The second highly necessary preparative for receiving the Holy Spirit is, that we do not stop short at the first motions of the Holy Spirit, inciting us to repentance, and rest satisfied with them; but continually advance further. As necessary as it is to incline our ear to the first motions and operations of the Holy Spirit with reference to repentance and the amendment of our lives; so it is also equally necessary, that without resting there and being satisfied with them, we should continually go forward, and seek gradually to ascend to perfection. Here many otherwise well-meaning souls fall into the error of regarding the commencement of their conversion, as the whole of conversion, and because they have learnt to repeat their letters, imagine they are already able to read, although they are still very weak children, who scarcely understand the first elements of the divine plan of salvation. This is a deception as disgraceful as it is pernicious. The Saviour’s disciples, who were mutually assembled together on the day of Pentecost, and waited for the promised power from on high, had already received many gracious testimonies, and, in their strength, had faithfully cooperated with them; they had so long heard the best of preachers, and had associated so intimately with him; that one might suppose they must necessarily be perfectly fitted to teach and convert others in return; yet notwithstanding this, their Lord and Master expressly forbad it, and on the contrary, enjoined upon them, more than once, not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, through the fulfillment of which, that would be imparted to them, in which they were still deficient. This has likewise reference to all, who are called in the present day. We may, indeed, have made the commencement of repentance and conversion, and most carefully avoid the gross outbreakings of sin; we may have already sought to manifest some fidelity in denying ourselves on some particular occasions; nay, we may have even tasted and experienced something of the graciousness and loving kindness of our God; yet we must not, on that account, think, that we have already attained our aim, and have already apprehended that, to which the Lord has called us; but let us rather follow after it, that we may attain to it! Let us not regard ourselves as Christians on account of some good work we may have performed, or some good feelings we may have experienced, or for the sake of some penitential conflict we may have endured! Something far more is most assuredly requisite. For unless a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Great things are certainly promised us by God, namely, that by the impartation of his Spirit, we should become partakers of the divine nature; but then, on the other hand, he also requires something great from us. It is his will, that as far as this precious promise shall be fulfilled in us, we must flee from such things, as are probably the dearest to us, namely the transitory pleasures of the world. It is his will, that we be planted together with Christ in the likeness of his death; that we tread under foot, the world and all that is in the world; that we esteem all things as loss, and devote our love to him alone, in order that he may have entire possession of our hearts, and fill them, the more copiously, with the treasures of his grace, and bless them the more abundantly. This implies something more than the performance of some particular good work, the experience of some emotions, or the striving against some particular sin. Many souls, after enduring something in the first penitential conflict, and afterwards experiencing some gracious moments, or even receiving the assurance of the forgiveness of their sins, imagine they have really broken through every thing, and that the work of their conversion is ended, and therefore betake themselves to rest. This is a great temptation, by which Satan seeks to lull the soul to sleep, and to restrain her from prosecuting the work of her conversion.
Now if such characters would remain near their hearts, and pay strict attention to what passes within them, they would never err from the right path in this manner. The very same Spirit, that bestowed the first grace upon them; that made them acquainted with their depraved state, and thus reproved sin in them; this same Spirit, I say, would prosecute his reproving office, and give them clearly to know, how backward they still are in the work of conversion, and that a still greater progress is requisite. But as such like characters are seldom sufficiently upon their guard, they suffer themselves to be too much involved in earthly and sensible things; consequently they go astray from their hearts, and are ignorant of themselves. They imagine they are something, whilst they are nothing. They are really still poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked, and yet suppose they are rich and have need of nothing. And the grace of the Holy Spirit which they receive at first, may be really so weak, that all that which had once been verdant, may fade away again.
Now, when such souls still frequently feel a disturbance of conscience, which secretly tells them that all is not yet right with them, that they have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin, and that they must therefore begin their penitential conflict anew; they rely, through the deception of the adversary, upon that which they suppose they have once really experienced, and say to themselves, ‘thou wast on such an occasion grieved and troubled about thy sins, didst feel them so heavily, didst lament them so heartily; and at such and such a time, thou didst enjoy the refreshments of grace, and experience the power of faith, and didst receive the assurance of the forgiveness of sins.’
In this manner they seek again to pacify and lull their disturbed and accusing consciences. But, my dear friends! you are deceiving yourselves; you are making yourselves only a false and fruitless consolation. All these are unavailing fig-leaves, with which the naked individual seeks to cover his shame; for supposing that we had really experienced and received grace; that which I fed upon a year ago, cannot satisfy me to-day. We must daily be conscious of the power from on high, and by its means, never stand still on the path of repentance and conversion, but constantly proceed further; daily become more experienced in the work of righteousness, and more complete in the Lord; because the former will otherwise avail us nothing. And indeed, were it really the case, that we had previously obtained mercy, and that grace had been imparted to us, even though but the premises of it: yet the same Spirit, which had wrought this in us, would also bring us further, and not allow us to stop short on the outset, and rest satisfied with it; since it is, assuredly, a chief property of the Holy Spirit to incite us continually, and seek to advance our progress in that which is good. O, if we have only once tasted of the good word of God, which is Christ, even but in its commencement—if we have experienced, even in the smallest degree, what it is to have Christ dwelling in the heart by faith, and to have become his living temple, how impossible would it be for us to be all at once satiated with him, and to be able to satisfy ourselves with the smallest crumbs of his grace! “He that eateth of me,” says Sirach very wisely, “shall ever hunger after me, and he that drinketh of me shall ever thirst after me.” (Ch. xxiv. 28, 29.) If we had tasted, even in the smallest degree, of the water of life, we should experience, in the most lively manner, the truth of what Sirach here asserts; there would, in consequence, most certainly arise in our inner man, an unextinguishable thirst after it—a thirst which would by no means allow us to linger in the world and its transitory lusts, much less stand still there; but would, on the contrary, incite us, incessantly, to seek this salutary and blissful fountain, which springeth up into everlasting life, in order that we might refresh and comfort ourselves with it, more and more, and, solicitous for salvation, with joy draw water from it.
Seeing, therefore, beloved friends! that such great grace is promised, it is highly reasonable that we do not let ourselves be satisfied with a little, but give all diligence, fully to attain to the unsearchable riches, which God so freely offers. Which of us would be so foolish, if a great lord were to offer him a treasure of some thousands, as to content himself with the half of it, or even a very small part of it, particularly if he needed the whole treasure? Would not every one of us, most heartily take upon ourselves the requisite labour and pains for the attainment of the whole treasure? How much more, therefore, beloved friends! ought we to exert all our powers for the sake of that treasure, which is set before us by the heavenly vocation of God in Christ Jesus!
In the xlvii. chapter of the Prophet Ezekiel, where the Holy Spirit is represented to us under the figure of a crystal stream, we read how the angel had, in his hand, a measuring rod, and measured the waters; these waters were the Holy Spirit and his issuing forth towards poor, hungry, and thirsty souls. “He led me,” it is said, verse 3—5, “through the waters, and the waters were to the ankles. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters; the waters were to the knees. Again he measured a thousand, and brought me through the waters, the waters were to the loins. Afterwards he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass over; for the waters were risen, waters to swim in, a river that could not be passed over.” What is meant by this? The meaning is, that we ought not to satisfy ourselves with only moistening our lips with the gracious waters of the Holy Spirit, or with only wetting our feet in them, but we must let ourselves be continually led further, and penetrate, as deeply as possible, into the unfathomable ocean of divine grace; for there is an unfathomable depth and unutterably bottomless abyss to be found in our God; an unfathomably deep stream of the Holy Ghost, to fill, beatify, and sanctify our whole heart. The dear disciples of our Lord were not only endued with the first outpourings of the Holy Ghost, but had also received, from time to time, a considerable addition to them; and yet the Saviour said, more than once, to them, after his resurrection, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” although they were already converted people. But he well knew, that they were deficient in the proper measure of it; he knew, that they were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit, and that they therefore required a day of Pentecost. Therefore, my dear friends! since God has promised us such a fullness; since he has purchased for us such plenitude of grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ; and since he is willing to fill our whole hearts, and to perfect that which concerns us; why should we suffer ourselves to be satisfied with a little?—nay, with such a little, that we are scarcely able to affirm, that there is a Holy Spirit. O let us, therefore, not rest, but continue to hunger after it, until we have received its fullness! Do not think, because we receive the promise, that it cannot fail of being fulfilled in due time. For because the promise is given us, we ought, on that very account, to pray the more earnestly, and wish and desire the more fervently, that it may be fulfilled in us.
When I reflect, that God is so rich in grace and mercy—that the latter have been so dearly purchased for us by the blood of Christ—that such a super-abundance of grace and measure of sanctification may be attained, even in this life, by the importation of the Holy Spirit—ah! I am truly grieved, and my heart breaks, when I call to mind the many precious souls, who after having been called, in the beginning, frequently manifest such great earnestness, and afterwards, suddenly become so satiated, and so lukewarm, as though they had already attained to fullness and perfection. When I reflect how many have such a noble attraction and vocation, so that they possess the greatest capability of becoming truly good and spiritual, but who, nevertheless, as soon as they have attained, though but a small particle of grace, rest satisfied with it, and stop short, as it were, half way—it is enough to pierce me to the heart. How would it pain us, dearest souls! in the eternal world, to see that we had had the water of grace at our very lips, and might have enjoyed it, in its most abundant fullness, and yet notwithstanding, shamefully neglected to do so?
It is therefore a false and highly sinful humility for a person to say, he would gladly be the meanest in the kingdom of heaven, that he would be heartily satisfied with the crumbs, which fall from the gracious table of our Lord; that every thing is unmerited grace, and every one must be satisfied with what is distributed to him. For he that does not thirst after the best things, that are placed upon the gracious table of our God, is not worthy even of the crumbs. He that can attain the highest state in the kingdom of heaven, and does not desire it, is also unworthy of the lowest. We do not, by merit, receive the least measure of divine influence, much less the fullness; but because it is promised and purchased for us by grace: we ought therefore to hunger after it, and strive for it with all earnestness.