WALKING IN THE COMFORT OF THE HOLY GHOST.
This is designed to be the normal life of the believer. The Holy Spirit has two distinct kinds of activity in His earthly mission. His delightful work is to comfort, strengthen and cheer Christians. His strange work is to convict sinners — I call it strange because it is strongly allied to the wrath of God. It has been well said that judgment is His strange work, in which a God of love finds no pleasure. I cannot think that the Holy Spirit finds gratification in administering rebuke to those who sin against a holy God. It is sad to think that even in the case of many who have been born of the Spirit, He exercises toward them more frequently the unpleasant office of conviction than the pleasant office of approval and comfort. How few disciples there are who know the Holy Ghost in the latter office. What is His comfort? He brings into our hearts, if we fully believe in Jesus, the glorified Giver, above all, the consciousness that we are pleasing the Father by the power of the Son; that we are reconciled children making glad our Father. "How long," asks one, "will Christians introvert the offices of the Holy Spirit, and oblige Him to be in their daily walk more convincing than comforting?" Of what sin does the Spirit convict? Unbelief. It is only because of unbelief that so many Christians, looking back a day, a week or a year, have not the testimony in their souls that their life has pleased God; and so the Spirit is obliged again and again, in fulfilling the law of love by which He acts, to take up His office of convicting of sin. At last many children of God lose all faith in the possibility that they may for any length of time live a life pleasing to their heavenly Father. Then they begin to look in the Bible for a justification of this wretched lowering of the standard of holy living and diminishing of the glorious privilege of living in cloudless communion with the Father and the Son while walking in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. This they find in misinterpreting the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans and a few other perverted texts in Paul's Epistles, and one in I John, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves." Having dragged the standard down to the low level of "necessary" daily sinning, they have exchanged the comfort of the Spirit for conviction — a worse bargain than Homer speaks of when a certain man exchanged his gold for brass, or "brassed his gold." Where the members of any church that have thus exchanged their gold have become a majority and their influence is prepondering, it is natural for them to delight to see their degraded standard set up in their pulpit. The old standard is now considered as obsolete. It is an uncomfortable rebuke.
Thus, in many instances, the standard is changed. The wishes of the church mould the preacher. Demosthenes tells the Athenians that they make their orators. They speak what the churches wish to hear. In this way a generation of Christians is born into the church who have never heard of the strange doctrine of walking in the comfort of the Holy Ghost under cloudless skies, victorious over every wilful sin, and delivered from the former intestine war — the flesh striving against the Spirit. This answers our question why so few, relatively, in modern times testify to a continuous walk in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
But this is a blessing that is not dependent on the majorities. The condition of its existence is not "a count of heads and a clack of tongues." it rests on faith in the promise of our ascended and glorified Christ appearing in heaven for me to-day and sending down the greatest gift that men can receive or heaven can send.
It may be said that "this style of life is practicable for only a very few, such as ministers whose minds are always filled with gospel truth and who are not jostled about in contact with rough men, and for retired old men and women living on the interest of safely invested funds; these, having few perplexities and vexations, may be able to live in serene and uninterrupted communion with God through the conscious abiding of the Comforter. But this is impossible with merchants making hundreds of bargains every day; with operatives in mills, in close contact with many who believe not in Jesus Christ and obey not the moral principles of His gospel; with mothers shut up with a troop of quarrelsome children, and with many other classes of people who have a hard lot in life." Can we quote any instances of walking in the comfort of the Holy Ghost amid such perplexities? We find many such in church history, but we will cite only two, one a clergyman and the other a layman. The record of the first is this: "In stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one (a hundred and ninety-five). Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report." What is his testimony to his own interior life while running the gauntlet through these perils and sufferings? "I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content; in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer want." From whom did he learn this wonderful secret? Not from the stoics, but from the indwelling Spirit of Christ. For he says, "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me" (Phil. iv. 11-13, Revised Version).
The business of our illustrious layman, that of a premier managing the vast, varied and conflicting interests of an empire of a hundred and twenty provinces, would naturally be regarded as incompatible with a high degree of spirituality. But Daniel, though living in the pre-Pentecostal era and watched by eagle-eyed jealousy, "three times a day went into his chamber, and opened his windows toward heaven, to breathe the heavenly air. The more business we have, the more we want heavenly air." As Dr. Bushnell believes that Socrates and Plato were regenerated "by a special mission of the Holy Ghost," so we believe that Daniel was sustained in his unconquerable fidelity to the God of Abraham by the special indwelling of the Third Person of the Trinity.
We live in an age when liberalists and agnostics covertly undermine Christianity by the insinuation that its principles are ideal and altogether too lofty to be perfectly obeyed by men and women who have been crippled and diminished in their moral capacity by sin. This is the view from the plane of naturalism. The supernaturalism of the indwelling Spirit declares that "where sin abounded grace does much more abound." Glory to God!
The doctrine of Jesus Christ respecting human responsibility is that it is measured by our original talents and favorable or unfavorable environment. Where much is given, much will be required.
The patriarchal dispensation afforded little religious knowledge. Contrasted with our privileges it was as the light of the moon to the sun. We may discover our responsibility in the study of a patriarchal character which adorned the earth more than three thousand years before the day of Pentecost.
The phrase, "walked with God," is in the Bible applied to only two individuals of the human race whose names are known, Enoch and Noah (Gen. v. 22; vi. 9). "It must be distinguished," says the celebrated commentator, Delitzsch, "from walking before God and walking after God," since both the latter phrases smack somewhat of the constraint of a legal service. Yet they are used to indicate genuine righteousness and blamelessness of life "under the law" — to use a Pauline expression for obedience prompted by fear rather than love. Servility seems to be implied in walking after any one as the servant follows his master. The same feeling is implied in walking before a superior under whose eye we act impelled by a sense of awe and of espionage instead of the gladness and freedom of filial affection walking hand in hand with a loving Father. Walking with a person implies not only a kind of social equality, but the most confidential intercourse, each unbosoming himself to the other in the closest communion. Enoch's walk with God is recorded twice, as something indeed extraordinary, but not impossible to every man in every age. It is put on record for universal imitation, not as a prodigy preternatural and abnormal. It was designed to be the norm or model of every human character. Let us now consider how much walking with God implies.
1. It certainly evinces perfect harmony. "How can two walk together except they be agreed?" There was a complete concurrence of the human will with the divine will. Enoch could have used the words of Faber:
I worship thee, sweet will of God!
And all thy ways adore,
And every day I live I seem
To love thee more and more."
There are some who insist that this delightful accord of the believer's will in all the allotments of life, both painful and delightful, is only a beautiful ideal which can never be realized on the earth. It certainly never can be realized on the plane of nature, nor can it be fully experienced on the plane of that initial grace into which we are brought by the new birth. It is possible only to that fulness of the Spirit which sheds abroad the love of God in the heart, filling it to the brim. It is easy for the child who perfectly loves his parents cheerfully to surrender to their commands.
2. Enoch must also have had perfect trust in God. If he who comes to God must have faith, much more must he who locks arms and keeps step with Him have the utmost confidence in this divine companion. Mutual confidence is the root of friendship and the indispensable requisite to the true wedlock of two souls. This unquestioning faith settles the question of divine guidance. In Enoch's walk he left to God the choice of the way. Thus he was relieved of a source of much of the perplexity of life — painful solitude respecting the way he should take at every crossroad in the journey of life, and often distressing regret for making a wrong choice. Like Enoch we are all strangers on the earth, walking in a path new to us and having many pleasant but fatal by-paths. To those who wish for unerring guidance there is an infallible Guide whose services are gratuitously rendered to complete trust. As perfect love casts out all tormenting fear, so perfect confidence casts out distressing doubt.
3. Enoch must have had a very joyful sense of security in his walk with God, being freed from all uncertainties respecting the direction of his journey and all fear of foes in ambuscade. By day and by night he could say to his omniscient and omnipotent conductor, "Where Thou art guide, no ill can come." Complete confidence in Him can walk straight forward regardless of the roar of the lion, the paw of the bear, the tooth of the tiger and the fang of the serpent. Here we have uncovered the secret of the fearlessness of Paul, the courage of Luther, the calmness of Wesley facing the furious mobs from one end of England to the other, and the heroism of "the noble army of martyrs" in all the Christian ages.
4. Enoch was characterized by a holiness so perfect as to need no finishing touch in death and no quarantine in purgatory preparatory to his introduction into a holy heaven. Perhaps God translated Enoch and Elijah to rebuke the Gnostic error that men cannot be perfectly holy in the body, and that death by separating the spirit from "the vile body" falsely so called (see Phil. iii. 21, Revised Version) perfectly prepares the believer for the inheritance of the saints in light. We have searched in vain for any scriptural foundation of this doctrine, which discredits the blood of Jesus Christ as the means of cleansing from all sin, and discounts the Holy Spirit as the agent of entire sanctification in the present life.
5. He who is on so intimate terms with our ever-blessed God will enjoy the highest possible degree of happiness. The fact that this great world is too small to satisfy the human soul demonstrates its likeness to God, inasmuch as it has an infinite capacity which only the Infinite One can fill. Fill this infinite capacity with the illimitable and fathomless ocean, the pleroma, "the fulness of him who filleth all in all," and bliss will be supreme and eternal. The vicissitudes of life, from health to sickness, from riches to poverty, from applause to abuse, may ripple the surface of this profound happiness, but they cannot disturb its immeasurable depths. The soul thus drinking from the fountain of felicity is at home everywhere, and sings with Madam Guyon in prison:
"My Lord, how full of sweet content
I pass my years of banishment!
Where'er I dwell, I dwell with Thee,
In heaven, in earth, or on the sea."
What valid excuse have we for not walking with God as closely and as persistently as Enoch walked? Our circumstances are not less favorable. He lived in a pessimistic world rapidly degenerating and soon to be overwhelmed in the deluge. We live in an optimistic world that is on the up grade, steadily rising in moral tone. He lived before the God-Man appeared on the earth and left for our feet a shining path to an open heaven. He lived before the dispensation of the Comforter, who comes to abide in the believer in Jesus Christ. His dispensation compared with ours is as the light of the stars to the cloudless noonday sun.
He was not exempt from toil and care. While walking with God, he did not dwell apart from society, a celibate in monastic seclusion, but begat sons and daughters, bore the burdens of a father in providing for his family and in disciplining his children and commanding them to obey his precepts. It is quite probable that sometimes he had to secure obedience and respect for his authority by the use of the birch.
In no respect was Enoch's environment equal to ours in promoting communion with God. We cannot agree with Delitzch that He walked in a visible human form beside Enoch three hundred years, a chronic theophany. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews enrolls Enoch among the heroes of the faith: "By faith" — not sight — "Enoch was translated." His whole life was a life of faith. There are on earth to-day many Enochs with whom God is walking and talking. The purpose of this chapter is to encourage many others to spend their lives in this glorious companionship in heavenward travel, "walking in the comfort of the Holy Ghost."