Joel sees in the national calamity a sign and harbinger of the Day of the Lord, to which all things are tending. To prepare for that great and terrible Day he foretells the pouring forth of God’s Spirit upon the whole people, so as to create not one prophet but a nation of prophets. It was this prediction which St. Peter quoted to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, as fulfilled in the gift of the Holy Ghost, then shed abroad without respect of persons.
I. No side of modern theology is more defective than that which treats of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.—We have, on the one hand, frigid re-statements of orthodox formulas as to the Third Person in the Trinity. We have, on the other hand, loose descriptions of individual experience in regard to what is known as the baptism of the Holy Ghost. But little has been done, or even attempted, by our deepest Christian thinkers to correlate spiritual theory and spiritual experience,—so that each shall instruct the other—as to this most profound, most difficult, and yet most practical subject.
II. Most practical—for the doctrine deals with that wherein God touches man most closely and familiarly in his everyday life.—St. Basil, one of the old Greek fathers, has pointed out that the Holy Spirit whom we name last in our doxologies, is our first point of contact with God in the order of experience. ‘By receiving His gifts we come into relation with the Distributor; then we come to consider the Sender; then we carry back our thought to the Fount and Cause of good.… The way of the knowledge of God is from one Spirit, by the one Son, to the one Father.’
III. The Holy Ghost, who is the Lord and Giver of life, quickens everything which lives.—What we call nature consists of the manifold forms in which He has concealed His source. Yet since His special attribute is holiness, He dwells and works pre-eminently in those creatures who, being spirits, are capable of holiness. He brings them into the unity of a common experience, and creates in them the fellowship of a purified character.
IV. Revival means giving new life.—‘If God can give life, He can surely add life. Regeneration is nothing in principle but the adding of more life. It is God adding life to life—more life to a man who has some life. The man has life which God gave him once; but part of him—the best part of him—is dead. His soul is dead in trespasses and sins. God touches this, and it lives. Even as the body was dead and God breathed upon it till it lived, so God will breathe upon the soul and more life and better life will come.’
V. The true idea of the inspiration of an individual is that the Spirit does not suspend or supersede individuality, but rather quickens and intensifies it.—His advent into the soul brings a Divine energy which vitalises the noblest faculties of our nature and inspires new hopes and longings which become the prophecy of their own fulfilment. As we are convinced in regard to the reality of sin and the possibility of righteousness and the certainty of judgment, we rise to a new view of human destiny.
VI. Christianity, from first to last, is instinct with the supernatural.—In our faith, in our repentance, in our consecration, we are only fellow-workers with God. The Bible presupposes that its Author Himself will constantly interpret its message to those who read. ‘The Church was born at Pentecost, and only lives in perpetual Whitsuntide.’ The missionary goes out in faith that the most benighted heathen has an inward ray of Divine light.
‘Your young men shall see visions.’
I long and pray for the young men who see visions. Never were they more needed than just now.
I. There is the vision for the personal life.—It is the dream of a character in which manliness and brotherliness and godliness join hands.
II. There is the vision for the Church life.—It is the vision of a Church absolutely surrendered in love and devotion to her Lord. Let me pray, and pray, that soon the children of God may be roused from their dullness and lethargy, to grapple with great problems, to achieve great deeds.
III. There is the vision for the national life.—It is Savonarola’s vision for Florence, Oliver Cromwell’s for England, Andrew Melville’s for Scotland, William Bradford’s and William Brewster’s for America. If I cherish it, it will mean that I am fighting against all that is vicious in our modern civilisation. God gird me for the battle!
IV. There is the vision for the world-wide life.—It is the vision of a world every part of which has heard the Gospel of God’s grace. I cannot harbour the glorious dream without myself being the missionary of Jesus either at home or abroad.
Only let the Spirit be poured out, and to-day as of old our young men shall see visions.
‘The Mystics said that there were three stages on the road to sainthood—Purification, Illumination, Union. Up to each of these stages it is the task and the joy of the Holy Ghost to conduct me.
He purifies. He disciplines me, He ennobles me, until I am changed into the image and the stainlessness of my Lord.
And He illumines. Especially does He make the Bible shine as with the light of a transfiguration. He who was the Book’s Author is its Expositor.
And He unites. It is the crowning mystery and the consummate gladness. He infuses into me a life which is nothing lower and nothing less than the life of Jesus Christ. I think my Master’s thoughts. I throb with my Master’s purposes. I bring my Master back in miniature to the world.’