MARKS OF HAVING RECEIVED THE HOLY GHOST
Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? Acts 19.2.
As the words contain a most important inquiry, without any reference to the context, I shall from them,
First, Show who the Holy Ghost here spoken of, is; and that we must all receive Him before we can be styled true believers.Â—By the Holy Ghost is plainly signified the Holy Spirit, the third person in the ever-blessed Trinity, consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father and the Son, proceeding from, yet equal to both. He is emphatically called Holy because infinitely holy in Himself and the author and finisher of all holiness in us. It is not necessary that we should have the Spirit now given in that miraculous manner in which He was at first given to our Lord’s apostles, by signs and wonders;
but it is absolutely necessary that we should receive the Holy Ghost in His sanctifying graces as really as they did; and so will it continue to be till the end of the world. This sanctification of the Spirit is that new birth mentioned by our blessed Lord to Nicodemus, “without which we cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is what Paul calls being “renewed in the spirit of our minds;” and it is the spring of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. Thus, then, it is undeniably certain, we must receive the Holy Ghost ere we can be styled true members of Christ’s mystical body. I come in the
Second place, to lay down some scriptural marks, whereby we may easily judge whether we have thus received the Holy Ghost or not.
The first I shall mention is, our having received a spirit of prayer and supplication; for that always accompanies the spirit of grace. No sooner was Paul converted but “behold he prayeth.” And this was urged as an argument to convince Ananias that he was converted. And God’s elect are also said to “cry to him day and night.” It must be confessed, indeed, that this spirit of supplication is often sensibly lost and decays for some time, even in those who have actually received the Holy Ghost. Through spiritual dryness and barrenness of soul, they find in themselves a listlessness and backwardness to this duty of prayer; but then they esteem it as their cross and still persevere in seeking Jesus, though it be sorrowing;
and their hearts, notwithstanding, are fixed upon God, though they cannot exert their affections so strongly as usual on account of that spiritual deadness, which God, for wise reasons, has suffered to benumb their souls.
A second scripture mark of our having received the Holy Ghost is, not committing sin. “Whosoever is born of God, says John, sinneth not, neither can he sin, because his seed remaineth in him.” Neither can he sin. This expression does not imply the impossibility
of a Christian’s sinning: for we are told that “in many things we offend all.” It only means thus much: that a man who is really born again of God doth not wilfully commit sin much less live in the habitual practice of it. For how shall he that is dead to sin, as every converted person is, live any longer therein? The meaning of this expression of the apostle, that “a man who is born of God cannot commit sin,” has been fitly illustrated by the example of a covetous worldling, to the general bent of whose inclinations, liberality, and profuseness, are directly opposite. But if, upon some unexpected, sudden occasion, he does act bountifully, he immediately repents him of his fault and returns with double care to his niggardliness again. And so is every one that is born again: to commit sin is as contrary to the habitual frame and tendency of his mind as generosity is to the inclinations of a miser. But if at any time he is drawn into sin, he immediately, with double zeal, returns to his duty and brings forth fruits meet for repentance.
A third mark whereby we may know whether or not we have received the Holy Ghost is, our conquest over the world. “For whosoever is born of God, (says the apostle) overcometh the world.” By the world, we are to understand, as John expresses it, “all that is in the world, the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.” By overcoming of it is meant our renouncing these so as not to follow or be led by them. The ever-blessed Jesus was a perfect instance of overcoming the world. For though He went about continually doing good, and always lived as in a press and throng; yet, wherever he was, his conversation tended heavenwards. In like manner, he that is joined to the Lord in one spirit, will so order his thoughts, words, and actions, that he will evidence to all that his conversation is in heaven. On the contrary, an unconverted man being of the earth is earthy; and having no spiritual eye to discern spiritual things he is always seeking for happiness in this life, where it never was, will, or can be found. Being not born again from above, he is bowed down by a spirit of natural infirmity: the serpent’s curse becomes his choice and he eats of the dust of the earth all the days of his life.
A fourth scripture mark of our having received the Holy Ghost is our loving one another. “We know (says John) we are passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” And by this (says Christ himself) shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one towards another.” Love is the fulfilling of the gospel as well as of the law; for “God is love; and whosoever dwelleth in love, dwelleth? in God.” This love is not confined to any particular set of men but is impartial and catholic; a love that embraces God’s image wherever it beholds it and that delights in nothing so much as to see Christ’s kingdom come.
The fifth scripture mark is. Loving our enemies.
“I say unto you (says Jesus Christ), Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.” And this duty of loving your enemies is so necessary that without it our righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and
Pharisees, or even of Publicans and sinners: “For if you do good to them only who do good to you, what do you more than others?” “Do not even the Publicans the same?” And these precepts our Lord confirmed by His own example when He wept over the bloody city; when He suffered Himself to be led as a sheep to the slaughter;
when He made that mild reply to the traitor Judas, “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” and more especially when, in the agonies and pangs of death. He prayed for His very murderers, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Many other marks are scattered up and down the scriptures, whereby we may know whether or not we have received the Holy Ghost; such as, “to be carnally-minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” “Now the fruits of the Spirit are joy, peace, long-suffering, meekness,” with a multitude of texts to the same purpose. But as most, if not all of them, are comprehended in the duties already laid down, I dare affirm, whosoever, upon an impartial examination, can find the aforesaid marks on his soul, may be as certain as though an angel were to tell him that his pardon is sealed in heaven. As for my own part, I had rather see these divine graces and this heavenly temper stamped upon my soul, than to hear an angel from heaven saying unto me. Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.
I proceed to make an application of the doctrine delivered to several distinct classes of professors.
First, I shall address myself to those who are dead in trespasses and sins. And, O how could I weep over you as our Lord wept over Jerusalem! For, alas! how distant must you be from God! What a prodigious work have you to finish, who instead of praying day and night, seldom or never pray at all! And instead of being born again of God, so as not to commit sin, are so deeply sunk into the nature of devils as to make a mock at it! But think you, O sinners! that God will admit such polluted wretches into His sight? or, should he admit you, do you imagine you could take any pleasure in Him? No;
heaven itself would be no heaven to you; the devilish dispositions which are in your hearts would render all the spiritual enjoyments of those blessed mansions ineffectual to make you happy! To qualify you to be blissful partakers of that heavenly inheritance with the saints in light, there is a meetness required; to attain which ought to be the chief business of your lives. “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” See that you receive the Holy Ghost before you go hence; for, otherwise, how can you escape the damnation of hell?
Secondly, Let me apply myself to those who deceive themselves with false hopes of salvation. Some, through the influence of a good education or other providential restraints, have not run into the same excess of riot with other men and they think they have no need to receive the Holy Ghost but flatter themselves that they are really born again. But do you shew it by bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit? Do you pray without ceasing? Do you not commit sin? have
you overcome the world? And do you love your enemies and all mankind in the same manner as Jesus Christ loved them? Think not to dress yourself up in the ornaments of a good nature and civil education, and say with Agag, “Surely the bitterness of death is past;” for God’s justice, notwithstanding that, like Samuel, shall hew you to pieces. However you may be highly esteemed in the sight of men, yet, in the sight of God, you are but like the apples of Sodom, dunghills covered over with snow, mere whited sepulchres appearing a little beautiful without but inwardly full of corruption and of all uncleanness; and, consequently, will be dismissed at the last day with a “Verily, I know you not.” But the word of God is profitable for comfort as well as correction.
Thirdly, therefore, I address myself to those who are under the drawings of the Father, and are exercised with the spirit of bondage, and, not finding the marks before-mentioned, are crying out, Who shall deliver us from the body of this death! But fear not, little flock;
for, notwithstanding your present infant state of grace, it shall be your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. The grace of God, through Jesus Christ, shall deliver you and give you what you thirst after: He has promised He will also do it.
Fourthly, and lastly, I address myself to those who have received the Holy Ghost in all His sanctifying graces and are almost ripe for glory. Hail, happy saints! for your heaven is begun on earth; you have already received the first fruits of the Spirit and are patiently waiting till that blessed change come, when your harvest shall be complete. I need not exhort you to press forward for you know that in walking in the Spirit there is a great reward; rather will I exhort you, in patience, to possess your souls yet a little while and Jesus Christ will deliver you from the burden of the flesh and an abundant entrance shall be administered to you, into the eternal joy and uninterrupted felicity of His heavenly kingdom.
George Whitefield (1714.1770)