Another Comforter (6)

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.

Holy Spirit, powerful Consoler, sacred Bond of the Father and the Son, Hope of the afflicted, descend into my heart and establish in it your loving dominion. Enkindle in my tepid soul the fire of your Love so that I may be wholly subject to you. We believe that when you dwell in us, you also prepare a dwelling for the Father and the Son. Deign, therefore, to come to me, Consoler of abandoned souls, and Protector of the needy. Help the afflicted, strengthen the weak, and support the wavering. Come and purify me. Let no evil desire take possession of me. You love the humble and resist the proud. Come to me, glory of the living, and hope of the dying. Lead me by your grace that I may always be pleasing to you.

—prayers attributed to St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430)

Another Comforter (5)

The Spirit makes known the personal presence in and with the Christian and the church of the risen, reigning Saviour, the Jesus of history, who is the Christ of faith. Scripture shows . . . that since the Pentecost of Acts 2 this, essentially, is what the Spirit is doing all the time as he empowers, enables, purges, and leads generation after generation of sinners to face the reality of God. And he does it in order that Christ may be known, loved, trusted, honored and praised, which is the Spirit’s aim and purpose throughout as it is the aim and purpose of God the Father, too. This is what, in the last analysis, the Spirit’s new covenant ministry is all about. . . . The distinctive, constant, basic ministry of the Holy Spirit under the new covenant is so to mediate Christ’s presence to believers—that is, to give them the knowledge of his presence with them as their Saviour, Lord, and God—that three things keep happening.

First, personal fellowship with Jesus . . . becomes a reality of experience, even though Jesus is now not here on earth in bodily form, but is enthroned in heaven’s glory.

Second, personal transformation of character into Jesus’ likeness starts to take place as, looking to Jesus, their model, for strength, believers worship and adore him and learn to lay out and, indeed, lay down their lives for him and for others.

Third, the Spirit-given certainty of being loved, redeemed, and adopted through Christ into the Father’s family, so as to be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), makes gratitude, delight, hope, and confidence–in a word, assurance–blossom in believers’ hearts.

By these phenomena of experience, Spirit-given knowledge of Christ’s presence . . . shows itself.

—J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 47,49

Another Comforter (4)

We need a recovery of the doctrine of the Priestly ministry of the Spirit. Christ as the One Mediator alone represents God to man and man to God. The Spirit as the Spirit of Christ is SPEAKING SPIRIT and INTERCEDING SPIRIT (Romans ch. 8). As speaking Spirit He mediates God’s Word to men and summons us to faith and obedience. As interceding Spirit, He lifts us up into heavenly places in Christ. He puts the prayer of Jesus into our lips—”Abba, Father.” He intercedes for us, helping our infirmities. God draws near to us in Christ through the Spirit, and we are drawn near to God through the blood of Christ by the Spirit. Perhaps in Presbyterianism we have emphasised speaking Spirit at the expense of the interceding Spirit. At the heart of all worship lies the doctrine of the Third Person of the Trinity—that our Ascended Lord, by His Spirit poured out upon His Church at Pentecost, lifts us up into His life of praise and communion with the Father—so that we know we are “lifted out of ourselves” into an objective world of worship and praise and prayer in communion with all saints.

—James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of
Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):75-76

Another Comforter (3)

“I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7)

We’ve seen in the sermon that the ascension means that Jesus is truly absent from us. He has been glorified and exalted into heaven, He has gone to the Father, He has gone away. As His disciples, we are called to witness faithfully, in the face of bullying and persecution, in His absence, in hope that we will meet Him when we are cast out of the synagogues.

But the ascension should never be detached from Pentecost. Jesus goes away, but in going away, He promises to send His Spirit. Jesus goes away, but at the same time assures His disciples that they will not be left orphans. He goes away, but says that He will come to us and be with us through His Spirit.

In 16:7, Jesus says it is for our good that He goes away, because unless He goes away the Spirit, the Paraklete, will not come. And it’s good for the Spirit to come, because through the Spirit Jesus’ disciples do greater works than He did. Because Jesus goes away, things are going to happen that could not happen when He was present.

During Jesus’ lifetime, He ate and drank frequently with the Twelve. He fed 5000 people on one occasion, and 4000 on another occasion. He had other meals and feasts throughout His ministry. But the sum total of people who ate and drank with Jesus during His lifetime would be somewhere in the thousands.

Now He has gone away, and the Spirit has come. Now Jesus is absent in the flesh, but present in the Spirit.  . . . Throughout the world, today, there are millions eating and drinking with Jesus, drawn from every tribe and tongue and nation. Jesus never did that. That could only be done when Jesus went away to His Father, and sent the Helper to be with us.

—Peter Leithart, “Eucharistic Meditation on John 16:7

Another Comforter (2)

Babel did not last forever, nor need it persist with us. It remained for Pentecost to set things right, for Babel is inverted Pentecost and Pentecost is Babel turned right side up. It is so because God takes the initiative and does his building from his throne, at whose right hand the risen and ascended Christ is seated. I think it safe to say that at Pentecost stylistic singularity went out the window and a thousand tongues turned out not to suffice. 

—Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, 170

Another Comforter (1)

The need for a theology about the Day of Pentecost is seen by reflecting on how readily Christians misunderstand the nature of the church. For many people the church is a voluntary organization of individuals and exists primarily for reasons that relate to efficiency. Concerning worship, for example, it is tacitly suspected that in principle each Christian household could stay at home and have a pastor come to them to instruct them, administer the sacraments, and so on. But this would be too costly and probably would require more clergy than could be recruited. So it is more efficient for a number of households to contract together, and to establish a central meeting place and time at which the scriptures can be interpreted and the sacraments administered by someone trained in these tasks. Further, since most worship gives a central place to music, it is more effective to have a number of people sing with the support of a choir and a good musical instrument than for four or five people in a home to attempt to sing, probably unaccompanied. Because such a gathering is purely voluntary, people feel free to participate when they wish (particularly when they “need” to “get something out of it”), and to do otherwise the rest of the time.

A proper theology of the Day of Pentecost says a resounding “No!” to such popular ideas. The church is a community called together by the Spirit of the Risen One. It is not something we choose to do (and equally well could choose not to do), but something to which we are summoned. The Greek word for church (ekklēsia from which we derive “ecclesiastical”) means “those who have been called forth or summoned,” much as one is summoned to appear in a court of law. And we are called as a body of interdependent parts, not as separable individuals. The free-spirited individualism of our age is a manifestation of Babel, not Pentecost, as should be evident from the intransigent divisions and intractable conflicts such individualism fosters. The Risen One, who is present at all times and in all places, seeks to bind together by the action of the Spirit all things that have been wrongly separated. Participation therefore is not something we do on the basis of personal choice or need; participation in the Body of Christ is inherent in being Christian. The church, not the individual, is the irreducible unit of Christianity. Further, the church is to be a sign of the future: No matter how haltingly and imperfectly, the church seeks to enact in the present world the justice and grace that characterize the eternal reign of God. Therefore Christians participate in the church not so much for what they can get as for what they can give, for what they can offer as an alternative to the dominant ways of the world.

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 76-77