On Being Filled with the Spirit
"Be filled with the Spirit." (Eph 5:18)
The soul of every feast is the presence of him whom we honour. Therefore to those who are commemorating the feast of the Holy Ghost, what can be more desirable than that this heavenly Comforter should crown that feast by His gracious visitation.
O that He would, if no longer in the form of tongues like as of fire irradiate our heads, at least touch our hearts with the mysterious spark of His holy fire, and warm them by a sense of the presence of God, like as of old He warmed the hearts of the two disciples who were "slow to believe," so that those same hearts were able at least to trace the presence of the Lord; "Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way?" (Luke 24:31) This is so great a blessing, that I know not whether we even dare to ask for it of the Treasury of blessing without an inward shudder, and a certain degree of amazement at our own boldness: although the Church, it is true, both daily, and every time at the beginning of our prayers, invites us to pray unto the Holy Ghost that He should not only come, but take up His abode in us.
But that, my brethren, which appears to us so difficult even to wish for, how simply and how abundantly does the Holy Ghost now offer unto us through the lips of the Apostle; nay, not only offer, but command, exhort, and ordain as a law – "be filled with the Spirit."
How blessed, but how wonderful, how inscrutable a commandment dost thou give us, O divine Paul, – "Be filled with the Spirit." But does it then depend upon our own will to be filled with the Spirit? If this treasure be so near and so accessible, why is it then so rare and so little known?
Christians, among our Ephesian co-disciples, to whom the Apostle of the Gentiles first addressed that instruction which we are now considering, there certainly was not one who did not understand him, or who could have opposed to him those doubts which we now feel. Had it been otherwise, the divinely inspired teacher would have doubtlessly anticipated the question by an elucidation. So did those who of old thirsted, know the way, once indicated by the prophet in the words, "Ho, every one that thirsted, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come; buy wine and milk without money, and without price." But now it appears as if we "spent money for that which is not bread, and our labor for that which satisfieth not." (Isa 55:1-2) It seems to us as if the Lord set too great a price upon His bounties, and as if it were not our hands that are too weak to hold those spiritual gifts, but rather His own had become shortened in the distribution of them.
Nay, the Lord doth bountifully "pour out His Spirit upon all flesh." (Joel 2:28) If we are not "filled with the Spirit," it is not because His gifts are wanting, but because we ourselves are wanting to them. Let the poor in spirit be comforted. Let those who are weak in the flesh take courage, Let the Lord be justified in His words.
There was a time when the Apostles, pre-eminently the temples of the Holy Ghost, were not conscious of Him Who abode in them. They were already in possession of the gift of miracles, but yet they knew not the source, nor could they perceive the direction, of that power which was working in them. The spirit of love manifested itself in them as a spirit of wrath, and they who were called to be ministers of salvation were ready to command the fire of destruction to come down from heaven. He Who was Truth itself thus convicted them of this strange ignorance of themselves, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of." (Luke 9:54-55)
Hereafter, when this same Spirit, which in the beginning had worked in the Apostles with mysterious power, having visited them in His solemn descent and filled them with knowledge and wisdom, they then came to know this same Spirit so plainly, so intimately, that they could clearly distinguish it form their own spirit, as well as from the universal spirit working in the natural man, not yet regenerated by the Spirit of God, and which had perhaps formerly worked in themselves also. "Now," says one of them, "we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." (I Cor 2:12)
Let us note, my brethren, that the Apostle does not say, "the Spirit was given to us," but "we have received the Spirit." As if he would say, "It is known that God gives His Spirit to every one who is disposed to receive it. But men are mostly enslaved and blinded by the spirit of the world. Now we have thrown off the dominion of the dark spirit, and have received into our souls the light-bearing influence of that Spirit which proceedeth from God, and thereby the knowledge and consciousness of the gifts pre-ordained unto us by God were made manifest in us. 'Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.'"
Thus, if you believe not us, unworthy servants of the Word, then believe those chosen instruments, the messengers and heralds of the Spirit of God, that notwithstanding there always is a certain amount of independence and freedom of action in man, he not only may be, but generally always is under the guidance of one of the other of these two principles, – the spirit of the world, or the Spirit of God, according as he freely receives the influence of the one or the other of them. If you seem not to experience this in yourselves, it is only a sign that "ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of."
In order that I may bring these mystical relations of the spirit of man to the Spirit of God, as near as possible to the understanding of you all, let me make use of a parable, or a simile, in which even Divine Truth frequently clothed itself in order to manifest itself unto the eyes of man, who is always more or less sensual. The infant in the womb has its own soul and life; but its life is so to say in the life of its mother, is penetrated and nourished by it; to that, compared with the fully developed existence of a man, it can hardly be called life; here then you have an image of the condition of the natural man in this world! His spirit has its own existence and freedom; nevertheless, being in the flesh it is enveloped and imperceptibly governed by the power of the world; he thinks, but he does so after the rudiments of the world; he desires, but he does so under the influence of the all-powerful, in this world, "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life;" (I John 2:16) he acts, but only in the narrow and low sphere of the sensual; he lives, but after the spirit of the world, "being alienated from the life of God." (Eph 4:18) However the confinement of the infant in the womb is not the final intention of nature, but only a means and a way by which the infant is led into full being, and it will come into the light to see the world's beauty, to taste of its good things, and to learn to know its Creator: such also is the highest destiny of the spirit of man wrapped up in the flesh and confined in the world: "Ye must be born again;" (John 3:7) ye must, for this, according to the will of God, is not the fortuitous lot of a few, but a confirmed law and a predestined state for all mankind, a state for which all natural life is but a preparation and a state of transition. The captive of this world must be "brought out of his prison," that "he may praise the name of the Lord," (Ps 142:7) that he may be "enlightened by the light of Christ, and taste of the heavenly gift, and the powers of the world to come," (Heb 6:45) while yet in this present world; to receive in this world "the Spirit which is of God," to begin, even upon earth, to breathe the atmosphere of heaven. And as the new-born infant, detaching itself form its mother's existence, has no difficulty in seeking out its new life, but carries within itself the germ of growth, which is ever developing and perfecting, and everywhere around finds the atmosphere necessary for its respiration; thus also man, withdrawn from the world by Grace, and called to birth from above, is nearer to the sphere of his new life than he thinks: for it is we alone who may be far from the Spirit of God, but the Spirit of God cannot be far from us. This Spirit "goes through all spirits," (Wis 7:23) as Solomon says, being inaccessible in its Holiness, and omnipresent in its Grace. It is poured upon every power and faculty which submits to its influence, and in the very heart of the old man it opens a fountain of a new life: "He that believeth on Me," the Giver of the Spirit said, "out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this," adds the beloved disciple, explaining the words of the heavenly Teacher, "but this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive." (John 7:38-39) Finally, here is the important difference between natural and spiritual birth: the former is achieved and completed by a necessary process of nature, whilst the latter is attained by a free aspiration towards God, by faith in Christ, "He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, "out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. " And wherefore whole rivers from one drop of the fullness of Grace sufficeth to quicken thousands of spirits? For this reason, as the Scripture hath said, that the unbounded wealth of Grace might be manifested, by which the Holy Ghost not only filleth, but overfloweth the measure of our readiness to receive Him; and, so to say, giveth us more than we are able to receive.
Is it for us, then, children of faith, not to acknowledge the presence of the Holy Ghost among us, and to ask of His dominion, Where is it? And yet even before His solemn descent upon the Church, the children of the law felt His Omnipresent and Almighty power so forcibly, that nowhere could they hide themselves and rest, from a feeling of reverential awe: "Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?" (Ps 139:7) exclaimed David. Is it for us to doubt how the free action of the spirit of man can still exist while under the increasing influence of the Almighty Spirit? And yet in the time of Job, it was already known, that there is "a spirit in man"; and the inspiration of the Almighty "giveth them understanding." (Job 32:8) Need we also call to mind our own confession, so often renewed by us at the call of the Church, by which, while drawing nigh unto God in prayer, we proclaim the Omnipresent and all-filling might of His Spirit? Everywhere present, and filling everything!
"Filling everything!" But why then are not all filled with Him? It is evident we must question ourselves upon this.
Can we "be filled with the Spirit," when the flesh unceasingly warring against the spirit finds in us no check to its dominion? If in the satiety of the flesh, in its pleasures, its enjoyments, we extinguish even the innate hunger of our spirit for the Word of God, and its thirst after righteousness; if we live only in the flesh, in which, as a man of God assures us from his own experience, there "dwelleth no good thing:" (Rom 7:18) in such a case we are willingly hurrying ourselves towards the fearful judgment of God, pronounced upon the first world: "My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh." (Gen 6:3) "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting." (Gal 6:7-8)
Can we be "filled with the Spirit of God, whilst we are animated but by the spirit of this world, whilst we fill our mind with its earthly wisdom alone, enliven our imagination with its charms alone, excite our hearts solely with its passions, govern our will but by its laws, strive by our deeds to please it alone. Can we be filled with the Spirit of God if our better feelings, our virtues even, are infected by the pernicious breath of the spirit of this world, our love by partiality, deference, by adulation, nobleness by pride, industry by avarice, charity by ostentation, dignity by contempt of others, great actions by ambition? They only can "receive the Spirit which is of God, who have not received the spirit of the world," or have driven it out by "loving not the world, neither the things that are in the world." (I John 2:15)
Can we "be filled with the Spirit" whilst we are still engrossed by ourselves, that there is not in us even one spot free and pure enough, in which even one drop of that "living water," which through the length and breadth of time and space, "is springing up into eternal life" (John 4:14) might fall and not be changed into mire through our self-love and our sinful impurities? Our uncleanness is a dam which separates us from the flood of the living water of the Spirit of the Lord, which like unto the waters of the spring-time, are "sent everywhere to create" new life, "and to renew the face of the earth:" (Ps 104:30) but this is not a manifestation of the wrath, but rather of the mercy of God, that these waters do not break through into unworthy souls; for the holy and sanctifying water of life, falling on that which is unclean, would break out into an all-devouring flame.
Therefore let not those murmur against the Holy Ghost, who though having renounced with their whole might, the flesh, the world, and themselves, come unto Christ with a spiritual thirst and yet do not drink of the fountain of blessings, do not feel in themselves the comforting presence of Grace, sanctifying and regenerating them, – or having felt it for a time, lose it again. It is written in the Gospel, that once when Jesus Christ Himself was preaching "of the Spirit, which they that believed on Him should receive, the Holy Ghost was not yet received, because that Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:39) In another place He tells His disciples that even after their constant following of Him, they must first be tried by the loss of His visible presence, and then only be admitted to the mysterious communion of the Holy Ghost: "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you." (John 16:7) And even after His resurrection, when "all power was given unto Him in heaven and on earth," the Apostles needed fifty days of "patience and unanimous prayer and supplications" (Acts 1:14) to be purged of all that is worldly, and finally be filled "with the Holy Ghost" alone, and begin to live in this fullness. Only when thus purged of all this did they become worthy to keep the great feast of God. Perhaps, unto you also, who are desirous of following Christ after the manner of the Apostles, but who do not feel in yourselves the "anointing of the Most Holy," – perhaps unto you also is "the Holy Ghost not yet given, because Jesus is not yet glorified" in you; perhaps you as yet received Him only as a Prophet, bearing the word of God on His lips, but have not as yet dedicated yourselves unto Him, as unto the Priest, that He may, in the communion of His universal sacrifice, raise you up also as a pleasing offering to His Father; perhaps you have not yet exalted Him as a King, so that no desire, no thought, should arise in you without His will. Perhaps if you "know and seek Christ" more "after the flesh" (II Cor 5:16) than after the Spirit, it is expedient for you also that the blessed Bridegroom should be taken away from your souls for a time, in order that the loss of spiritual comfort might purify your faith, exalt your love, fortify your patience, incite your prayers, expel dangerous self-gratification, and prepare for you a double bliss.
But they in whom "the anointing," by a mysterious hand, if not yet felt, has at least commenced, "need not that any man teach them; but the same anointing teacheth them all things." (I John 2:27) But what shall we do, we who live only in the flesh and blood: and who "cannot inherit the kingdom of God?" What will become of us, who are dead in the spirit, cold and dry, like the bones dispersed in the valley in Ezekiel's vision? "Can these bones live?" (Ezek 37:3) asked God of the prophet, wishing to send down on them His quickening Spirit: "He who wills not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live," doubtless looks down on these spiritual skeletons also, with the same compassion, and with the impatient desire, if we may thus speak, that they may be quickened by the Holy Spirit: "Can these bones live? O Lord God, Thou knowest." And now, O Lord, say Thou Thyself, what Thou saidst of old to Thy prophet; for there is none among us who can say it: say Thou Thyself unto these bones: "Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall love; and ye shall know that I am the Lord!"