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Almost every thing in the world has a tendency to alienate our minds from God; and, without the greatest watchfulness, will place our highest interests in jeopardy. Temptations adapted to our constitution and habits, our passions and appetites, and arising from almost every society in which we mingle, and every scene we behold, will be sure to assail us to the very close of life. Such, however, will not frequently seduce us if our minds are kept by the Holy Spirit under the ascendency of truth, and are governed by those sacred dispositions which it is his prerogative to form. When others waver and fall, we shall be decided and safe. Why, in former years, did devout men disregard the smiles and frowns of the world, adhere to religion with a determination, and profess it with a magnanimity which neither racks nor gibbets could shake ? Simply because they were “strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man.” That Spirit is able to inspire us with similar fortitude, and to bless us with like preservation: and on that preservation our happiness depends. Temptation leads to sin, and sin plunges in misery : it indisposes for fellowship with God, induces a distaste for spiritual blessings, and makes the exercises of religion irksome and profitless. How can a man, whose conscience is burdened with the guilt of always trifling with temptation and often yielding to it, either read the Scriptures, or enter the house of God, or approach the throne of grace, with any sincere desire for communion with God, or any hope of obtaining it? And yet what is a profession of religion if communion with God be not maintained ? it can yield no happiness, and afford no hope. How necessary is it, then, to our spiritual enjoyment, that we should seek the influences of the Holy Spirit in their most copious effusion, to preserve us from the temptations by which we are perpetually assailed, and to dispose us habitually to seek fellowship with Him, in whose presence there is fulness of joy !
Not only does the happiness of believers require them to seek the influences of the Spirit, they are also bound to do this by a regard to their usefulness.
It is acknowledged by all Christians that their labours in the cause of Christ can only be successful as they are blessed by the Holy Spirit: “Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but it is God that giveth the increase.” There is, however, another view of this truth, more seldom taken, and yet of immense importance, which it is now my object to illustrate. It becomes us constantly to recollect, that without a copious effusion of Divine influence, Christians can never be qualified for eminent usefulness, nor disposed to attempt and prosecute great things for the glory of Christ and the conversion of sinners. One object of Christ in redeeming men is, to make them instrumental in effecting the salvation of others. The great purposes for which they have to live are, to enlighten their fellow-sinners, to win souls to Christ, and to labour for the universal establishment of the gospel. To accomplish these important designs of their Christian calling numerous spiritual qualifications are necessary. What manner of persons ought they to be in all holy conversation and godliness! They should not be conformed to the spirit and customs of the world : the greatest devotion and humility, charity and zeal, should distinguish them: they should evince the most ardent love to the Saviour, supreme attachment to the gospel, and melting compassion for immortal souls: they should vehemently desire and readily embrace opportunities for usefulness: they should closely copy the example of their Divine Master, who went about doing good; and who, in private and in public, and in every society, and under every circumstance, exhibited, in his spirit and deportment, the purity, benevolence, and grandeur of vital religion. But how are believers to acquire such sublime devotion, eminent spirituality, expansive benevolence, and unwearied zeal as will afford them the hope of great success in seeking the salvation, not of their familes merely, but of the world? These essential qualifications for usefulness are not inherent in our nature,—they are the fruits of the Spirit; and until God pours his influences upon us, as he promises to do in the text, we cannot yield them.
Whatever station in the world Christians may occupy,—whatever may be their talents, influence, or resources,—they will never be disposed to attempt, and steadily aim at great things in the cause of Christ, unless they are "filled with the Spirit;" and yet, if great things are not attempted and resolutely pursued, what an infatuation is it to expect them!
Before any great or rapid change in the moral character of society can be reasonably expected, the church itself must be renovated. Christians must come out more decidedly from the world, mortify their evil affections and lusts, and break off all the temporizing habits which have prevented the usefulness of their example, both in domestic and public life: they must be disposed to offer their wealth, not at the shrine of Mammon, but on the altars of God: they must be willing to live on a scale which will enable them to devise liberal things to promote the glory of the Saviour, being ready, even in this respect, to decrease that he may increase : they must learn to act, not from the fitful excitement of feeling, but from the powerful and steady impulse of principle : they must give themselves to prayer, not merely while the subject of revivals gains a passing attention, they must "pray always and not faint.” Ashamed that any misunderstandings or collisions should prevent them being fellow-workers with Christ in saving souls from death, they should hush all their jealousies and animosities to rest, and draw the curtains of oblivion around them. Instead of converting their churches into sepulchres, where benevolence and zeal lie entombed, they should make them resemble the early churches, from which there went forth, into a benighted and lost world, the men who lived to enlighten and to save it. But what can produce amongst Christians such activity and devotedness ? What can thus consecrate them as “living sacrifices” to Christ? Nothing but the fulfilment of the great promise in the text.
The influences of the Spirit have hitherto been given to the people of God in a measure corresponding with their faith, prayers, and exertions ; but were they now imparted as copiously as on the day of Pentecost, what a change would be produced! How many young men would give themselves entirely to the service of Christ, and carry the news of salvation far hence among the Gentiles! What an unction and a power would attend our ministrations at home, and how illustriously would the members of our churches then be signalized by holiness, benevolence, and zeal! Then greater usefulness would crown our exertions, not because we should be able to command success, but because, being disposed to do more, and enabled to do every thing better, God would, to a much greater extent, establish the work of our hands upon us. A regard to our usefulness, then, as well as our happiness, requires us to seek that God would pour his Spirit upon us as
upon the dry ground.”
V. Every believer has reason to expect that the influences of the Holy Spirit will be most copiously imparted to him.
The text expressly promises an abundant outpouring of the Spirit. The promise is conveyed in language peculiarly forcible and energetic: it declares that Divine influence will be given, in great copiousness, and diffused through a wide extent; that it will descend, not like the dew upon the fleece of Gideon, but like floods upon a thirsty world. The exhortations of Scripture strengthen the hope which the text inspires. In the Epistle to the Ephesians we are exhorted to “ be filled with the Spirit;" an exhortation which implies that a most copious supply is at hand to satisfy our most vehement desires. This hope is still further confirmed by the views which the Scriptures afford of the grace of the Holy Spirit, and his readiness to
communicate his influence to believers. He is expressly called the “Spirit of grace,” and that, not merely because he commences and finishes the work of grace in the soul, but because he is himself full of grace and love. He is a distinct but not a reluctant agent in the economy of redemption. He voluntarily undertook the cause of fallen and polluted sinners. Herein we see " the love of the Spirit.” Nothing but sovereign and unbounded grace could have prompted him to make those “the habitations of God,” whom sin had rendered depraved and loathsome. To accomplish his gracious purposes he has introduced a dispensation which is emphatically called his own. He continues, through every age, to set apart men, as he separated “ Barnabas and Saul,” to direct the world to him as the fountain of light, purity, and bliss. Like a kind and generous friend, he is grieved when his aid is slighted and his benevolent purposes are opposed, or when sin renders it necessary that he should withhold his gracious and consolatory influences. These facts should convince us that he delights to dwell with men, and confirm the hope which the text excites.
There is much in the aspect of the present times to strengthen the expectation of a more than ordinary effusion of the influences of the Spirit. I have no sympathy with the men who think that the present times call only for woeful lamentation and gloomy forebodings. There are intimations that the time to favour Zion is approaching. A more practical conviction of the necessity of Divine influence, than was felt for ages, has recently been produced. The means for extending the gospel, in connexion with which the influences of the Spirit have uniformly been given, are now employed to an extent unprecedented in the annals of the church. Accounts have reached us from other countries, to which we have listened as to the sweet songs of earliest birds ushering in a bright and balmy spring. Days of trial are coming over the churches of our own nation, to rouse them from slumber, to purify them from worldliness, and to lead them with more earnest prayer to the throne of grace. Then the clouds which we have seen rising above the horizon, and slowly ascending up the blue vault of heaven, shall cover the moral hemisphere, and shew that the time has come for the accomplishment of the text: “ I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thy offspring." That we may not imagine this affords any encouragement to indolence, while it strengthens our confidence and brightens our hopes, I remark that,
VI. There is an appointed order of means with which the
bestowment of Divine influence is connected, and in the constant observance of which its most copious effusion should be sought.
God has appointed means of grace, and it is only in the use of them that the Scriptures warrant us to expect the fulfilment of his promises.
If we desire to obtain the Holy Spirit we must guard, with vigilant and unceasing care, against the sins which grieve him. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice : and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” When the followers of Jesus act according to the letter and the spirit of this beautiful and pathetic injunction, the Divine influences will descend upon them “like rain upon the mown grass ; as showers that water the earth.”
If we desire to be “filled with the Spirit,” we must pay a supreme and habitual attention to the word of God, and closely and impartially apply it to our own case. Neither the science nor the politics of the day must be permitted to prevent our regular and devotional study of the Scriptures. The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit; and he that neglects his word, must not expect his influences. We must value that word as our best treasure; we must daily peruse it for direction, comfort, and strength. It must supply us with subjects of thought, principles of action, and topics of conversation. There may be greater excitement in the religious world, and a more flaming profession of the gospel, but there will never be a real and permanent improvement in vital godliness, without a renewed and increased attention to the Scriptures. It would be extreme presumption to expect the Spirit without this, since he is given to lead us to an experimental and extensive knowledge of the truth, and not to supersede the necessity of studying it.
Again, If we would obtain the blessing promised in the text, we must regularly attend to the public ordinances of religion. These have often been blessed by the Holy Spirit, and he will, to the close of time, employ them in accomplishing his gracious purposes in the souls of men.
In connexion with the preaching of the gospel, his quickening and consolatory influences are uniformly imparted. When that is faithfully taught, so as to direct the soul of the hearer to the misery of its lost condition, the attractions of the cross, and the grandeurs and realities of eternity, He makes it the power of God unto salvation : and "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for