Great Texts of the Bible
The Gift of the Holy Spirit
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?—Luke 11:13.
1. The text is an inference rather than a demonstration. This was quite a favourite method with Christ—to take a generally admitted premise and shut His hearers up to a necessary conclusion resulting from it. Analyze the present statement and it comes to this: Human nature is confessedly selfish, yet men are not so exclusively devoted to themselves and to their own interests as not to provide for their offspring. Now, if they, being self-centred and self-regarding, do this, shall a supremely benevolent Being fall short, and fail to supply the deepest needs of those who seek His interference on their behalf?
2. Notice, again, that here, as always, Jesus draws His parable from the simplest habits of man. Giving to those we love is a necessary part of our happiness, one might almost say of our humanity. Imagine if you can a family in which there is no delightful giving from parent to child, child to parent, brother to sister; it is simply inconceivable. All family life is a daily acting out of the great saying, It is more blessed to give than to receive. Let any one think of a birthday in a household, of the gifts that pour in as symbols of the love that is felt. It needs no great virtue in a parent to rejoice in the pleasure of a child when it receives a gift; it may well be one of the few unworldly moments of a generally worldly life taken up and saturated with the poor desire of gain. But this poor desire slips aside for a time as he sees his child smiling and rejoicing over some small birthday gift.
Now this is the habit, the instinct, on which Jesus Christ fixes His eye. He detects in it a proof of prayer. He sees in it something of the majesty of God. No infirmity, no degradation even on the part of the parent can prevent him from so far being a witness, indeed an interpreter and representative of his all-perfect, all-bounteous Creator. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
Let us consider—
I. The Giver.
II. The Gift.
III. The Recipients.
1. The Giver is God, and we must begin by regarding Him as a personal Being. This may not seem so easy in these modern days as it was in the childhood of the race. Old Testament saints found no difficulty in clinging to God as to a friend; God was very personal to them. Every common bush was afire with Him. They spoke and acted as if they saw Him. Elect souls who had trained themselves to believe in the moral attributes of God came to trust the personal God Himself. God’s righteousness, mercy, loving-kindness, truth, are not so much abstract attributes of His essential nature as the forms through which He brings Himself near to man’s life. By the manifestation of these in history and in the career of individuals, He reveals Himself. He cannot be separated from these attributes. They have no reality apart from Him; and this was the lesson which the prophets more particularly and the teachers of ancient Israel were continually insisting should be learned by their countrymen. A few of them learned it. They could not think of goodness and righteousness except as associated with one God, whose law, as it sought to rule men’s lives, was the expression of His mind.
We marvel at times at the spacious prayers contained in some of the Psalms, and in some of the prophecies of the Old Testament. How easily, yet how grandly, these men of long ago moved among great thoughts of the Creator. The very names they gave Him—“Almighty,” “Everlasting,” “King,” “Lord of Hosts”—reveal the magnitude of the ideas which dominated their minds. These names indicated something real and vast. They represented the supremacy of the Divine control, its absoluteness in great things as in small. A man who uttered such prayers never felt himself lost in the unlimited largeness of the universe, but was sure that He who knew all and was everywhere could never forget the least of His creatures, or be uninterested in him. “O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thoughts afar off.… There is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.… Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?… Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The majesty of God and the faith of man are brought together in thoughts and words that are made possible only to him who in endeavouring to understand himself strives to come near in reverent belief to his Creator.
Personality, like prayer, is a force of which we have daily experience in ordinary life. The south-eastern district of Lancashire became, as is well known, the seat of the great cotton industry because it was one of the few parts of England in which the atmospheric conditions made it possible to work up this natural product into the familiar fabrics of commerce. The rainfall of that region, which is a source of continual complaint to those who live in it, has been the cause of its wealth, for cotton will break in the working if the air is not damp. But to-day, so far have we advanced in knowledge and invention that the manufacturer can make himself independent of the variations of climate by raising the atmosphere of his mill to the point of humidity required for weaving. It is in this way that human personality is on every hand adapting, modifying, selecting the conditions under which it acts, and Nature is conquered by obeying it. So is it, I conceive, that those spiritual beings, whether good or evil, which rise above the race of men in the hierarchy of personal life, live and move and operate. And the great Father, whose robe Nature is, is surely no irresponsible Sultan but Himself as one under authority when He makes the winds His messengers, His ministers the flames of fire.1 [Note: J. G. Simpson, The Spirit and the Bride, 169.]
2. Christ taught us to call God “Father.” The name which Christ gives to God elevates the whole idea of prayer, and places within the reach of us all a truth about the Creator which only a few of the most serious minds before had reached. Christ’s teaching that God is our Father supplies us with the belief about God that quickens and purifies all our entreaties and resolutions. We begin then to understand that prayer is one of our privileges as His children, and we regard it less as a means of obtaining the gratification of our personal wishes than as an occasion of confidential inter-communion by which all our cares and griefs pass from us into the Divine heart, and we are made of one will with the Father.
Tennyson thus describes the love of a true father for his offspring:
Beat upon mine, little heart! beat, beat!
Beat upon mine! you are mine, my sweet!
All mine from your pretty blue eyes to your feet,
Sleep, little blossom, my honey, my bliss!
For I give you this, and I give you this!
And I blind your pretty blue eyes with a kiss!
Father and Mother will watch you grow,
And gather the roses whenever they blow,
And find the white heather wherever you go,
3. The Heavenly Father transcends all earthly parents in His willingness to bless His children. Christ singles out an intensely human characteristic and makes it the hint of a corresponding attribute in God. He takes it for granted, as a familiar fact, that parents are disposed to grant the reasonable requests of their children for good things, and, building upon this basis, He proceeds to bring God within the range of our apprehension by the affirmation that He is equally willing to bestow upon mankind what He considers to be the best thing He has to give. It is clear that, according to Christ’s representation, God, their Maker, is generously disposed towards the children of men. He wishes to help them, in the highest sense; He would enlighten, enlarge, elevate, enrich them. This statement is of itself equivalent to a revelation. It announces this splendid truth, that benevolence, generosity, helpfulness, are basal and underlying attributes of God. It is His nature to communicate of His life, of His fulness and exuberant richness, to the moral creatures He has made. He wishes to impart to them, so far as they are able to receive it, His own point of view, His own contentment and repose, His own moral perfections.
It is told of Thomas Chalmers, that he was seen on the last morning of his life wandering among the flowers in his garden, as he murmured the words, “O, heavenly Father, my heavenly Father.” What nobler attitude towards the universe could you desire than that? I ask for no God who would deflect from its orbit a single star, or violate the laws which govern the growth of the meanest flower. I ask for no God who has no reverence for the way of the wind, or for those hidden processes whereby the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child. But in the evening and morning and at noonday will I pray out of the deep of my own personality to Him who maketh the seven stars and Orion, and who is the God of my life, knowing that He will cause all things to work together for good to them that love Him, and that He will hear my voice.1 [Note: J. G. Simpson, The Spirit and the Bride, 170.]
4. The Heavenly Father has knowledge which earthly fathers have not. If even an evil parent has natural affection enough to lead him to supply this simple want, so the most ignorant have knowledge enough, not always to do it in the best way, but at least to give what is absolutely necessary, and what is asked for. But we have deeper wants than the want of bread, and wants that require a far deeper knowledge to supply them; yet the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God are sufficient for them all.
Sometimes, for instance, we are placed in difficult circumstances, and know not how to act. In such a case man’s knowledge, both our own and that of our fellow-creatures, fails. Man cannot help us then; but we seek guidance of God, and find that He knows how to give us just what we want. Our prayer is heard, help and guidance are given, and we are brought through our difficulties. Not perhaps immediately, and not by any strange means; yet in the end we are brought safely through. Our Heavenly Father knows how to give us just what we want.
Our little children in their ignorance make many a foolish request, but we do not insist they shall ask for nothing again. We simply by our refusal train them to ask better, and to confied in a larger wisdom than their own. We sometimes ask God to deliver us from things that do not necessarily injure the soul, however unpleasant and dangerous they look, such as illness, poverty, bad business, loss, and death. And God does not hear our prayer. It takes us long to see that our prayer is best answered, not by what it does for us externally, but by what it effects in our mind and heart, in the way we look at life, and the way we trust God. We can never fail, however, to have the answer to our prayer when we ask to be delivered from sin, and callousness of spirit, and pride, and unbelief, for these touch us in our divinest part and imperil the soul’s beauty and security. God loves our good more than our happiness, and works more for the sake of securing in us a childlike disposition than comfortable circumstances. Some of us may have said with Jean Ingelow: “I have lived to thank God that all my prayers have not been answered.”1 [Note: W. Watson, Prayer, 102.]
1. The gift here promised is the Holy Spirit, and this gift includes every blessing. It is the essence of all good things, the highest good.
The worth of this gift is immeasurable. Jesus spoke of the Spirit as “the promise of the Father”; the one promise in which God’s Fatherhood revealed itself. The best gift a good and wise father can bestow on a child on earth is his own spirit. This is the great object of a father in education—to reproduce in his child his own disposition and character. If the child is to know and understand his father; if, as he grows up, he is to enter into all his will and plans; if he is to have his highest joy in the father, and the father in him, he must be of one mind and spirit with him. And so it is impossible to conceive of God bestowing any higher gift on His child than this, His own Spirit. God is what He is through His Spirit; the Spirit is the very life of God.
Every seventh day, if not oftener, the greater number of well-meaning persons in England thankfully receive from their teachers a benediction, couched in those terms:—“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with you.” Now I do not know precisely what sense is attached in the English public mind to those expressions. But what I have to tell you positively is that the three things do actually exist, and can be known if you care to know them, and possessed if you care to possess them; and that another thing exists, besides these, of which we already know too much.
First, by simply obeying the orders of the Founder of your religion, all grace, graciousness, or beauty and favour of gentle life, will be given to you in mind and body, in work and in rest. The grace of Christ exists, and can be had if you will.
Secondly, as you know more and more of the created world, you will find that the true will of its Maker is that its creatures should be happy; that He has made everything beautiful in its time and its place, and that it is chiefly by the fault of men, when they are allowed the liberty of thwarting His laws, that Creation groans or travails in pain. The love of God exists, and you may see it, and live in it if you will.
Lastly, a Spirit does actually exist which teaches the ant her path, the bird her building, and men, in an instinctive and marvellous way, whatever lovely arts and noble deeds are possible to them. Without it you can do no good thing. To the grief of it you can do many bad ones. In the possession of it is your peace and your power.1 [Note: Ruskin, Lectures on Art, § 12. (Works, xx. 115).]
Christ came to bring man’s spirit into immediate contact with God’s Spirit; to sweep away everything intermediate. In lonely union, face to face, man’s spirit and God’s Spirit must come together. It is a grand thought! Aspire to this! Aspire to greatness, goodness! So let your spirit mingle with the Spirit of the Everlasting.2 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]
We know that men, corrupt and vain,
Will grant their children’s prayer,
And can we think Thou wilt not deign
To make our wants Thy care?
For Thou, O God, our Father art,
And Thou art wholly good,
And every need of every heart
By Thee is understood.
Not wealth, nor length of days our quest,
Not years untouched by pain;
A purer gift, of gifts the best,
Thy children seek to gain.
More of Thy Spirit is our want;
That Spirit now instil;
We know Thou wilt; for this to grant
Must be our Father’s will.1 [Note: S. C. Lowry, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 26.]
2. The Holy Spirit is indispensable. There is a sublime and unspeakable side to religion; its superlative attainments are not the outcome of our native powers, but require an impulse, an initiative, originating in another sphere. Of course, knowledge, intellectual apprehension of its doctrines, duties and expectations, is a material element in it, but it does not exhaust the subject. There enter into it certain frames of feeling, a certain attitude of the will. It embodies the emotional and voluntary nature. There is considerable religious knowledge; the creeds of Christendom are well known, multitudes apprehend intellectually all that is important for them to know at present; but does this do much perceptible good? Do our pious, orthodox, abstract convictions give spring, courage, enthusiasm? What is wanted to make them vivid, dynamic, controlling, compelling? The truth, in this obscure matter, seems to be that the soul of man needs to be moved upon, illuminated, energized from above. In order to come into close and fruitful relation with religious truths and ideals, these should be made to pass before the imagination with such port and majesty, to commend themselves to the conscience with such convincing demonstration, to appeal to the affections as so intrinsically lovely, that the soul shall spontaneously espouse them. But our nature cannot develop such enthusiasm. We are swayed by other desires and ambitions. To get a sense of God as a perpetual presence, as a mighty inspiration, as an abounding joy—for such high achievement the natural man is not equal. The great mystics, the great religious natures in every age, have felt this to be true. They have agreed with St. Paul that they were “wretched men,” and did not find it in themselves to be much better; could not overtake, or come abreast with, their noblest aspirations. The potent, ineffable influence, the Holy Spirit, appears to be indispensable in order that man may realize his highest possibilities and come to the crown of his being.
Those of you who still go to chapel say every day your creed; and, I suppose, too often, less and less every day believing it. Now, you may cease to believe two articles of it, and,—admitting Christianity to be true,—still be forgiven. But I can tell you—you must not cease to believe the third! You begin by saying that you believe in an Almighty Father. Well, you may entirely lose the sense of that Fatherhood, and yet be forgiven. You go on to say that you believe in a Saviour Son. You may entirely lose the sense of that Sonship, and yet be forgiven. But the third article—disbelieve if you dare! “I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life.”—Disbelieve that; and your own being is degraded into the state of dust driven by the wind; and the elements of dissolution have entered your very heart and soul.1 [Note: Ruskin, The Eagle’s Nest, § 16. (Works, xxii. 236).]
3. Christ could commend the Holy Spirit to His disciples, because He knew from experience what this gift would mean. See how the Saviour Himself from the moment of His baptism saw His life of service, His victory through death, unfolded before Him in the power of the anointing, the consecrating Spirit; how in the Spirit He was driven into the wilderness to meet the ordeal of fire by which He was annealed for His redemptive cross. See how one New Testament writer after another with sympathetic insight represents the Son of Man as through the eternal Spirit offering Himself without spot to God, and through the same indwelling presence raised from the dead by the glory of the Father! It is the Spirit who alone can show us the shining vesture of Him who has the keys of Death and of Hades in the coarse garments of the Syrian peasant arraigned before Annas and condemned by Pilate, for no man can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Ghost. It is the Spirit who alone can show us in that figure stumbling along the way of sorrows none other than Jehovah Himself, travelling in the greatness of His strength mighty to save. None but the Spirit can put a new song in our mouths as we uplift our eyes to the deserted cross, bidding us cry with the innumerable company of celestial choirs, and with the spirits of the just, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches.”
If I have to speak more than once at a Convention, I invariably give at least one address to the subject of the Holy Spirit. But I am more and more deeply impressed with the fact that Jesus Christ is the great centre of Christianity, and that the Spirit’s work is to reveal Him. If we speak so as to fill people with a vague desire and expectancy to receive something into their hearts—they don’t quite know what—we may lead them away from the truth. This prevents my saying all that I hear some men say, but I quite agree with you that the Spirit has not been sufficiently honoured in the churches, and that we have not cultivated as we ought a sense of dependence on Him. In this way He has been dishonoured and grieved, and His work restrained. All this modern sensationalism is a sad token of our loss of faith in Him. Amid all these varying theories and conflicting views there is great comfort for a man like me in the remembrance that the Holy Spirit is the gift of God, and that He will certainly fill with His Spirit a surrendered, open, believing heart. There are times when I am quite sure that I speak in the power of the Spirit, though I should hesitate to say precisely what was my relation to the Spirit. I mean that I could not state it in any doctrinal form.1 [Note: John Brash: Memorials and Correspondence, 137.]
(1) At Christ’s Baptism, the Spirit descended like a dove, and filled His soul with peace. And this peace He wished to share with His disciples. It is the peace that comes after victory. For forty days Jesus was tempted of the devil, but not overcome. The Spirit brought Him into the wilderness, and now when the conflict is over what takes place? We are told that angels came and ministered unto Him, but we are also told of the Spirit ministering unto Him, for it is said that He “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.” Yet it is not said that He, like the angels, came unto Him. No, He did not come, for since His descent upon Him, He had remained with Him. It is characteristic of the Spirit to abide. “And he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth.”
Well might the Saviour recommend this Spirit. He had been with Him all through His temptation, and He is with every one who receives Him, from first to last—never leaving or forsaking him. Surely He is the good gift of God!
Oft in a dark and lonely place
I hush my hastened breath,
To hear the comfortable words
Thy loving Spirit saith;
And feel my safety in Thy hand
From every kind of death.
Then in the secret of my soul,
Though hosts my peace invade,
Though through a waste and weary land
My lonely way be made,
Thou, even Thou, wilt comfort me—
I need not be afraid.
Still in the solitary place
I would awhile abide,
Till with the solace of Thy love
My heart is satisfied;
And all my hopes of happiness
Stay calmly at Thy side.1 [Note: A. L. Waring.]
(2) Again, the Spirit meant power. The prophet had represented the servant of Jehovah as having the Spirit upon Him, and there was He, conscious that the prophecy was an accomplished fact in His own experience. He is anointed for His ministry of blessing among the poor, the wounded, the bound, the blind, and the oppressed, and the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him. And so it was all through His lifetime of labour. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Never at any moment was Christ bereft of that comfort; and what a comfort it must have been to Him! Men did not understand Him, but the Spirit did. Men did not love Him, but the Spirit did. Many who had followed Him turned away from Him, but the Spirit never did.
Well might He then speak of Him as the sum of all good gifts and so recommend Him to His disciples. The work which He was doing they were to continue, and to do it effectively they needed the same Spirit.
“How many do you count me for?” asked the Macedonian general, as his soldiers expressed their fear of going into battle against great odds. “How many do you count me for?” asks the Holy Ghost, who still abides in the church with His undivided presence and His undiminished power. Christ, in the person of the Holy Spirit, dwells in every church in the fulness of His presence. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” is the Magna Charta of the local church. Christ is not divided; He has not distributed Himself among His churches, giving a part of Himself to each, so that only by a union of all the churches can we secure the presence of the whole Christ. Herein is the immense difference between spiritual force and physical force.1 [Note: A. J. Gordon: A Biography, 242.]
4. The Holy Spirit means the redemption of our common life. The deepening of the spiritual life which we lack can come to us only through the solicited energy of the Holy Spirit. Just as in the sphere of music men invoke the spirit of music that they may become great musicians, and in the sphere of art invoke the spirit of art that they may become great artists, so we must invoke the Spirit of Holiness—no mere idealized conception in this instance, but the Living Spirit of the Living God—that we may become holy men and holy women, that we may become great and good in the spheres of character and conduct, that we may live that deeper and diviner life of which we are capable.
The Whitsuntide Fair with its crowds and its noise, its vulgarity and its coarseness, its low buffoonery, reminded one of what goes on behind the scenes in men’s lives, and of how much there still is of the brute and the savage in many of us. Man’s world outside corresponds to his world inside, and I say that the only thing which can bring to us sweetness and order, and good government, and effectual and holy living, is that power which is obtained by prayer, and which comes to us through the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.2 [Note: T. Sanderson, The Illimitable Domain, 91.]
1. The recipients of the Holy Spirit are those who ask the Father for Him. Jesus reminds us that the man who prays is only applying to the sphere of his fellowship with God the principles which obtain in the ordinary intercourse of daily life. The dictates of common sense suggest that he should ask if he wishes to receive. The bell at our front door, the forms of application issued by the thousand from every office which has favours to distribute, the advertising columns of the daily press witness to the important place which asking holds in the development of human lives and in the conduct of human affairs. How foolish would be the person who should plead a rigid theory of determinism as an excuse for waiting until something should turn up! How many doors remain closed because those who are free to enter are too shy to knock! How many opportunities are lost because those for whom they are waiting are too lazy to seek! How many boons are never granted because those for whom they are intended have not courage to ask! Bread will not fall into our mouths. Work will not drop from the skies. It may be true enough that the labour exchange is not the final remedy for want of employment. But our method of dealing with the man who will not put down his name should be short and sharp. It is the ordinary experience of life to which our Lord appeals when He says, “Ask, and it shall be given you.” “Every one that asketh receiveth” is a universal proposition.
It is this principle that the man of faith carries with him into his spiritual life. What others have tried and tested in the daily play of human intercourse he has found good also in that larger world in which the soul holds communion with the Eternal. Too often has he proved its prevailing efficacy to mistake the silence of God for a rebuke to his persistent petitions, or for an evidence of an ear that hears not, of an arm that cannot save. It is not presumption, it is trust that prays.
Is it said that only the prayer of faith is heard? True; but every real prayer is a prayer of faith.1 [Note: Thomas Erskine, Unconditional Freeness of the Gospel.]
It is a great law that God’s blessings must be sought. If we want them, we must ask Him for them. It is no hard condition. The instinct of prayer has been firmly planted within us. We have but to exercise it. There are times when we could not repress it if we tried. It is true that when we argue about it we can find difficulties, and perhaps make them. We can, of course, imagine that God might have made His giving to be independent of our desiring. We can see also that, by permitting us to ask, He has allowed us an intimacy of intercourse with Himself which could not otherwise have been ours.
The condition is part of the law of labour under which we live. Nothing can be done without effort—somebody’s effort. Nothing can be done for us permanently without our own effort. Prayer is the noblest kind of effort. Truly, to pray needs the fullest exercise of all our highest powers.
The condition is part, too, of the law of liberty under which we are placed. The best things are not forced upon us. In one of His lessons on the subject of prayer, our Lord points to a difference between the action of the forces of good and of evil. The evil spirit is rude and inconsiderate. It intrudes unbidden. When it has been expelled, it insists upon returning with violence the moment it sees a chance. The Heavenly Father cannot act thus. He is most willing to “give the Holy Spirit,” but it must be “to them that ask him.”1 [Note: A. W. Robinson, The Voice of Joy and Health, 79.]
Above the beautiful waters of Rydalmere there is one of the most enchanting spots in the English Lakes. An old grey wall fences in a road which runs beside the slopes below, shaded by varied trees and rich with wild flowers. In an opening in the wall stands an aged and venerable gate, much inscribed by names and initials of many generations. It is the Wishing Gate; and there for centuries, young and old, happy lovers and saddened mourners, men and women in every phase of life, have leant, and looked with admiration at the exquisite landscape, and formed a wish which is not to be whispered to a friend or companion. Beyond the outline of the hills opposite, shines the glory of the southern sky, suggesting thoughts of the infinite and the eternal. That is an emblem of what our Lord wants to see in the daily life and thoughts of each one of us. We are not to walk through life in solitary pride and scornful self-sufficiency; for each of us, in the secret of our souls, there is to be a Wishing Gate; we are to call for everything that we need upon the illimitable love of our Divine Father.2 [Note: W. M. Sinclair, Difficulties of our Day, 143.]
2. The Father is free to answer the prayers of His children. He is not a prisoner held fast by the forces He has made. The world is not, as some suppose, a vast machine, which its Maker cannot control. Science cannot explain what force is, or how its changes of form are brought about; and is there any reason against our supposing that God may employ the forces of Nature to meet the changing requirements of His moral government? May the Divine Mind not have other purposes to fulfil than those that are expressed in the works we see? May there not be laws higher than the laws which we have discovered, and may not the will of God, which is before and beyond all things, make these, by processes we cannot imagine, serve the great ends of His providence? He is a living God, and Nature is ever evolving, and we may surely believe that His relation to the thing He has made is close and operative and constant. For aught that we know to the contrary, God may employ the forces of Nature to carry forward and complete the purposes He has in view in His moral government of His children. We know so little of them that we dare not say He does not so use them, and we are so sure of His goodness and power that we shall hesitate to disbelieve that He can do all things.
At sixty years of age Dr. Pierson was not too old to learn, and, with humility and an eager thirst after knowledge, he listened as Mr. George Müller of Bristol gave detailed testimony to show God as a hearer and answerer of prayer. In one of these interviews he asked Mr. Müller if he had ever petitioned God for anything that had not been granted.
“Sixty-two years, three months, five days and two hours have passed,” replied Mr. Müller with his characteristic exactness, “since I began to pray that two men might be converted. I have prayed daily for them ever since and as yet neither of them shows any signs of turning to God.”
“Do you expect God to convert them?”
“Certainly,” was the confident reply. “Do you think God would lay on His child such a burden for sixty-two years if He had no purpose for their conversion?”
Not long after Mr. Müller’s death, Dr. Pierson was again in Bristol, preaching in Bethesda Chapel—the meeting-place of the Brethren. In the course of his sermon, he told of this conversation, and as he was going out at the close of the service a lady stopped him and said: “One of those two men, to whom Mr. Müller referred, was my uncle. He was converted and died a few weeks ago. The other man was brought to Christ in Dublin.”1 [Note: Life of A. T. Pierson, 277.]
3. Prayer becomes potent, when it represents the attitude of the soul. It is only as prayer becomes a habit, a kind of second nature with us, that it is really effectual. The giving of the Spirit is not like the opening and the shutting of a door. It is not like a parcel flung into our hand, of the reality of which we have ocular and tangible proof. There are some people who shoot up their prayers like a rocket, and they expect the answer to come to them like the falling of the stick after the powder has exploded. But all this is grossly to misconceive the character of prayer. The Heavenly Father gives the inspiration of the Spirit as He gives the summer—not in one sudden burst of magnificence, and in an instantaneous ripening, but by a gradual growth, and by slow processes, and by many subtle and silent operations, extending over a period of several weeks: “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” So God gives His Spirit in answer to prayer, gradually, persistently, silently, and for the most part without realization of the fact by the recipient, yet effectually energizing the powers of the mind and heart. Individual acts of prayer may or may not avail to ensure what we pray for, but the habit of prayer never fails.
Prayer, in so far as it implies that the mind has been uplifted towards an ideal of all goodness, a going out into the infinite, is invaluable to man, and marks the great distinction between him and the lower animals. It is answered so far as it is high and holy aspiration, being an exercise of mind which thereby creates the condition it prays for. After all, we do not know that mind-power has not a material existence somewhere, just as much as electricity has. If will-power could be brought together as a concentrated force, it might have very astonishing results. At present it is too broken up.1 [Note: George Frederic Watts, in Life, ii. 223.]
4. The Father’s answer to our prayer will be evident in our life and bearing. The gift of the Holy Spirit will mean a holy and resplendent life. With every true prayer God has more to do than the person who prays, and therefore every true prayer carries part of its own answer. “God,” as the old mystics loved to say, “is an unutterable sigh in the innermost depth of the soul.” What God prompts within us He knows how to meet. We learn slowly to put away childish things from our mind when we pray, and our main desire is that He will, in ways that He Himself deems best, give us that which will more deeply and visibly impress on our character the strength and calm of Christ, and arm us for the battle and make us more than conquerors in it.
Where the Spirit of the Incarnate is indwelling, He is present neither as a distinct or extraneous gift, nor as an overruling force in which the self is merged and lost, but at the consummation of the self.… He is not a mere presence in me, overruling, controlling, displacing. What He in me does, I do. What He in me wills, I will. What He in me loves, I love. Nay, never is my will so really free; never is my power so worthy of being called power; never is my rational wisdom so rational or so wise; never is my love so really love; never moreover is any one of these things so royally my own; never am I, as I, so capable, so personal, so real; never am I, in a word, as really what the real “I” always tried to mean; as when by the true indwelling of the Spirit of God, I enter into the realization of myself; as when I at last correspond to, and fulfil, and expand in fulfilling, all the unexplored possibilities of my personal being, by a perfect mirroring of the Spirit of Christ; as when in Him and by Him I am, at last, a true, willing, personal response to the very Being of God.1 [Note: R. C. Moberly, Atonement and Personality, 251.]
Nobody can tell us what makes a carbon a diamond. The same substance is in both, but the one will shine in the dark and the other will not. We cannot see what makes the difference, except that the diamond, which is carbon after all, has managed to feed upon the light somehow, and store it, and shine by its lustre. Holiness is character, the shining light that never was on sea or land; holiness is character with a fragrance; holiness is an influence of itself, and it is begotten of communion with the Unseen, and without that you never have it, and no man has ever had it. When you speak about the men you know in business life who are living well and nobly without any particular faith in God, with nothing more than a faith in right, you know, as well as I know, and as well as they know too, that if you place a Spurgeon and a Catherine Booth alongside them, the difference is that of the diamond and of the carbon, and the difference is made by prayer. The one is mighty in the communion with the Unseen, and the other is not. The witness of holiness to the efficacy of prayer is this, that no saint ever prayed and doubted about his answer; if it came not in one way, it came in another. Unvarying, unaltering is the witness of holiness to the fact that God does hear prayer, however it is done.2 [Note: R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, 43.]
The early Christian missionaries of Scotland, on their long missionary voyages from Iona, found their burdens grow lighter, and their fears become less dismal, and their hopes break into a warm enthusiasm, when they reached the most difficult part of the way, and they said to one another, “The secret prayers of our aged master, Columba, meet us here at the points where we need them most.” If we were but unchangeably confident in God we should be conscious again and again in our neediest hours of the inbreathing into our feeble life of the strength of Jesus Christ.1 [Note: W. Watson, Prayer, 112.]
The Gift of the Holy Spirit
Binney (T.), Sermons in King’s Weigh-House Chapel, 1st Ser., 214.
Bourdillon (F.), The Parables Explained and Applied, 150.
Campbell (R. J.), City Temple Sermons, 38.
Clayton (C.), Stanhope Sermons, 166.
French (R. A.), God’s Message through Modern Doubt, 165.
Jones (J. S.), Saved by Hope, 134.
Matheson (G.), Voices of the Spirit, 105.
Murray (A.), The Ministry of Intercession, 20.
Murray (A.), With Christ, 48.
Sanderson (T.), The Illimitable Domain, 81.
Shedd (W. G. T.), Sermons to the Natural Man, 123, 140.
Simpson (J. G.), The Spirit and the Bride, 163.
Christian World Pulpit, xxi. 362 (A. Scott); xlv. 145 (H. M. Butler); Ix. 376 (E. Griffith-Jones).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Whitsunday, ix. 165 (S. P. Bevan); Sermons to the Young, xvi. 276 (E. Garhett).