THE INDWELLING OF THE SPIRIT
In the last day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying. If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive. John 7.37-39.
Nothing has rendered the cross of Christ of less effect; nothing has been a greater stumbling-block and rock of offence to weak minds, than a supposition, now current among us, that most of what is contained in the gospel of Jesus Christ was designed only for our Lord’s first and immediate followers, and consequently calculated but for one or two hundred years. Accordingly, many now read the life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the same manner as Caesar’s Commentaries or the Conquests of Alexander are read: as things rather intended to afford matter for speculation, than to be acted over again in and by us.
As this is true of the doctrines of the gospel in general, so it is of the operation of God’s Spirit upon the hearts of believers in particular; for we no sooner mention the necessity of our receiving the Holy Ghost, than we are looked upon by some as enthusiasts and madmen. Judge ye then, whether it is not high time for the true ministers of Jesus Christ, who have been made partakers of this heavenly gift, to lift up their voices like a trumpet. For this reason I have chosen the words of the text. They were spoken by Jesus Christ when He was at the feast of tabernacles. At the last day of this feast it was customary for many pious people to fetch water from a certain place and bring it on their heads, singing this anthem out of Isaiah, “And with ‘joy shall they draw water out of the wells of salvation.” Our Lord observing this, and it being his constant practice to spiritualize every thing He met with, cries out, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, (rather than unto that well) and drink.” “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.”
First, I shall briefly shew what is meant by the word Spirit.
By the Spirit is evidently to be understood the Holy Ghost, the third person in the ever-blessed Trinity, consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father and the Son, proceeding from, yet equal to them both. For, that which we believe of the glory of the Father, the same we believe of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, without any difference or inequality. Thus says John in his first Epistle, chap.5. ver.7, “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.” And our Lord, when He gave His apostles commission to go and teach all nations, commanded them to baptize in the name of the Holy Ghost, as well as of the Father and the Son.
Secondly, To prove that the Holy Ghost is the common privilege of all believers.
But here I would not be understood of so receiving the Holy
Ghost, as to enable us to work miracles or shew outward signs and wonders. I allow our adversaries, that to pretend to be inspired in this sense, is being wise above what is written. And if it were possible for you, O man, to have faith so as to be able to remove mountains or cast out devils; nay, if you could speak with the tongues of men and angels, yea, and bid the sun stand still in the midst of heaven, what would all these gifts of the Spirit avail you without being made partaker of His sanctifying graces? Saul had the spirit of government for a while, so as to become another man, and yet probably was a cast-away. And many who cast out devils in Christ’s name at the last will be disowned by Him. If, therefore, you had only the gifts and were destitute of the graces of the Holy Ghost, they would only serve to lead you with so much the more solemnity to hell.
A great noise has been made of late about the word enthusiast, and it has been cast upon the preachers of the gospel as a term of reproach. But every Christian, in the proper sense of the word, must be an enthusiast; that is, must be inspired of God, or have God, by his Spirit, in him. Peter tells us “we have many great and precious promises, that we may be made partakers of the divine nature;” our Lord prays “that we may be one, as the Father and He are one;” and our own church, in conformity to these texts of scripture, in her excellent communion-office, tells us that those who receive the sacrament worthily “dwell in Christ, and Christ in them;
that they are one with Christ, and Christ with them.” And yet Christians must have their names cast out as evil, and ministers in particular must be looked upon as deceivers of the people, for affirming that we must be really united to God by receiving the Holy Ghost. Be astonished, O heavens, at this! Indeed I will not say all our letter-learned preachers deny this doctrine in express words, but however they do in effect; for they talk professedly against inward feelings and say we may have God’s Spirit without feeling it, which is in reality to deny the thing itself. Had I a mind to hinder the progress of the gospel and to establish the kingdom of darkness, I would go about telling people they might have the Spirit of God and yet not feel it. Numbers of texts might be quoted to make this doctrine, if possible, still more plain; but I am astonished that any who call themselves members, much more that many who are preachers in the Church of England, should dare so much as to open their lips against it. And yet, with grief I speak it, God is my judge, persons of the established church seem more generally to be ignorant of it than any dissenters whatsoever.
Further, all that are ordained to the office of a deacon are, in the sight of God and in the presence of the congregation, to declare, that “they trust they are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon them that administration;” and to those who are to be ordained elders, the bishop is to repeat these solemn words:
“Receive thou the Holy Ghost, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands.” And yet, O that I had no reason to speak it, many that use our forms and many who have witnessed this good
confession, yet dare to both talk and preach against the necessity of receiving the Holy Ghost now; and not only so, but cry out against those who do insist upon it as madmen, enthusiasts, schismatics, and underminers of the established constitution. But you are the schismatics, you are the bane of the Church of England, who are always crying out, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” and yet starve the people out of our communion by feeding them only with the dry husks of dead morality, and not bringing out to them the fatted calf; I mean the doctrines of the operations of the blessed Spirit of God. Woe be unto such blind leaders of the blind! How can you escape the damnation of hell! It is not all your learning, (falsely so called,) it is not all your preferments, can keep you from the just judgment of God. Yet a little while and we shall all appear before the tribunal of Christ; there, there will I meet you;
there Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls, shall determine who are the false prophets, who are the wolves in sheep’s clothing; those who say that we must now receive and feel the Holy Ghost, or those who exclaim against it as the doctrine of devils. It is an unpleasing task to censure any order of men, especially those who are in the ministry; but, surely, if I could bear to see people perish for lack of knowledge and yet be silent towards those who keep from them the key of true knowledge, the very stones would cry out.
I am, in the third place, to shew the reasonableness of this doctrine: I know, indeed, it is now no uncommon thing amongst us to deny the doctrine of original sin, as well as the divinity of Jesus Christ; but it is incumbent on those who deny it, first to disprove the authority of the holy scriptures. Tell me then, O man, whosoever you are, that denies the doctrine of original sin, if your conscience be not seared as with a hot iron? Tell me if you do not find yourself, by nature, to be a motley mixture of brute and devil? I know these terms will stir up the whole Pharisee in your heart, but let not Satan hurry you hence; stop a little and let us reason together. Do you not find that, by nature, you are prone to pride, malice, revenge, and all uncharitableness? And what are these but the very tempers of the devil? Again; do we not all, by nature, follow, and suffer ourselves to be led by, our natural appetites? And what is this but the very nature of the beasts that perish? We have tempers in us all, by nature, that prove to a demonstration that we are earthly, sensual, devilish. If it be true, then, that we are all, by nature, since the fall, a mixture of brute and devil, it is evident that we all must receive the Holy Ghost ere we can dwell with and enjoy God. For if creatures with only our degree of goodness cannot bear even the thoughts of dwelling with beasts or devils, how do we imagine God, Who is infinite goodness and purity itself, can dwell with us while we are partakers of both their natures? We might as well think to reconcile heaven and hell.
Now, my brethren, what shall I say more? Tell me, are not many of you offended at what has been said already? Do not some of you think, though I mean well, yet I have carried the point a little too
far? Are not others ready to cry out, If this be true, who then can be saved? Is not this driving people into despair? Yes, I ingenuously confess it is; but into what despair? A despair of mercy through Christ? No, God forbid! but a despair of living with God without receiving the Holy Ghost. And I would to God, that not only all you that hear me this day, but that the whole world were filled with this despair! You have a wound, and are in earnest about a cure! You bid the surgeon probe it to the very bottom! And shall not the physician of your souls be allowed the same freedom? What have I been doing but searching your natural wounds, that I might convince you of your danger, and put you upon applying to Jesus Christ for a remedy? Indeed I have dealt with you as gently as I could.
But I am, in the last place, to exhort you all to come to Jesus Christ by faith, wherein you, even you also, shall receive the Holy Ghost. “For this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.” This, this is what I long to come to. Hitherto I have been preaching only the law; but behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy. If I have wounded you, be not afraid; behold I now bring a remedy for all your wounds. Notwithstanding you are sunk into the nature of the beast and devil, yet if you truly believe on Jesus Christ, you shall receive the quickening Spirit promised in the text, and be restored to the glorious liberties of the sons of God. Salvation is the free gift of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord; and whosoever believeth on Him with his whole heart, though His soul be as black as hell itself, shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Behold, then, I stand up and cry out in this great day of the feast, let every one that thirsteth come unto Jesus Christ and drink! “He that believeth on him, out of his belly shall flow (not only streams or rivulets, but whole) rivers of living water.” This I speak of the Spirit, which they that believe on Jesus shall certainly receive.
Do not then say you are unworthy; for this is a faithful and true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, “That Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners;” and if you are the chief of sinners, if you feel yourselves such, verily Jesus Christ came into the world chiefly to save you. When Joseph was called out of the prison-house to Pharaoh’s court, we are told that he stayed some time to prepare himself; but do you come with all your prison-clothes about you? Come, poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked, as you are, and God the Father shall receive you with open arms, as was the returning prodigal. He shall cover your nakedness with the best robe of His dear Son’s righteousness, shall seal you with the signet of His Spirit, and feed you with the fatted calf, even with the comforts of the Holy Ghost. O let there then be joy in heaven over some of you as believing! Let me not go back to my Master and say, Lord, they will not believe my report. Harden no longer your hearts, but open them wide and let the King of glory enter in;
believe me, I am willing to go to prison or death for you, but I am not willing to go to heaven without you. And why should I despair of any? No; I can despair of no one, when I consider Jesus Christ has
had mercy on such a wretch as I am; but the free grace of Christ went before me. Come then, my guilty brethren, come and believe on the Lord that bought you with His precious blood! Look up by faith, and see Him whom you have pierced! Behold Him bleeding, panting, dying! Behold Him with arms stretched out ready to receive you all! Cry unto Him as the penitent thief did. Lord, remember us now thou art in thy kingdom; and He shall say to your souls. Shortly shall you be with me in paradise! Do not fear having your name cast out as evil, or being accounted a fool for Christ’s sake! Yet a little while, and you shall shine like the stars in the firmament for ever! Only believe, and Jesus Christ shall be to you wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and eternal redemption! Your bodies shall be fashioned like unto His glorious body, and your souls be partakers of all the fulness of God!
George Whitefield (1714.1770)