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OF THE ORDINARY INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY GHOST, ON THE MINDS OF CHRISTIANS.
But this 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 vii. 39.
OUR blessed Saviour (who used from all sorts of objects and occurrences to discourse of heavenly and spiritual things) being present at the feast of tabernacles, in which it was the custom of the Jews, from the fountain Siloam, to fetch water with great pomp and ceremony, and to bring it into the temple with sound of trumpet, and to offer it, singing those words of the prophet Isaiah, “They shall draw waters with joy out of the wells of salvation:” I say, our Saviour being present at this feast, takes occasion from these waters, which they brought into the temple with so much joy, to proclaim those spiritual benefits which Christians should be made partakers of by the Holy Ghost, and which are in Scripture represented by waters flowing from a living fountain. “In the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture saith,” that is, according to the tenor of several passages in the prophets, “out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water;” and then the evangelist adds, by way of farther explication 433of our Saviour’s meaning, “but this he spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive. For the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” In which words we have these three things considerable:
First, The gift itself; which is here called the Spirit, or the Holy Ghost.
Secondly, The persons upon whom this gift was to be conferred; and those are believers, such as should believe and embrace the gospel. “This he spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.”
Thirdly, The particular time and season of the first conferring of this gift: and this was not to be till after our Saviour’s ascension into heaven, and being received up into glory, implied in those words, “the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” I shall as briefly as I can explain these three things.
First, The gift itself, which is here called the Spirit, or the Holy Ghost. By which we are to understand a special power and presence of the Holy Ghost with believers, the immediate operation and assistance of the Divine Spirit communicated and imparted to them; and this comprehends in it these two things:
1. Those extraordinary and miraculous gifts which were bestowed upon the apostles and primitive Christians, in order to the planting and propagating of the Christian religion in the world, and for the use and benefit of the church, while it was under persecution, and destitute of all secular countenance and assistance; and of those ordinary human advantages which are sufficient to preserve and maintain a religion, after it is once firmly settled, 434and generally entertained. And these gifts were in a very remarkable manner, and such as no religion that ever was in the world can pretend to the like, conferred upon the first preachers of the Christian doctrine, and planters of it in the world; and they were in a high degree necessary to give credit and countenance to this religion at its first appearance, and to awaken the drowsy world to an attentive consideration of it; to conquer the prejudices of men against a new religion; and to support and bear up the teachers and publishers of this doctrine, against that violent opposition and persecution which would certainly be raised against it; and likewise to supply the want of secular power and authority to give countenance and assistance to it.
For these, and such-like ends and reasons, God was pleased, at that time, not only to endue the apostles and first preachers of Christianity with all sorts of miraculous powers, but even the generality of Christians with several extraordinary gifts; and also to accompany the outward preaching of the gospel with a very extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit upon the minds of men; to make way for the entertainment of it, by opening their understandings, and enlightening their minds to discern spiritual things, by subduing their prejudices, and conquering their lusts, and the vicious and perverse inclinations of their wills, to the obedience of faith, by raising their minds above the world, above all the allurements and enjoyments of it, and above all the threatenings and (errors of it, and giving men courage and resolution to embrace this profession, and with constancy to adhere to it, notwithstanding all the dangers and sufferings which attended it.
1 shall not now treat of these miraculous gifts particularly, 435having had frequent occasion heretofore1010 See Sermon XX. vol. ii. p. 235. and Sermon CXCVI. p. 377. of the present volume. to discourse at large of the nature, and several kinds, and particular use and ends of them. I shall only observe to you, that this power of miracles, and this extraordinary influence of the Spirit of God upon the minds of men, was not intended always to continue in the church, but only so long as there should he need and occasion for it; that is, till the Christian religion was fully propagated and planted, and the fury of persecution abated, and till Christianity had the favour and countenance of the civil authority, and the prejudice of education on its side. For when by this means it came to stand upon equal terms of advantage with other religions, God then withdrew his extraordinary assistance, and left it to be maintained and supported by more human and ordinary ways, and, in a great measure, by its own rational force and power upon the minds of men.
2. The gift of the Holy Ghost doth likewise signify and comprehend in it a more than ordinary and gentle influence of God’s Spirit upon the minds of men, to all holy and good purposes: by which I mean, an immediate operation and assistance of the Holy Ghost afforded to men, to relieve the weakness and impotence of human nature, to help and strengthen us to the performance of what the gospel requires of us. And this I shall have occasion to explain more particularly, when I have gone over the other parts of the text.
Secondly, You have here the qualification of the persons who were to be made partakers of this gift; and that is, believing and embracing the gospel: 436“This he spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.”
The extraordinary and miraculous gifts of the Spirit were not conferred on any but those who embraced the faith of Christ, and made profession of the Christian religion. Not that all Christians were endowed with those extraordinary gifts, much less all in an equal degree. But they were distributed (as St. Paul tells us) in such manner and measure as the wisdom of God thought fit, and as was most for the use and edification of the church. But all were partakers of the Holy Ghost, in respect of his more ordinary influence and assistance, and this gift all Christians received upon their embracing and owning the Christian religion. Thus (Acts v. 32.) the Holy Ghost is said to be “given by God to them that obey him.” And (Gal. iii. 14.) we are said “to receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” And (Ephes. i. 13.) “In whom, also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.”
And because this profession of faith was made in baptism, whereby men are solemnly initiated into the Christian religion, hence it is, that this gift of the Holy Ghost is in Scripture promised, and said to be conferred in baptism: (Acts ii. 31.) “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” And (Heb. vi. 4.) the apostle, speaking of those who had solemnly taken upon them the profession of Christianity, thus describes them; “Those who were once enlightened, (that is, baptized, for so baptism is frequently by the ancients called illumination) those who were once 437baptized, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost;” implying, that this heavenly gift of God’s Holy Spirit was conferred upon Christians in their baptism; and hence it is, that “baptizing with water and the Holy Ghost” were frequently put together, water being the outward symbol, and the Holy Ghost the in ward grace, conferred in baptism. So likewise the apostle joins together, “the laver of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Tit. iii. 5.)
All which considered, I cannot imagine why so great a scruple should be made of those expressions which our church useth in the office of baptism of children; M being regenerated and born again by baptism,” and “being thereby made the children of God, and heirs of eternal life.” That is, by entering into this covenant, they are put into a state and capacity of all the blessings of the gospel, if they do not neglect the condition which that covenant requires on their part. For all this is in truth no other but what the Scripture says of baptism, and ascribes to it, when it calls it, “the laver of regeneration,” when it declares the Spirit to be conferred in baptism, and when it says, that “as many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God, and that the sons of God are heirs of eternal life.” So that I cannot see that our church, in her highest expressions concerning the benefits and effects of baptism, says any thing but what is very agreeable, both to the expressions and sense of Scripture. And thus, not only the ancient fathers spake of this matter, but so likewise do all the liturgies of the reformed churches, in the offices and forms appointed by them for the administration of baptism; so that it seems a very 438affected singularity to take exceptions at such expressions as have constantly been, and still are, generally used in all Christian churches. The
Third thing considerable in the text is, the particular time and season of the conferring of this gift of the Holy Ghost; and that was after our Saviour’s ascension into heaven, and being received up into glory, implied in those words, “the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified;” signifying to us, that this effusion of the Spirit was not to be till after our Saviour’s ascension into heaven.
But was not the Holy Ghost given to the prophets of old? and were not good men in former ages of the world under the ordinary influence and assistance of the Divine grace and Spirit? why is it then said, that the “Holy Ghost was not yet given?”
The answer to this is easy: that our Saviour here speaks of that general and plentiful effusion of the Holy Ghost, which was promised to the latter days, that is, to the gospel age; the like to which, both for the universal communication of this gift, and for the extraordinary degree and measure of its participation, had never been in the world before; and of this it is that the evangelist speaks, when he dates the time of it from after our Saviour’s ascension into heaven. Now why the dispensation of this gift of the Holy Ghost was particularly limited to this time, though it is not necessary we should know the reasons of it, yet there are three obvious ones, which may give us full satisfaction in this matter.
1. Because it was not so necessary before, in our Saviour’s life-time: for during his continuance in the world, and conversation with his disciples, his presence supplied all other defects; but when he left 439them, they were, as he calls them, orphans, destitute of help, comfort, and protection; and therefore it was requisite, that, upon his departure from them, this Comforter and advocate should come to “abide and continue with them for ever.” But this does not seem to reach fully the reason assigned in the text, why “the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Therefore,
2. It seems very convenient, not only that our Saviour should be visibly taken up into heaven, but that after he was ascended thither, he should give some remarkable testimony to the world, of the power and dignity to which he was there advanced; and that as a king he should give some evidence of his authority and majesty, at his solemn inauguration into his kingdom, by dispensing plentifully spiritual gifts, as the princes of this world are wont at such a time to scatter temporal favours and benefits. And this the Scripture takes notice of, as an evidence and testimony of his royal dignity, and glorious exaltation at the right hand of God, (Acts v. 31, 32.) “Him hath God exalted (speaking of our blessed Lord) with his own right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.” Where you see that the gift of the Holy Ghost is mentioned as a testimony of our Saviour’s being “exalted as a Prince at the right hand of God.” But more expressly St. Paul, (Eph. iv. 8.) applied to our Saviour these words of the Psalmist, Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”
3. After our Saviours ascension, there was the 440 greatest occasion that ever was for the bestowing of this gift of the Holy Ghost, considering what kind of persons they were that were appointed to publish the gospel to the world: and that this great work being to be carried on by instruments in all appearance so weak, and mean, and contemptible, there was an absolute necessity of an extraordinary testimony to be given from heaven to the Divinity of this new doctrine, and of a Divine power and presence going along with it, to encourage and support those weak instruments in carrying on of this work, against the mighty opposition and persecution it was likely to meet withal, and against such difficulties and obstacles as were plainly insuperable by any human power and means. For as there never was a work of greater consequence and difficulty than this undertaking; so could this Divine power and assistance never have appeared and manifested itself, upon a litter and more worthy occasion. Since our Saviour, according to the wise counsel of God, intended, that after his ascension into heaven, his gospel should be published to the world, it was highly requisite that the minds of men should be prepared for it, and way made for the more ready entertainment and easy passage of it, by some signal testimony of the Divine presence attending the first publishers of it, and by circumstances, though not so full of terror and amazement as those which did accompany the giving of the law, yet really of greater force and efficacy, and more apt to convince the world of the truth of this doctrine, and to insinuate it more effectually into the hearts and consciences of men.
And now that I have given you a brief account of the three particulars, which from this text offer 441themselves to our consideration, I shall return back to that which I intended more especially to insist upon; and that is, the more ordinary influence of the Holy Spirit of God upon the minds of those who believe and embrace the Christian doctrine; and this I shall endeavour to explain to you under these four heads:
First, I shall open to you the nature of it.
Secondly, The necessity of it, to enable us to perform the condition of the gospel covenant.
Thirdly, The blessed effects of it.
Fourthly, The extent of it as to persons and times.
First, I shall endeavour to open to you the nature of this gift of the Holy Ghost, understanding by it the ordinary influence of the Holy Spirit of God upon the hearts and minds of believers. And I doubt not but that the Scripture means by it an immediate influence and operation of the Holy Spirit of God upon the minds of men, an inward power, strength, and assistance, communicated to Christians, to all the purposes of holiness and obedience, enabling them to be such “manner of persons, in all holy conversation and godliness,” as the gospel requires: and not only that this strength and assistance is offered and afforded to us, “to work in us, both to will and to do” all that is necessary to salvation, if we put no obstacle thereto, and do not resist the Spirit of God, and the blessed motions of it; but, likewise, that this power does continually dwell and reside in all true Christians, if we do not grieve the Spirit of God, and provoke him to withdraw himself from us.
And this is sufficiently declared in several places of the New Testament, where we are said to be “assisted by a Divine power, and strengthened with all might by the Spirit in the inner man; to walk in the 442Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, and by the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the flesh;” and likewise in those texts, wherein the Spirit of God is said “to work mightily in them that believe, to dwell in them, to sanctify and renew them,” with many such-like expressions, frequently to be met with in the writings of the apostles. By all which, unless we offer notorious violence to the plain and obvious sense of them, we must necessarily understand something more than the confirmation which was given to the Christian doctrine, by the miracles that were wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost; which doctrine being thus confirmed, does by way of rational conviction work upon the minds of men, and change their wills, without any internal operation and immediate assistance of the Holy Ghost. Such a remote influence of the Spirit of God upon men as this is, does by no means seem to answer the fulness of those phrases and expressions, which the Scripture so frequently useth concerning it; and if any man do but seriously weigh and consider them, nothing less than an immediate influence of the Spirit of God upon our hearts, and a real strength and power thereby communicated to us, can be imagined to satisfy the proper sense and meaning of the several expressions which I have mentioned.
And that the Scripture, by the promise of the Spirit, and the various expressions concerning it, does mean this ordinary assistance common to all Christians in all times, and not only the extraordinary and miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, which were peculiar to the first ages of Christianity, seems to me to be very plain; because the Scripture makes the gift of the Spirit to be common to all believers, and to be given to all that are baptized, and this in 443all ages of the church; as appears from those words of St. Peter: (Acts ii. 38, 39.) “Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” This promise is “the promise of the Holy Ghost,” which, he says, is made to them and their posterity, that in all succeeding ages should be gained to the faith of Christ. So that this “promise of the Holy Ghost,” which St. Peter speaks of, and declares to be conferred in baptism, does not respect only the first ages of Christianity, but all succeeding generations; and therefore cannot be understood of the power of miracles, because that is long since ceased in the Christian church.
And this appears yet more evidently, in that the Scripture makes the want of the Spirit a sign that a man is no true and sincere Christian: “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his;” and, on the contrary, makes our having the Spirit of God, a mark of a child of God; “As many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God:” but our Saviour hath assured us, that men may have the miraculous gifts of the Spirit of God, may “prophecy in Christ’s name, and cast out devils in his name, and in his name do many wondrous works,” and yet be “workers of iniquity, and shut out of the kingdom of God.” And, on the other hand, men may not have these miraculous gifts, and yet be the children of God. But this will yet more fully appear, if we consider, in the
Second place, The great necessity of such an immediate influence and assistance of the Spirit of God, 444to enable Christians to perform the condition of the covenant of the gospel. The great corruption and degeneracy of human nature, and the impotency and weakness consequent thereupon, is not only matter of Divine revelation, but hath always been the general apprehension, and acknowledgment, and the sad complaint, of the wisest part of mankind: and, indeed, every man may feel it in himself, and observe it in others. Now for our relief and recovery out of this miserable and degenerate state, God was pleased, in great pity and commiseration to mankind, to send his Son into the world, to reveal his will and our duty anew to us, for our direction in the way to life and happiness; and by the sacrifice of himself to make a perfect expiation of sin; and to proclaim forgiveness of sins to us, for the encouragement of our repentance, and return to our duty; and, in a word, to offer new terms of life and happiness to us, upon the conditions of faith, and repentance, and new obedience.
But after all this is done for us, we are still with out strength, our nature being depraved, and sunk into that impotency and weakness, that, without the powerful assistance of Divine grace, we are utterly unable to perform those most equal and reasonable conditions which the gospel requires of us, being, as the Scripture expresseth it, “dead in trespasses and sins, and estranged from the life of God, through the darkness that is in us, and the blindness of our hearts;” being enslaved to vitious habits, and having a carnal mind, which is enmity to God, and renders us incapable to receive or relish Divine and spiritual things. So that, notwithstanding all that our blessed Saviour hath done and suffered for us, and all the merciful overtures of pardon and happiness, 445which the gospel makes to us, all this will signify nothing to our benefit and advantage, unless our impotency be relieved, and new life and strength be conveyed to us, to awaken and excite us to that which is good, to enable us to mortify and subdue our evil and corrupt inclinations, to break off our vitious habits, and to walk in the ways of God’s commandments. For “we are not sufficient of ourselves, as of ourselves,” for any of these things; “but our sufficiency is of God. Without Christ we can do nothing;” and it is only through him strengthening of us, that we are able to do all those things which are necessary to be done by us, in order to the obtaining of that happiness and salvation which the gospel hath promised, and our Saviour hath purchased for us. And therefore our merciful Redeemer, that he might not leave his work imperfect, hath sent his blessed Spirit into our hearts, to enlighten the eyes of our minds, and to open and dispose our understandings for the receiving of Divine and spiritual truths; to conquer, likewise, the perverseness and stubbornness of our wills, and to set us at liberty from the slavery of our lusts; (for “where the Spirit of God is,” as St. Paul tells us, “there is liberty;”) “to renew our natures, and to purify our hearts, to mortify our corrupt affections, and to assist us to every good word and work;” to strengthen us against temptations, to support us under sufferings and persecutions, and, in a word, to keep us by this mighty power of God, and gracious assistance of his Holy Spirit, “through faith unto salvation.” So that whosoever shall but duly weigh and consider his own darkness and ignorance, the strange and unreasonable prejudices of a corrupt mind against Divine truth, and against the practice of holiness 446and virtue, the strong bias of men’s natural inclinations to that which is evil, the mighty force and power of evil and inveterate habits within us, and the strength and violence of manifold temptations without us, together with the great difficulties and discouragements of piety and virtue, especially when they are attended with grievous sufferings and fiery trials, for righteousness sake; I say, he that considers all this, will easily discern, and readily acknowledge, how great a necessity there is of the grace and assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, to all the purposes of a firm faith, and a sincere repentance, and a constant and universal obedience to the holy laws and precepts of the gospel, to rescue us from the power and dominion of sin, to raise us to a new life, to engage us in a holy course, and to fortify our resolutions against sin, and to enable us to persevere, and patiently continue in doing and suffering the will of God.
It is this gracious influence, and continual assistance of God’s Holy Spirit residing and dwelling in us, which secures all the other blessings and benefits of the gospel to us, and conducts us safely through all the temptations of this world, and the difficulties of a Christian course, to the end of our faith, the eternal salvation of our souls. For which reason, the Spirit of God dwelling in good men, and evidencing itself by its genuine fruits and effects, the graces and virtues of a good life, is said to be the pledge and earnest of our future inheritance, and of a blessed resurrection to eternal life, and “to seal us up to the day of redemption:” (Rom. viii. 11.) “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you; he that raised up Christ from the dead, shall also quicken your mortal 447bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” For the same reason the apostle makes the Spirit of God, by which Christians are governed and led, to be the mark of their adoption, and being “the children of God, and heirs of eternal life;” (ver. 14.) “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, are the sons of God!” And, (ver. 16, 17.) “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” And elsewhere the apostle useth it for an argument, why we should be careful not to resist, or quench the motions of God’s blessed Spirit; because by this mark we are sealed to eternal life. “And quench not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” I should now have proceeded, in the
Third place, To shew the blessed effects of the influence of the Holy Spirit dwelling and residing in us: but that, together with the extent of this gift of the Holy Ghost, as to persons and times, I shall refer to another opportunity.448
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