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"I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more; but ye see Me."--JOHN xiv. 18, 19
HEN, our Saviour was leaving His disciples, He
told them that He would soon return to them, that their sorrow might be turned into joy. He was going away, yet they were to see Him, though the world saw Him not; for they were to be blessed with the presence of Him who was equal to Him and one with Him, and would unite them to Him, the Third Person in the Eternal Trinity, God the Holy Ghost.
He said that He was going away, and yet was coming again ; for the Holy Ghost came, and His coming was really the coming of Christ. Christ said that it was to be but a short interval between His departure and His return; and such it was, ten days. He went on Holy Thursday; He returns on the day of Pentecost.
But, though our Lord and Saviour sent His Holy Spirit to be with us on His going away, still there was a difference between the Spirit's office, and that which He Himself graciously fulfilled towards His disciples in the days of His flesh; for their wants were not the same as before. Christ, while He was with them, had no occasion to console them under affliction, to stand by them in trial as their Paraclete; for trial and affliction did not visit them while He was with them; but, on the other hand, the Holy Spirit especially came to give them joy in tribulation. Again, He came to teach them fully, what our Lord had but in part revealed; and hence too it followed, that the consolation which the Spirit vouchsafed differed from that which they had received from Christ, just as the encouragements and rewards bestowed upon children, are far other than those which soothe and stimulate grown men in arduous duties. And there were, moreover, other circumstances, much to be dwelt upon, which altered the state of the Apostles' feelings and ideas, after their Lord had died and risen again, and which made them need a consolation different from tliat which His bodily presence gave them. There is no reason for supposing that, while He was with them, they apprehended the awful truth, that He is very God in our nature. "I am among you," He said, "as He that serveth.” But on His resurrection He revealed the mystery. St. Thomas adored Him in the words, “My Lord and my God;" and He forthwith withdrew Himself from them, not living in their sight. as heretofore, and soon ascending into heaven. It is
plain, that, after such a revelation, the Apostles could not have returned to their easy converse with Him, even had He offered it. What had been, could not be again; their state of childhood, ere “their eyes were opened and they knew Him." Of necessity then, since they could not endure to see God and live, did He “vanish out of their sight.” And if, according to His promise, He was to come to them again, it must be after a new manner, and with a higher consolation.
Accordingly, when the Spirit of Christ descended at the promised season, "He bowed the heavens and came down, and it was dark under His feet." He came invisibly, and invisibly hath He dwelt in the Church ever since. He does not manifest His glory to mortal sense. We do not hear the whisperings of His still small voice, nor do our hearts burn within us in token of His Presence. The truth is, we Christians know too much concerning Him to endure the open manifestation of His greatness. It is in mercy that He hides Himself from those who would be overcome by the sensible touch of the Almighty Hand. Still it is plain that, after all, in spite of this considerate regard for our frailness, His visitation cannot but be awful anyhow, to creatures who know what we know, and are what we are. This cannot be avoided; the very secrecy of His coming has its solemnity: is it not fearful to wait for Him, appalling to receive Him, a burden to have held communion with Him ? and though we joy, as well we may, yet we cannot joy with the light hearts of children, who live by sight, but with the thoughtful gladness of grown men, who
are anxious, who feel difficulties, who look out for dangers, who, in St. John's words, know both that “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” and “that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true?," and discover His real majesty and power.
And hence, as we might expect, the Apostles' fellowship with Christ through the Spirit, after His ascension, was very different from their fellowship with Him on earth. Though they waited continually on Him for His peace, "not as the world giveth," and continually received it; yet, the history shows us, they feared the gift while they rejoiced in it. Consider, too, our Saviour's own most overpowering words, to be fulfilled in the coming of the Comforter,—“Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven Him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him.” Does not this Scripture imply thus much, whatever else it implies,—that our ascended Saviour, who is on God's right hand, and sends down from thence God's Spirit, is to be feared greatly, even amid His gracious consolations? Hence St. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;" and again,“ Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God ;” and again, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy ::
This great truth is impressed upon the whole course
1 John v. 19, 20.
of that sacred fellowship with Christ, which the Church provides for her children; in proportion as it is more high and gracious than that first intercourse, which the Apostles enjoyed, so is it also more awful. When He had once ascended, henceforth for unstudied speech there were solemn rites; for familiar attendance there were mysterious ministerings; for questioning at will there was silent obedience; for sitting at table there was bowing in adoration; for eating and drinking there was fasting and watching. He who had taken his Lord and rebuked Him, dared not speak to Him after His resurrection, when He saw and knew Him. He who had lain in His bosom at supper, fell at His feet as dead. Such was the vision of the glorified Saviour of man, returning to His redeemed in the power of the Spirit, with a Presence more pervading because more intimate, and more real because more hidden. And as the manner of His coming was new, so was His gift. It was peace, but a new peace, “not as the world giveth ;” not the exultation of the young, light-hearted, and simple, easily created, easily lost: but a serious, sober, lasting comfort, full of reverence, deep in contemplation.
And hence the keener, the more rapturous are the feelings of the Christian, the more ardent his aspirations, the more glorious his visions; so much the graver, the more subdued, the more serene must be his worship and his confession. Who was so intoxicated with divine love as St. John ? who so overcharged with the Spirit? yet what language can be calmer than when He says, “ Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed