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Westminster Sermons, 3 - THE SPIRIT OF WHITSUNTIDE

By Charles Kingsley

      ISAIAH XI. 2.

      The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

      This is Isaiah's description of the Spirit of Whitsuntide; the royal Spirit which was to descend, and did descend without measure, on the ideal and perfect King, even on Jesus Christ our Lord, the only-begotten Son of God.

      That Spirit is the Spirit of God; and therefore the Spirit of Christ.

      Let us consider a while what that Spirit is.

      He is the Spirit of love. For God is love; and He is the Spirit of God. Of that there can be no doubt.

      He is the Spirit of boundless love and charity, which is the Spirit of the Father, and the Spirit of the Son likewise. For when by that Spirit of love the Father sent the Son into the world that the world through Him might be saved, then the Son, by the same Spirit of love, came into the world, and humbled Himself, and took on Him the form of a slave, and was obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.

      The Spirit of God, then, is the Spirit of love.

      But the text describes this Spirit in different words. According to Isaiah, the Spirit of the Lord is the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of Counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord--in one word, that I may put it as simply as I can--the spirit of wisdom.

      Now, is the spirit of wisdom the same as the spirit of love?

      Sound theology, which is the highest reason, tells us that it must be so. For consider:

      If the spirit of love is the Spirit of God, and the spirit of wisdom is the Spirit of God, then they must be the same spirit. For if they be two different spirits, then there must be two Holy Spirits; for any and every Spirit of God must be holy,--what else can He be? Unholy? I leave you to answer that.

      But two Holy Spirits there cannot be; for holiness, which is wisdom, justice, and love, is one and indivisible; and as the Athanasian Creed tells us, and as our highest reason ought to tell us, there is but one Holy Spirit, who must be at once a spirit of wisdom and a spirit of love.

      To suppose anything else; to suppose that God's wisdom and God's love, or that God's justice and God's love, are different from each other, or limit each other, or oppose each other, or are anything but one and the same eternally, is to divide God's substance; to deny that God is One: which is forbidden us, rightly, and according to the highest reason, by the Athanasian Creed.

      But more; experience will shew us that the spirit of love is the same as the spirit of wisdom; that if any man wishes to be truly wise and prudent, his best way--I may say his only way--is to be loving and charitable.

      The experience of the apostles proves it. They were, I presume, the most perfectly loving and charitable of men; they sacrificed all for the sake of doing good; they counted not their own lives dear to them; they endured--what did they not endure?--for the one object of doing good to men; and--what is harder, still harder, for any human being, because it requires not merely enthusiasm, but charity, they made themselves (St Paul at least) all things to all men, if by any means they might save some.

      But were they wise in so doing? We may judge of a man's wisdom, my friends, by his success. We English are very apt to do so. We like practical men. We say--I will tell you what a man is, by what he can do.

      Now, judged by that rule, surely the apostles' method of winning men by love proved itself a wise method. What did the apostles do? They had the most enormous practical success that men ever had. They, twelve poor men, set out to convert mankind by loving them: and they succeeded.

      Remember, moreover, that the text speaks of this Spirit of the Lord being given to One who was to be a King, a Ruler, a Guide, and a Judge of men; who was to exercise influence over men for their good. This prophecy was fulfilled first in the King of kings, our Lord Jesus Christ: but it was fulfilled also in His apostles, who were, in their own way and measure, kings of men, exercising a vast influence over them. And how? By the royal Spirit of love. In the apostles the Spirit of love and charity proved Himself to be also the Spirit of wisdom and understanding. He gave them such a converting, subduing, alluring power over men's hearts, as no men have had, before or since. And He will prove Himself to have the same power in us. Our own experience will be the same as the apostles' experience.

      I say this deliberately. The older we grow, the more we understand our own lives and histories, the more we shall see that the spirit of wisdom is the spirit of love; that the true way to gain influence over our fellow-men, is to have charity towards them.

      That is a hard lesson to learn; and those who learn it at all, generally learn it late; almost--God forgive us--too late.

      Our reason, if we would let the Spirit of God enlighten it, would teach us this beforehand. But we do not usually listen to our reason, or to God's Spirit speaking to it. And therefore we have to learn the lesson by experience, often by very sad and shameful experience. And even that very experience we cannot understand, unless the Spirit of God interpret it to us: and blessed are they who, having been chastised, hearken to His interpretation.

      Our reason, I say, should teach us that the spirit of wisdom is none other than the spirit of love. For consider--how does the text describe this Spirit?

      As the spirit of wisdom and understanding; that is, as the knowledge of human nature, the understanding of men and their ways. If we do not understand our fellow-creatures, we shall never love them.

      But it is equally true that if we do not love them, we shall never understand them. Want of charity, want of sympathy, want of good-feeling and fellow-feeling--what does it, what can it breed, but endless mistakes and ignorances, both of men's characters and men's circumstances?

      Be sure that no one knows so little of his fellow-men, as the cynical, misanthropic man, who walks in darkness, because he hates his brother. Be sure that the truly wise and understanding man is he who by sympathy puts himself in his neighbours' place; feels with them and for them; sees with their eyes, hears with their ears; and therefore understands them, makes allowances for them, and is merciful to them, even as his Father in heaven is merciful.

      And next; this royal Spirit is described as "the spirit of counsel and might," that is, the spirit of prudence and practical power; the spirit which sees how to deal with human beings, and has the practical power of making them obey.

      Now that power, again, can only be got by loving human beings. There is nothing so blind as hardness, nothing so weak as violence. I, of course, can only speak from my own experience; and my experience is this: that whensoever in my past life I have been angry and scornful, I have said or done an unwise thing; I have more or less injured my own cause; weakened my own influence on my fellow-men; repelled them instead of attracting them; made them rebel against me, rather than obey me. By patience, courtesy, and gentleness, we not only make ourselves stronger; we not only attract our fellow-men, and make them help us and follow us willingly and joyfully: but we make ourselves wiser; we give ourselves time and light to see what we ought to do, and how to do it.

      And next; this Spirit is also "the spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord." Ay, they, indeed, both begin in love, and end in love. If you wish for knowledge, you must begin by loving knowledge for its own sake. And the more knowledge you gain, the more you will long to know, and more, and yet more for ever. You cannot succeed in a study, unless you love that study. Men of science must begin with an interest in, a love for, an enthusiasm, in the very deepest sense of the word, for the phaenomena which they study. But the more they learn of them, the more their love increases; as they see more and more of their wonder, of their beauty, of the unspeakable wisdom and power of God, shewn forth in every blade of grass which grows in the sunshine and the rain.

      And if this be true of things earthly and temporary, how much more of things heavenly and eternal? We must begin by loving whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, honest, and of good report. We must begin, I say, by loving them with a sort of child's love, without understanding them; by that simple instinct and longing after what is good and beautiful and true, which is indeed the inspiration of the Spirit of God. But as we go on, as St Paul bids us, to meditate on them; and "if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, to think on such things," and feed our minds daily with purifying, elevating, sobering, humanizing, enlightening thoughts: then we shall get to love goodness with a reasonable and manly love; to see the beauty of holiness; the strength of self-sacrifice; the glory of justice; the divineness of love; and in a word--To love God for His own sake, and to give Him thanks for His great glory, which is: That He is a good God.

      This thought--remember it, I pray--brings me to the last point. This Spirit is also the spirit of the fear of the Lord. And that too, my friends, must be a spirit of love not only to God, but to our fellow-creatures. For if we but consider that God the Father loves all; that His mercy is over all His works; and that He hateth nothing that He has made: then how dare we hate anything that He has made, as long as we have any rational fear of Him, awe and respect for Him, true faith in His infinite majesty and power? If we but consider that God the Son actually came down on earth to die, and to die too on the cross, for all mankind: then how dare we hate a human being for whom He died: at least if we have true honour, gratitude, loyalty, reverence, and godly fear in our hearts toward Him, our risen Lord?

      Oh let us open our eyes this Whitsuntide to the experience of our past lives. Let us see now--what we shall certainly see at the day of judgment--that whenever we have failed to be loving, we have also failed to be wise; that whenever we have been blind to our neighbours' interests, we have also been blind to our own; whenever we have hurt others, we have hurt ourselves still more. Let us, at this blessed Whitsuntide, ask forgiveness of God for all acts of malice and uncharitableness, blindness and hardness of heart; and pray for the spirit of true charity, which alone is true wisdom. And let us come to Holy Communion in charity with each other and with all; determined henceforth to feel for each other and with each other; to put ourselves in our neighbours' places; to see with their eyes, and feel with their hearts, as far as God shall give us that great grace; determined to make allowances for their mistakes and failings; to give and forgive, live and let live, even as God gives and forgives, lives and lets live for ever: that so we may be indeed the children of our Father in heaven, whose name is Love. Then we shall indeed discern the Lord's body--that it is a body of union, sympathy, mutual trust, help, affection. Then we shall, with all contrition and humility, but still in spirit and in truth, claim and obtain our share in the body and the blood, in the spirit and in the mind, of Him Who sacrificed Himself for a rebellious world.

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