DISHONORING THE HOLY SPIRIT.
As the ministry of Christ is divided into three parts, the year of obscurity, the year of fame and favor, and the year of opposition, so the ministry of the Holy Spirit has been marked by great contrasts in the estimation of professed Christians. From Pentecost till the close of the apostolic age He was honored with the presidency of the Church, and was everywhere regarded as the heritage of all believers in Jesus Christ. Then there came a gradual spiritual decline in which the person and office of the Spirit went into an eclipse, at first partial, and at last total. He was still regarded as a Person of the Trinity, but one who had accomplished His part in the scheme of salvation as a miraculous factor in the establishment of Christianity and had retired. The Roman Catholic church for fifteen hundred years has in her teachings shut up the Holy Ghost in the age of the apostles and regarded as fanatic and heretic all who profess to know Him as the witness of adoption consciously dwelling within them.
It would spoil sacerdotalism entirely and destroy the power of the priests if their benighted people should all find out that the gift of the Holy Spirit may be attained directly without the mediation of any man except the God-Man. Those forms of Protestantism which magnify the sacraments as having a saving efficacy in themselves find it extremely difficult to exalt the Holy Spirit as the agent of the new birth and the conservator of spiritual life. We told by Hunt in his "History of Religious Thought in England"' that some Church of England men believed the spirit gels no nearer to us than the Bible in which He dwells a source of inspiration; others, that he dwells in the holy eucharist. Warburton, before the time of Lightfoot and Westcott the greatest scholar among the bishops, insisted "that the operations of the Spirit ceased with the apostolic age. Without the gift of tongues and the power to work miracles, the heathen would never have been converted. But when the canon of Scripture was complete, the office of the Spirit was in part transferred to the rule of faith. To talk of the Spirit being now in the world and miraculously changing men's hearts is pure fanaticism." (Hunt, Vol. 111, page 279.) This scholar seemed to have no conception of the need of the Spirit to convict of sin, to reveal Christ to penitent faith, to witness to adoption, to regenerate and to sanctify. So great and good a man as Bishop Butler once said to John Wesley, "Sir, what do you mean by faith?" Wesley replied, "By justifying faith I mean a conviction wrought in a man by the Holy Ghost that Christ hath loved him and given Himself for him, and that through Christ his sins are forgiven." The bishop continued: "Some good men might have that kind of faith. Mr. Wesley, I once thought that you and Mr. Whitefield were well-meaning men, but I cannot think so now. Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelation and gifts of the Holy Ghost is a horrid thing, a very horrid thing." (Hunt, Vol. 111, page 289.)
It is surprising that so mighty an intellect as that of the author of the immortal "Analogy" should fail to discriminate between the gracious operations of the Spirit in the believer and His office of inspiration and the extraordinary gifts, or charisms, enumerated in I Cor. xii. How appalling must have been the spiritual darkness at that time of the mass of Christians both clerical and lay! We who live in a better Christian era have no conception of the eclipse of faith through which the Church of England was then passing while still in the penumbra of Romanism.
But a better era was even then dawning, when the Holy Spirit would be recognized and his offices be honored by vast bodies of believers in all parts of the world. The human instrumentality for the inauguration of this era was John Wesley, whose torch was lighted at the fire burning on the Moravian altar. The Lutheran reformation was theological and ecclesiastical, the Wesleyan was experimental and spiritual. The Spirit, for centuries relegated to the apostolic age, or limited to the sacraments "administered by the priests in the mythical apostolic succession," freed Himself from all these fancied limitations and came into immediate, vital, conscious contact with believing souls, and there stood up a great and valiant army in the valley of dry bones both in England and America. Faith in Christ and reliance on His promise of the Paraclete afforded the conditions of the Spirit's manifestation. The secret of Methodism is conscious salvation through the testimony of the Spirit, the finger of God touching every penitent who surrenders to God and receives His Son as both Saviour and Lord, who expectantly waits for the Dove of Peace to bring the olive leaf of divine peace and afterwards to bring in perfect purity through perfect love shed abroad in the heart. Calvinism in modern times has become so modified as to admit that the witness of the Spirit and His conscious indwelling fulness are the privilege of all believers and not, as formerly, the exclusive privilege of a few favored souls, the "electi electorum". Unmitigated predestinarianism requires uncertainty respecting regeneration and forgiveness as a safeguard to keep the believer from a neglect of watchfulness and from that looseness of living which would naturally follow the doctrine of unconditional election combined with the witness of the Spirit to our adoption as sons of God. Hence the reign of Calvinism of the primitive type has not tended to magnify the Spirit's office of imparting a knowledge of forgiven sin, while its insistence that the Adamic propensity to sin must continue till the soul is released from its earthly tenement is inconsistent with the Spirit's office of entire sanctification. The decay of Calvinism favors the restoration of the doctrine of the fullness of the Holy Spirit as the heritage of all persevering believers.
There is another hopeful sign of the times very favorable to the revival of the doctrine and experience of the Pentecostal gift universally enjoyed in the Christian Church. I refer to the marked change for the better which has recently taken place in scientific minds. These had so long studied matter and its mechanical laws, and so long had they moved on the dead level of naturalism, that they were strongly inclined to reject all the testimonies to conscious movements of the Holy Spirit in the heart as the figments of excited imaginations. But since Balfour and Romaine have demonstrated that there are grounds of certainty in man's moral nature and spiritual aspirations as worthy of confidence as the testimony of the senses and the conclusions of the logical faculty, the arrogance of materialism toward Christian experience has been effectually rebuked.
Thus many obstructions to the free course of the Spirit have been removed from the path of intelligent men and women. What is now needed to complete the restoration of the Spirit is that His divine personality and His gracious offices in the redemptive scheme should be magnified in the pulpits of Christendom. Then will the purified and endowed Church be prepared to meet the hosts of Satan. "Terrible as an army with banners."
These words of the saintly Fletcher in his portrait of St. Paul have clung to my memory more than a score of years: "To reject the Son of God manifested in the Spirit, as worldly Christians are universally observed to do, is a crime of equal magnitude with that of the Jews, who rejected Him when manifested in the flesh."
1. The Holy Ghost is dishonored when spoken of as a thing or an influence, and not as a person. This is often done by referring to Him by the use of "it" instead of "he." Our authorized version of Rom. viii. 16, "The Spirit itself," has greatly promoted this error. The Revision is correct, "The Spirit himself." Not only does it degrade the Spirit to strip Him of His personality, but it cuts away the ground for that strong faith in Him which is requisite to secure His abiding presence in us and the complete work of His offices. We cannot trust a thing as we trust a person. Indistinct and hazy conceptions weaken faith. When thought of as a power, a principle, an effluence however bright, the Holy Spirit is degraded infinitely below a personality implying intelligence, feeling, will, freedom and a moral sense. Many true believers in Jesus Christ fail to realize the indwelling Spirit because their faith in Him is far less definite than their faith in Christ. This weak faith is because of nebulous conceptions of the Spirit.
2. He is dishonored when regarded as a created person. Some admit His personality, but deny His divinity equal to the Father and the Son in power and glory. In so doing they divest themselves of the ground of the strongest possible faith in the Spirit. The proofs of His divinity are found in texts which ascribe to Him divine attributes, divine acts, divine titles, and associate Him on implied terms of equality with the Father and the Son, as in the formula for Christian baptism, Matt. xxviii. 19, and the apostolic benediction, II. Cor xiii. 14.
3. The Spirit is dishonored when anything is substituted for His offices in the inspiration of spiritual life and the development of Christian character, such as a germ of the adoption of the penitent believer is dropped out of the natural goodness instead of the new birth, education instead of sanctification, culture of the aesthetic tastes instead of the fruit of the Spirit, roundabout inferences that we are saved, neglecting and undervaluing the direct witness of the Spirit "crying in the heart Abba, Father," the pleasures of sense instead of the joy of the Holy Ghost, the honor of men rather than the approval of God. We have already alluded to the disrespect of the Spirit when His witness to adoption is slighted. This is so important that it needs further emphasis. The Spirit is really, though it may be unintentionally, dishonored when His office of witness to sermon and out of the instruction of seekers at the altar. When the office is slighted the officer is disparaged. When the sinner becomes a new creature it is not by a natural process of evolution, or of development from a germ of goodness, but by the will and work of the new-Creator. When it is said that a man may regenerate himself by assuming an obedient attitude of his will toward Christ as both Saviour and Lord, disrespect is shown to the sole author of the new birth. It is true that men have the gracious ability to convert themselves in the literal meaning of that verb, that is, to turn about, to forsake sin, and in penitent faith to look unto God. This is conversion, a graciously assisted human act. But regeneration is the sole work of the Spirit when the term is used in its theological sense. In the same way the Spirit is slighted when His office as God's messenger to announce the soul's adoption is ignored and something else is put in His place. The modern substitute is the Word, the Holy Scriptures. Written many centuries ago, they cannot certify my sonship to God by adoption. The Bible nowhere teaches that itself is the ground of personal assurance. It distinctly reveals the fact that the Holy Spirit is the direct witness to this all-important event on which eternal destiny hangs. "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." The phrase "into your hearts," instead of "into the Bible," denotes a direct, personal certification of adoption. In addition to this, there are found in the Bible, inspired by the Spirit, the marks of the new birth, the Fruit of the Spirit. When these are discovered, they constitute an inferential testimony confirming the direct witness of the Spirit. But when the Word is put in the first place, as the ground of assurance, and the Spirit is omitted, or put in the second place, He is dishonored. There is a numerous school of evangelists who are thus constantly ignoring the Holy Ghost in all their teaching of assurance. It is a great error. It leaves the seeker without that satisfactory certification of sonship to God which He in His goodness has provided. "The Spirit himself beareth witness (direct testimony) with our spirit (inferential testimony) that we are the children of God."
This direct contact of the Spirit is elsewhere taught under the imagery of "the earnest," or money paid to bind the bargain, and "sealing," since the seal authenticates, assures and appropriates. The Holy Spirit in the believer's heart is the Father's seal. Let all religious teachers honor this seal. To dishonor it is to encourage a multitude of professed disciples of Christ to go into eternity with invalid title-deeds to eternal life, with no possibility of rectifying the fatal mistake.
4. Ministers of the gospel and other Christian workers dishonor the Spirit when they more earnestly desire His gifts than Himself; when they are more eager to be clothed with His power than to be filled with his presence; when they rely more on polished rhetoric than on the power of the Holy Ghost; when they are more concerned about preparing the sermon than themselves; when they are more ambitious to please the Church than the Head of the Church; when they subordinate the ministry of the Lord Jesus to themselves and not to the Lord Jesus; when they use the sacred office as a ladder to personal fame or gain, instead of a stairway up which they may lead repenting sinners to the bosom of God. The Holy Ghost scrutinizes motives. He searches not only the deep things of God, but also the depths of man's heart, and He feels aggrieved when He is outranked in man's esteem by anything beneath the sun, yea, beneath the throne of the ascended Son of God and Redeemer of men, whom it is His mission to glorify on earth. Hence the Holy Spirit is dishonored whenever Christ is not exalted as the only Saviour of lost men; when He is displaced in the pulpit by some fad or fancy of momentary interest; when Jesus Christ crucified is regarded as a less attractive Saturday pulpit bulletin than the last International yacht race, or a panegyric on the last humoristic poet of liberalism.
5. Disrespect is shown to the Holy Spirit when the Bible He has inspired is neglected, and religious books and periodicals illustrating, explaining and defending the Book of books find little sale and less attention, while secular and fictitious literature is read with great avidity. It grieves the Spirit to see myriads of people bearing the name of Christ feeding on the chaff of irreligious reading and crying, "Oh! my leanness!" or devouring the poison of the satanic press and going down to a speedy spiritual death as moral suicides, because of the virus of a baneful literature voluntarily poured into their arteries. "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he." But since a man thinks as he largely supplies materials for thought by reading, it is true that as he readeth good or bad books, so is he.
6. When the Holy Spirit moves holy men to write saving truth for the spiritual healing of the nations throughout all generations, and bad men develop a satanic ingenuity in assailing this precious record and in destroying the faith of men in that religion which transforms sinners to saints here and reveals life eternal hereafter, the Spirit of inspiration is not only grieved but is deeply disgraced. It is like some baneful genius destroying in some dark and stormy night all faith in the mariner's compass and causing all the ships, with all their crews and passengers, in all the oceans of the world, henceforth to sail in painful uncertainty, and many of them to drift, into ruin. It is one thing to dig down to the foundations of a citadel in order to show their strength, but it is quite another thing to explode a hundred pounds of dynamite beneath them. There is in our times a class of higher critics who are studious to conserve all the truth that the Holy Spirit has inspired. With such He is well pleased. His honor is safe in their keeping. There is a class of destructives who are madly attempting to sweep out of the universe every vestige of a "supernatural revelation, and to beat down to the dead level of naturalism every religious truth that stands a foot above that level. The personal Holy Spirit, whose mission it is to conserve and apply saving truth, cannot look upon this attempt with indifference. It dishonors Him to assault His work. In our day this assault is quite indirectly made by some. They are attempting to bring Christianity to this level, not by beating it down, but by lifting all pagan religions up. They admit the inspiration of Isaiah and Paul, but they assert that Plato and Shakespeare are just as much divinely inspired. We have heard one of the champions of "liberal Christianity" read in his Boston pulpit from Job, Plato, Seneca, Cato, and T. Starr King, and then say, "Thus endeth the reading of the Scriptures."
The robber in the Arabian Nights put a chalk mark on a house which contained treasure, intending to rob it in the night. Morgiana chalked all the other houses in the same way, and thus defeated the robber's purpose. One book contains the treasure of heavenly truth for the enrichment of mankind. That they may easily find it, God has put the mark of inspiration upon it. Liberalism is trying to defeat His benevolent purpose by putting a similar mark on all the religious books of the heathen and all the works of genius. The scheme may so far succeed as to mislead and bewilder thousands of souls and turn their feet away from the path to eternal life. Such an act is doing despite to the Spirit of grace.
7. The divine Spirit is dishonored by the unholy lives of those who profess to be regenerated by Him. The Christian professes to be a sample of the new creation. A defective sample discredits its maker. Thus the unworthy life of a man who by profession writes the name of the holy Christ across his forehead for all the world to read brings reproach not only on those who labored and prayed for his salvation, and on the church with which he is united, but also on the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life and the new-creator of souls. Still greater is the dishonor to the Spirit where one professing to be filled with the Spirit, and to be entirely sanctified by His indwelling, is living an unworthy life. The more valuable the coin the baser is the counterfeit. A Christian may became a false professor in two ways — by an untruthful original profession. In either case the Spirit is dishonored. But I speak more especially of the latter. "How is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed!"
Our words may not only dishonor, but distress the Holy Spirit. From Eph. iv. 29, 30, "Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying... And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God," we learn that "worthless" (Meyer), "profitless and unedifying, not necessarily filthy" (Ellicott and Alford) talk is here indicated as painful to the divine Spirit, vile talk being prohibited in v 4. Empty and trifling discourses, low wit and nonsense, are so opposed to the holy nature and work of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in Christians, that He cannot fail to be grieved thereat. "The chosen expression 'Holy Spirit of God,' renders the enormity of such action most palpable." (Meyer.) "The Christian walking in sincerity utters not only no wicked, but even no useless words." (Olshausen.) This does not exclude animated, instructive and cheerful discourse, enlivened by flashes of delicate and dignified wit, but it does mark with disapprobation of the Holy Spirit the Jester, the punster and studied humorist, whose chief end and aim in human society is smartness, facetiousness arid drollery.
The universe is rational, and its Creator is rational, and the Holy Spirit, the divine Person through whom He acts on man as a reprover, and in the believer as the sanctifier, is also rational. He can never be pleased with anything irrational, unreal and farcical. Jesus Christ, whom the Spirit represents, took a view of human life and destiny too realistic to admit of those distortions of the truth which are implied in jokes and witticisms. If it is the office of the Spirit to bring us into conformity with the image of the Son of God in moral character, shall we not be assimilated to His sobriety and gravity also? Will not the Spirit chasten and elevate the imagination and make it the vehicle of truth and the instrument of instruction? Will He not in this way sanctify the fine arts and make painting and sculpture, poetry and music, rhetoric and oratory channels of grace to the believing heart? Is it not the mission of the Spirit to harmonize and unify all our faculties so that the aesthetical and the ethical shall both minister to our complete spiritual development? If an affirmative answer is correct, it follows that so much of pleasantry and wit as is needful for human society at its climax the Holy Spirit will sanctify, and all that tends to degrade He will eliminate. Humor without the savor of godliness always tends downward, changing the sublime into the ridiculous, and turning the sacred into the profane. It may be thought that in the form of ridicule it is necessary to castigate folly and refute error. But Jesus Christ, the model religious teacher, did not use it in denouncing the hypocrisies of the Pharisees and in establishing His gospel. Elijah made use of ridicule against the priests of Baal, as did Paul against Christian teachers insisting on circumcision. "I would they would even mutilate themselves" (Gal. v. 12, Revised Version, margin). But it is a dangerous weapon of the nature of a boomerang.
8. Next to disrespect shown to the Holy Spirit is disparagement of His work. Almost identical are an author and his book, a mechanic and the product of his skill. Ridicule of the work is derision of the workman. This truth underlies that weighty and alarming utterance of Jesus Christ, "Whosoever shall he ashamed of me and my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels." The lifeblood of Jesus pulsates in His words, for He says, "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." It was the work of the Son to take His Father's words on one side of the veil, and reveal them unto men on the other side. Hence contempt for the revelation is mockery of the Revealer.
Moreover, it is true that the more excellent the work in the estimation of the worker, the more keenly does he feel dishonored when it is disparaged. A condemned masterpiece is the climax of mortification.
What work on the earth is the masterpiece of the Holy Spirit? Is it not the completed holiness of a soul born with a propensity to sin? We infer this from the adjective "holy," which is a part of the name Holy Ghost. He is thus called, not because this adjective distinguishes His nature from that of the Father and the Son, but because it designates His office to impart and to create and conserve holiness. It is true that believers are provisionally "sanctified in Christ Jesus," just as all men are provisionally saved in His atonement. But men are really saved only when through their faith in Christ they are born of the Spirit, and believers are wholly sanctified only when they appropriate this work of the Holy Spirit as the completion of the new-creation of the soul. This is the climax of His activity on the earth. He is the finger of God when He causes us "to know the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe."
"Therefore it follows that the sin that borders upon the irremissible sin, the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, is the irreverent and contemptuous criticism of His work in the entire sanctification of an immortal soul. This is a sin to which every generation of Christians is exposed, but more especially that body of believers which is beginning to lean upon the world and to let down its standard of truth in order to court its favor. Then he who would magnify the dispensation of the Holy Ghost, by attesting His power to perfect holiness in the believer, may expect to endure disparaging and captious criticisms which really reflect on the divine author. This is a serious matter. Of the three persons in the one divine nature, the Holy Spirit is the most sensitive to slights and insults.
Should it be said that the holiest person you have ever met had faults, and was therefore a just object of criticism, we reply that many imperfections in taste, judgment and outward appearance may be consistent with perfect purity of heart.
The only perfect man since Adam was created did not escape the contempt of men.
In the classroom of President Wayland, many years ago, a student arose and put the following question: "Dr. Wayland, don't you think, if Christian people were more amiable, kind, lovely in their dispositions and in their intercourse with the world, if they presented Christianity in its true aspects, don't you think everybody would be so attracted and charmed as to embrace Christianity at once?" Dr. Wayland, assuming an air more deliberate and earnest than usual, replied in substance: "There was once on earth one who combined in perfect symmetry all the graces of Christian character; one who was wise, kind, unselfish, lovely, without fault, absolutely perfect; and what was the result of this exhibition of character in the world? They cried, Crucify him! crucify him!"*
Says Archdeacon Hare: "But the Comforter was to abide with Christ's Church forever. Hence it has been repeatedly seen that when He was forgotten and His abiding presence and influence were almost denied by those who occupied the chief places in the outward Church, He has manifested himself to others, who, as of old, have been mocked, and said to have been full of new wine, nay, have been persecuted, and even cast out from the outward communion of the Church. This, which had happened before, happened again the last century. The men who were awakened to a deeper consciousness that there can be no Christian life in the soul except through the operation of the Spirit, were, some of them, led or driven to secede from our (Anglican) Church, while others had to endure reproach and scorn within it. On the other hand, the dominant prosaic nationalism laid down that all manner of enthusiasm must needs be foolish and mischievous. One of our bishops wrote a book against enthusiasm, as a quality fit only for Papists and Methodists, evincing no sympathy with the deep feelings and wants which were venting themselves even in their most offensive absurdities; no insight into the manifold causes which helped to delude them; no desire to separate the wheat and preserve it from the conflagration of the tares; and no recognition of that which was holy and just and true in their zeal, their energy and their devotion. Folly and fraud were the author's summary sentence; and with these two words, blind as the hangman's rope, he strung together the puppets of straw that he called by the names of Wesley and Whitefield and Zinzendorf, along with others under the denomination of St. Anthony, St. Francis, I. Ignatius and St. Teresa."
* See Appendix Note I.