I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.
This is God's promise; which he fulfilled at sundry times and in different manners to all the men of the old world who trusted in him. He informed them; that is, he put them into right form, right shape, right character, and made them the men which they were meant to be. He taught them in the way in which they ought to go. He guided them where they could not guide themselves.
But God fulfilled this promise utterly and completely on the first Whitsuntide, when the Holy Spirit came down on the apostles.
That was an extraordinary and special gift; because the apostles had to do an extraordinary and special work. They had to preach the Gospel to all nations, and therefore they wanted tongues with which to speak to all nations; at least to those of their countrymen who came from foreign parts, and spoke foreign tongues, that they might carry home the good news of Christ into all lands. And they wanted tongues of fire, too, to set their own hearts on fire with divine zeal and earnestness, and to set on fire the hearts of those who heard them.
But that was an extraordinary gift. There was never anything like it before; nor has been, as far as we know, since; because it has not been needed.
It is enough for us to know, that the apostles had what they needed. God called and sent them to do a great work: and therefore, being just and merciful, he gave them the power which was wanted for that great work.
But if that is a special case; if there has been nothing like it since, what has Whitsuntide to do with us? We need no tongues of fire, and we shall have none on this Whitsunday or any Whitsunday. Has Whitsunday then no blessing for us? Do we get nothing by it? God forbid, my friends.
We get what the apostles got, and neither more nor less; though not in the same shape as they did.
God called them to do a work: God calls us, each of us, to do some work.
God gave them the Holy Spirit to make them able to do their work. God gives US the Holy Spirit, to make us able to do OUR work, whatsoever that may be.
As their day, so their strength was: as our day is, so our strength shall be.
For instance. -
How often one sees a person -- a woman, say -- easy and comfortable, enjoying life, and taking little trouble about anything, because she has no need. And when one looks at such a woman, one is apt to say hastily in one's heart, 'Ah, she does not know what sorrow is -- and well for her she does not; for she would make but a poor fight if trouble came on her; she would make but a poor nurse if she had to sit months by a sick bed. She would become down-hearted, and peevish, and useless. There is no strength in her to stand in the evil day.'
And perhaps that woman would say so of herself. She might be painfully afraid of the thought of affliction; she might shrink from the notion of having to nurse any one; from having to give up her own pleasure and ease for the sake of others; and she would say of herself, as you say of her, 'What would become of me if sorrow came? I have no strength to stand in the evil day.'
Yes, my friends, and you say true, and she says true. And yet not true either. She has no strength to stand: but she will stand nevertheless, for God is able to make her stand. As her day, so her strength shall be. A day of suffering, anxiety, weariness, all but despair may come to her. But in that day she shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire; and then you shall be astonished, and she shall be astonished, at what she can do, and what she can endure; because God's Spirit will give her a right judgment in all things, and enable her, even in the midst of her sorrow, to rejoice in his holy comfort. And people will call her -- those at least who know her- -a 'heroine.' And they speak truly and well, and give her the right and true name. Why, I will tell you presently.
Or how often it happens to a man to be thrown into circumstances which he never expected. An officer, perhaps, in war time in a foreign land -- in India now. He has a work to do: a heavy, dangerous, difficult, almost hopeless work. He does not like it. He is afraid of it. He wishes himself anywhere but where he is. He has little or no hope of succeeding; and if he fails, he fears that he will be blamed, misunderstood, slandered. But he feels he must go through with it. He cannot turn back; he cannot escape. As the saying is, the bull is brought to the stake, and he must bide the baiting.
At first, perhaps, he tries to buoy himself up. He begins his work in a little pride and self-conceit, and notion of his own courage and cunning. He tries to fancy himself strong enough for anything. He feeds himself up with the thought of what people will say of him; the hope of gaining honour and praise: and that is not altogether a wrong feeling -- God forbid!
But the further the man gets into his work, the more difficult it grows, and the more hopeless he grows. He finds himself weak, when he expected to be strong; puzzled when he thought himself cunning. He is not sure whether he is doing right. He is afraid of responsibility. It is a heavy burden on him, too heavy to bear. His own honour and good name may depend upon a single word which he speaks. The comfort, the fortune, the lives of human beings may depend on his making up his mind at an hour's notice to do exactly the right thing at the right time. People round him may be mistaking him, slandering him, plotting against him, rebelling against him, even while he is trying to do them all the good he can. Little comfort does he get then from the thought of what people at home may say of him. He is set in the snare, and he cannot find his way out. He is at his own wits' end; and from whence shall he get fresh wits? Who will give him a right judgment in all things? Who will give him a holy comfort in which he can rejoice? -- a comfort which will make him cheerful, because he knows it is a right comfort, and that he is doing right? His heart is sinking within him, getting chill and cold with despair. Who will put fresh fire and spirit into it?
God will. When he has learnt how weak he is in himself, how stupid he is in himself; -- ay, bitter as it is to a brave man to have to confess it, how cowardly he is in himself -- then, when he has learnt the golden lesson, God will baptize him with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
A time will come to that man, when, finding no help in himself, no help in man, he will go for help to God.
Old words which he learnt at his mother's knee come back to him -- old words that he almost forgot, perhaps, in the strength and gaiety of his youth and prosperity. And he prays. He prays clumsily enough, perhaps. He is not accustomed to praying; and he hardly knows what to ask for, or how to ask for it. Be it so. In that he is not so very much worse off than others. What did St. Paul say, even of himself? 'We know not how to ask for anything as we ought: but the Spirit maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered' -- too deep for words. Yes, in every honest heart there are longings too deep for words. A man knows he wants something: but knows not what he wants. He cannot find the right words to say to God. Let him take comfort. What he does not know, the Holy Spirit of Whitsuntide -- the Spirit of Jesus Christ -- does know. Christ knows what we want, and offers our clumsy prayers up to our heavenly Father, not in the shape in which we put them, but as they ought to be, as we should like them to be; and our Father hears them.
Yes. Our Father hears the man who cries to him, however clumsily, for light and strength to do his duty. So it is; so it has been always; so it will be to the end. And then as the man's day, so his strength will be. He may be utterly puzzled, utterly down-hearted, utterly hopeless: but the day comes to him in which he is baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. He begins to have a right judgment; to see clearly what he ought to do, and how to do it. He grows more shrewd, more prompt, more steady than he ever has been before. And there comes a fire into his heart, such as there never was before; a spirit and a determination which nothing can daunt or break, which makes him bold, cheerful, earnest, in the face of the anxiety and danger which would have, at any other time, broken his heart. The man is lifted up above himself, and carried on through his work, he hardly knows how, till he succeeds nobly, or if he fails, fails nobly; and be the end as it may, he gets the work done which God has given him to do.
And then when he looks back, he is astonished at himself. He wonders how he could dare so much; wonders how he could endure so much; wonders how the right thought came into his head at the right moment. He hardly knows himself again. It seems to him, when he thinks over it all, like a grand and awful dream. And the world is astonished at him likewise. They cry, 'Who would have thought there was so much in this man? who would have expected such things of him?' And they call him a hero -- and so he is.
Yes, the world is right, more right than it thinks in both sayings. Who would have expected there was so much in the man? For there was not so much in him, till God put it there.
And again they are right, too; more right than they think in calling that man a hero, or that woman a heroine.
For what is the old meaning, the true meaning of a hero or a heroine?
It meant -- and ought to mean -- one who is a son or a daughter of God, and whom God informs and strengthens, and sends out to do noble work, teaching them the way wherein they should go. That was the right meaning of a hero and of a heroine even among the old heathens. Let it mean the same among us Christians, when we talk of a hero; and let us give God the glory, and say -- There is a man who has entered, even if it be but for one day's danger and trial, into the blessings of Whitsuntide and the power of God's Spirit; a man whom God has informed and taught in the way wherein he should go. May that same God give him grace to abide herein all the days of his life!
Yes, my friends, may God give us all grace to under stand Whitsuntide, and feed on the blessings of Whitsuntide; not merely once in a way, in some great sorrow, great danger, great struggle, great striving point of our lives; but every day and all day long, and to rejoice in the power of his Spirit, till it becomes to us -- would that it could to-day become to us; -- like the air we breathe; till having got our life's work done, if not done perfectly, yet still done, we may go hence to receive the due reward of our deeds.