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They Shall Walk with Me in White.
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. 505-509.

First part of  Sermon XLIV for Whit-Sunday.

The Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.-ST. JOHN xiv. 17. 

THE fulfillment of this our Lord’s promise forms the Epistle for to-day. When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. “The day of Pentecost,” that fiftieth day after the Paschal Lamb was slain, when the Law was given out from Mount Sinai, written on the stony tables; for now the better law of the Spirit was, by the finger of God, to be written on the heart; when they had come to the heavenly Mount Sion, [Heb. xii. 22] on the fiftieth day after the true Passover.  “The precious ointment poured upon the Head" [Ps. cxxxiii. 2.]  was about to descend “to the skirts of His clothing;” for all was union, “they were with one accord in one place;” the one place and one mind setting forth “the Holy Catholic Church,” and “the Communion of Saints,” to which the Spirit is promised.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  “Suddenly,” as the Angel voice at Bethlehem; “suddenly,” as the Lord Himself will descend; a sound, not of wind, but like “as of a wind;” not, like wind, from either of the four quarters of the earth, but down “from Heaven;” it came not, like wind, on the corners of the house without, but filled it within; not, like the wind, ranging abroad, but confined to one room; like “a mighty wind,” soft, irresistible, but unseen.  Not as the storm without on Mount Sinai, exceeding terrible; but rather as the vital and vocal breath of man; as a friendly guest within the house; gentle as the approaches of our Lord Himself, when He appeared in the midst of them after His Resurrection. 

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them: and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. They heard, they saw, they spoke; the fire was kindled within, and seen without.  A fire like that of the Burning Bush, which burned but consumed not; appearing not as one, but as many, from “the Father of lights,” expressing the manifold distributions of the Spirit; “cloven tongues,” as “rightly dividing the word of truth,” as dispensing and distinguishing many languages; “dividing to every man severally as He will.”  A light to guide and lead, not as the pillar of fire of old, but with the tongue of human agents, as in the dispensation of the Son of Man; tongues on fire with living Jove.  And “it sat upon each” as coming to make His abode, filling the heart with the Holy Ghost, while it ascended upward to Heaven, from whence it came.

And now to the house of Israel the appeal is made, collected together for Pentecost, as lately for the Passover, when they read the title of their King upon the Cross, “in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.”  For the Feast of Pentecost is for the offering of the first-fruits of the wheat harvest, which are taken from the sacred people scattered abroad.  The Lord of the harvest saith, “Thrust in thy sickle, and reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  It is at the Holy City that they are all assembled, “For out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” [Isa. ii. 3.]  And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men or proselytes, out of every nation under heaven, gathered together by the secret law of God’s Providence, by which “the stork in the heavens knoweth her appointed times.” [Jer. viii. 7.]

Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. Not the awful, thrilling trumpet, not the sight and sound of Mount Sinai, which all alike could understand, but the bars removed from the human tongue of persuasion.  Soft as the dew of Hermon came the promised blessing of Mount Sion, [Ps. cxxxiii. 3, 4.] suspending the curse of Babel, and setting forth the one heart, one mind, and one voice in which the many nations of the world shall combine to glorify God in the Church of the redeemed.  “The Lord gave the Word, great was the company of the preachers.” [Ps. lxviii. 11.]  “Their sound is gone out into all lands.”

And they were all amazed and marvelled—all was wonder, not alarm, as of old, for they heard the voice of God, and yet lived, [Exod. xx. 19] so marvellously was it attuned with the tongues of human utterance.  It was the coming of God with the gentle tenderness of the Son of Man; and in the midst of the miraculous interposition was heard, as it were, the voice of Him Who spake in the storm, saying, “It is I; be not afraid.”  “They marvelled,” and “were troubled;” but it was not without a holy and glad wonder, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans ? men of that obscure country, illiterate and untaught?  And how hear we every man in our own tongue wherein we were born, in all the varied languages of the East and West, and their dialects unintelligible to each other, versed in each and conversing, as if it were his native tongue? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, the many provinces of the far East; and in Judaea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, the dark-browed child of ancient Nile, and many-tongued colonies of the southern coasts; and strangers of Rome, Jews, and Proselytes, of the ancient stock of Israel, expatriated Jews, and conforming converts; Cretes and Arabians, Grecian Isles, or the unchanging descendants of Ishmael; we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. Such is the harmony; such union in variety is there in the ways of the Spirit; He assimilates not all to one language, but adapts Himself to each, conforming Himself to every clime, preserving national distinctions, in like manner as individual character.  “Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity in itself,” but thither go up the twelve Tribes.  “The Holy City, coming down from God out of Heaven,” of which the Lamb is the light, hath stones of every hue which earth and sea supplies.  “Upon Thy right hand did stand the queen in a vesture of gold wrought about with divers colours.”  She is clothed with the clothing of God, inestimably precious within, yet with variety of colours adorned without; of many nations, many characters, many tongues.  Union formed of diversity, and harmony of various notes.

All is jubilant, for the great Jubilee hath come; the debtor is let loose; the forgiveness is sealed. [Levit. xxv. 9, 10.]  They speak, and their tongues are of fire, and the hearts of those that hear “burn within” [St. Luke xxiv. 32.] them as they speak; and manifold are their voices, but all one the subject of their speech, which are the wonders of God; of Man gone up to Heaven; of God come down below; of Christ having taken our weakness, and giving us of His power; of His putting on our flesh, and clothing us with His Spirit; of the door of Heaven opened, and gifts coming down from above.  The house of Israel is gathered from abroad; the dead bones are come together; and now the Breath from the four winds has come. Fulfilled is the promise, “I shall put My Spirit in you, and ye shall live.”....

...the Epistle for this day record an event which is as great in importance as anything which has occurred since the foundation of the world. It is indeed the new making of the world—the coming in of the “new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”  As it would have been better for man not to be born unless he be born again, and better were it that the world should not have been made unless it were made anew; so the Light of this day’s Creation is better than the light of the first.

Thus the Scriptural narrative appointed for the Epistle on this Sunday is but the account of that which St. John in other language describes, saying, “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven.”  “And I heard a great voice out of Heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.”

The promise contained in the Gospel is in the Epistle fulfilled; and the fulfillment which the Epistle records is a pledge and assurance to us, that the heavenly truths spoken of in the Gospel may be in like manner fulfilled in us....

(for the second part, on the Gospel.)