Traditional Christians, which we strive daily to be, are guided by the Holy Spirit of God, so, let us look at a few examples of the working of the Holy Spirit. In the Scriptural description of Creation a picture is painted of God bringing the world into being "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." The time came In the history of Israel when the Hebrew people were carried away into Babylon. Ezekiel stood forth among them as the prophet of the captivity to stiffen their loyalty and encourage their hopes.
The prophet tells how the "Spirit lifted me up," how he met the people on the bank of the river Chebar to instruct them, how "the Spirit entered into me" and so on." At the opening of our Lord's ministry He found St. John Baptist baptizing people as a sign of repentance. In order to support the Baptist and to show His own community of spiritual interest with the people, Jesus also came for baptism. "And, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him.” On the feast of Pentecost following our Lord's ascension something happened to the Apostles. They were gathered together in the upper room in Jerusalem when a compelling impulse stirred them.
The best way they could describe it was to say it was like a "rushing mighty wind" and like "cloven tongues like as of fire." Whereupon they "were all filled with the Holy Ghost," and boldly set out to bear that witness to Christ which the Church has continued ever since. The aged Apostle St. John had been banished to the island of Patmos in one of the early persecutions of the Christians. There he wrote a symbolical treatise on the sufferings, fortitude, and ultimate triumph of the Church, which is some times called the Apocalypse and sometimes the Revelation of St. John the Divine. It is the last book in the Bible. In describing how it came to him he says, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day." These are typical instances of what runs steadily through the Bible from end to end. References to the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Ghost (they all mean the same thing) are far too numerous to tabulate. They imply a divine personal Force acting upon God's creation.
Sometimes, as in the Creation story itself, it is God active in nature--the eversustaining Divine Presence which not only created the universe but sustains and vilifies it. Sometimes it is God inspiring or guiding men and women, as in the cases of the prophets and other great leaders who were human instruments in the hands of God. Throughout our Lord's ministry the association between Himself and the Holy Spirit was constant and complete. The Church, as the Representative of Christ on earth, was taught and led by the Holy Spirit and conveyed the Spirit of God to its members through the sacramental channels provided. Those who wrote the Christian record did so "in the Spirit," and thus gave us what we call the "inspired" Scriptures. The Holy Spirit means God in action. The best way we can distinguish Him is in the trinitarian language of Three Persons in One God-the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-which is admittedly inadequate because God is so much greater than any human language. But it does in some measure account for the facts as we attempt to correlate them. God is One and works as one.
No single Person of the Holy Trinity works apart from the others but there are diversities of actions. Well, in a somewhat similar way the Holy Spirit has always been operative, but at a given time and place His presence was particularly concentrated in the Church in order to meet our human needs. Said our Lord to the Apostles, "ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you." And on the day of Pentecost "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost."' So we speak of the Christian era as "the dispensation of the Spirit"--not that He was absent before or otherwise, but that since that day of Pentecost His presence has possessed peculiar characteristics. If I go out in the sunshine, I am surrounded with light. If I hold a burning-glass over an inflammable object, I can focus the rays of light to a point of extreme brilliance and concentrated heat which may even produce a flame. I have not detracted from the generally prevailing light, but I have created a sphere of concentrated brilliance wherein special results can be achieved. So is the Spirit of God always present.
Christ provides a focus through which that Divine Power is concentrated within a sphere called His Church, where the Spirit operates to a special purpose. Nothing has been detracted from His prevailing presence, but a Point of contact has been established for us human beings because we need points of contact with God. Outside that sphere He can and does operate, but God has opened for us a normal avenue of approach which is plainly for our benefit. All this is gathered up in the last paragraph of the Nicene Creed when we say, "I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, and Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son”, and the operations which may be more or less segregated. In the Heavenly Father we see God governing and directing His universe--while in the Holy Spirit we sec God moving intimately in the lives of men and women to supply spiritual needs and stimulate spiritual motives.
They are not two Gods at work but two personal activities of the One God. The Church is the particular sphere of the Holy Spirit, and the Sacraments are His particular means of operation. This is not to say that the Spirit of God may be confined within any limits of the natural or human world. When we discuss the incarnation, we see how Christian teaching has always understood that our Blessed Lord has existed from eternity as the San of God, but that He became incarnate in human life at a certain time and a certain place for the sake of us humans who are conditioned by time and Son; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the prophets: and I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church." The night before His crucifixion our Lord had a long talk with the Apostles. He told them some important things about the Holy Spirit. "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth.."
The word which we have translated "Comforter" is the Greek word "Paraclete." It means an advocate, a helper, one who pleads our cause and stands up for us. Three centuries ago, when the Authorized Version of the Bible was prepared, the word Comforter had a somewhat different meaning than the word now conveys. It comes from the same root as our word "fortitude" and had a much stronger significance than the gentle, soothing effect which we associate with "comfort" today. It means the Strengthener, the Inspirer, the Helper, the Instructor, All of these are functions of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. Said our Lord, "the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoevcr I have said unto you." And again, "I have yet may things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth."
Our Lord had laid down the principles of His kingdom for all time but it was hardly to be expected that the Apostles could grasp them all at once. In the long history of the Church which lay ahead many difficult and unforeseen problems would arise to which His principles would have to be applied. For these the guidance of God would be necessary and it would be supplied by the Holy Spirit who, through the Church, would progressively interpret Christ in a changing world. Our Lord's work would not be complete until He carried it back to the Heavenly Father as a finished product. Therefore it was necessary that He should leave them, but it was also necessary that they should not be abandoned to flounder in a sea of uncertainty. The need would be met by the special gift of the Holy Spirit who would do for them what our Lord Himself had been doing. "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you."
On the one hand the Holy Spirit would offer support and guidance to the faithful, and on the other hand He would "reprove (or convince) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." That is, He would convince the world of its sinful state, He would show the world what righteousness means as exemplified in the finished work of Christ, and He would demonstrate that the judgment and conquest of evil is to be found in Christ. With all that in mind, it is not difficult to see what our Lord meant by His statement about "sin against the Holy Ghost" which has been the plaything of many a fanatical, self-constituted interpreter of Holy Scripture. "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men."' The forgiveness of God is always available to those who recognize, confess, and repent of their sins. Naturally God's forgiveness is blocked if repentance is absent--He cannot forgive us in spite of ourselves. But repentance is due to the prompting of the Holy Spirit working within us. Therefore the denial of the Holy Spirit automatically places us outside the realm of God's forgiveness. "Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost" is continual, willful refusal of God, and of course, it is unforgivable just as the refusal to eat is bound to result in starvation. The Holy Spirit is the agent of God's grace in all the Sacraments but He has always been particularly identified with the Laying on of Hands, or Confirmation. "Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost." In Christian symbolism the number seven is the perfect number.
Therefore in the prayer of Invocation in the Confirmation service the seven-fold gift of the Spirit is asked for those being confirmed. We ask for:
1. Wisdom, to aid us in our search for God.
2. Understanding, to lead us to the knowledge of the truth.
3· Counsel, to help us discern right from wrong.
4· Ghostly strength, to support us in doing right.
5. Knowledge, to teach us the will of God.
6. True Godliness, to help us lead good lives.
7· Holy Fear, or respect and reverence for God.
Out of these spiritual gifts arise the "fruits of the Spirit." In Christian symbolism the number nine is the mystery number. So St. Paul enumerates for us the nine-fold fruit of the spirit--"the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." It is not as complicated as it may sound. The Holy Spirit is God in action--God sustaining the world which He has created and energizing human lives to whom He offers redemption through Jesus Christ.
The easiest mistake we can commit is to think that we can make ourselves what we ought to be. Delicately timid about trusting God too far, we look upon Christ as a fine example of a wholesome life and resolve to emulate Him. Depending upon our own resources, we determine to improve ourselves according to the standard which He has set for us. But if there is one thing which the experience of life ought to teach us, it is that we cannot depend upon ourselves. We are always breaking down under pressure, our good intentions desert us, our firm resolutions prove to be as unstable as water. We simply can't do it on our own power. It may take a long time, and it may subject us to many hard knocks before we realize it, but sooner or later we are bound to face the honest fact that we are not sufficient of ourselves to do what we know we ought to do.
History is full of the men-on-horseback who have ridden rough-shod over their contemporary world, imposing their wills on submissive subjects and remolding life to suit their own fancies. Some of them sky-rocketed to dazzling if temporary heights. Victor Hugo said of Napoleon that he became so arrogant that he "embarrassed God.'' Invariably they left a legacy of hardship, misery, loss and destruction for which their successors had to suffer. Over against them stands the long list of saints of God who became strong for Him in the recognition of their own weakness. For them ambition was transmuted into aspiration. They sought nothing for themselves but everything for God. They wanted to bring the world into subjection to God, not to themselves. Because of them our world today is better, happier, somewhat cleaner, a little more wholesome, and a step or two nearer to what God intends it to be. They did not fool themselves with egotistical notions of their own infallibility. They knew that without God their own best efforts were zero. In His superior knowledge God understood this long ago, and He would not leave us helpless. The genius of the Christian religion lies not in the fact that Christ set us a noble example, but that His life is communicable to us by the operation of the Holy Spirit. We do not depend on ourselves, we depend on God. We do not attempt to reconstruct our own lives. We place ourselves in God's hands for redemption. He might have said, "I have taught them what to do and if they don't do it, it is their own responsibility." But He didn't rather, He said, “I love: them. I want them to be right.
I have given them what they need for holy living In Jesus Christ I have shown them that it can be done. But I can't desert them now. I must stay with them. With infinite patience I will help them to arrive.” “I will send my Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen them.”
+ Bishop Manning