Pentecost: The Holy Ghost
Fr. K. Krogh-Tonning, D.D.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” —John xv, I.
The three chief festivals of the Church are like three precious stones, all of equal beauty and value, but each possessing its own peculiar color and charm. Christmas reminds us of the Father, who sent His Son into the world for its redemption. There can be nothing greater or more glorious than this gift, and therefore “Blessed be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ now and for evermore.” But what would Christmas be without Easter—the resurrection of our crucified Savior? What benefit should we derive from the coming of God the Son into this world, if He had not died for our sins and risen again from the dead? There can be nothing greater and more glorious than His death and resurrection, therefore “Blessed be Jesus Christ, now and for evermore.” But what would Easter be without Pentecost? What significance would our Lord’s death and Resurrection have had for us without the Holy Ghost, who alone can bring us to Christ? Without the gift bestowed at Pentecost we should have no faith in Christ, nor should we be united with Him, for we owe both our faith and our union with Him to the Holy Ghost. There can be nothing greater and more glorious than this faith and union,—therefore, “Blessed be the Holy Ghost, now and for evermore.”
I. We are keeping the feast of the Holy Ghost, and yet there is no allusion to Him in our text, at least no explicit allusion; but when our Lord speaks of Himself as the vine, and of His disciples as the branches, we may believe the Holy Ghost to be the sap, flowing from the root and stem to every leaf and tendril, and conveying life and strength to every part. This is a token, which it is most important for us to observe, of our possession of the Holy Spirit and of our union with Christ. We ought to notice in the first place that the Holy Ghost is the spirit of sanctity, without which no one can see God. Hence, St. Peter reminds the early Christians: “It is written, ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy’” (I Peter i, 16). We cannot have the spirit of God, nor can we be united with Christ in the Holy Ghost, unless we are striving to be holy. This sanctity is the fruit of which our Savior spoke when He said that His followers should bring forth much fruit. He who brings forth none, will be cast out as a barren and unproductive branch, and thrown into the fire. Is not this a stringent order requiring us to aim at holiness of life?
Many desire forgiveness of sins and speak of its necessity, and they think Christianity exists for no other purpose than to enable them to obtain pardon. Suppose a son offends his father grievously, and then asks for and receives forgiveness. This happens again and again; but the young man is satisfied when he is pardoned; he never attempts to improve, or to avoid giving offense in future, and goes on wounding his parents by his wickedness. Surely he is a worthless wretch. In the same way, a kind of Christianity that stops short at faith in the forgiveness of sins, and never aims at sanctity, is a miserable thing, devoid of the spirit of God, for the Holy Ghost is a Spirit of sanctity.
Christ desires us to bring forth the fruits of a holy life, i.e., He wishes us gradually to improve, to grow more just and charitable in our dealings with others, more humble and severe in judging ourselves. Do those who call themselves Christians invariably display these characteristics? If you are uncharitable, irritable, untrustworthy, harsh towards others, self-satisfied and self-indulgent, there is much reason to fear that your profession of Christianity is vain, and that you do not possess the Holy Spirit, and are not united with Christ in that Spirit.
II. We must note further that the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of truth, speaking to us in the word of God. Hence Christ bids us “continue in His word,” i.e., in the word of God. Unless we act thus, we shall not possess the Holy Spirit. We must continue in the word, not hear or read it just once or twice, but study it with persevering zeal. We must read it in our homes, and hear it in God’s house, regularly and carefully, otherwise we are not continuing in the word. If God’s word is not familiar to us, we become estranged from the Holy Spirit, which bears testimony through the word, especially in God’s house.
III. God’s Spirit is the Spirit of prayer, and in the gospel Christ urges us to pray, and promises that we shall be heard. Where prayer is unknown, the Spirit of God is absent, for wherever it is present, it impels men to pray. Our Lord does not merely invite us to pray. He demands it of us as a duty, inseparable from the worship of God. He wishes us to honor Him by offering Him praise, thanksgiving and prayer. He bids us regard His house as a house of prayer, the place where He will accept the worship of our hearts and lips. Consequently where the churches stand empty, the hearts of men are undoubtedly devoid of the Spirit of God, and are not in union with Christ.
IV. The spirit of God is the Spirit of love, and Jesus Christ requires love of us. He says: “Abide in my love.” Absence of love denotes absence of the Holy Spirit, who always inspires love. We cannot evade our Lord’s claim upon our love; we ought to love Him more than father, or mother, or wife, or child. I remember how, when I was a child, this commandment filled me with fear, for it seemed to me impossible not to love my mother best of all, and yet God required me to love Him still more. God commands us to love Him, so it is our duty to obey. For our consolation, however, He tells us how this can be done: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.” “If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love.” Our Lord does not care about our feelings, which are not under our own control, and which have no permanence; but He wants us honestly to resolve to keep His commandments, to do our duty and to accomplish His will, although we may do so only very imperfectly, for all human actions arc necessarily imperfect. This is the love that He claims, and any one who intends to give it Him, receives grace and strength. I remember distinctly the happiness that I felt, when this doctrine concerning the duty of loving God was explained to me. The Spirit of God assists everyone who strives to do and be what our Savior desires. Hence the commandment of love alarms hypocrites, who talk a great deal about their emotions, and take no pains to please our Lord. Here again is consolation for honest though timid souls; for they must be aware that they desire nothing so ardently as to be able to say, with St. Peter: “Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee,” and to do God’s will, imperfectly perhaps, but still as well as they can.
Therefore, if the Spirit of Pentecost is to dwell within us, we must be in earnest about our own sanctification; we must continue in God’s word; we must lead a life of prayer in our homes as well as at church; and we must love God by striving to obey Him and to do our duty. All these things involve much effort on our part, and we should ever bear in mind our Savior’s words: “Without me ye can do nothing.” To boast of our own powers and merits would be as foolish as for a little branch of a vine to boast of the grapes that hang upon it. All the credit of producing good fruit belongs to the vine and to the sap that flows through the branches, and, in the same way, all the credit of whatever good there may be in our lives belongs to Christ and His Holy Spirit, which permeates the whole body of the Church. Without Him we can indeed do nothing, but it is our fault if we are unfruitful branches; the cause of unfruitfulness is always the same,—refusal to abide in Christ.