Sermon 18. The Gift of the Spirit

"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, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." 2 Cor. iii. 18.

{254} MOSES prayed for this one thing, that he might "see God's glory;" and he was allowed to behold it in such measure, that when he came down from the Mount, "the skin of his face shone," so that the people "were afraid to come nigh him." Only to him was this privilege vouchsafed in this intimate way, and that but once; but a promise was given, that at some future time it should be extended to the whole earth. God said to him, "As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Lord," that glory which the Israelites had seen in glimpses and had profaned. Afterwards the prophets Isaiah and Habakkuk foretold, in like manner, that the earth should be filled with the Lord's glory and the knowledge of it. When Christ came, these promises were fulfilled, for "we {255} beheld His glory," St. John says, "the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father." [Ex. xxxiv. 30. Numb. xiv. 21. Isa. xi. 9. Hab. ii. 14. John i. 14.]

In the chapter which ends with the text, St. Paul contrasts the shadows and earnests under the Law, of "the glory that should follow" Christ's coming, with that glory itself. He says that he and his brother Apostles are "not as Moses, who put a veil over his face." At length the glory of God in full measure was the privilege and birthright of all believers, who now, "in the unveiled face of Christ their Saviour, beheld the reflection of the Lord's glory," and were "changed into His likeness from one measure of glory to another." Our Saviour's words in His last prayer for His Apostles, and for all his disciples as included under them, convey to us the same gracious truth. He says, "The glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them." [John xvii. 22.]

This glorious Dispensation, under which the Church now exists, is called by St. Paul, in the same chapter, "the ministration of the Spirit;" and again in the text, we are said to be changed into the glorious image of Christ, "by the Spirit of the Lord."

And further, the Church, as being thus honoured and exalted by the presence of the Spirit of Christ, is called "the Kingdom of God," "the Kingdom of Heaven;" as, for instance, by our Lord Himself. "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand:" "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God." [Matt. x. 7. John iii. 5.] {256}

I propose now to make some remarks on this peculiar gift of the Gospel Dispensation, which, as in the foregoing passages, is spoken of as the gift of "the Spirit," the gift of "glory," and through which the Church has become what it was not before, the Kingdom of Heaven.

And here, before entering upon the subject, I would observe, that as there is a sense in which the grant of glory was made even under the Law, viz., in its miracles (as when the Israelites are condemned for having "seen the glory of the Lord and His miracles," and yet "not having hearkened to his voice" [Numb. xiv. 22.]), so in another point of view it belongs exclusively to the promised blessedness hereafter. Still there is a peculiar and sufficient sense in which it is ascribed to the Christian Church, and what this is, is the question now before us.

1. In the first place, some insight is given into the force of the word "glory," as our present privilege, by considering the meaning of the title "Kingdom of Heaven," which, as has been just observed, has also belonged to the Church since Christ came. The Church is called by this name as being the court and domain of Almighty God, who retreated from the earth, as far as His kingly presence was concerned, when man fell. Not that He left Himself without witness in any age, but even in His most gracious manifestations, still He conducted Himself as if in an enemy's country, "as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night." [Jer. xiv. 8.] But when Christ had reconciled Him to His fallen creatures, He returned according to the prophecy, "I will dwell in them, and {257} walk in them; I will set My sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore." [2 Cor. vi. 16. Ezek. xxxvii. 26.] From that time there has really been a heaven upon earth, in fulfilment of Jacob's vision. Thenceforth the Church was not a carnal ordinance, made of perishable materials, like the Jewish Tabernacle, which had been a type of the Dispensation to which it belonged. It became "a kingdom which cannot be moved," being sweetened, purified, and spiritualized by the pouring out of Christ's blood in it. It became once more an integral part of that unseen, but really existing world, of which "the Lord is the everlasting Light;" and it had fellowship with its blessed inhabitants. St. Paul thus describes it in his epistle to the Hebrews: "Ye are come to Mount Sion;" to the true "mountain of the Lord's House," of which the earthly Sion was a type; "and to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem;" that is, as he elsewhere calls it, "the Jerusalem that is above," or, as he speaks in another place, "our citizenship is in heaven;" "and to an innumerable company of Angels, to the festive concourse and Church of the First-born enrolled in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the perfected Just, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." [Heb. xii. 22-24.]

Since then the Christian Church is a Heaven upon earth, it is not surprising that in some sense or other its distinguishing privilege or gift should be glory, for this is the one attribute which we ever attach to our notion of Heaven itself, according to the Scripture intimations {258} concerning it. The glory here may be conceived of by considering what we believe of the glory hereafter.

2. Next, if we consider the variety and dignity of the gifts ministered by the Spirit, we shall, perhaps, discern in a measure, why our state under the Gospel is called a state of glory. It is not uncommon, in the present day, to divide the works of the Holy Ghost in the Church into two kinds, miraculous and moral. By miraculous are meant such as He manifested in the first ages of the Gospel, marvels out of the course of nature, addressed to our senses; such as the power of healing, of raising the dead, and the like; or, again, such as speaking with tongues or prophecy. On the other hand, by moral operations or influences are meant such as act upon our minds, and enable us to be what we otherwise could not be, holy and accepted in all branches of the Christian character; in a word, all such as issue in Sanctification, as it is called. These distinct works of the Holy Spirit, viewed in their effects, are commonly called extraordinary and ordinary, or gifts and graces; and it is usual to say, that gifts have ceased, and graces alone remain to us, and hence, to limit the present "ministration of the Spirit" to certain influences on our moral nature, to the office of changing, renewing, purifying the heart and mind, implanting a good will, imparting knowledge of our duty and power to do it, and cultivating and maturing within us all right desires and habits, and leading us to all holy works. Now, all these influences and operations certainly do belong to the "ministration of the Spirit;" but in what appropriate sense can any effects wrought {259} in us be called "glory?" Add to them the miracles which now have ceased, and you will indeed gain a more intelligible meaning of the word, but not even then any meaning peculiar to the Gospel. The Jewish Church was gifted by a more abiding super-human presence than the Christian, and with as over-powering miracles, yet it did not possess this privilege of glory. Again, its patriarchs and teachers rose to degrees of sanctification quite as much above our power of measuring them as those attained by Apostles and Martyrs under the Gospel; nor, to all human appearance, is the actual sanctification of the mass of Christians more true or complete than was that of the Jews: how then are we in a state of glory, and the Jewish Church not? Granting then that the gift of the Spirit mentioned in Scripture includes in it both the miracles of the first ages and the influences of grace; granting also that the sanctifying grace bestowed on each Christian is given with far greater fulness, variety, and power, than it was vouchsafed to the Jews (whether it be eventually quenched or not); granting, too, that holiness is really the characteristic of that gift which the Holy Spirit ministers now, as miracles were its outward manifestation in the first ages; still all this is not a sufficient account of it; it is not equivalent to our great Gospel privilege, which is something deeper, wider, and more mysterious, though including both miracles and graces.

In truth, the Holy Ghost has taken up His abode in the Church in a variety of gifts, as a sevenfold Spirit. For instance, is the gift of the body's immortality miraculous or moral? Neither, in the common sense of the {260} words; yet it is a gift bestowed on us in this life, and by the power of the Holy Ghost, according to the texts, "Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost;" and "He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His indwelling Spirit." [1 Cor. vi. 19. Rom. viii. 11.] Again, is justification, or the application of Christ's merits to the soul, moral or miraculous? Neither; yet we are told that we are "washed, hallowed, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." [1 Cor. vi. 11.] Or is the gift of the Holy Ghost in Ordination miraculous or moral? It is neither the one nor the other, but a supernatural power of ministering effectually in holy things. Once more, is communion with Christ miraculous or moral? On the contrary, it is a real but mysterious union of nature with Him, according to the text, "we are members of His body, from His flesh, and from His bones." [2 Pet. i. 4. Eph. v. 30.] Such reflections as these are calculated, perhaps, to give us somewhat of a deeper view than is ordinarily admitted, of the character of that Gift which attends on the presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church, and which is called the gift of glory. I do not say that anything that has been just said has been sufficient to define it; rather I would maintain, that it cannot be defined. It cannot be limited; it cannot be divided, and exhausted by a division. This is the very faultiness of the division into miraculous and moral, useful as this may be for particular purposes, that it professes to embrace what is in fact incomprehensible and unfathomable. I would fain keep from the same {261} mistake; and the instances already given may serve this purpose, enlarging our view without bounding it. The gift is denoted in Scripture by the vague and mysterious term "glory;" and all the descriptions we can give of it can only, and should only, run out into a mystery.

3. Perhaps, however, it may be questioned, whether the gift of the Spirit, now possessed by us, is really called by this name; with a view of making this quite clear, I will here recite a number of passages in order, in addition to those with which I began; and while I do so, I would have you observe in what close and continual connection the "Spirit," and "glory," and "heaven," occur.

"The Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you."

"The God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect."

"According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue."

"Whom He did predestinate, them He also called, and whom He called, them He also justified, and whom He justified, them He also glorified."

"We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world unto our glory ... Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him ... The natural man receiveth not the things {262} of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ."

[I pray] "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the Saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead."

"God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus ... Through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father .... In whom [Christ] ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."

[I pray] "that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, {263} and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God."

"Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish."

"It is impossible for those who were once illuminated, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance." [1 Pet. iv. 14; v. 10. 2 Pet. i. 3. Rom. viii. 30. 1 Cor. ii. 7, 9, 14. Eph. i. 3, 17-20; ii. 4-6, 18, 22; iii. 16-19; v. 25-27. Heb. vi. 4-6.]

I would have you pay particular attention to this last passage, which, in speaking of those who thwart God's grace, runs through the various characteristics or titles of that glory which they forfeit:—illumination, the heavenly gift, the Holy Ghost, the Divine Word, the powers of the world to come; which all mean the same thing, viewed in different lights, viz., that unspeakable Gospel privilege, which is an earnest and portion of heavenly glory, of the holiness and blessedness of Angels—a present entrance into the next world, opened upon our souls through participation of the Word Incarnate, ministered to us by the Holy Ghost.

Such is the mysterious state in which Christians stand, if it be right to enlarge upon it. They are in {264} Heaven, in the world of spirits, and are placed in the way of all manner of invisible influences. "Their conversation is in heaven;" they live among Angels, and are within reach (as I may say) of the Saints departed. They are ministers round the throne of their reconciled Father, "kings and priests unto God," having their robes washed in the Lamb's blood, and being consecrated as temples of the Holy Ghost. And this being so, we have some insight into the meaning of St. Paul's anxiety that his brethren should understand "the breadth and length," "the riches" of the glorious inheritance which they enjoyed, and of his forcible declaration, on the other hand, that "the natural man" could not "discern" it.

If we now recur to our Saviour's words already cited, we shall find that all that the Apostles have told us in their Epistles is but an expansion of two short sentences of His: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into, or (as it is said just before) see the Kingdom of God." "The glory which Thou gavest me, I have given them." [John iii. 5; xvii. 22.] On these texts I make the following additional remarks:—When Nicodemus doubted about our Lord's declaration, that a birth through the Spirit was the entrance into His kingdom, He said, "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to Heaven, but He that came down from Heaven, even the Son of man which is in Heaven." In these words our Lord plainly discloses that in some mysterious way {265} He, the Son of man, was really in Heaven, even while, by human eyes, He was seen to be on earth. His discourse seems to run thus:—"Are you offended at the doctrine of the new birth of the soul into the kingdom of God? High as it is, it is but an earthly truth compared with others I, as coming from Heaven, could disclose. It is mysterious how regenerate man should be a citizen of a heavenly kingdom, but I Myself, who speak, am at this moment in Heaven too, even in this My human nature." Thus the greater Mystery of the Incarnation is made to envelope and pledge to us the mystery of the new birth. As He was in Heaven in an ineffable sense, even "in the days of His flesh," so are we, in our degree; according to the words of His prayer, that His disciples might "all be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us." [John xvii. 21.]

But He was pleased to reveal this high truth more explicitly on a subsequent occasion; I mean in His Transfiguration. To many persons this portion of the Sacred History may have appeared without object or meaning. It was, in one sense, a miracle; yet it had no beneficent purpose or lasting consequence, as is usual with our Lord's miracles, and it took place in private. But, surely, it is of a doctrinal nature, being nothing less than a figurative exhibition of the blessed truth contained in the texts under review, a vision of the glorious Kingdom which He set up on the earth on His coming. He said to His Apostles, "I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here which shall not {266} taste of death till they see the Kingdom of God." Then, "after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them. And as He prayed the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistening. And His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light ... And behold there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias, who appeared in glory ... But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were awake, they saw His glory." [Matt. xvii. 1, &c. Luke ix. 27, &c. [Note]] Such is the Kingdom of God; Christ the centre of it, His glory the light of it, the Just made perfect His companions, and the Apostles His witnesses to their brethren. It realizes what the ancient Saints saw by glimpses—Jacob at Bethel, Moses on Sinai.

Such, then, being the especial glory and "dreadfulness" which attaches to the Christian Church, it may be asked, how far the gift is also imparted to every individual member of it? It is imparted to every member on his Baptism; as may plainly be inferred from our Lord's words, who, in His discourse with Nicodemus, makes a birth through the Spirit, which He also declares is wrought by Baptism, to be the only means of entering into His kingdom; so that, unless a man is thus "born of water and of the Spirit," he is in no sense a member of His kingdom at all. By this new birth the Divine Shechinah is set up within him, pervading soul and body, separating him really, {267} not only in name, from those who are not Christians, raising him in the scale of being, drawing and fostering into life whatever remains in him of a higher nature, and imparting to him, in due season and measure, its own surpassing and heavenly virtue. Thus, while he carefully cherishes the Gift, he is, in the words of the text, "changed from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." On the other hand, if the Gift be resisted, it gradually withdraws its presence, and being thwarted in its chief end, the sanctification of our nature, is forfeited as regards its other benefits also. Such seems to be the rule on which the Almighty Giver acts; and, could we see the souls of men, doubtless we should see them after this manner: infants just baptized bright as the Cherubim, as flames of fire rising heavenward in sacrifice to God; then as they passed from childhood to man's estate, the light within them fading or strengthening as the case may be; while of grown men the multitude, alas! might show but fearful tokens that the Lord had once been among them, only here and there some scattered witnesses for Christ remaining, and they, too, seamed all over with the scars of sin.

To conclude. It were well if the views I have been setting before you, which in the main are, I trust, those of the Church Catholic from the beginning, were more understood and received among us. They would, under God's blessing, put a stop to much of the enthusiasm which prevails on all sides, while they might tend to dispel those cold and ordinary notions of religion which are the opposite extreme. Till we {268} understand that the gifts of grace are unseen, supernatural, and mysterious, we have but a choice between explaining away the high and glowing expressions of Scripture, or giving them that rash, irreverent, and self-exalting interpretation, which is one of the chief errors of this time. Men of awakened and sensitive minds, knowing from Scripture that the gift of the Holy Ghost is something great and unearthly, dissatisfied with the meagre conceptions of the many, yet not knowing where to look for what they need, are led to place the life of a Christian, which "is hid with Christ in God," in a sort of religious ecstasy, in a high-wrought sensibility on sacred subjects, in impassioned thoughts, a soft and languid tone of feeling, and an unnatural profession of all this in conversation. And further, from the same cause, their ignorance of the supernatural character of the Heavenly Gift, they attempt to measure it in each other by its sensible effects, and account none to be Christians but those whom they suppose they can ascertain to be such, by their profession, language, and carriage. On the other hand, sensible and sober-minded men, offended at such excesses, acquiesce in the notion, that the gift of the Holy Ghost was almost peculiar to the Apostles' day, that now, at least, it does nothing more than make us decent and orderly members of society; the privileges bestowed upon us in Scripture being, as they conceive, but of an external nature, education and the like, or, at the most, a pardon of our sins and admission to God's favour, unaccompanied by any actual and inherent powers bestowed upon us. Such are the consequences {269} which naturally follow, when, from one cause or other, any of those doctrines are obscured, which have been revealed in mercy to our necessities. The mind catches at the words of life, and tries to apprehend them; and being debarred their true meaning, takes up with this or that form of error, as the case may be, in the semblance of truth, by way of compensation.

For ourselves, in proportion as we realize that higher view of the subject, which we may humbly trust is the true one, let us be careful to act up to it. Let us adore the Sacred Presence within us with all fear, and "rejoice with trembling." Let us offer up our best gifts in sacrifice to Him who, instead of abhorring, has taken up his abode in these sinful hearts of ours. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, "good works and alms-deeds," a bold and true confession and a self-denying walk, are the ritual of worship by which we serve Him in these His Temples. How the distinct and particular words of faith avail to our final acceptance, we know not; neither do we know how they are efficacious in changing our wills and characters, which, through God's grace, they certainly do. All we know is, that as we persevere in them, the inward light grows brighter and brighter, and God manifests Himself in us in a way the world knows not of. In this, then, consists our whole duty, first in contemplating Almighty God, as in Heaven, so in our hearts and souls; and next, while we contemplate Him, in acting towards and for Him in the works of every day; in viewing by faith His glory without and within us, and in acknowledging it by our obedience. Thus we {270} shall unite conceptions the most lofty concerning His majesty and bounty towards us, with the most lowly, minute, and unostentatious service to Him.

Lastly, the doctrine on which I have been dwelling cannot fail to produce in us deeper and more reverent feelings towards the Church of Christ, as His especial dwelling-place. It is evident we are in a much more extraordinary state than we are at all aware of. The multitude do not understand this. So it was in Israel once. There was a time when, even at Bethel, where God had already vouchsafed a warning against such ignorance, the very children of the city "mocked" His prophet, little thinking he had with him the mantle of Elijah. In an after age, the prophet Ezekiel was bid prophesy to the people, "whether they would hear or whether they would forbear;" and, it was added, "and they, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear, yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them." [2 Kings ii. 23. Ezek. ii. 5, 7.]

Let us not fear, therefore, to be but a few among many in our belief. Let us not fear opposition, suspicion, reproach, or ridicule. God sees us; and His Angels, they are looking on. They know we are right, and bear witness to us; and, "yet a little while, and He that cometh shall come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith." [Heb. x. 37, 38.]

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Cf. John i. 14. 2 Pet. i. 17.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home

Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.