sinners should suddenly be converted to the faith, which before they had so violently reprobated and opposed, and immediately become the disciples of Him, who from the universal odium of his name and cross, had been literally proved to be what the prophet had long before described him; "the Holy One whom man despiseth, Him whom the nation abhorreth," (Isa. 49:7); and not barely to acknowledging such a character for their Lord; but to sacrifice ease, and wealth, and reputation, exposing themselves to the derision and scorn of their countrymen, and embarking in a cause which led to certain suffering, and probably to death: could such effects, I say, have been induced from any causes merely external, unless some inward power, cooperating at the same time, had wrought the accomplishment thereof? And yet this was literally the case with every believer converted to the gospel on that day; and "who continued (we are told) stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer," (Acts 2:42).
I think this argument, plain and simple as it is, (and plain and simple I wish it to be, in order to stop, if possible, the subterfuge of sophistry), enough to convince any candid person, that the mission of the Holy Ghost was not limited in its operation to the apostles; but the efficacy of it was imparted also, at the same time, to every one of the multitude, which are mentioned as having "gladly received the word, and being baptized," (Acts 2:41).
And if such effects prove that the ministry of the blessed Spirit was evidently exercised upon the men of Judea and Jerusalem, surely, wherever a single proselyte was made to the Christian name in the world at large, such a single instance carries with it a demonstration of his power perfectly irresistible. If we look with astonishment at the poor fishermen of Galilee, going in and out among the great doctors of the Jewish law, and making converts to the doctrine of the cross in the very face of the Sanhedrim, and in defiance of every opposition; how must our wonder increase, when in the general dispersion of the apostles, after the persecution raised against them on the death of Stephen; we behold those humble and despised men embarking upon the dangerous, and, to human apprehension, most romantic enterprise, converting the world to the faith of Jesus! I need not describe the state of the heathen mythology, or the deplorable situation of mankind in all points of religion and morality, when the disciples of Jesus went forth to preach the gospel to every creature. It will give the most lively idea of the universal corruption and depravity which prevailed, if we only attend to what the apostle Paul hath said of those nations, even where the arts and sciences flourished in the greatest perfection: "They had changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness," (Rom. 1:23-24).
It was to such characters the gospel was addressed. Figure then to yourself either of the apostles opening his commission to an audience of this kind. Fancy, for instance, that you behold the apostle Paul haranguing the men of Athens upon the doctrine of salvation through a crucified Redeemer. Let his sermon be clothed in whatever garb the most insinuating and masterly preacher could devise, yet still the prominent features which mark the Christian character must have been preserved and appeared, in order to answer the purposes of his commission. Conceive, then, the universal disgust, and contempt, and derision, with which the preacher was received, when not content with reprobating the "idolatry to which that city was wholly given," (Acts 17:16), he called upon them also to accept Jesus of Nazareth, who had died as a malefactor upon the cross, for their Lord and Saviour! That the apostle never concealed the poverty of his Master's life, or the ignominy of his death, is evident from the general tenor of his discourses left on record. He, who before the learned audience at Rome professed himself "not to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ," knowing it "to be the power of God unto salvation to every one that believed," (Rom. 1:16): and to the Corinthian and Galatian churches, declares his determination to know nothing among them, but "Jesus Christ and him crucified," (1 Cor. 2:2): that this cross was his glory; nay, speaking with a kind of abhorrence of taking pride in anything besides, he says, "God forbid, that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!" (Gal. 6:14). Can it be supposed that the apostle omitted this grand topic in the continued discourses which we are told he held daily with the Athenians? (Acts 17:17). Whatever general subjects of the gospel he might insist on, we may very safely venture to conclude, that as he determined to know nothing among the Corinthian converts but "Jesus Christ and him crucified," so that was the leading point of every sermon. And how shall we account for the reception of a faith so highly offensive to the pride of life? Can we really think that the apostle's preaching was the sole cause? Was there no principle within, operating at the same time to give efficacy to the word? And is it not reasonable to imagine, that He who gave the apostle eloquence to speak, gave also no less the hearing ear to them which received the word, to the comfort of their souls? Surely no one can suppose that such effects as followed the apostle's preaching should have taken place, even in a single instance, unless sent home to the heart of every individual, by Him, "who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will," (Eph. 1:11).
Neither was the doctrine of the cross- the only offensive point in the system of the religion of Jesus. The apostles enjoined their followers to "turn from every vanity, and to serve the living and true God," (Acts 14:15). No irregular practice, no wrong action or word could be countenanced by the gospel. It could not connive at the smallest vice, nor permit the gratification of a single sin, but without exception condemned all. While, on the contrary, every virtue which could be thought of or named, was commanded to be strictly attended to. Its universal precept was expressed in that comprehensive sentence, "Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report," the Christian was expected "to think on, and do these things," (Phil. 4:8). We cannot wonder, therefore, when we read that "the philosophers of the sect of the Epicureans and of the Stoics encountered the apostle Paul at Athens," (Acts 17:18). But it excites our utmost surprise that he should ever have proselyted any to his doctrine and practice, from such corrupt nations of the earth. And yet we know, that in a very short period, the gospel, in the hands of those feeble instruments, went forth "conquering and to conquer." It baffled all opposition, and with a rapidity incredible, the church of Christ was established throughout the world, against which "the gates of hell could never prevail." The apostle Paul wrote his Epistle to the Colossians about thirty years after the ascension of Christ. And in this he tells his converts, that the gospel was "now come unto them, as it was in all the world," (Col. 1:6); that is, he meant all the then known world, the Roman empire and its provinces. What an astonishing idea of the prevalence of Christianity! Astonishing, indeed, in every point of view; but impossible, had the whole work been theirs, who were the outward instruments of it: but when we recognize that divine Spirit, by whose inward illumination its completion was effected, our astonishment terminates in a devout adoration of "the wonderful works of God."
I flatter myself that these considerations will be sufficient to procure your unreserved belief (which I am exceedingly desirous to obtain) of the doctrine of the blessed Spirit's ministry being exercised, as well upon the minds of believers for their private sanctification, as in the more abundant effusions of his grace, which were poured on the apostles for their public ministry.
But, perhaps, it may be said, that though these are very satisfying reasons to induce a belief, that the influence of the Holy Spirit on the human mind was not confined to the apostles, yet they do not prove that it extended further than the apostles' days. All that has been advanced upon this subject may very safely be admitted without implying his agency now. Nay, the advocates of a contrary opinion will go further, and tell us, that the very proof adduced to spew a cooperation of the inward grace with the outward means, in the conversion of the early Christians, becomes the best argument in testimony of its discontinuance. And since it is universally agreed, that external miracles ceased when the spirit of heathenism evaporated, and the gospel was generally established; it should seem to intimate that all internal assistance also, was at the same time done away, and became no longer necessary.
I will grant to this argument everything which can be made of it. I shall with pleasure confess that a very sensible alteration has taken place, both in the circumstances of mankind, and in the complexion of Christianity between the days of the apostles and the present hour. "Kings are" now literally become to the church "her nursing fathers, and queens her nursing mothers," (Isa. 49:23). The cross of Jesus is held in the highest honor, and esteemed most sacred. It has been often made the banner of victory to the soldier, as well as the sign of glory to the saint. And so far is the outward profession of the faith from being attended with danger or reproach that no greater obloquy can be thrown upon any character than to say of him, He is not a Christian.
Though these circumstances are evidently in favor of our holy faith, and therefore have superseded the necessity of any further miracles for its establishment in the world; yet still I contend, (and with all the warmth and strength of argument of one who contends, both for a most important concern and for the plainest matter of fact), that the inward operation of the Holy Ghost is equally carried on in the present moment in the heart of the true believer, as in former ages. Nay, so far hath his influence been from having ceased, or become unimportant, that its absolute necessity is but the more increased in the absence of those outward attractions, with which the word of God was then accompanied. And, indeed, for the purposes of a real conversion of the heart to God, distinguished from that nominal profession which the free and unmolested exercise of religion is too apt to produce, there can be no true faith, but that which proceedeth from the operation of the Holy Spirit.
As this is by far the most interesting part of our subject, it well merits a more particular investigation.
In all ages man by nature is the same. The Holy Scripture, in all its doctrines, is perpetually inculcating the melancholy truth of our fallen state. We are said to be so lost and depraved, that of ourselves we have not ability to do anything towards our own recovery: our faculties are so impaired, our powers so corrupted, and our whole mind enfeebled. And what, if possible, is still worse, we are so far advanced in disease as to be insensible of it; so habituated by nature to the captivity of sin, that we feel not the chain. Hence, in the midst of daily infirmities and sins, nothing is more common than to hear men boasting of their moral excellence, and like the proud Pharisee in the parable, thank God "they are not as other men are."
And this corruption of the heart, the same unquestionable authority assures us, is accompanied also with another miserable consequence induced by the fall, namely, the blindness of the understanding; by which man not only violates the laws of God, and lives for the most part, either in an unconscious or unconcerned state under it, but is desirous to continue so. He shuts his eyes so resolutely against the truth, and hath by nature such an aversion to divine revelation, that, from mere outward causes only, it is impossible the knowledge of his turpitude should appear to him in its just characters. To use the unequalled words of Christ; "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved," (John 3:20). And therefore the apostle Paul expressly declares the unrenewed mind to be so unfavorable to the reception of things sacred, that it cannot admit them. "The natural man (says he) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned," (1 Cor. 2:14).
I know full well how offensive such doctrines are to the pride of man: for, indeed, they cannot but be offensive, where their truth is not felt and acknowledged. But this only becomes an additional evidence of their certainty. We may refuse our belief thereof, but we cannot disprove facts by the denial of them. And it is a folly, not unlike that of the senseless bird, who fancies her whole body concealed, because she has hidden her head under her wing, when we take shelter from the truth, under any imaginary covering woven from the false reasonings of sophistry.
The same unerring revelation, which hath informed us of the corruption and blindness of our nature, hath communicated to us also the knowledge of the only means of cure, in the ministry and operations of the Holy Ghost. We are there taught that it is his peculiar province, both to heal the disease of the heart, and to open the blind eye. And hence, when the great Redeemer of mankind promised his disciples the aids of this blessed Spirit, the first office which he was to perform, as preparatory to every other, was "to reprove the world of sin," (John 16:8). It is very remarkable, and worthy our particular attention, that this should have been the first operation of the blessed Spirit, to reprove or convince the world of sin. Reason might have supposed that the consciousness of sin was of itself sufficient to have induced the conviction of it. But, no! the eye is veiled by its deceptions, and cannot see the objects clearly. And ignorance of the corruption of the mind is necessarily connected with the disbelief of the value of the merits of the Saviour. So that when the blessed Spirit was promised under this first act of reproving the world of sin, Christ added also the reason of it, "because they believe not on me," (John 16:9). It is, therefore, the Holy Ghost only, which can shake off the film from the eye and hold up the mirror to man, to show him the features of his deformity, and by awakening in his mind humbling views of the sinner, and giving at the same time proper, apprehensions of the Redeemer, to "cast down all imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ," (2 Cor. 10:5).
These are the peculiar acts of the Holy Ghost, and without which all the outward means and ministrations of the word must prove ineffectual. "A man can receive nothing except it be given him from above," (John 3:27). "No man (says Christ) can come unto me except it were given unto him of my Father," (John 6:65). And the apostle Paul, to the same purport, declares, that "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost," (1 Cor. 12:3).
And as a further proof of this doctrine, it is happily illustrated to us in scriptural cases. When the apostle Paul had been preaching the word to the Philippians, we are told, that a certain woman, named Lydia, attended "to the things which were spoken of Paul:" and the reason assigned for it is, because "the Lord opened her heart," (Acts 16:14). Here is the most positive proof in point, of the subject before us, which can be desired. Nothing can more accurately discriminate the outward ministry of the word from the inward efficacy of divine grace. In the instance of this woman's conversion to the faith of the Gospel, they both cooperated to induce it; which indeed must ever be the case, where the divine word becomes profitable to the hearer for the purpose of salvation; but it is plain, that the sacred historian, in the narrative of this event, considered Paul's preaching as rendered efficacious, because "the Lord opened her heart."
The, same important truth is most decidedly expressed by the apostle in his first Epistle to the Corinthians. While the Corinthians were more anxious to class themselves under their respective teachers, by whom they were instructed in the great doctrines of religion, than in examining what effect their preaching left upon their hearts, St. Paul endeavors to call them from such unprofitable considerations, to attend to the first and great predisposing cause of their Christian belief. He reminds them, that the ministers in the church were but ministers only, and their ministrations the channels by which God conveyed his Holy Spirit to the true believer's heart. They were instruments by which the Lord was pleased to work. "Who then is Paul, (says he) and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed? I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then, neither is he that planteth any thing, neither is he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase," (1 Cor. 3:5).
It is impossible that any form of words could have been chosen more happily to convey the apostle's perfect apprehension of the insignificancy of all outward means, void of the inward grace. The figure of planting and watering is beautifully expressive, to represent the fruitless toil of sowing the spiritual seed, unless the rain, and the dew, and the sun of heaven, shed their genial influence upon it to give it life.
And this accounts to us for the perpetual questions we meet with, both in the apostle's writings and preaching, concerning the gifts of the Spirit. We find him continually asking for this evidence from his converts, of their Christian faith and character. "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" (Acts 19:2). "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his," (Rom. 8:9). "As many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God," (Rom. 8:14). And he frequently recommends it to every believer, to try and ascertain the truth and reality of his faith, by this infallible standard. "Examine yourselves, (says he) whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (Cor. 13:5).
These circumstances are so much in point, and so very fully demonstrate the perpetual influence of the ministry of the Holy Ghost in the heart of man, that I think it almost impossible that any one should deny it.
And yet further in confirmation of the doctrine, we have the concurrent testimony both of Christ and his apostles, who also plainly teach, that his divine operations were intended to be as universal as they are essential and important. In predicting the advent of the Holy Ghost, Christ declared, that one of his acts would be, "to reprove the world of sin." By the world, it is impossible to apprehend anything less than believers in general. It certainly could not mean the apostles only that were to be reproved of sin. For, had any characters upon earth been considered worthy of exemption from this reproof, surely the apostles of Jesus would have been the persons. And again, speaking of the disposition in God, to bestow the blessing of his grace upon the world in general, our Lord says: "If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him," (Luke 11:13). Here also the promise is not limited; but Christ declares, that there is a readiness in God to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him, and which readiness in God can be but barely and imperfectly represented by the solicitude of an earthly parent, to impart good gifts unto his children. And again, in his prayer the night before his passion, after offering up a particular petition for the unity of the Spirit to be with his disciples, he expressly adds a clause, in which he concludes his request, for the same blessing on all believers throughout all ages: "Neither pray I for these alone; but for them also which shall believe on me through their word," (John 17:20). And lastly, to mention no more, when Jesus assured his disciples of the coming of the Holy Ghost, it was that "be should abide with them for ever," (John 14:16). Had this been intended in a peculiar relation to the apostles only, surely Christ would have limited the abode of the blessed Spirit to the end of their life, or their ministry, and not have stated it under the term "for ever." For this corresponds also to what he said of his constant presence with them upon another occasion: "Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world," (Matt. 28:20).
To the same effect are the testimonies of the apostles concerning the perpetuity of the ministry of the Holy Ghost. The prophets who predicted the pouring out of the Spirit in the last days, (as we have already seen) all expressly taught this doctrine: that the mercy was to be as general as it was great, and as permanent as important. And in conformity to this persuasion, the apostles of Christ taught it in all their writings and discourses. St. Peter, in his animated sermon on the day of Pentecost, not only quoted the words of the prophet Joel, but illustrated the sense of them, in a direct application to the people of that time, and all subsequent generations. "The promise (says he) is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call," (Acts 2:39). And St. Paul' is no less express to the same testimony: "Unto every one of us (says he) is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ," (Eph. 4:7). "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father," (Gal. 4:6). And the apostle John set it down, as the truest criterion that the love of God is in the heart, by his indwelling Spirit: "Hereby (says he) we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us," (1 John 3:24). In short, it would be endless to enumerate all the passages which occur in the writings of the different apostles, in confirmation of the doctrine. Saint Paul's epistles in particular are full of it. He appeals to the Corinthians, in proof of their possessing spiritual gifts, (1 Cor. 12, 13, & 14). He reproves the Romans, the Corinthians, the Galatians, and Ephesians, for the pride which they had manifested in the gifts of the Spirit, (See Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 14; Gal. 4; Eph. 4) with which they were endued on those occasions, when most wanted. And the common benediction of his, and the epistles of the rest of the apostles, for the communion and grace of the Holy Spirit, to be with believers, clearly testifies their sentiments, that the blessing was to be general. All these circumstances, therefore, separately and collectively considered, are certainly so many positive and undeniable proofs, that the ministry of the Holy Ghost is taught in Scripture to be a permanent and abiding ministry with the Lord's church in all ages; that it is as much exercised and carried on now as it was in the infancy of Christianity: that believers are taught continually to pray for it, and to wait for the blessing: and that wherever any happy effects attend the outward ministry of the word, in raising up true servants to the Lord, and faithful believers in Jesus Christ, we have as strong an evidence and as full authority to conclude as is necessary for our conviction, that the Holy Ghost is the great predisposing cause, who hath rendered the outward means effectual, by the inward operation of his grace: and every single instance is as certain a proof of his present agency and power, as the conversion of three thousand, through the instrumentality of Peter's sermon, on the day of Pentecost.
Having now fully answered the purpose intended, in the establishment of the doctrine, I have but one duty remaining to accomplish upon the subject, and which indeed, individually considered, becomes the most interesting of any; and that is, the practical inferences which arise out of it. This is, no doubt, the grand object of the whole, to the attainment of which all the offices of preaching are subservient. But its importance demanding a longer attention than is consistent with the present limits, I must reserve it for the topic of another discussion.
In the mean time, to what hath been already offered, under His divine presence, whose unceasing agency we have been contemplating, and whose gracious blessing, let us humbly hope, hath accompanied our review of it, I have only to add an earnest supplication; that the same, or similar happy effects, which followed Peter's preaching before Cornelius, may be felt in our present assembly. "While Peter spake, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word."
1 Ezekiel 11:17-19 and 37:1-14. There, is something so beautiful and instructive in this figure, and it is so analogous to the whole doctrine of Scripture, of man's fallen state, and his recovery by the operations of the Holy Spirit, that it deserves to be considered a little more particularly. The vision, most probably, in its first and literal sense, had a relation to the deliverance of the Israelites from their captivity; and it may be considered also as typical of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body at the last day: but above all these, its grand allusion no doubt was to the spiritual resurrection of believers, which is to take place in the present life, prior to the resurrection of the body, as a state of grace becomes preparatory to a state of glory. And the illustration which God himself was pleased to give of it in part to this effect, when he said that "these bones are the whole house of Israel, and he would put his Spirit in them, and they should live," becomes an encouragement to trace the affinity yet further, between the type and the thing represented. And under this idea, we shall find a most perfect harmony and coincidence in all the parts of the vision.
The prophet is "led by the Spirit" into a valley "full of dry bones." Their lifeless state is suffered to be thoroughly impressed upon the prophet's mind, by a leisurely and attentive survey of them; for the Lord caused him to "pass by them round about," and he saw that they were "very many and very dry." When this was done, the Lord demanded of the prophet his opinion of their situation: "Son of man, can these bones live?" And when the man of God, with a becoming modesty, had referred the question unto the Lord's sole knowledge, as a matter though physically impossible, yet not too hard for Omnipotence to accomplish, he is commanded to "prophesy unto them, and to bid them hear the word of the Lord." Had the prophet been like some rational Christians (as they affect to be distinguished) of the present hour, probably he would have expostulated with his Maker upon the occasion, and urged the unreasonableness and absurdity of such a service. But being a true descendant of the faithful Patriarch, "who against hope believed in hope," he presumed not to argue, but to obey. He prophesied as he was commanded: an astonishing effect instantly took place. There was a noise and shaking among them; bone, uniting with bone, and sinews and flesh appearing, and a skin covering them above. But "there was no breath" in them. The precept is again renewed to the prophet, that he should invocate the breath from the four winds, "to breathe upon the slain, that they might live." He did as he was commanded, and the breath came into them, "and they lived and stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army."
Who doth not, or will not, see in all this, an exact emblem of man's spiritual death, in the present world, and the absolute necessity of the Holy Ghost's exerting his regenerating power upon him, before he can arise to a new and incorruptible life? Can anything more aptly figure the church of God in this lower world than a valley? or can the lifeless condition of man in sacred concerns be more strikingly set forth than under the metaphor of dry bones? And were the most awakening preacher of God's word, who has a just sense of himself, and of the nature of his commission, to be questioned like the prophet, whether any spiritual life can actuate the human mind with devotion, void of a power superior to that which is in man by nature; he must know the impossibility of it, and therefore, like him, could only refer such an act to the immediate effect of the Divine Agency. For is it our preaching, or our arguments of persuasion, which can awaken sinners "dead in trespasses and sins?" Vain, presumptuous man, whoever thou art, that thinks so! Nothing belonging to human nature can boast such excellence. But yet how admirably are we taught, in the event which followed the prophet's prophesying as he was commanded, that human means, though never the efficient, yet are sometimes the instrumental cause by which the Lord is pleased to accomplish his work of grace in the heart. And though he is independent of all but his own supreme pleasure, yet doth he graciously condescend so to act by the feeblest ministers as may suit the purposes of his will. The success of the prophet therefore is our encouragement, as his ready obedience ought to be our example. For let our labors be exerted in the most barren soil of spiritual culture, if even as improbable to produce anything as that dry bones should live, yet that ministry which is commissioned of God cannot fail; it must "prosper in the work whereunto he is pleased to send it."
If this spiritual illustration of the prophet's vision justify these remarks, a very awakening instruction arises from it, which intimately concerns both clergy and people. The man who ministers in holy things, sensible on whom the whole success of his labors depends, and carrying with him the consciousness of it in all the departments of his duty, will be taught therefrom to consider, that his place in God's house is rendered exactly similar to the prophet's in the valley. And while the recollection of his fellow-creatures situation will prompt him to look round upon the congregation with all tenderness and compassion, as one sincerely desirous of ministering to their welfare; such sentiments will very powerfully induce him to look up, and to implore, with unceasing supplication, that blessing from above which can alone make his ministry beneficial: that his "gospel may come to them, not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost." And the people, who in the figure now under consideration may behold a type of human nature, may learn the infinite importance of having a just sense of it impressed upon the mind. For if all congregations are precisely in the state there represented, until the Lord hath "put his Spirit in them that they may live," how earnest ought every individual to be in his inquiry for this testimony "of the Spirit in himself!" Preachers, by their discourses, and from the holy armor taken from that divine Word, which is "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword," may wound the consciences of men. A sense of sin, and the dread of God's wrath, may occasion a noise and shaking in the hearers, similar to the effects of the prophet's prophesying in the valley. Nay, it may go further; it may awaken greater attention to outward forms of religion; more constant application to the means; inure careful endeavors after moral duties; like the sinews, and the flesh, and the skin, forming a covering to the bones. But all these are not the covering of the Lord's Spirit. Until the breath of the Lord breathed upon them, there was no life in them. Nothing short of this therefore can be sufficient for the purpose of a sinner's "passing from death unto life," and "putting on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." Oh! that the churches of Christ may more and more find such testimonies among them, and "walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, may be multiplied," (Acts 9:31). Return to reading.
2 "The angel, in his annunciation to the Virgin Mary, declared, that this supernatural impregnation should be the immediate effect of the blessed Spirit's agency. "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God," (Luke 1:35). It is worthy our observation, that the same community of acts in the sacred Three, in the economy of human redemption, which hath been so frequently noticed in the course of this work, is in this instance also particularly preserved. In the text just noticed, the miraculous conception is ascribed to the immediate operation of the Holy Ghost. In another part of the divine Word we read that the human nature of Christ was assumed by the blessed Redeemer himself. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same," (Heb. 2:14). And again; "For verily he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham," (v. 16). In both which places our Lord's assumption of human nature is declared to be his own deed, and the express effect of his own deliberate and free choice. Whilst in another part of Scripture we read that Christ refers the whole into the immediate appointment and operation of the Father. "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me," (Heb. 10:5). And what is the unavoidable conclusion that must be drawn from this comparative view of Scripture, but what hath been already and repeatedly observed upon similar passages which have been produced in proof of the same doctrine; that there is and must be a plurality of persons in the Godhead, to give consistency to the divine Word; at the same time, all the parts concur in the certain assurance, that this plurality exists in an indivisibility of essence. Return to reading.
3 It ought to be observed, in addition to this first and most plentiful effusion of the Holy Ghost, on the day of Pentecost, that there appears to have been four other seasons of his manifestation in an open manner, though not attended with equal marks of awfulness and splendor. That mentioned in the fourth chapter of the Acts, when the apostles Peter and John had been brought before the Sanhedrin; that in the case of Saul at his conversion, (Acts 9:17); that of Cornelius and his company, (Acts 10:44); and that on the Gentiles at Antioch and Pisidia, (Acts 13:52). These are all so many distinct and peculiar cases, in which there seems to have been some more open manifestations of his divine presence. The one, respecting the apostles Peter and John being summoned before the Sanhedrin, is very remarkable. They had healed a cripple at the gate of the temple, and in their preaching referred the glory of this miracle to the sole authority and power of Jesus. Their persecutors were enraged at this, so that the apostles were first put into prison, and afterwards arraigned before the Jewish council: and when they had been severely reprimanded, they were dismissed with threatenings, if they persisted in preaching any more in the name of Jesus. Being, no doubt, under considerable apprehensions from those threats of the Sanhedrin; which, as it was the highest court of justice, both in civil and religious matters, and held in great veneration by all the people, must have had the more sensible effect upon the timid apostles; they had recourse to that common refuge of prayer, which is so forcibly enjoined the Lord's people upon every occasion of trial or distress. In testimony that their prayers were heard, those sensible demonstrations were vouchsafed them. "The place was shaken" where they were assembled together; and the consequence was the same, which, though in less degree, will always attend the earnest supplications of the faithful. "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and spake the word of God with boldness," (Acts 4:31). Return to reading.
4 Though the illuminating power of the Divine Spirit so eminently qualified the apostles for the work of the ministry in this "word of knowledge;" yet a remarkable instance of their deficiency in apprehending the sense of Scripture occurs in their history after the day of Pentecost. Probably not without a design in God, to intimate to believers thereby, a lesson of grace and, humility, in showing that the largest gifts of the Holy Spirit do not supersede the necessity of further supplies; but our application must be as continual as our wants are daily. The deficiency of apprehension to which I allude, is respecting the kingdom of grace being intended also to the Gentiles. The concurrent language of the prophetic writings, and the instruction of Jesus upon the same subject, all led to the assurance, that in the days of the Messiah, "from the rising of the sun even to the going down of the same, the Lord's name should be great among the Gentiles:" and that "in every place incense should be offered unto his name and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts," (Mal. 1:11). And the prophecy of Simeon was express to the same purpose, that Christ should be "a light to lighten the Gentiles." And our Lord's final commission immediately led to the expectation of it: "to go into all nations and to preach the gospel to every creature." And the descent of the Holy Ghost, in one of its very first effects, was to qualify the disciples for becoming witnesses to Jesus, not only in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, but "unto the uttermost parts of the earth," (Acts 1:8). These circumstances, one should have thought, would have prepared the minds of the apostles, after the mission of the Holy Ghost had taken place, to have seen the intention of God in opening the door of salvation unto the Gentiles. But notwithstanding all this, it appears from the history of the apostles, they were none of them apprehensive of those things. Nay, what is yet much more remarkable, though Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost actually quoted the words of the prophet Joel to this purpose, that in the last days God would pour out his Spirit upon all flesh; yet so little disposed was he to accept the expression in this comprehensive sense, that in the instance of Cornelius, a period of several years after, and though taught by a vision also that what God had cleansed man should no longer call common; (meaning that the fence of separation between the Jew and the Gentile was now taken down in one common salvation); yet still the apostle could not for a long time reconcile to himself the persuasion, that the Lord intended the conversion of the heathen world. And even when, in obedience to the heavenly command, he had visited Cornelius; had preached to him; seen the effects of his preaching, in the Holy Ghost falling upon the honest centurion, and all that heard the word; and in consequence of it, had baptized them in the name of the Lord, being now fully convinced in his own mind, that "God had granted to the Gentiles also repentance unto life;" yet all this did not operate sufficiently among his brethren to induce an hearty and cheerful reception of the doctrine. Peter indeed, when called upon to give an account of this transaction before the college of apostles at Jerusalem, fully justified his conduct and satisfied them: but it was some time after before the full propagation of the gospel took place, and not until Paul and Barnabas were sent out by a special commission from the Holy Ghost for that purpose, (Acts 13:2).
I have introduced this note, not so much by way of remarking the circumstance of the apostles' want of apprehension concerning the will of God in the call of the Gentile world, as with a view to raise a spiritual improvement from it, which may be rendered extremely beneficial to the Lord's people. For if the apostles themselves, after receiving the extraordinary manifestations of the Holy Ghost, had not a complete clearness of understanding in all things; but even in a matter which concerned their apostolic office, they needed further illumination; how should it teach those to whom the ordinary gifts only of the Spirit are dispensed to be continually seeking for more instruction, that they may "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!" The light of the Spirit imparted to the believer, is supposed to be in a state of progression, and from "the day-dawn and the daystar" which ariseth in the heart, is shining more and more unto a perfect day. For "if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know." Give us then, blessed Lord, daily grace as thou givest us "our daily bread:" that "having this spiritual nourishment ministered, we may increase with the increase of God." Return to reading.
5 There is a beautiful analogy discernible in all the parts of the Divine Government, by those who will attentively trace the operations of God under the different dispensations vouchsafed mankind. In the gift of tongues, this is peculiarly striking. When the "whole earth was of one language and of one speech," there can be no doubt but this was intended as a blessing to the world. For not only an happier communication of thoughts and sentiments was thereby preserved for the purposes of social life; but an universal language became also the best preservative of the knowledge of God. But when the corruptions of the human heart had perverted this blessing, and their ungodly consultation had projected the Tower of Babel, most probably, as it should seem, for the purpose of idolatry, God was pleased to confound the language by the introduction of a variety of tongues; and taking care, at the same time, for the preservation of the sacred original in the person of Shem and his family, that the knowledge of Jehovah should be kept alive in the earth, the Lord gave up the remainder to pursue the idolatry of their hearts. How admirably does the religion of Jesus begin with a remedy for this evil, in qualifying the ambassadors of it with the gift of tongues for the execution of their office. That as the diversity of languages arose from the apostasy of mankind, so their recovery might be effected through the instrumentality of the same, and an additional and miraculous attestation be therefore afforded also to the truth of the gospel, by which the "nations then afar off might be brought nigh through the blood of Christ." Return to reading.
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