FROM the festivals commemorating the mission of our Lord, His
Birth, Manifestation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, we turn
to the mission of the Church, by which the mission of Christ is perpetuated
in all time and extended through all the world. Whitsunday, is, therefore,
the birthday of the Church, on which the life of the Spirit was given,
and we are to consider both how it came and what it is in its own nature.
THE EPISTLE. (ACTS ii. i.) THE
BIRTH OF THE CHURCH.
A. Its Time and Place.
These were both definite, thus marking the reality of the gift.
The time when the Church came into being was a Sunday— that every Sunday
for ever might be both an Easter-day and a Whit Sunday, the living commemoration
of a living Saviour. The time was at a festival—that “these things
should not be done in a corner,” and that it should be seen from the first
that the Church was not for one nation only.
The time was at the Festival of Pentecost, in which the remembrance
was made every year of the writing of the Law on tables of stone, and thus
was fitly designed for His coming Who should write upon the heart the new
law of liberty (Jer. xxxi. 33). As the festival of harvest (Lev.
xxiii. 17) Pentecost fitly witnessed the first ingathering of souls, the
first swathe cut by the Saviour’s sickle and made into the bread of God.
The place was significant also, for “they were all with one accord in one
place,” and the Holy Spirit was thus given to the whole Church, and to
individuals as members of the Church.
B. Its Manner
Was most striking and impressive. The gift came from above, and came
as wind—mysterious, invisible, mighty, as described by our Saviour (in
S. John iii. 8), and as the very breath of life. The gift came as
fire which should warm the cold and chilly heart, should lighten men’s
darkness, soften men’s hardness, burn away men’s dross, and kindle the
dead matter of the world into Heavenly flame.
He came one fire for all, for there is one Spirit and one body; but
He came as fire distributing itself so that “it sat upon each one of them,”
for, though given to the whole body, He is given to every member of the
same for his vocation and ministry, “dividing to each man severally as
He will.” There is one Fire but many tongues, many tongues but one Fire.
He came as tongues, to persuade, not to force; as tongues of fire, for
He persuades not by human eloquence, but by Divine inspiration.
C. Its Result.
The first result of His coming was the miraculous gift of tongues, a
striking symbol of the nature of the Church of Christ. As the languages
of men are the result and perpetuation of division, so the one message
made plain to all was the proclamation that divisions should pass away,
and that in the Catholic Church there should be neither Jew nor Greek.
The Gospel addresses man as man: tells of a universal need, a universal
grace, and of the perpetual expansion and adaptation of the one body for
all races, times, and needs.
THE GOSPEL. (S. JOHN xiv. 15.) THE
LIFE OF THE CHURCH.
Our Saviour here contrasts the life of the Church with that of the world
in five particulars as
A. Receiving what the World cannot receive.
The world cannot receive the second Comforter, because it has not received
the first. Those who have not accepted the visible Saviour will not desire
the invisible Presence Who comes to take His place, and Who is so one with
Him that His coming shall be as if Christ came. The Church receives the
Spirit in proportion to its devotion to the Person and obedience of Christ.
B. Seeing what the World cannot see.
The world cannot see the absent Saviour, not having been able truly
to see Him when He was present, in any such way as to attract the spirit,
awaken the mind, or touch the heart. The world, which can see well-nigh
everything else, cannot see Him; His cradle, His cross, and His life are
nothing in their esteem.
To the Church Christ is an ever-present reality. His disciples
still see Him to the satisfaction of their whole natures, and see Him more
clearly, as their course advances, in prayers, in His Church and sacraments,
in their sorrows, labours, difficulties, and temptations. He is closer
to them than any earthly friend, being not merely with them, but in them,
and they in Him by mutual indwelling.
C. Loving what the World does not love.
This is the reason of sight: the power to see is not the keenness of
our intellect, but the responsiveness of the heart to which alone Christ
“Judas, not Iscariot “—a suggestive parenthesis, for such as he put
no such questions as this. The Judas of selfishness is contrasted
with the Judas of love who desires no blessing he cannot share with others.
The answer is sad, that Christ cannot make the world see, and until men
have learned to love and obey, such Heavenly indwelling cannot be theirs.
D. Knowing what the World cannot know.
Because it has a Teacher Whom the world has not, Who implants knowledge
and the desire to know. Truth coming from many quarters is received
and applied by the Spirit. He shines upon it and makes it visible;
He clothes it in beauty and attractiveness; He gives it power and persuasion.
That which the Saviour teaches by His word and example from without, the
Spirit teaches within, Christ is the Lesson, and the Spirit the Teacher
of that Lesson.
E. Possessing Peace which the World cannot give.
The peace of the world is in forgetfulness, but the peace of Christ
in remembrance. The world’s peace is a sleep liable to sudden rude
awakening; the peace given by Christ is not taken away, for it can see
the meaning of sorrow, even as Christ’s disciples were then learning that
the passing of Christ was good, both for Him and for them.
This peace conquers all the circumstances and evil of the world. The
reason we have it so little is that Satan enters the door we have left
open for the world. Christ so shut the door upon the world that Satan could
not find entrance.
A two-fold petition founded upon a double view of the grace of the Spirit.
A. The Two-fold Gift.
The Holy Spirit came as fire to impart to the disciples both the light
of truth in their mental and spiritual darkness, and also the warmth of
holy affections. It was the self-same influence which brought truth to
the mind and love to the heart.
B. The Two-fold Petition.
We pray for the same gifts from the same Spirit—a right judgment for
the mind and comfort for the heart. Our Reformers have made three practical
additions to this ancient prayer.
“In all things “—for we need right judgment in every relation of life.
“Evermore “—for we need a perpetual Pentecost of comfort for the whole
of our life.
“Holy comfort “—for the comfort we need must not be for self-indulgence,
and not of the body, but of the soul.