If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you--JOHN xvi. 7.
We are now coming near to two great days, Ascension-day and Whit- Sunday, which our forefathers have appointed, year by year, to put us continually in mind of two great works, which the Lord worked out for us, His most unworthy subjects, and still unworthier brothers.
On Ascension-day He ascended up into Heaven, and received gifts for men, even for His enemies, that the Lord God might dwell among them; and on Whit-Sunday, He sent down those gifts. The Spirit of God came down to dwell in the hearts of men, to be the right of everyone who asks for it, white or black, young or old, rich or poor, and never to leave this earth as long as there is a human being on it. And because we are coming near to these two great days, the Prayer-book, in the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, tries to put us in mind of those days, and to make us ready to ask for the blessings of which they are the yearly signs and witnesses. The Gospel for last Sunday told us how the Lord told His disciples just before His death, that for a little while they should not see Him; and again a little while and they should see Him, because he was going to the Father, and that they should have great sorrow, but that their sorrow should be turned into joy. And the Gospel for to-day goes further still, and tells us why He was going away--that He might send to them the Comforter, His Holy Spirit, and that it was expedient--good for them, that He should go away; for that if He did not, the Comforter would not come to them. Now, in these words, I do not doubt He was speaking of Ascension-day, and of Whit-Sunday; and therefore it is that these Gospels have been chosen to be read before Ascension-day and Whit- Sunday; and in proportion as we attend to these Gospels, and take in the meaning of them, and act accordingly, Ascension-day and Whit- Sunday will be a blessing and a profit to us; and in proportion as we neglect them, or forget them, Ascension-day and Whit-Sunday will be witnesses against our souls at the day of judgment, that the Lord Himself condescended to buy for us with His own blood, blessings unspeakable, and offer them freely unto us, in spite of all our sins, and yet we would have none of them, but preferred our own will to God's will, and the little which we thought we could get for ourselves, to the unspeakable treasures which God had promised to give us, and turned away from the blessings of His kingdom, to our own foolish pleasure and covetousness, like "the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."
I said that God had promised to us an unspeakable treasure: and so He has; a treasure that will make the poorest and weakest man among us, richer than if he had all the wealth gathered from all the nations of the world, which everyone is admiring now in that Great Exhibition in London, and stronger than if he had all the wisdom which produced that wealth. Let us see now what it is that God has promised us--and then those to whom God has given ears to hear, and hearts to understand, will see that large as my words may sound, they are no larger than the truth.
Christ said, that if He went away, He would send down the Comforter, the Holy Spirit of God. The Nicene Creed says, that the Holy Spirit of God is the Lord and Giver of life; and so He is. He gives life to the earth, to the trees, to the flowers, to the dumb animals, to the bodies and minds of men; all life, all growth, all health, all strength, all beauty, all order, all help and assistance of one thing by another, which you see in the world around you, comes from Him. He is the Lord and Giver of life; in Him, the earth, the sun and stars, all live and move and have their being. He is not them, or a part of them, but He gives life to them. But to men He is more than that--for we men ourselves are more than that, and need more. We have immortal spirits in us--a reason, a conscience, and a will; strange rights and duties, strange hopes and fears, of which the beasts and the plants know nothing. We have hearts in us which can love, and feel, and sorrow, and be weak, and sinful, and mistaken; and therefore we want a Comforter. And the Lord and Giver of life has promised to be our Comforter; and the Father and the Son, from both of whom He proceeds, have promised to send Him to us, to strengthen and comfort us, and give our spirits life and health, and knit us together to each other, and to God, in one common bond of love and fellow-feeling even as He the Spirit knits together the Father and the Son.
I said that we want a Comforter. If we consider what that word Comforter means, we shall see that we do want a Comforter, and that the only Comforter which can satisfy us for ever and ever, must be He, the very Spirit of God, the Lord and Giver of life.
Now Comforter means one who gives comfort; so the meaning of it will depend upon what comfort means. Our word comfort, comes from two old Latin words, which mean WITH and TO STRENGTHEN. And, therefore, a Comforter means anyone who is with us to strengthen us, and do for us what we could not do for ourselves. You will see that this is the proper meaning of the word, when you remember what bodily things we call comforts. You say that a person is comfortable, or lives in comfort, if he has a comfortable income, a comfortable house, comfortable clothes, comfortable food, and so on. Now all these things, his money, his house, his clothes, his food, are not himself. They make him stronger and more at ease. They make his life more pleasant to him. But they are not HIM; they are round him, with him, to strengthen him. So with a person's mind and feelings; when a man is in sorrow and trouble, he cannot comfort himself. His friends must come to him and comfort him; talk to him, advise him, show their kind feeling towards him, and in short, be with him to strengthen him in his afflictions. And if we require comfort for our bodies, and for our minds, my friends, how much more do we for our spirits--our souls, as we call them! How weak, and ignorant, and self-willed, and perplexed, and sinful they are--surely our souls require a comforter far more than our bodies or our minds do! And to comfort our spirits, we require a spirit; for we cannot see our own spirits, our own souls, as we can our bodies. We cannot even tell by our feelings what state they are in. We may deceive ourselves, and we do deceive ourselves, again and again, and fancy that our souls are strong when they are weak--that they are simple and truthful when they are full of deceit and falsehood--that they are loving God when they are only loving themselves--that they are doing God's will when they are only doing their own selfish and perverse wills. No man can take care of his own spirit, much less give his own spirit life; "no man can quicken his own soul," says David, that is, no man can give his own soul life. And therefore we must have someone beyond ourselves to give life to our spirits. We must have someone to teach us the things that we could never find out for ourselves, someone who will put into our hearts the good desires that could never come of themselves. We must have someone who can change these wills of ours, and make them love what they hate by nature, and make them hate what they love by nature. For by nature we are selfish. By nature we are inclined to love ourselves, rather than anyone else; to take care of ourselves, rather than anyone else. By nature we are inclined to follow our own will, rather than God's will, to do our own pleasure, rather than follow God's commandments, and therefore by nature our spirits are dead; for selfishness and self-will are SPIRITUAL DEATH. Spiritual life is love, pity, patience, courage, honesty, truth, justice, humbleness, industry, self-sacrifice, obedience to God, and therefore to those whom God sends to teach and guide us. THAT is spiritual life. That is the life of Jesus Christ; His character, His conduct, was like that--to love, to help, to pity, all around--to give up Himself even to death--to do His Father's will and not His own. That was His life. Because He was the Son of God He did it. In proportion as we live like Him, we shall he living like sons of God. In proportion as we live like Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our spirits will be alive. For he that hath Jesus Christ the Son of God in him, hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life, says St. John. But who can raise us from the death of sin and selfishness, to the life of righteousness and love? Who can change us into the likeness of Jesus Christ? Who can even show us what Jesus Christ's likeness is, and take the things of Christ and show them to us; so that by seeing what He was, we may see what we should be? And who, if we have this life in us, will keep it alive in us, and be with us to strengthen us? Who will give us strength to force the foul and fierce and false thoughts out of our mind, and say, "Get thee behind me, Satan?" Who will give our spirits life? and who will strengthen that life in us?
Can we do it for ourselves? Oh! my friends, I pity the man who is so blind and ignorant, who knows so little of himself, upon whom the lessons which his own mistakes, and sins, and failings should have taught him, have been so wasted that he fancies that he can teach and guide himself without any help, and that he can raise his own soul to life, or keep it alive without assistance. Can his body do without its comforts? Then how can his spirit? If he left his house, and threw away his clothes, and refused all help from his fellow-men, and went and lived in the woods like a wild beast, we should call him a madman, because he refused the help and comfort to his body which God has made necessary for him. But just as great a madman is he who refuses the help and the strengthening which God has made necessary for his spirit--just as great a madman is he who fancies that his soul is any more able than his body is, to live without continual help. It is just because man is nobler than the beast that he requires help. The fox in the wood needs no house, no fire; he needs no friends; he needs no comforts, and no comforters, because he is a beast--because he is meant to live and die selfish and alone; therefore God has provided him in himself with all things necessary to keep the poor brute's selfish life in him for a few short years. But just because man is nobler than that; just because man is not intended to live selfish and alone; just because his body, and his mind, and his spirit are beautifully and delicately made, and intended for all sorts of wonderful purposes, therefore God has appointed that from the moment he is born to all eternity he cannot live alone; he cannot support himself; he stands in continual need of the assistance of all around him, for body, and soul, and spirit; he needs clothes, which other men must make; houses, which other man must build; food, which other men must produce; he has to get his livelihood by working for others, while others get their livelihood in return by working for him. As a child he needs his parents to be his comforters, to take care of him in body and mind. As he grows up he needs the care of others; he cannot exist a day without his fellow-men: he requires school-masters to educate him; books and masters to teach him his trade; and when he has learnt it, and settled himself in life, he requires laws made by other men, perhaps by men who died hundreds of years before he was born, to secure to him his rights and property, to secure to him comforts, and to make him feel comfortable in his station; he needs friends and family to comfort him in sorrow and in joy, to do for him the thousand things which he cannot do for himself. In proportion as he is alone and friendless he is pitiable and miserable, let him be as rich as Solomon himself. From the moment, I say, he is born, he needs continual comforts and comforters for his body, and mind, and heart. And then he fancies that, though his body and his mind cannot exist safely, or grow up healthily, without the continual care and comforting of his fellow-men, that yet his soul, the part of him which is at once the most important and the most in danger; the part of him of which he knows least; the part of him which he understands least; the part of him of which his body and mind cannot take care, because it has to take care of them, can live, and grow, and prosper without any help whatsoever!
And if we cannot strengthen our own souls no man can strengthen them for us. No man can raise our bodies to life, much less can he raise our souls. The physician himself cannot cure the sicknesses of our bodies; he can only give us fit medicines, and leave them to cure us by certain laws of nature, which he did not make, and which he cannot alter. And though the physician can, by much learning, understand men's bodies somewhat, who can understand men's souls? We cannot understand our own souls; we do not know what they are, how they live; whence they come, or whither they go. We cannot cure them ourselves, much less can anyone cure them for us. The only one who can cure our souls is He that made our souls; the only one who can give life to our souls is He who gives life to everything. The only one who can cure, and strengthen, and comfort our spirits, is He who understands our spirits, because He himself is the Spirit of all spirits, the Spirit who searcheth all things, even the deep things of God; because He is the Spirit of God the Father, who made all heaven and earth, and of Jesus Christ the Son, who understands the heart of man, who can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and hath been tempted in all things, just as we are, yet without sin.
He is the Comforter which God has promised to our spirits, the only Comforter who can strengthen our spirits; and if we have Him with us, if He is strengthening us, if He is leading us, if He is abiding with us, if He is changing us day by day, more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ, are we not, as I said at the beginning of my sermon, richer than if we possessed all the land of England, stronger than if we had all the armies of the world at our command? For what is more precious than--God Himself? What is stronger than--God Himself? The poorest man in whom God's Spirit dwells is greater than the greatest king in whom God's Spirit does not dwell. And so he will find in the day that he dies. Then where will riches be, and power? The rich man will take none of them away with him when he dieth, neither shall his pomp follow him. Naked came he into this world, and naked shall he return out of it, to go as he came, and carry with him none of the comforts which he thought in this life the only ones worth having. But the Spirit of God remains with us for ever; that treasure a man shall carry out of this world with him, and keep to all eternity. That friend will never forsake him, for He is the Spirit of Love, which abideth for ever. That Comforter will never grow weak, for He is Himself the very eternal Lord and Giver of Life; and the soul that is possessed by Him must live, must grow, must become nobler, purer, freer, stronger, more loving, for ever and ever, as the eternities roll by. That is what He will give you, my friends; that is His treasure; that is the Spirit-life, the true and everlasting life, which flows from Him as the stream flows from the fountain-head.