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The Giver of All Good.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun Week

Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 462, 465-472.


Second part of Sermon XL. for the Fourth Sunday after Easter.
(for the first part, on the Epistle.)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the FATHER of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.                                                                                ST. JAMES i. 17. 

THE Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for this Sunday, which are found the same in our own and other Churches, combine to form one lesson, the object of which seems to be to prepare our hearts for the Unspeakable Gift. And surely it is impossible to conceive anything more divinely sweet and heavenly than the mode in which this subject is thus inculcated throughout. If on Sunday last we were taught to look forward for "a little while" from earth to Heaven, on this we are taught to make a heaven of earth itself; "among the manifold changes of the world" to have our hearts at anchor within the veil, and so to be at rest.… 
The Gospel for to-day is, like that of last and of next Sunday, taken from St. John's account of our Lord's last conversation with His disciples on the evening of His betrayal.  Jesus said unto His disciples, Now I go My way to Him that sent Me, and none of you asketh Me, Whither goest Thou?  But, because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. The great remedy for all sorrow is to have our treasure and our hearts in Heaven. Our Lord had been speaking to His disciples of the persecution and hatred which they would meet with in the world, as He had done; of the bitter cup which He was about to drink, and of the tribulations which awaited them when He was gone. And their hearts were, in consequence, filled with sorrow. What greater occasion, humanly speaking, could there be for heaviness than such bereavement, under such circumstances?  Yet afterwards, when He was indeed parted from them, and they beheld Him ascending into Heaven, no more to be with them, no more to enjoy His gracious converse, they "returned to Jerusalem," it is said, "with great joy." [St. Luke xxiv. 52]And here our Lord seems to imply that, notwithstanding all the trials that were drawing, and the sad scene of suffering which they would have to undergo, yet if they would but raise their hearts to Heaven, and consider Him as going to the Father, it would greatly mitigate their sorrow.
Nor was it only that their hearts should be in Heaven with Him Whom they had loved, and Who was going to prepare a place for them, that they might be with Him; He was also going to prepare a place for Himself in them below; it was for this purpose He was about to depart; it was in order that He might send down from thence Him Who should be more to them than His own bodily Presence in the flesh had been or could be. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; 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. Much must it surely have been to them to have had Him with them Whom they so much loved, to have seen His countenance, to have heard His voice, to have had His example before their eyes, His miraculous support and guidance; to have witnessed His works of mercy, and listened to His precepts. Nothing upon this earth could ever have been equal to this at that time. Yet better than this, and more to their advantage was it, that He should be withdrawn from sight and present in 'spirit, even as He now is with us. That He should send down the Comforter to be with them. For while our Lord was with them visibly in human person, as the Son of Man, they would not raise their minds to the higher gifts of the Spirit. As St. Paul says, "Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now, henceforth, know we Him no more." "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold all things are become new."
And when He is come, He will reprove, or convince, the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: of sin, because they believe not on Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father, and ye see Me no more; of judgement, because the prince of this world is judged. It took place exactly as our Lord here described. When the Holy Spirit first came down, it was like a great flood of light from Heaven, disclosing all around the region and shadow of death, and the whole world lying in wickedness. For all sin was at once seen and comprised in this—that men had both seen and hated God and Christ. They saw, and yet seeing they believed Him not. "If I had not come," He said, "and spoken unto them, they had not had sin." This the Holy Spirit showed at His coming, so that, "pricked in their heart, they said, What shall we do? " [Acts ii. 37,38] And then also the Holy Spirit supplied the answer, as here our Lord had likewise mentioned, for He had thereby convinced us, that there was no righteousness but by believing on Him Who was out of sight, as He Himself testified, "blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed;" no righteousness but in raising the affections from earth, and seeking "those things which are above, where Christ sitteth, at the right hand of God." And if such righteousness is there to be found in Christ, there will be judgment also in them who find it not. "This is the condemnation," says St. John, "that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness." And this also the Holy Spirit showed, when "the prince of this world" was "cast out," from the bodies of men by the finger of God, from his heathen oracles and temples, from the souls of men, and of nations which he had before led captive at his will. All this convinces of the universal Judgment that shall be, for the wicked cannot hope to escape when the devil himself is judged.
So vast was the differences we may well observe, in the knowledge of the Apostles after the descent of the Holy Spirit, to what it had been when they attended on our Lord, while He went about in the flesh, as we read in the Gospels. "Thus did He well know," says St. Augustin, "how much better for them was that inner sight by which the Holy Spirit should console them."
I have yet many things, He adds, to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. He had been, as He describes Himself in the Old Testament, like an eagle bearing her young ones on her wings, and so, by little and little, teaching them to fly. [Deut. xxxii. 11] And even after His Resurrection, it is said, "then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures." "As if He had said," observes St. Augustin, "It is expedient for you that this form of a servant be withdrawn from you; the Word made Flesh, I dwell within you; but I am unwilling that I any longer ye should love Me after the flesh, or, content with that milk, ye will desire ever to be as babes." [Hom. xciv. ad loc.]

Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: literally, He will "lead the way," like the pillar of fire in the wilderness; like the voice from behind, when ye turn to the right hand or to the left, saying, "this is the way," "the living way," [Heb. x. 20] which is Christ Himself; He will lead you the living way, not as the example of dead men, but with the power of Christ's Godhead to mould to Himself...' Into all truth shall He," the Spirit, "guide you;"—
For He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come. He will give you understanding to know, and a heart to love the truth; and, as He proceedeth from the Father and from Me, what He heareth He shall teach; so shall there ever be a Oneness in the truth; it is but one truth throughout. So shall it ever be unto the end; the Holy Spirit within the Church speaks only what He hath heard. Being of one essence with the Father and the Son, He bringeth all things into intimate union: and in the Church, as in the hearts of men, He will be the one "good and perfect gift from above," coming down "from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." Thus in the Church, and in each member of it, the Holy Spirit shall bring all things into harmony and peace; one faith, one truth, one Lord, three Persons in one God, and bringing. Christians into that unity which is in God. When He speaks of the past, He "shall bring to remembrance" [john xiv. 26] what Christ hath taught; and when He foretells things to come, "the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy." [Rev. xix. 10]
He shall glorify Me: our Lord adds; for as the mission of the Son was to the glory of the Father, so the mission of the Holy Ghost is especially to "glorify" the Son, by bringing all men to acknowledge Him, by uniting them to His body, by dispensing His gifts purchased by His death, by preparing men for His return in glory. 
He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall, shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are Mine: therefore said I, that He shall take of Mine, and shew it unto you. And here we may observe, that our Lord is in this place comforting His disciples respecting His own departure from them, which had filled their hearts with sorrow; and, therefore, in speaking of that Divine Person, the Spirit of Truth, Whom He would send from the Father to be with them, He dwells especially on His intimate union with Himself, of supplying His place in their bereavement, of teaching them those very things He had wished to do, if they had been able to bear them; of glorifying Him, of receiving of Him and showing unto them those things which were His in His union with the Father.

What, therefore, is the point we are taught, the one chief lesson which the Church would inculcate on us this day?  We live under the dispensation of the Spirit, and it is, I think, this—that if we would live in the Spirit, would wait and pray for and seek His guidance, it will bring us more and more to the love of Christ, as revealed to us so fully in the Gospels. There we read of Him; we hear Him, as it were, and see Him; He is manifested to us as the Son of Man, our example, our advocate, the Sacrifice for us; in His parables and precepts, in His miracles of mercy, and His daily life, we have Him, as it were, before us; it is to the love of Him, and obedience to Him, to His likeness, the Holy Spirit must conform our unruly wills and affections.

There have been some good men, especially in the last age, who have habitually dwelt, in their meditations, and prayers, and sermons, on all parts of Scripture; the Epistles, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Revelation; but because they have been more inclined to what is spiritual and devotional than what is practical, but these cannot be separated without detriment. The Spirit is One with the Incarnate Son of God.

The Unity of the Godhead, the Three Persons in One God, is not a barren truth in any sense; the devout consideration of it promotes unity in us. Our Lord's prayer for Christians to the Father is, "that they may be one as We are One ;" all love, all harmony, all union, worthy of the Name, is in the knowledge of the Three Persons and One God.

When our Lord was with His Apostles, there was as it were a veil upon their hearts; but when the Blessed Spirit was given this veil was taken away; from which time they and good Christians are thus described by St. Paul: "We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” [2 Cor. iii. 18.]  This is that "Living Way."

And here we may observe, that the "perfect gift" which is given alone by" the Father of Lights," is so much higher and better than anything we can behold on earth—the highest and best of earthly affections.  For what could have been more holy and heavenly than that love which the Apostles bore to Christ?  To say nothing of the beloved disciple who lay on his Lord's breast; what tender earnest affection does St. Peter often evince? even St. Thomas, slow to believe, when his Lord was going into danger said, "Let us go, that we may die with Him." [St. John xi. 16.]  In all this there was something of human as well as Divine love; but when the Holy Spirit, coming down from the Father of Lights, turned all their hearts to Him Who had ascended into Heaven, this was better, more spiritual and Divine, and partook more of the unchangeable, where there is "no variableness, neither shadow of. turning."
We all of us, my brethren, have to go out of the body, to leave it behind us here to decay, before we can be with Christ; and the more we wean our hearts from everything that is transient and visible, the more shall we be prepared to meet that great change.