The Personal Presence of the Comforter
William Bacon Stevens
"And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world can not receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him; but you know Him; for He dwells in you, and shall be in you." John 14:16-17
The true Christian has three Comforters, and each of them is divine. God the Father is styled by Paul, in his second epistle to the Corinthians, as "the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation." God the Son, in the words of the text, speaks of Himself as one Comforter; and Paul tells us that "our consolation" or comfort "abounds by Christ." God the Holy Spirit is specifically named by Jesus Christ in several instances as "the Comforter," and His peculiar office as such is fully unfolded in the last discourse of our Lord to His disciples before His crucifixion.
Thus each person of the ever-blessed Trinity is a Comforter, divine in character, infinite in fullness, eternal in duration. There is, then, no true comfort or consolation, that the heart can desire, which may not be found in God the Father as the God of all comfort; in God the Son as the Paraclete with the Father; and in God the Holy Spirit as "the Comforter" who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
The Greek term Paracletos, here translated Comforter, and in another place translated Advocate — is peculiar to the writings of John, and is found in no other part of Scripture. We have no word in English which exactly corresponds to it in meaning; that meaning being, according to the etymology of the word, "one called to be beside another." This explanation brings before us its true classical use, which "denotes a person who represents another in a judicial cause." It was the custom in the ancient tribunals for the parties to appear in court attended by one or more of their most influential friends, who were called in Greek paracletes, in Latin advocates. These paracletes, or advocates, gave their friends — not from fee or reward — but from love and interest — the advantage of their personal presence, and the aid of their judicious counsel. They thus advised them what to do, what to say, spoke for them, acted in their behalf, made the cause of their friends their cause, stood by them and for them in the trials, difficulties, and dangers of their situation. In this sense, our Lord is said by John to be our Paraclete — where he says, "We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" — One in Heaven before God, who appears there in our behalf, represents our cause, urges our plea, ever living to "make intercession for us."
While on earth, our Lord had counseled, advised, spoken for, and on behalf of, His disciples. They had looked to Him for aid, support, comfort, truth, grace; and thus with Him ever at their side, He had been to them a paraclete, or advocate. He had most thoroughly identified Himself with them, had taught them to pray, to preach, to live, to work miracles, and the mysteries of the kingdom. But He was now to leave them. His bodily form was to be removed. Yet, with a sweetness of compassion peculiarly touching, He says, "I will not leave you comfortless" — orphans, undefended, unadvocated, unsustained. "It is expedient for you that I go away; but I will pray the Father, and He shall send you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever."
This "other" Comforter is the Holy Spirit, as our Lord declares in the twenty-sixth verse — "But the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit." And this Comforter is said to proceed from the Father and the Son, sent in Christ's name, in answer to Christ's prayer, and to carry on Christ's work in the world, from which Christ was now to depart.
Let us, then, consider the personal presence of the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit — as the great and abiding blessing of the individual believer and of the Church.
There can be no doubt that the believer now stands in a better relation to God, and Christ, and the mysteries of redemption — than those did who were privileged to behold our Lord with their bodily eyes, and hear His words, and touch His hands, and follow His person. This truth will be apparent if we analyze the office and nature of this Comforter as described by Christ Himself.
What are the points where the soul of man needs comfort? Or, to put the question in another form: What are the things which give real distress to the soul?
A sense of guilt;
a consciousness of being under the curse;
absence of the divine favor;
exposure to doubt and error;
uncertainty as to the future.
Comfort comes to such a one, not by removing the sense of guilt — but by implanting a hope of pardon. Comfort comes to one lying under the curse of the law — by showing him that that curse is borne by another, and he is exempt from its infliction. Comfort comes to one feeling the absence of the divine favor — in the sweet assurance that God is reconciled to him in the face of Jesus Christ. Comfort comes to one exposed to doubt and error — in the consciousness that he can be led by the Spirit into all truth. Comfort comes to one uncertain as to his future — when he knows that his life is hid with Christ, and that when Christ who is his life shall appear, he "shall appear with Him in glory." To each of these special cases, it is the office of the Holy Spirit to minister; and no other being can relieve the real distress of the soul; for even the scheme of salvation — devised in the infinite love of God the Father, and wrought out in the infinite love of God the Son — is valueless to save the soul — unless applied and made effective, by the Holy Spirit. So that in very truth, in very essence, He is the Comforter.
This Comforter, Christ says, "the world can not receive," because it "sees Him not, neither knows Him." By the world is here meant carnal men engrossed in things of time and sense. Thus Paul says, "The carnal mind is enmity against God." And again, "To be carnally-minded is death." The world's aims, views, and plans — are earthly, temporal, sensual; the very opposite of the aims and plans of the Holy Spirit, so much so, that the world can neither see them or know them. "The natural man," says Paul, "receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." The things of the Spirit, can be seen and known only by those whose eyes have been anointed by the Spirit with the power of spiritual vision.
The apostle puts the question in this form: "What man knows the things of a man, except the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knows no man — but the Spirit of God." It is neither by any worldly learning, or worldly schemes, or worldly philosophy — that we are to receive the Comforter. On the contrary, the possession of a worldly mind puts us in a non-receptive condition; and as soon can sunshine dwell in a dark dungeon — as the Comforter abide in a worldly heart. The Comforter will displace the world — or the world will keep out the Comforter.
"But you," says Christ, addressing His disciples, "know Him; for He dwells with you, and shall be in you." The persons whom our Lord addressed were crude, uncultivated, unlearned men. Had they attempted to establish schools like Hillel, or Gamaliel, they would have been frowned upon by the Scribes and Pharisees as ignorant pretenders. Had they gone to Alexandria and given themselves out as teachers of religion, the Egyptian philosophers would have sneered at their pretensions. Had they visited the Greek Academy — the Stoics, and Cynics, and Platonists of Greece would have mocked at their words and turned a deaf ear to their teaching. But to these Galilean peasants and fishermen, was given by Christ Himself — the Spirit of truth itself, the very Lord and Giver of life, who was to dwell with them, in them, and abide there forever.
Truly may we also lift up our eyes to Heaven and say with Jesus, "I thank you, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that you have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes." And truly may we say with the apostle, "The world by wisdom knew not God," and that "The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God." Yes, we have what the profoundest minds of earth have sought for in vain — the Spirit of truth; and from these men, not from the temples of India, not from the halls of Alexandria, not from the schools of Athens — has gone forth the truth, which has enlightened, revolutionized, and redeemed the world!
The truth which this Spirit of truth as the Comforter is to reveal, is "the truth as it is in Jesus." When Jesus says of this Spirit that "He shall guide you into all truth" — it does not mean that the Holy Spirit will guide you into natural truth, or scientific truth, or philosophical truth; but into those great central spiritual truths — the atoning death, the justifying righteousness of Jesus Christ; those poles on which turn as on an axle, the whole scheme of redemption and grace. As it was by this Spirit of truth, that the prophecies concerning Christ were uttered which fill the Old Testament; as it was by the Spirit of truth that Jesus was conceived by the Virgin Mary; as it was by this Spirit of truth that He was anointed for His ministry after His baptism — so is it declared that His office is to take of the things of Christ and show them unto men. Hence Christ says of this Spirit, He shall teach you all things. He shall testify of me. He shall glorify me. He shall show you things to come. He will guide you into all truth.
Who can so teach all things — as the Spirit that "searches all things; yes, the deep things of God?" Who can so testify of Christ — as the Spirit who revealed His person and advent through three thousand years of prophecy? Who can so glorify Christ — as the Spirit who formed His human body and anointed Him for His ministry? Who can so show us things to come — as the Spirit who has established His veracity as the Spirit of truth by an ever-augmented stream of fulfilled prophecy, from the fall of Eden, to the song of aged Simeon? Who can so guide into all truth — as the Spirit of truth who leads the soul to truth itself, the incarnate truth, even Jesus Christ?
There is no spiritual truth which starts not from Christ, or centers not in Christ. Touch any point of the vast circumference of divine truth which you please, and trace back thence any radiating line — and it will lead you directly to Jesus; for as there is but one fountain of light in the solar system, so there is but one fountain of truth in the moral firmament — Jesus Christ, "In whom dwells all the fullness of the God-head bodily."
Now this truth of Christ, which this Spirit of truth teaches us, is not mere abstract dogmas, or inert but logical speculations — it is living truth, and it is quickening truth; it has life in itself and imparts life; and herein it contrasts with the teachings of all mere human philosophies. For human philosophy, like the aurora borealis — flashes and coruscates in the night season, attracting thousands of eyes by its brilliant scintillations, evoking countless speculations and conjectures — but permanently lighting nothing, warming nothing, vivifying nothing; and when they fade leave the sky darker than before. But "the truth as it is in Jesus," which the Spirit of truth reveals, like the sun — floods the world with its rays, and not only enlightens it — but warms it; and not only warms it — but makes it teem with life; and not only vitalizes it — but beautifies it; shining not fitfully — but permanently; not in one section of the sky alone — but from under the whole heavens; not to die away in deeper darkness — but to culminate in the meridian light of Heaven.
Not only is this Comforter a teaching Spirit — but Christ says, "He dwells with you, and shall be in you." Let us examine for a moment the force of those two little prepositions with and in.
A twofold power of the Spirit is here implied: an outward guarding, protecting, helping power — and an inward controlling, animating, and sanctifying power. The one preposition with, implies an agency acting from without and in concert with ourselves; the other preposition in, implies an agency at work within, developing itself from the heart outward.
It would be esteemed a rare privilege to have a great and truly noble person dwell with us, a Paul, a Chrysostom, an Augustine; to have such an one be our perpetual monitor, and adviser, and exemplar; to have him show us how to act, how to speak, how to live; to have the benefit of his oversight, his wisdom, his favor. But then the person thus favored might never fully copy the devotion of an Augustine, the eloquence of a Chrysostom, or the holiness of a Paul. How different, however, would the case be if there was a process by which the spirit of those great men, in its wholeness, could be infused into the minds and hearts of others, so that instead of dwelling with an Augustine — Augustine should by his spirit dwell in them; instead of living with a Chrysostom — Chrysostom should live his life in them; instead of copying a Paul beside us — Paul should dwell in us as the abiding spirit. What a difference there would be! The indwelling spirit of an Augustine, would make a second Augustine; the infused spirit of a Chrysostom, would make another golden mouthed preacher; and a Paul living in us, would reproduce the spirit and the deeds of the great apostle in our own life and work.
The Comforter, as the Spirit of truth, not only dwells with us as a guest; but dwells in us as the inner controlling, shaping, enlightening, sanctifying Spirit, evolving out of Himself through the functions and faculties of our being, the fruits and graces of a holy life, and the beautiful character of a true Christian. And what a beautiful character must necessarily be developed by such an indwelling Spirit!
The artist who paints a picture, or chisels a statue — impresses a certain amount of his own genius on flat canvas or cold marble. It is not a beauty developed from within, working outward; but something put upon the passive canvas or marble, by an outside process that never goes beneath the surface, never imparts life within. But the artist power of the Holy Spirit is seen, in that taking up His abode in the heart — He renews and sanctifies that heart, and the outward life is but the development of the inward grace.
The Comforter, as the Spirit of holiness — hallows each thought and affection, and the man becomes holy. The Comforter, as the Spirit of wisdom — enlightens each faculty of the mind, and the man is made wise unto salvation. The Comforter, as the Spirit of truth — guides the intellect into all truth, and the man stands forth truth's freeman with the fetters of doubt and error broken at his feet. The Comforter, as the Spirit of grace and help — teaches how to pray and what to pray for, and the man goes boldly to the throne of grace. The Comforter, as the Spirit of strength — energizes all the powers of the man for effective labor, and the man becomes stalwart in the strength of God. The Comforter, as the Spirit of the fear of the Lord — imparts a wholesome dread of offending, and reverence to God, and the man seeks to walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.
And when there is at work in the soul such agencies — active, powerful, divine; and when the soul necessarily develops outwardly the animating spirit within — must there not result a moral beauty, a beauty made up of the blended features of holiness, truth, wisdom, prayer, reverence — which, combined, will produce a loveliness of life and character beyond the imagination of the artist, or the conception of the poet, or the dream of the philosopher?
Can such divine power dwell with us, and in us — and not be to us full of comfort so as indeed to merit the name, the Comforter?
But the indwelling of the Comforter not only molds our life on His own model, and reproduces in us His own features — but it turns each heart in which He abides, into a temple. "Know you not," says the apostle, to the Corinthians, "that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you?" And again he says, "Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" And, writing to the Ephesians, he speaks of Christians as being "built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit." These are words that startle us by their boldness, and awe us by their mystery. Christians then are temples — temples of the Holy Spirit! Habitations of God through the Spirit! A temple is set apart from common and worldly — to holy and divine uses; in it (the temple from which the apostle drew his illustration), were offered sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving; it was sacredly preserved from pollution and defilement, and in it God specially manifested His presence. It was God's house, reserved for God's use, and occupied for God's glory. So the Christian heart is a living temple in which God dwells by His Holy Spirit. It is not his, for he is bought with a price, and has become God's, and nothing unhallowed or irreverent should enter there.
In this temple of the heart, God communes with us by the Holy Spirit. In it, He assures of pardon, and speaks words of love; and all the while that the Comforter dwells there, He is beautifying it with His grace, purging out every spot, and making it fit for the holy use to which the Holy Spirit has consecrated it.
The Christian then carries about with him a temple; he is himself a temple, and in him abides the Comforter. And thus the "God of all comfort" is ever enshrined in the Christian soul; not, as the shekinah of the Jewish temple, local and definite in form and material, a mere symbol of divinity — but divinity itself in its enlightening, controlling, life-giving, soul-renewing power, diffused through every part of our sentient being, and hallowing the whole man as a consecrated "habitation of God through the Spirit."
The crowning glory of this abiding of the Comforter in us, is that He will abide there forever. He comes to us not as a casual visitor, here today and gone tomorrow; but He takes up His abode in us, makes His home there, turns it into His dwelling, and having thus made it His temple — He inhabits it forever; for even death does not remove Him, for He dwells in us forever.
Tell me, then, does not the Holy Spirit well deserve to be called the Comforter?
This Comforter becomes ours in answer to earnest prayer. God has said that He is "more ready to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him, than parents are to give good things unto their children." This gracious promise — so full, so paternal, so appealing to our own consciousness and sympathy — can be made ours by asking the God of all comfort to bestow upon us the gift of the Holy Spirit according to Christ's own promise, and for the satisfying of our own spiritual needs. Such request made in faith, in Christ's name, will be heard — will be answered; and thus can we secure all the rich blessings which an indwelling Comforter can bestow upon a human soul!