By John Percival
"And behold I send 'the promise of My Father upon you'; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be 'endued with power from on high'."--ST. LUKE xxiv. 49.
"Ye shall receive 'power', after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you."--ACTS i. 8.
To-day we are celebrating the last of the series of historical festivals which mark the springtime of our Christian year. And without this one the rest would leave us with a sense of incompleteness; for we should be without its gift of the abiding and indwelling Spirit, and the fulfilment of the last promise.
What, then, are we learning of its practical lessons, and gathering into our life? We have read the Pentecostal narrative, and others that illustrate it. We have sung Pentecostal hymns. We have joined in special prayer for the light of the Holy Spirit to shine in our hearts, giving us a right judgment; and if we are led to ask, "To what purpose is all this?" the answer is to be seen in the texts I have just read to you, the burden of which is the gift of power from on high. Do we not recognise this as the end of the New Testament revelation? And do we not acknowledge that this revelation fails, so far as we are concerned, if it gives us no such 'power'? It is, indeed, in considering this power of the Spirit that we touch to the quick the real influence of religion in the practical life of men; for experience shows that it is possible for a man to be endowed with almost every other gift and yet to lack this one--this indwelling gift of the Holy Ghost the Comforter.
Our life is filled with almost everything we could ask or require to enlighten us or to guide and direct, and yet it fails sometimes.
It may be failing in some of us here to-day, just from want of this Divine spark, this influence of a Spirit from above taking up His abode in us, burning and shining in our hearts so as to purge our affections from sinful taint and purify our tastes, lifting up and enlarging our capacities, and rousing our energies--in one word, fusing all our life into a new form with its refining power.
And the question of all questions for each of us to consider is, "How am I to make my life the home and embodiment of this power from above?" If we turn to our Lord's own example, or to the life of Paul or any other of His followers, or to any life we have known and felt to breathe around it this same power of the Spirit, some things become at once very obvious and clear to us.
That supreme example and those lives declare that whoever desires to have his soul purified and invigorated, to be charged with this Divine electric influence, must have something of separateness and independence in his life; he must feel himself as not merely one of a crowd moved by the desires, aims, hopes, tastes, and ambitions which may chance to prevail around him, but as a separate soul in direct communion with the Spirit of God.
But if we are to realise this in our own life, it means that our times of daily prayer, whether in private or in public, are times at which we lay open our secret life to the Divine presence and influence; it means that we give some real thought and meditation to this presence of God in our life, and that we thus feed our souls continually on wholesome spiritual food. It is in this way that men's lives become in a real sense the temples of the Holy Spirit, and the influences of sin fall away from them.
But the hindrances that are always acting to undermine or destroy any such spiritual power in us are manifold, and seldom far away from our life.
The world outside is always with us and acting in this way, distracting thought, setting up its own standards, drawing us into its channels, and deadening the Spirit in us. This is one of the inevitable conditions of life as you will have to live it, and the man who is in earnest recognises it as a paramount reason why he should never drop out of his personal practice the habit of separate prayer and communion with God. Or again, we may, and often do, let these hindrances grow up within us through our own fault, and quite apart from any active influences of the outer world.
We contract a dulness of spirit, so that spiritual things have no interest and faith has no living power in the heart; and all this very often not because any person, or anything outside of us, can be said to have led us away and entangled us, but simply because we have taken no pains to keep our life within the range of spiritual influences; we have let prayer slip out of it; we have lived in no spiritual companionship; we have done nothing to keep our soul alive in us. This is how men choose the lower life, and surrender their birthright out of pure inertia, so that they lose their spiritual capacity.
But worst of all hindrances to the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit in any life is the harbouring of sensual appetite or craving, passion, or indulgence. No man can expect the Holy Spirit of God to make its home in such unclean company. It is on this account that there is nothing which so soon grows to depraved habit, to God-abandoned state, as sensual appetite; nothing which so rapidly dulls the higher affections in the heart and saps all the finer elements of life.
Therefore, when we are thinking of God's gift of the Holy Ghost, and of spiritual power as the saving and uplifting influence in our soul, we do well to reflect a little on those hindrances which will be fatal to all such power in us, if they are allowed to take possession of our life and to prevail in it.
We do well to reflect in this way, because such reflection will make us very careful against harbouring or encouraging any of these fatal hindrances, and careful also against any other form of spiritual waste.
There is no surer guide to a right use of all liberty than this reflection upon the power of the indwelling spirit in us, and the things that add to it or destroy it.
Recognising that this Spirit, which, in the language of your confirmation prayer, is the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the Spirit of knowledge and true godliness and of holy fear; recognising that this Spirit, with its sevenfold gifts, is the saving element in all free life, you begin to look with fresh feelings on all your leisure hours, on all your hours of liberty, when you are released from task work or supervision, when your life is what you yourselves are making it, and you begin to consider whether these times, as you spend them, are indeed times of growth or, it may be, of waste, times of genuine freedom or of slavery to some form of lower life. When you think of this Holy Spirit of God as a power in every good life, it becomes a very real question what and of what sort is the 'power' that is holding sway over you in your leisure hours.
This is indeed a question which never sleeps, and to-day we ask, What is your Whitsuntide answer to it?
If there be any one to whom such a question is not yet a matter of living concern, it is the purpose of this Pentecostal festival to rouse him to new thoughts about it.
If there be any older person in this congregation who lets his years slip from him, not caring or forgetting the importance of it, and not striving to leaven all his hours of work or leisure with the thought of this indwelling Spirit from above; or if there should be any young boy who, in utter thoughtlessness, or from perversity or coarseness, or any induced depravity of taste, allows any evil spirit to bear rule in his life, our prayer for such an one to-day is that the baptism of fire may descend upon his soul, and the power of a new spirit be felt in it.
And indeed there is not one of us but needs to come at such a time with this same prayer for his own life; for our own experience is too often very like the vision of Ezekiel. Under the influences that come between us and the Spirit of the living God, our soul is in continual danger of being like the prophet's valley of dry bones, which lay lifeless, unmoved, till the breath of the Lord breathed over them, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
So we pray that our life may prove responsive to these influences of the Pentecostal season. And the first response it gives is when it rises up in the consciousness of the Spirit of God as a living power in the heart, a power to drive out evil, and to inspire and strengthen us for what is good.
And if, under the inspiring associations of this historic and holy day, you feel your soul touched with a new spirit or consciousness rising up in you from the grave of its own dead self to new desires and new thoughts, and a new sense of the living nearness of the Holy Ghost the Comforter, then you know--and you need no prophet to tell you--that the Pentecostal gift has not failed, and there is good hope that you will not spoil either your youth or your manhood with any form of ignoble life.