Full of Joy and of the Holy Ghost.
"The eunuch went on his way rejoicing."—Acts viii. 39. "The disciplea were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost."— Acts xiii. 52.
'HERE is a striking resemblance between the condition of the eunuch deprived of his teacher and of these raw disciples, in Pisidian Antioch, bereft of theirs. Both were very recent converts; both had the scantiest knowledge; both were left utterly alone. One might have forgiven the Ethiopian statesman if, as he contemplated his plunge into the darkness of his own country, where there was not a single Christian soul but himself, he had looked with some lingering regrets after his vanished teacher. But no sentiment of that sort fills his mind. "He went on his way rejoicing." The explanation which is supplied in reference to the Christians of Antioch, who stretched out no hands to retain Paul and Barnabas, and scarcely seemed to miss them, but "were filled with joy," may avail for the eunuch's experience too. They were full of the Spirit of God, and that enabled them to do without teachers, and niore than made up for all losses,
Now this phrase, "full of the Holy Ghost," is not an uncommon one in the Acts of the Apostles; and the writer is fond of connecting with it other blessings and graces, of which it is declared to be the cause. So, for instance, we read that the deacons, who were to be chosen, were to be "men full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom"; and of Stephen we read that "he was full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." In like manner, the explanation of my text traces the joy of these solitary Christian souls to their abiding and complete possession of that Divine Spirit.
This state of being "filled with the Holy Ghost" is not regarded by the writer of the Acts of the Apostles as necessarily carrying with it the power of working miracle, or any other supernatural endowment, nor is it confined to the aristocracy of the Church, but it belongs to all. And if any Christian man is not thus completely possessed by the Divine Spirit, the Source of new life, and the very Soul of his soul, the fault lies wholly at his own door.
The two texts that I have put together, regarded in the light of the circumstances of the persons to whom they refer, seem to me to suggest to us two or three very large and blessed thoughts of what is available and possible for, and therefore the duty of, every Christian—the being "filled with the Spirit of God." So filled, we shall have an all-sufficient Teacher for all our ignorance; a Companion for all our solitude; a fountain of joy in all our sorrow. And the stories before us may help to illustrate these three things.
I.—First, then, note here the all-sufficient Teacher for our ignorance.
Think, for instance, of that Ethiopian statesman. An hour or two before, he had said, "How can I understand except some man guide me?" And now he is going away into the darkness, without a single external help of any kind, knowing only the little that he had gathered from Philip, in the course of a short conversation in the chariot. He had not a line of the New Testament. There were no Gospels in his day. He had nothing but a scroll of the prophet Isaiah in the way of outward help, but he went away with a glad heart, quite sure that he would be taught all he needed to know.
And these other people at Antioch, just dragged out of the filth and darkness of heathenism, with no teaching beyond the rudimentary instruction of the two apostles for a few days—they, too, were left by their teachers without a fear, and felt themselves alone without a tremor, because the teachers "commended them to God, and to the word of His grace," and the taught felt that they had a Divine instructor dwelling in their hearts.
The same thing has been experienced over and over again in the history of the Church. How often we have heard of some poor man that came to a Christian teacher in a heathen land, and picked up the one thought that God had sent His Son to love him and die for him; and carried that away in his heart into some solitary corner, and there, all alone and untaught of men, found that this one truth blossomed out into all manner of Divine wisdom according to his need!
There was once a great mission from one of our English denominations in the Island of Madagascar. It was smitten by persecution. Long years passed
during which not a soul went there from any Christian land. When at last communication was restored, what was found? A flourishing church. Who had taught it? God's Spirit.
Ah, brethren, we trust far too little to the educating and enlightening power of God's grace in the hearts of men who have no other teacher. And if Christian people more really believed the promise of their Master, which said, "He will guide you into all truth," they would be more likely to realize the promise, and be all taught of God. I would that I could rouse you Christian people to the real belief in that saying of Scripture, "Ye have an unction of the Holy One, and ye need not that any man teach you."
Only remember, the instrument of that Divine Teacher is the Word of God. And if we, as Christians, neglect our Bibles, we shall not get the teaching of the Spirit of God. And remember, too, that that teaching is granted to us on plainly defined conditions. There must be a desire for it. Oh, what an enormous and tragical number are there of so-called Christians who have no conception that there is anything more for them to learn than the initial truth, the acceptance of which saved their souls—viz., that Jesus Christ died on the cross for them. It is quite true that in one sense there is no more to learn. It is also true that it will take eternity for us to learn all that is in that one word. A clown in the fields sees as many stars as an astronomer, but it takes a lifetime of patient gazing and of hard study in order to arrive at some notion of the laws that move the shining orbs, and of their mighty magnitudes and distances. And so with the simple truth, which a half idiot and an almost babe may take to heart, and find life in—Viz., the sacrifice of the Son of God for the world's sins—there lie depths that will task the largest faculties, and will reward and bless the most protracted and patient search. If you do not desire a deeper, fuller, more vital, and more comprehensive knowledge of the treasures of wisdom that are laid up in that "simple gospel," you cannot expect that you will be taught what you do not want to know; or that the Spirit of God will force instruction upon an unwilling heart. You must desire it, and you must use the instrument. Head your Bibles, ponder your Bibles, become masters of them.
And there must be patient waiting and solitary meditation. They tell us that it is possible to overdo the manuring of a farm, and to put so much nourishment and stimulus upon the land as to spoil it. There are a great many Christians who have got so much of men's thinking, so many books, so many treatises, so many sermons, carted and shovelled on to their souls, that the productivity of their souls is ruined. And in this day of so many voices speaking of religion, precious as some of them may be, and helpful as the ministration of the Word is, from a brother's lips, if rightly used, there is sore need that Christian men should be pointed away from all human teachers, from a Philip and a Paul and a Barnabas, from an evangelist and an apostle, and should be relegated to the one great Teacher whose voice speaketh in secret, and makes us wise unto salvation. Depend upon it, the eunuch was in as good a place for profiting by the teaching of the Spirit of God in lonely Abyssinia, and amidst the secularities of the court of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, as if he had been sitting in the middle of the church at Jerusalem and listening to the teaching of the apostles. Let us take the lesson, and whosesoever scholars we may be, let us enrol ourselves in the school of the Master, and learn from that Spirit who will guide us into all truth.
II.—Now, note, secondly, the Companion in all our solitude.
Think of the loneliness of this man on the Gaza road, or of that handful of sheep in the midst of wolves in Antioch. And yet they were not alone. "Full of the Holy Ghost," they were conscious of a Divine presence. And so it may be, dear brethren, with us all. We are all condemned to live alone, however many may be the troops of friends round us. Every human soul, after all love and companionship, lives isolated. There is only One who can pass the awful boundary of personality which hedges off every man from every other. Love comes to the gate, and sends its sweet influences within, but still there is a film of distance between. There is only one Being that can pass within and mingle—in no metaphor, but in fullest reality—His being with my being, so that, in a very deep and blessed sense, we may be one. "He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit"—two, in so far that there remains the sweet consciousness of giving and receiving; one, in so far that a mightier smelting power than that of earthly love is in operation to fuse the believing spirit with the Spirit of the living God.
Let no man say that that is mystical and wants verifying. Trust Christ and you will have it verified. It is not mysticism, it is the very heart of the Gospel.
We need never be alone if we have this Companion. Besides the natural, necessary solitude in which every human soul lives there are some of us, no doubt, on whom God, by His providence, has laid the burden of a very lonely life. God's purpose in making us solitary is to join Himself to us. He sent His prophet away into the dreadful desert of Sinai, that there, amidst its wild peaks and blasted dreary loneliness, he might see the great sight and hear the Divine voice. "I will bring her into the desert, and will speak to her heart." Oh, brother, if your hand has been untwined from a dear hand—if you look along the long stretch of life, and see no prospect of other companion—learn the lesson and the privilege of your solitude, and take God into it to keep you company. Left alone, nestle close to Him.
Beside the natural and the providential solitudes there is yet another. We must make a solitude for ourselves, if we would have God speaking to us and keeping us company. Solitude is the mother-country of the strong. To be much alone is the condition of sanity and nobleness of life. I know, of course, that domestic arrangements and imperative duties make it all but impossible for many of us to realize to any large extent the outward solitude, which is so calming and bracing and every way desirable. But, for all that, brother, and making all needful allowance, and gladly remembering that God will come to people in a crowd, if His providence has fixed them there, let us not forget that there must be a Mount of Olives in the life of every follower of Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to neglect what He had to attend to, who the more He was busy in the Temple, the more went out to the mountain-top, and continued there all night in prayer to God. His commandment to us is still, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place and rest awhile." Conferences and meetings and congresses and crowds have their function, no doubt—perhaps we could do with fewer of them— but, at all events, no man's religion will be deep and strong unless he has learned to go into the secret place of the Most High, and shut his doors about him, and there receive the fulness of that Spirit.
III.—Lastly, notice the Joy in all sorrow.
"Full of joy and of the Holy Ghost," says the latter of these two texts. That collocation is familiar to the student of the New Testament. You will remember the Apostle's great enumeration of the fruits of the Spirit: "Love, joy, peace." And in another place, still more relevant to our present purpose, he speaks to the members of one of his churches, and tells them that they had "received the word in much affliction with joy of the Holy Ghost." So, then, whoever has this Divine Guest dwelling in his heart, may possess, and will possess, a joy as complete as is Its possession of him.
I need not remind you how that Divine Spirit who enters into our souls by faith brings to us the consciousness of forgiveness and of sonship, nor how It fits the needs of every part of our nature, and brings all our being into harmony with itself, with circumstances, and with God; and how, therefore, the man who thus is truly "good," is "satisfied from himself," because himself is not himself only, but himself with the Holy Spirit dwelling in him; how such a man needs not to go to the brackish ponds of earthly and outward satisfaction, but has a neverfailing fountain within, springing up, with joyous inherent energy, up, and up, and up into life everlasting.
But I may remind you that not only does this Divine Spirit in us make provision for joy, but that, with such an indwelling Guest, there is the possibility of the co-existence of joy and sorrow. It was no paradox that the Apostle gave forth when he said, "Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." Even in the midst of the snow and cold and darkness of Arctic regions, the explorers build houses for themselves of the very blocks of ice, and within are warmth and light and comfort and vitality, while around is a dreary waste. There may be two currents in the great ocean; a cold one may set from the pole and threaten to chill and freeze all life out, but from the equator there will be a warm one which will more than counterbalance the inrush of the cold. And so it is possible for us, even when things about us are dark and gloomy, and flesh and natural sensibilities all proclaim to us the necessity of sadness —it is possible for us to be aware of a central blessedness, not boisterous, but so grave and calm that the world cannot discriminate between it and sadness, which yet its possessors know to be blessedness unmingled. Left alone, we may have a companion; in our ignorance we may be enlightened; and in the murkiest night of our sorrow we may have, burning cheerily within our hearts, a light unquenchable.
But remember that this joy from the Spirit is a commandment. I am sure that Christians do not sufficiently lay to heart that gladness is their duty, and that sorrow unrelieved by it is cowardice and sin. We have no business to be thus sorrowful. There are no unmingled, and there are no irrevocable, causes for sorrow in the lives of any men who can say, "God is my Father; Christ is my Brother; the Spirit of God dwells in my heart." "Therefore, rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice."
But remember the conditions. If you and I have that Divine Spirit within us we shall be enlightened, however ignorant; companioned, however solitary; joyful, however ringed about with sorrow. If we have not, the converse will be true: we shall grope in the darkness, however we conceit ourselves to know; we shall have a central sorrow, however we may have a delusive, superficial joy, " the end of which is heaviness," and we shall be alone, however we may seem to be companied by troops of friends. If we have faith in Christ we shall have the Spirit of Christ. If, like the people in one of my texts, we can say truly that we are disciples, "we shall be filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost." He that is full of faith is full of God's Spirit.