THE GAIN OF THE PARACLETE.
The withdrawal of the visible Christ and the substitution of His visible presence in the Paraclete whom He sent was the introduction of His disciples into a higher school of faith. Hitherto they had walked chiefly by sight. The Miracles of their Master had appealed to their reason through the senses. They were not entirely destitute of faith, else they would not have forsaken their fish-nets and followed the Man of Nazareth. But their faith was weak; it needed to be exercised and developed by struggles in a far different arena. They must be taught the spiritual nature of Messiah's kingdom. The visible presence of Christ as a veritable man had been a help to the primary lesson they had already learned; it would be a hindrance to the advanced lesson now to be learned. They must learn that deliverance from sin and restoration to true holiness consist not in outward ceremonials and prescribed rituals, nor in abstract truths grasped by the intellect, but in a vital union with a personal Saviour effected by the Spirit. While Jesus sat there before them in the body the mystery of this spiritual union was altogether beyond their comprehension. The enigma could be explained only by His removal. "It is expedient for you that I go away." This expediency is strongly stated by Draseke as quoted by Stier:
The old Messiah in the flesh is with them; therefore the new Comforter, the Spirit, is far from them. What hindered their being comforted? Jesus Himself, who, comforting, stood before them, was the hindrance. As long as He, this Messiah, bearing all the prophetic marks upon Him, stood before them in person, this, His person continued to be a foundation and prop to that system of vanities which bewitched their heads and hearts, The form must pass away from their eyes before the Spirit could enter their souls. It was good for them that Jesus should go away. Before He, the Christ after the flesh, went away, the Christ after the Spirit could not come. When the former vanished the latter appeared.
Again, it was expedient for Jesus to substitute for His visible presence the invisible Comforter for the emancipation of the Jews from "the letter that killeth" — a complex ritual which they had for more than fourteen centuries obeyed with a mechanical precision. This altar ritual, chiefly of bloody sacrifices typifying the atonement in Christ's death, had accomplished its purpose and should now be laid on the shelf as one of "the beggarly elements" — a rudimentary and preparatory dispensation. Also the burdensome law of ceremonial purity, must now be abrogated because it had become a yoke upon the neck of an unspiritual people.
How can this ingrained hereditary worship of "the letter that killeth" all joyful freedom of service be done away without destroying the religious spirit? Christ herein exhibits divine wisdom. He enforced no ceremonial law, nor did He formally abrogate any. But He inculcated the true spirit in which that law should be administered while the Mosaic dispensation should continue. He did not command fasting, but corrected its disgusting ostentation, while intimating that it was not in harmony with His joyful gospel, but, rather, as incongruous as a new patch on an old garment (Matt. ix. 15-17, Revised Version). He did not abolish bloody sacrifices, but prescribed the spirit of reconciliation in which they should be laid upon the altar. He knew that faith in His atonement would supersede the altar ritual without its formal repeal. He did not re-enact the law of tithes, but He insisted that while it continued it should be accompanied by justice, mercy, faith and love. He sought to enthrone in all hearts supreme love to God as the sum of all duties toward God. Then He sends down the Spirit of love, who sheds abroad the love of God in the heart. This inspiration of the evangelical Spirit gradually overcomes the spirit of bondage to the letter, the legal spirit, first in Stephen, then in Saul of Tarsus, and then in the whole Gentile section of the Church, and finally in Peter and the believing Jews. Thus the whole Levitical law is quietly laid aside without a convulsion destructive of faith in revelation. To accomplish this amazing change it was necessary that the God-Man should retire and the God-Spirit should be His successor.
It is quite obvious that Christ's efficiency in His saving contact with human souls is indefinitely increased by His representative, the Comforter. While on the earth in the limits of the body His range of beneficent effort must be restricted to a few of the many millions of mankind. His method was to individualize. In healing He laid His hands on every one. There was no healing in the mass. If men's diseased bodies required individualization, much more do their depraved souls. Through the Paraclete the Great Physician can simultaneously medicate millions of sin-sick souls on all the islands of the sea and in both hemispheres wherever His gospel is preached.
After the ascension, wherever there was a believer there was an omnipotent Christ. A thousand cities might simultaneously behold the displays of His power. On the day of Pentecost a thousand of the fiercest enemies of Christ laid down their weapons and proclaimed Him Lord to the glory of God the Father. The hearts of His own immediate disciples, so imperfectly subdued during His ministry, having been brought into complete subjection by the outpouring of the Spirit from the throne of their risen Lord, He went forth conquering and to conquer. It was sufficiently manifest then that Christ had all power in heaven and in earth. (George Bowen.)
This 'the Comforter will not come if I go not,' is a convincing proof that the gift of the Spirit at and since the day of Pentecost is something TOTALLY DISTINCT from anything before that time; a new and loftier dispensation.
The radical dissimilarity between the old and the new dispensation is seen in the following particulars: In the old dispensation the Spirit externally wrought upon men, but He did not in His person dwell in believers; His working was occasional and for a short time; He did not permanently abide in them. He was external; He did not incarnate Himself in believers. His action Was intermittent, irregular, and apparently without any law. He came and went like Noah's dove, finding no abiding place. But in the new dispensation there is a "law of the Spirit" by which all believers may receive Him as a permanent dweller in the heart as another dove seen by John the Baptist descending upon Jesus and abiding on Him as a part of His person. In the Old Testament the Spirit bestowed gifts of an intellectual and physical nature — prophecy to the seventy elders, skill to Bezaleel, the kingly feeling to Saul, and strength to Samson. But the Comforter dispenses the various graces, such as saintly inward virtues, love, gentleness, goodness, etc. "Affianced of the soul, the Spirit went oft to see His betrothed, but was not yet one with her; the marriage was not consummated until Pentecost, after the glorification of Jesus Christ."
Another great gain to the disciples in the exchange of the bodily presence of Christ on the earth for His spiritual presence in their hearts, by the Comforter's coming and indwelling, was in the clearer evidence of his Messiahship and divinity. Doubtless the disciples at the first intimation of Christ's intended departure asked of one another, "What proofs can we hereafter point to that we have not followed a pretender if the great miracle worker removes. His amazing miracles have been our chief argument with our enemies hitherto. Nothing can supply their place in even keeping ourselves from serious doubts. What shall we do?" Little could they possibly comprehend that an invisible divine Person could descend from heaven, enter into their very being, pouring a light more resplendent than the sun upon the person of Christ, giving an intuitive perception of His supreme Godhood as indisputable as any self-evident truth of the human reason. They knew nothing of the self-evidencing power of the Spirit to glorify the Son of God in their consciousness and to plant their feet for evermore on the sunlit summit of full assurance and certain knowledge so frequently spoken of by Paul under the strengthened word epignosis.
The death of Christ was deemed by His disciples as the greatest possible disaster, but it redeemed a world of sinners lost. So the departure of their Master was deemed a privation for which they could imagine no compensation, but it removed the barrier which kept Him from access to their inmost selves. Hitherto He had been imprisoned within walls of flesh obstructing the full communication of Himself to their hearts, just as the unbroken alabaster flask kept the delicious perfumes from filling all the house, every crack and crevice, with its pervasive odors.
When the God-Man was on the earth He was farther from His disciples, even when He washed their feet, than the sun is from the earth, 93,000,000 miles away. But when He came in the form of the Comforter this distance was annihilated. The disciples now have an eternal sunrise within their hearts. They are ensphered in the Spirit, who reveals Christ. They are enveloped in His personality; they are "in Christ."
To have the Holy Spirit of God coming through the human nature of our Lord, entering into our spirits, identifying Himself with us, and becoming our very own just as He was the Spirit of Christ Jesus on earth, — surely this is a blessedness worth any sacrifice, for it is the beginning of the indwelling of God Himself.
There are many evangelical Christians who are resting in a head-knowledge which comes from the presence of the Paraclete. It is in a sense true of them that "the letter killeth," while they might have the Spirit that giveth the more abundant life. The external knowledge of Christ is valuable; but it may be used as a bar to that intimate internal knowledge of Him who dwells only where He is welcomed and enthroned. He comes to reign. Orthodoxy is commendable; but a trust in it and a reliance on the sufficiency of religious knowledge may obstruct the fulness of the Spirit. A pauper may be told that he may take from the open treasury of Dives as much silver coin as he can carry in his hands. After filling his hands a bag of gold coin is poured out, and he is permitted to appropriate all that his hands can hold. If he has ordinary wisdom he will drop the silver and grasp the gold. Thus Paul dropped Judaism, not because it was untrue, but because it was an obstruction to his appropriation of "the excellency of knowledge of Jesus Christ." He afterwards did what every Christian must do if he would realize the true, spiritual Christ within. When it pleased God "to reveal his Son" in Paul, some time after his conversion, probably in Arabia while in his three years' theological course under the tuition of the Holy Ghost, he ceased "to know Christ after the flesh," in contrast with knowing Him as a bright reality "after the Spirit," the source of ineffable bliss and transcendent life.
Resting in the external knowledge of Christ attained on the plane of nature is a life akin to legalism, a life of effort and failure which must be abandoned to open the door for the incoming and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Even the apostles trained by Christ "had to let go, to lose, to die to their old way of knowing Christ, and to receive as a gift an entirely new life of intercourse with Him." This may account for the fact that there is so little reminiscence of the incidents in the earthly life of Jesus and even of His miracles in the Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude, and scarcely any at all in Paul's. What power would come to the Church if its members would imitate the apostles in acquiring this new, efficacious and transforming knowledge of Christ imparted by the indwelling Spirit! Doubt would then find no dwelling place. Worldly pleasures would lose their seductive power.
"As by the light of opening day
The stars are all concealed,
So earthly pleasures fade away
When Jesus is revealed."
What a gain Christ intended the outpouring of the Spirit and His indwelling in the consciousness of His disciples would be in substantiating the truth of Christ's resurrection as an undeniable fact to the onlooking world! Says George Bowen,
Is not the great thing wanted this, that the Spirit of God should be so poured out on Christ's people that men should be made aware of His presence with them and of His presence at the right hand of God?