O you that are named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the LORD straitened? are these his doings?…
I. THE PROMISE OF PENTECOST. What did it declare and hold forth for the faith of the Church?
1. The promise of a Divine Spirit by symbols which express some, at all events, of the characteristics and wonderfulness of His work. The "rushing of a mighty wind" spoke of a power which varies in its manifestations from the gentlest breath that scarce moves the leaves on the summer trees to the wildest blast that casts down all which stands in its way. The natural symbolism of the wind, to popular apprehension, the least material of all material forces, and of which the connection with the immaterial part of a man's personality has been expressed in all languages, points to a Divine, immaterial, mighty, life-giving power which is free to blow where it listeth, and of which men can mark the effects, though they are all ignorant of the force itself. The twin symbol of the fiery tongues which parted and sat upon each of them speaks in like manner of the Divine influence, not as destructive, but full of quick, rejoicing energy and life, the power to transform and to purify. Whithersoever the fire comes, it changes all things into its own substance. Wherever the fiery spirit comes there is energy, swift life, rejoicing activity, transforming and transmuting power which changes the recipient of the flame into flame itself. In the fact of Pentecost there is the promise of a Divine Spirit which is to influence all the moral side of humanity. This is the distinction between the Christian doctrine of inspiration and all others which have, in heathen lands, partially reached similar conceptions — that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has laid emphasis upon the Holy Spirit, and has declared that holiness of heart is the touchstone and test of all claims of Divine inspiration. Gifts are much, graces are more. An inspiration which makes wise is to be coveted, an inspiration which makes holy is transcendently better. There we find the safe guard against all the fanaticisms which have at times invaded the Christian Church. The Spirit that came at Pentecost is not merely a spirit of rushing might, and of swift flaming energy; it is a Spirit of holiness. Pentecost also carried in it the promise and prophecy of a Spirit granted to all the Church. "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost." Further, the promise of the early history was that of a Spirit which should fill the whole nature of the men to whom He was granted. Each man, according to his character, stature, circumstances, and all the varying conditions which determine his power of receptivity, will receive a varying measure of that gift. Yet it is meant that all shall be full.
II. THE APPARENT FAILURE OF THE PROMISE. Will anyone say that the religious condition of any body of believers at this moment corresponds to Pentecost? Do any existing Churches present the final perfect form of Christianity as embodied in a society? Estimate by three tests.
1. Does the ordinary tenour of our own religious life look as if we had that Divine Spirit in us which transforms everything into its own beauty, and makes men, through all the regions of their nature, holy and pure? Does the standard of devotion and consecration in any Church witness of the presence of a Divine Spirit?
2. Do the relations of modern Christians and their churches to one another attest the presence of a unifying Spirit?
3. Look at the comparative impotence of the Church in its conflict with the growing worldliness of the world.
III. THE SOLUTION OF THE CONTRADICTION. It is sometimes urged that the Spirit of the Lord is straitened. Some say, Christianity is effete. Others say, God in His sovereignty is pleased to withhold His Spirit for reasons which we cannot trace. But there is always the same flow from God. There are ebbs and flows in the spiritual power of the Church. It is our own fault, and the result of evil in ourselves that may be remedied, that we have so little of this Divine gift.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the LORD straitened? are these his doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?