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PREACHED AT WORCESTER-HOUSE,
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.
THESE words contain in them two general parts.
I. The promise of sending the Spirit.
II. The end of his being sent; which was to testify of Christ.
In the words containing the former of these, we have a full description of the Spirit; and that,
1. In respect of his person.
2. Of his office or employment.
The account of his person we have in this, that he is said to proceed from the Father. And his employment, in these two things:
(1.) That he is the Comforter.
(2.) That he is the Spirit of truth.
Of all these in their order.
1. And first concerning his procession from the Father. There has been a long and a great controversy between the Latin and the Greek church concerning this: whether the Holy Ghost proceeds equally from the Father and from the Son; which the Latins, and all the other western churches, hold: or whether he proceeds from the Father only by the 88Son, which alone the Greeks admit; and for this cause stand utterly unchurched by the church of Rome, as erring in a prime and fundamental point of faith.
But here I cannot but think, that in articles relating to such things, of which the reason of man can frame no explicit apprehension, it is a daring, uncharitable, and perhaps a very irrational thing, to condemn any one for expressing the same thing in different terms. And that the Greek church does no more, seems probable from hence.
1st, That they deny not the Spirit to be consubstantial with the Father and the Son.
2dly, That they acknowledge that he is as properly the Spirit of the Son as of the Father. And if, when we say, that the Spirit proceeds from the Son, we intend no more but that he is the Spirit of the Son, which they grant and profess; what is it more than a difference in the expression, where they seem to be very near a perfect coincidence as to the thing?
I am sure some of the most reputed authors in the Latin church avouch so much. Peter Lombard, in the first of the Sentences, 11th distinction, declares his mind thus: Sane sciendum est, quod licet in praesenti articulo a nobis Graeci verbo discordent, tamen sensu non differunt. And Scotus upon the same place of Lombard speaks to the same purpose: Antiquorum Graecorum a Latinis discrepantia in voce potius est, et modo explicandi emanationem Spiritus Sancti quam in ipsa re. The like is to be found in Aquinas, Bonaventure, and others, concerning this difference between the Greek and Latin church, in expressing this article.89
Besides, it is observable, that after Patre the word Filioque was added by the Latin church: and since the Greek church may allege this in their defence, that it is no where in scripture expressly said, that the Spirit proceeds from the Son; this may be further pleaded for them, that in things, the belief of which can have no foundation but the testimony of scripture, it is there safest, precisely and strictly, to adhere to bare scripture-expression.
And thus much briefly concerning the person of the Spirit. The next thing is his employment, represented to us under a double notion.
1. And first of a Comforter. Christ suits his gifts to our exigences and occasions. Nothing so opportune to the sorrowful as a comforter. And as for Christ’s disciples, we know that upon the very prediction of his departure, sorrow had filled their hearts. But then, this being actually come to pass, those clouds began to gather over their heads thicker and blacker, and at length to break forth into violence and persecutions: and therefore, under so many discouragements from without, they must needs have sunk, had they not had some supporter within. And their support was to be internal, that so it might be above their adversaries power to bereave them of; John xvi. 22, Your joy no man taketh from you. It is out of their sight, and therefore out of their reach; like a fountain lurking in the bowels of the earth, secret, plentiful, and continual.
It is a sad and a poor condition, when there is provision made only for being, not for comfort; for life, not for refreshment. And therefore in the spiritual, as well as in the natural life, there are sublimer fruitions, as well as bare sustenance. For such is the 90nature of man, that it requires lucid intervals; and the vigour of the mind would flag and decay, should it always jog on at the rate of a common enjoyment, without being sometimes quickened and exalted with the vicissitude of some more refined pleasures.
But what kind of comfort is this, that the Spirit of God conveys to believers? Why, it is very strange and peculiar, but most significantly set forth in that place, in Mark x. 29, 30, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren., or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. What! receive all these things with persecution, when it cannot be persecution, unless it deprive us of all these? Why, yes; God will give us the comfort of these things, even without the enjoyment of them. He can extract the spirit of these things from their bulk, and convey it single without the possession.
For as in the food that we take into our bodies, it is but very little that passes into nutriment, and so is converted into our substance; so in the greatest affluence of plenty, it is not the mass of the enjoyment, but the elixir or spirit that is derived through it, that gives the comfort.
Now it is a standing rule even in philosophy, that whatsoever God does by the mediation of second causes, he can do immediately by himself, and without them. And therefore it is no wonder, if God can torment where we see no tormentor, and comfort where we behold no comforter; he can do it by immediate 91emanations from himself, by continual effluxes of those powers and virtues, which he was pleased to implant in a weaker and fainter measure in created agents.
They indeed do all things by gross conveyances and material assistances; as an earthly parent can not refresh his son without the means and instruments of refreshment, as meat, clothes, money, and other such accommodations: but whatsoever we do by the help of these, that God does by a plenitude and all-sufficiency flowing from himself. Thus the impure sublunary fire conveys neither heat nor light, but as it kindles upon some earthly materials of wood, stubble, or the like; but the nobler and celestial fire in the body of the sun, that works all these effects by a communication of its own virtue, without the interposal of those culinary helps: it affords flame and light, and warmth and all, without fuel.
Now this certainly should compose the murmurs and distrusts of infidelity. Men are apt to confine God to their own thoughts, and not to allow him a scope of acting beyond the measure of the visible means; nor to think that he can be a comforter, any longer than they have those things about them, by which they may be their own comforters. If God should promise plenty in a dearth, and fulness of bread when the earth denies her increase, would not unbelief presently presume the impossibility, and laugh at the promise in that question of the doubter, 2 Kings vii. 2, If God should make windows in heaven, how could this thing be? Yet the objector, we see, was answered with a full, though a sad confutation.
Sometimes we see no means by which God may 92comfort; but can he not therefore do it without means? There are no wagons nor conduit-pipes to bring down the influences of heaven to us; yet at their stated seasons we find, that they visit us certainly and universally. And thus much for the first part of the Spirit’s employment, namely, that he was to be a Comforter.
2. The second was his being the Spirit of truth; upon which account it is said of him, John xvi. 13, that he should lead the disciples into all truth. He is the great guide of souls, and discoverer of the mysterious depths of the gospel. Christ indeed had sufficiently preached these divine truths to the world by an external promulgation: but the Spirit was to preach them over again, by the inward illuminations of the mind.
Hereupon also the grand property of truth is ascribed to the Spirit, which is conviction. It is said of him, John xvi. 8, that he shall convince the world of sin, righteousness., and judgment. Now conviction is not only truth, but the predominance of truth; the triumph of a well-managed argumentation. The meaning of those words being this, that the Spirit of God shall bring home those concerning truths to men’s understanding, with such a prevailing sway and evidence, that they shall not be able to deny their assent to them; which way soever their corruptions may force their practice.
Nay, truth is such a peculiar characteristic note of God’s Spirit, that this gives it one great discrimination from the evil spirit, who is properly the spirit of falsehood, the deceiver and the seducer; and a liar from the beginning, both the parent and the patron of lies. Yea, and as if he had the monopoly of all fallacy 93and falsehood, it is said of him, that when he speaks a lie, he speaks it of his own. It is his peculiar, his inheritance; and the whole race of liars is said to descend from him, as their grand original, and head of their family. Justly therefore does God exhibit his Spirit to us, under the noble denomination of truth.
But here, since these two titles given to the Holy Ghost, viz. of the Comforter, and of the Spirit of truth, seem to have some emphatical relation one to another, so as to found a mutual dependance between them; I shall here endeavour to shew, that his being a Comforter depends upon his being the Spirit of truth; and particularly, how truth comes to have this comforting influence upon man’s mind. I conceive it derives this virtue from these two things.
(1.) From the native, congenial suitableness that it has to man’s understanding. And from the application of a suitable object to a well-disposed faculty, there naturally arises comfort. If you now demand, how truth comes to be so suitable to the mind; I answer, that there can be no further reason given, but that it is the nature of it so to be: and of the nature of things there is no reason to be assigned, but the will of the Creator, who was pleased, in ordering the great economy of the world, to plant an agreeableness between some natures, and a disagreeableness between others.
There is that agreement between truth and the mind, that there is between light and the eye; which is the sense of pleasure, of the purest and the most sublime pleasure. And surely, of all the creatures that have issued from the workmanship of omnipotence, there is none so pleasing, so refreshing, 94or rather so enlivening as the light; which is that, that gives a seasonage to all other fruitions, that lays open the bosom of the universe, and shews the treasures of nature; and, in a word, gives opportunity to the enjoyment of all the other senses.
It is reported of a certain blind man, that he yet knew when a candle was brought into the room, by the sudden refreshment that he found caused by it upon his spirits. Now give me leave to shew, that truth is as great a comfort to the soul. For what makes the studious man prefer a book before a revel, the rigours of contemplation and retirements, before merry-meetings and jolly company? Is it because he has not the same appetites with other men, or because he has no taste of pleasure? No, certainly; but because a nobler pleasure has rendered those inferior ones tasteless and contemptible.
For is there any delight comparable to what reason finds, when it pursues a conclusion into all its consequences, and sees one truth grow out of another, and by degrees rise out of obscurity into evidence and demonstration? Do you think that the intent speculations of Archimedes were not infinitely more pleasing than the carouses of Epicurus? And if the embraces of natural truth be so transporting to a philosopher, what must the discovery of the supernatural revealed truths of the gospel be to a Christian? where the pleasure is heightened according to the different worth of the object; where every truth comes recommended to the soul with a double excellency, its greatness and its concernment.
(2.) Truth comes to have this comforting influence upon man’s mind, from the peculiar and 95sovereign virtue it has to clear the conscience; and that, from the two great annoyances and disturbances of it, guilt and doubting: which two are the causes of all the trouble and perplexity of man’s mind.
First, It clears it from guilt. Sin is the standing and eternal cause of sorrow, and that not only from those outward, penal effects that it draws after it, but from the very reflection of the mind upon it. It is troublesome, offensive, and opposite to the principles of nature. The conscience shrinks, and feels a kind of horror within itself, when it thinks of a vile action. Every sin upon the apprehensive conscience is like a dust falling upon the ball of the eye; how pungent, sharp, and afflicting is it to that tender part!
Now truth discharges the conscience of the trouble of guilt, by being the great means to prevent the sin. Hence the way of holiness is frequently in scripture called the way of truth: and it is worth our observation, that there is no sin ever committed, but it is ushered in by some error of the mind, and a false judgment passed upon things. For notwithstanding that in most sins the mind has a general judgment of the evil of the thing that it is about to do, before the sin comes to be actually committed: from all circumstances and particulars put together, as the present gratification, and yet withal future safety upon repentance, the mind passes a particular practical judgment, that it is better for it to do that sin, than not to do it. And here is the deception, after which follows the sinful action. But now, did the mind proceed by the unerring rules and informations of truth, it would judge 96otherwise, and consequently do otherwise; and thereupon be secured from that trouble, horror, and anguish of conscience, that God by an irreversible decree has entailed upon the commission of sin.
Secondly, Truth clears the conscience of doubt; and this frequently exerts its perplexing quality, where there is no other foundation but a mere surmise of guilt. For how come the consciences of the most pious and the strictest persons to be often times in such plunges of horror and amazement, but from misgivings about the safety of their spiritual estate? And what is the cause of doubting but the disappearance of truth? How comes the mind to be frighted and amazed, but because it is in the dark? When truth wraps itself in a cloud, and shuns the eye, then the reason of man is in suspense, and under various fluctuations which way to determine; but it is certainty alone, that is the bottom of all rational determinations.
There is no weariness like that which rises from doubting, from the perpetual jogging of an unfixed reason. The torment of suspense is very great; and as soon as the wavering, perplexed mind begins to determine, be the determination which way soever, it will find itself at ease. But now it is the Spirit of truth that gives assurance, assurance that cashiers doubt, and consequently restores comfort.
And thus much for the first part of the text, in which is contained the promise of sending the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. I proceed now to the
Second, viz. the end of his being sent, which was to testify of Christ.
In which we are to consider two things.97
1. What it was that the Spirit was to testify of Christ.
2. By what ways and means he was to testify this of him.
1. For the first of these, the Holy Ghost was never sent to testify any thing of Christ, but what he had testified of himself before; as that he was the Son of God, the Messias, and Saviour of the world. In all that the Spirit was to do or speak, he was but to act the part of an ambassador: in John xvi. 13, Christ says, that he should not speak of himself. And again, in the next verse, He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto yon. All the suggestions of the Spirit in this case were not invention, but repetition.
2. As for the ways and means by which the Spirit testified of Christ, they were the gifts conferred by him upon the disciples, to enable and fit them for their apostolic employment; of the memory of which action, this day is the solemn celebration. Now, though it is not to be doubted, but the gifts of the Spirit were so universal, as to reach and cure all their unfitness; yet there were three that seemed more eminently designed, and more peculiarly effectual for the great purpose of preaching the gospel.
(1.) The first was the gift of miracles. Every miracle is the suffrage of Heaven to the truth of a doctrine. And as Christ had done greater miracles than any before him, so he promised his disciples a power of doing greater miracles than himself. The acts of the apostles were so many demonstrations of the truth of Christianity; for all those signs and wonders were done in Christ’s name, which retained 98a surviving efficacy, even after his departure. His name was enough to supply his presence; a name to which every knee bowed, either by way of adoration or submission. The devils confessed him, his enemies oftentimes acknowledged him, even when their interest denied him; Acts iv. 16. Yea, every malady and disease proclaimed the truth of Christ’s doctrine, while they felt the curing influence of his power. Every preacher was then a physician, with out changing his profession.
(2.) The second was the gift of tongues. That a man should learn all tongues in a day’s space, one would think it impossible; yet we have seen it done when the Spirit was the teacher: so easily can God in an hour’s time outdo the acquisitions of human industry for many years. And this surely was a convincing, amazing argument of the truth of the Christian religion to all its adversaries: and the tongues by which the apostles spoke were a sufficient demonstration of the truth of what they spoke; neither was it any more than suitable to the nature of this doctrine, that what was to be known to all nations should be proclaimed in all tongues, should speak an universal language. The wisdom of Heaven did not think fit to bespeak men in an unknown tongue; nor, what had been more miraculous than all miracles, that men should be saved by what they could not understand.
(3.) The third and great means by which the Holy Ghost testified of Christ, was by that strange, undaunted, and supernatural courage that he infused into the disciples. Truly so great, that, upon a due consideration of man’s nature, I look upon it as a 99proof of Christianity, so far as that religion depends upon matter of fact, comparable to the highest miracle.
Every lie is weak, and he that promulges a lie, knowing it to be so, is naturally diffident and fearful. But so invincible a persuasion possessed the disciples of the truth of what they asserted, that it bore them above the highest contumelies, the greatest hardships, and the sharpest persecutions. Acts iv. 20, We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. They spoke, as it were, by a necessary impulse, whether they would or no.
Neither were they naturally such resolute persons, that this hardiness of theirs might be reputed an effect of their temper and complexion: for it appeared, upon several occasions before, that they were men of a timorous and a poor spirit. How did they cry out when they saw Christ walking upon the sea! thinking that they had seen a spirit. Matt. xiv. 26. And last of all, when Christ was apprehended, they all forsook him, and fled, Matt. xxvi. 56. And Peter, who was the boldest of them, yet how cowardly did he deny his master! for the baseness of that action could be resolved into nothing but his fear.
But after the diffusion of the Holy Ghost, we find that no opposition could quell them; no terror affright, nor any prison or torment silence them. And therefore when Christ commanded them to stay at Jerusalem, and expect the gift of the Holy Ghost, Luke xxiv. 49, he very properly tells them, that they should be endued with power from on high; that is, with such a gift of resolved constancy 100and courage, as should make them superior to all fears within, or oppositions without.
In a word, the Holy Ghost so furnished and enabled Christ’s disciples to testify of him, that they were the most qualified witnesses of the truth of what they avouched, that ever appeared upon the stage of the world; nor was any doctrine or religion besides the Christian ever attested with such illustrious proofs, and such unexceptionable reasons of credibility.
I suppose a full reflection upon what has been delivered cannot but furnish us with an infallible rule, by which to try men’s pretences of the Spirit. It is comprised in this short interrogatory: Do they testify of Christ? Does their doctrine only transcribe what stands already written in the word? Otherwise, if they invent and substitute something in the room of gospel; if they find not only comment, but text also, and plead the spirit in defiance of the letter; it is not the Spirit of God that acts them, but the spirit of darkness and desolation, that ruins government and subverts kingdoms: and if it had not been for such a kind of spirit, this day had not been by a third part so much a festival as it is.
For had not the king been driven out of his do minions, he could not have been so gloriously restored; and had it not been for the furious spirit of enthusiasm, those confusions, the fatal cause of his expulsion, had never happened. For was not the prime leader and artificer of this successful villainy the professed father of enthusiasts? Did he not still plead inward instigations, in opposition to express commands? And were not all his legions possessed 101by the same spirit; by whose teachings they thought themselves sufficiently discharged from the abrogated precepts of allegiance? But since it is our duty not to violate the memory of our oppressors, but silently, thankfully, and forgetfully to accept the oppression; we will commemorate only the king’s restitution.
And this I think may not improperly coincide with the very business of the day, which is to celebrate the sending of the Holy Ghost; who also must be acknowledged the cause of this great transaction: so that we may with a peculiar emphasis and propriety express the king’s restoration in those words of the prophet, Zechar. iv. 6, Not by might, nor by strength, but by my spirit, saith the Lord.
For the king returned not a conqueror, but a conquered person, borne upon the backs of his conquerors; and brought in by a body of men, who at that very time wanted neither force nor will to have devoured him; but by a strange surprise and infatuation upon their spirits, were prevailed upon to do they knew not what, nor why.
It was an action, that carried in it such bright testimonies of a supernatural power, so much above, nay against the means and actors visibly appearing in it; that I know no argument from metaphysics or natural philosophy, that to my reason proves the existence of a Deity more fully, than the consideration of this prodigious revolution: which, if it does not leave lasting impressions of gratitude in men’s minds, manifesting itself in the returns of a pious life, truly the delivered persons will be yet a greater wonder than the deliverance.
But whether or no it has had this effect, and 102whether many have not returned rather hardened than reduced by their afflictions, and brought out of the furnace with them that dross which first cast them into it; God knows, and their own consciences know, and their lives in a great measure testify.
It is a sad and a fearful consideration, but too obvious to escape any observing mind, that atheism, obscenity, and a professed scorn of religion, has so wrought itself into the behaviour, the discourse, and the very genius of the times, that if God can be provoked again, they carry in them the threatening presages and dismal prognostics of an impending national judgment, which God of his infinite mercy avert. And since nothing less will do it, may he continue to preserve us by a greater miracle of goodness, than that by which he first restored us.
Now, though (as I have already shewn) the chief subject of the text was the Holy Spirit; yet, as if it carried in it a conjunction of two great festivals, it seems to point both at the Pentecost and the Trinity.
For in the words we have,
1. The person sent, which was the Holy Ghost.
2. The person sending him, which was the Son.
3. The person from whom he is said to proceed, which was the Father.
So great a mystery have we lying in so small a compass; that which neither the heaven of heavens can contain, nor the grasp of human reason comprehend, we see here wrapt up and represented in one period of this sublime evangelist.
But you will say, Does not our creed tell us, 103that the three persons of the Godhead are coequal? How then comes the Son to send and employ the Holy Ghost, which argues a distance and superiority?
I answer, that their equality is to be understood only in respect of their nature; and an equality of nature hinders not an inequality in point of order and office, especially being voluntarily undertook: in respect of which, the Spirit may be properly said to be sent by the Son, though otherwise as to the divine nature they are absolutely coequal.
We have here the three persons, as it were, met in council about the grand affair of man’s salvation. The Father contriving, the Son ordering, and the Spirit performing. One would almost think, that it were lawful for man to be proud, when it is thus made the interest of Heaven to look after and to promote the concerns of his happiness. It is like the sun, that vast and glorious body, wheeling about the earth to give warmth and influence to a poor plant or a little flower.
God is pleased to make it his business that we should be saved. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are all employed, and every person has shared out to himself a distinct office in the management of that great action; and that with such a stated order, that the manner of doing is as admirable as the thing done. The Father could have transacted the whole business of man’s salvation by himself; but he was pleased to honour the work with a mystery, and by allotting to each person his part, to recommend order to our imitation.
In short, from this whole passage, by way of deduction, we may collect and learn these two things:104
(1.) God’s gracious love and condescension to man.
(2.) The worth of souls.
(1.) For the first of these, was it not wonderful that the whole Trinity should thus stoop down to regard and advance us? It is, as if a king should call his parliament to invent ways and means how to prefer a few beggars.
Twelve poor fishermen were those to whom the Father and the Son first sent the Holy Ghost to be their comforter. And were not these worthy persons, to whom God should send an embassy from heaven! Yet the love of God thought all this little enough to carry on the good of mankind. The Trinity is indeed a great mystery, yet it is a question, whether God is not yet more wonderful in his love, than in the way of his subsistence.
(2.) We learn hence the worth of souls. Though the divine nature is so glorious, that there is room enough for condescension, even in his treating with the most excellent of his creatures; yet surely the Lord of the universe does not busy himself about trifles, nor lay designs and use great counsels to pursue the air and the wind.
We can quaff away a soul, swear away a soul, and squander away eternity upon brutish and sense less gratifications of the flesh; but the omniscient, all-wise God has another judgment of souls; he looks upon them as worth his own taking pains upon. Shew me so much as one footstep in scripture, where God with such solemnity expresses a design to make any man rich or honourable; those things he scatters abroad with a looser, a promiscuous, and more careless hand.105
But the salvation of souls is never left to chance, nor to any thing like contingency. All the Persons of the Trinity are ready (as I may speak with reverence) to wait upon us in our way to heaven; solicitous to secure us in our passage, and by all ways, methods, and encouragements, to comfort us in this world, and at length to waft us to a better.
To which, God of his infinite mercy vouchsafe to bring us.106
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