“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you”—John 16:7.
The Presence of the Comforter Is Much Better Than the Physical Presence of Christ
We have imagined that the bodily presence of Christ would make us blessed and confer innumerable gifts; but according to our text, the presence of the Holy Ghost working in the church is more necessary for the church. If you think for a moment, the physical presence of Christ on the earth, however good it might be for the church, would in our present condition involve many inconveniences that are avoided by His presence through the Holy Spirit. Christ, being most truly man, must as to His manhood inhabit a certain place. Thus, to get to Christ, it would be necessary for us to travel to His place of residence. Imagine everyone in the world having to travel from the ends of the earth to visit the Lord Jesus Christ in the city of Jerusalem. While all might joyfully make the journey, yet as they could not all live where they could every morning see Christ, they must be content with every now and then getting a glimpse of Him. But the Holy Spirit dwells everywhere, and if we wish to apply to the Holy Spirit, we have no need to move an inch. Jesus Christ could be present in only one congregation in the world, but the Holy Spirit is everywhere. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ keeps His promise, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). Christ could not keep that promise according to the flesh; but through the Holy Spirit, we sweetly enjoy His presence and hope to do so until the world’s end.
Imagine the difficulty of gaining access to Christ. There are only twenty-four hours in the day, and if our Lord never slept, what are twenty-four hours for the supervision of a church that covers the earth? How could millions of believers all receive immediate personal comfort, either from His lips or from the smiles of His face? What could one man do by His personal presence, even though that one man were incarnate Deity? What could He do in one day for the comfort of all of these? We could hardly expect to have our turn once in the year. But we can now see Jesus every hour and every moment of every hour. As often as you bow the knee, His Spirit can commune with you and bless you. Wherever and whenever, the Spirit waits to be gracious, and your sighs and cries climb up to Christ in heaven and return with answers of peace. The presence of the Spirit makes Christ accessible to every saint at all times. Not to a few choice favorites, but to every believing man and woman, the Holy Ghost is always accessible.
We should consider that Christ’s presence in the flesh upon the earth would involve another difficulty. Of course, since every word that Christ would have spoken from the time of the apostles until now would have been inspired, busy scribes would be always taking down Christ’s words. If in the short course of three years our Savior managed to do and say so much that one of the Evangelists informs us that if all had been written, the world itself could not have contained the books that would have been written, I ask you to imagine what a mass of literature the church would have acquired if she had preserved all the words of Christ. The Word of God would have consisted of innumerable volumes of the sayings and deeds of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not even the studious could have read all the Lord’s teachings. But now we have a book that is finished within a narrow compass with not another line to be added to it. The canon of revelation is sealed up forever; and the poorest believer, going with a humble soul to that book and looking up to Jesus Christ, may comprehend the doctrines of grace and understand with all saints what are the heights and depths and know the love of Christ that passes knowledge. So then, as precious as the physical presence of Christ might be, it is infinitely better for the church’s good that Christ should be present by His Spirit.
Yet more, if Jesus Christ were still present with His church in the flesh, the life of faith would not have such room. The more there is visible to the eye, the less room for faith; the least faith the most show. The more faith grows, the less it needs outward helps; and when faith shows her true character and is divorced from sense and sight, she wants absolutely nothing to rest upon but the invisible power of God. Faith rests upon the invisible pillars of God’s truth and faithfulness, needing nothing to shore or buttress her. The presence of Christ Jesus here in bodily flesh would be the bringing back of the saints to the life of sight and, in a measure, would spoil the simplicity of naked trust. You remember the Apostle Paul says, “Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more” (2 Cor. 5:16).
To the skeptic who should ask us, “Why do you believe in Christ?;’ if Jesus had remained upon the earth, we could always give an easy answer: “There He is.” There would be very little room for faith’s holy adherence to the Word of God and no opportunity for her to glorify God. But now, the fact that we have nothing visible to point to that carnal minds can understand makes the path of faith more truly congenial with its noble character. “Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees, and looks to that alone;” which she could hardly do if she could look upon the visible person of a present Savior. What a happy day it will be when faith enjoys the full fruition of her hopes in the triumphant advent of her Lord; but His absence alone can train and educate her to the needed point of spiritual refinement.
Furthermore, the presence of Jesus Christ on earth would materially affect the character of God’s great battle against error and sin. Suppose that persecuting tyrants had their arms dried up or that all men who opposed Christ were suddenly devoured by fire. It would be a battle between physical greatness and moral evil—a warfare in which only spiritual force is employed on the side of right. But now that Christ has gone, the fight is all between spirit and spirit, between the Holy Spirit and Satan, between truth and error, between the earnestness of believers and the infatuation of unbelievers. Now the fight is fair. We have no miracle on our side—the Holy Spirit is enough. We call no fire from heaven; no earthquake shakes the ground beneath our foe’s feet. Physical force is left to our enemies; we do not ask for it. Why? Because by the divine working, we can vanquish error without it. In the name of the Holy One of Israel, in whose cause we have been enlisted—by His might we are enough, without miracles and signs and wonders. The absence of the physical Savior makes it a spiritual conflict of spirit of the noblest and sublimest order.
Only this one further remark—that the personal presence of Christ did not produce very great results in His disciples until the Spirit was poured forth from on high. Christ was their Teacher—how much did they learn? There is Philip—Christ has to say to him, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” (John 14:9). The disciples were puzzled by questions that little children can now answer. You can see that at the end of their three years of training with Christ they had made but slender progress. Christ is not only their Teacher but also their Comforter, yet how frequently Christ could not console them because of their unbelief. After giving that delightful discourse that we have been reading, He found them sleeping for sorrow. In this very chapter, when He is trying to comfort them, He adds, “But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart” (John 16:6). Christ’s object was to foster the graces of His disciples, but where are their graces? Here is Peter—he has not even the grace of courage and consistency but denies his Master while the rest forsake and fly. Even then the Spirit of Christ was not infused into the disciples. They scarcely knew the truths that their Master taught, and they were far enough from imbibing His heavenly Spirit.
Even the disciples’ endowments were slender. It is true they once worked miracles and preached, but with what success? Do you ever hear of Peter winning three thousand sinners under a sermon till the Holy Spirit came? Even the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, considered only as to its immediate fruits, was not to be compared with ministries after the descent of the Spirit. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). His great work as a Redeemer was a complete triumph from beginning to end; but as a Teacher, since the Spirit of God was only upon Him and not upon the people, His words were rejected, His entreaties were despised, and His warnings unheeded by the great multitudes. The mighty blessing came when the words of Joel were fulfilled: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit” (Joel 2:28-29). That was the blessing so rich and so rare that it was indeed expedient that Jesus Christ should go that the Holy Spirit might descend.
The Presence of the Comforter Is Superlatively Valuable
While the presence of Christ was most precious, the presence of the Holy Spirit is dearly shown to be of more practical value for the church. Consider, then, that the presence of the Comforter is superlatively valuable. We may gather this first from the effects that were seen upon the day of Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit sounded the alarm of war. The soldiers were hardly prepared for it; they were a frail group, having only this virtue—that they were content to wait until power was given to them. They sat still in the upper room. That mighty sound was heard across Jerusalem and filled the place where they were sitting. Here was a prediction of what the Spirit of God was to be to the church.
The Holy Spirit is to come mysteriously upon the church according to the sovereign will of God; but when He comes like the wind, it is to purge the moral atmosphere and to quicken the pulse of all who breathe spiritually. This is a blessing indeed, a treasure that the church greatly needs. I would that this rushing mighty wind would come upon His church with an irresistible force that should carry everything before it—the force of truth, but of more than truth, the force of God driving truth home upon the heart and conscience of men. I would that you and I could breathe this wind and receive its invigorating influence, that we might be made champions of God and of His truth. Oh, that it would drive away our mists of doubt and clouds of error. Come, sacred wind, our nation needs You—the whole world requires You. The foul odors that brood over this deadly calm would fly if Your divine lightnings enlightened the world and set the moral atmosphere in commotion. Come, Holy Spirit, come. We can do nothing without You; but if we have Your wind, we spread our sail and speed on toward glory.
Then the Spirit came as fire. A fire-shower accompanied the rushing mighty wind. What a blessing this is to the church! The church needs fire to inspire her ministers, to give zeal and energy to all her members. Having this fire, she burns her way to success. The world meets her with an evil fire, but she confronts the world with the fire of souls aglow with the love of Jesus Christ. She trusts not the eloquence and wisdom of her preachers, but trusts to the divine fire that clothes them with energy. She knows that men are irresistible when they are filled with hallowed enthusiasm sent from God. Her cry is, “Come, holy fire, abide upon our pastors and teachers! Rest upon every one of us!” This fire is a blessing Christ did not bring us in person, but one that He now gives through His Spirit to the church.
Then there came from the fire-shower a descent of tongues. This, too, is the privilege of the church. When the Lord gave the apostles various tongues, He did, as it were, give them the keys of the various kingdoms. “Go;” He said, ‘Judea is not my only dominion, go and unlock the gates of every empire, here are the keys, you can speak every language.” Although we can no longer speak with every man in his own tongue, we have the keys of the whole world if we have the Spirit of God with us. You have the keys of human hearts if the Spirit of God speaks through you. There is power about the gospel, when the Spirit is with us, little dreamed of by those who call it the foolishness of men. I am persuaded that the results that have followed the ministry in our lifetime are trivial and insignificant compared with what they would be if the Spirit of God were more mightily at work. There is no reason, in the nature of the gospel or the power of the Spirit, why a whole congregation should not be converted under one sermon. The success given on the day of Pentecost was only the first fruits, not the harvest. We have been accustomed to look on Pentecost as a great and wonderful display of divine power not to be equalled again. Believe me, it is to be exceeded. I stand not upon Pentecost as upon a towering mountain, wondering at my height, but I look at Pentecost as a little rising knoll from which I am to look up to mountains that are far loftier. You must expect greater things, pray for greater things, long for greater things. Here is our nation, sunk in stolid ignorance of the gospel. How is she to be made sober and sanctified to God? “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” Where is the sword that shall find her heart? “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).
The one thing, then, that we need is the Spirit of God. Do not say that we need money; we shall have it soon enough when the Spirit touches men’s hearts. Do not say that we need buildings, churches, and programs. All these have their place, but the main need of the church is the Spirit and men into whom the Spirit may be poured. If there were only one prayer that I might pray before I die, it should be this: “Lord, send Your church men filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Give to any denomination such men, and its progress will be mighty. Send it college gentlemen of great refinement but of little fire and grace, and straightway that denomination must decline. The preacher may be rustic, simple, and unmannered, but if the Holy Ghost is upon him, none of his adversaries shall stand against him; his word shall be with power to the shaking of the gates of hell. Did I not say that the Spirit of God is of superlative importance to the church and that the day of Pentecost seems to tell us this?
Here is another thought that should make the Spirit very dear to you—that without the Holy Spirit, no good thing ever did or ever can come into your heart no sigh of repentance, no cry of faith, no glance of love, no tear of hallowed sorrow. Your heart can never beat with life divine except by the Spirit. You are not capable of the smallest degree of spiritual emotion, much less spiritual action, apart from the Holy Ghost. You were absolutely dead for God until the Holy Ghost came and raised you from the grave. There is nothing good in you today that was not put there. The flowers of Christ are all exotics—“In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one” (Job 14:4). Everything must come from Christ, and Christ gives nothing to men except through the Spirit of all grace. Prize, then, the Spirit as the channel of all good that comes to you.
Further, no good thing can come out of you apart from the Spirit. It may be in your life, yet it lies dormant unless God works in you to will and to do of His own good pleasure. Do you desire to preach? How can you unless the Holy Ghost touches your tongue? Do you desire to pray? Alas, what dull work it is unless the Spirit makes intercession for you! Do you desire to conquer sin? Would you be holy? Do you desire to rise to superlative heights of spirituality? Are you wanting to be full of zeal and ardor for the Master’s cause? You cannot without the Spirit “Without me ye can do nothing.” O branch of the vine, you can have no fruit without the sap! O child of God, you have no life apart from the life that God gives you through His Spirit! Did I not say that the Holy Spirit is superlatively precious?
If these things are so, let us view the mysterious Spirit with deep awe and reverence. Let us so reverence Him as not to grieve or provoke Him to anger by our sin. Let us not quench Him in one of His faintest motions in our soul. Let us foster every suggestion and be ready to obey every prompting. If the Holy Spirit is indeed so mighty, let us do nothing without Him. Let us begin no project and carry on no enterprise and conclude no transaction without seeking His blessing. Tremble in His presence, put off your shoes, for the place where you stand is holy ground. Let us confess our entire weakness apart from Him and then, depending upon Him alone, have this as our prayer, “Open my heart and my whole being to Your incoming, and uphold me with Your free spirit when I shall have received that spirit in my inward being.”
In the next place, as a practical remark, let us take courage today. When we look at the great ones of the earth, we see them on the side of the false and not of the truth. Where are the kings and mighty men? Are they not against the Lord of Hosts? Where are the gold and silver, architecture, wisdom, and eloquence? Are they not banded against the Lord of Hosts? What then! Shall we be discouraged? Our fathers were not. They bore their testimony in the stocks and in the prisons, but they refused to fear. Like John Bunyan, they learned to rot in dungeons, but they did not learn to play the coward. They suffered, and they testified that they were not discouraged. Why? Because they knew that the Spirit of God is mighty and will prevail. Better to have a small church of poor men and the Spirit of God with them than to have a heirarchy of kings without the Holy Spirit, for this is not merely the cord of strength, but it is strength itself. Where the Spirit of God is, there is liberty and power.
We have only to seek for that which God has promised to give, and we can do wonders. God will give the Holy Spirit to them who ask. Wake up to earnest prayer. Cry aloud to God to let His bare arm be seen. Learn the power of prayer. Give the Covenant Angel no rest till He speaks the word and the Spirit works mightily among the sons of men. Prayer is work adapted to each of you who are in Christ. You may not preach or teach, but you can pray, and your private prayer, unknown to men, shall be registered in heaven. Those silent but earnest cries of yours shall bring down a blessing. I love to hear friends praying with the groaning that cannot be uttered, “Lord, send the Spirit! Send the Spirit, Lord! Work! Work! Work!”
I am persuaded we only need more prayer, constant prayer, Spirit-led prayer, and there would be no limit to the blessing. Cry aloud and spare not. Give Him no rest till He sends His Spirit once again to stir the waters and brood over this dark world till light and life shall come. Cry day and night, O ye elect of God, for He will answer you speedily. The time of battle draws near. Now for the sword of the Lord and of Gideon! Now for the old might and majesty of ancient days! Now for the shaking of the walls of Jericho, even though we have no better weapons than rams’ horns! Now for the coming of the Holy Spirit with such might and power that as Noah’s flood covered the mountain tops, Jehovah’s flood of glory shall cover the highest summits of sin and iniquity, and the Lord God Omnipotent shall reign over the whole world.
Mt. Zion Publications
a great source for Biblical Materials