An Homily Concerning the Coming Down of the Holy Ghost

An Homily Concerning the Coming Down of the Holy Ghost and the Manifold Gifts of the Same for Whitsunday

Before we come to the declaration of the great and manifold gifts of the Holy Ghost, wherewith the Church of God hath been evermore replenished, it shall first be needful briefly to expound unto you whereof this feast of Pentecost or “Whitsuntide” had his first beginning. You shall therefore understand that the feast of Pentecost was always kept the fiftieth day after Easter, a great and solemn feast among the Jews, wherein they did celebrate the memorial of their deliverance out of Egypt, and also the memorial of the publishing of the Law, which was given is unto them in the mount Sinai upon that day. It was first ordained and commanded to be kept holy, not by any mortal man, but by the mouth of the Lord himself; as we read in Levit. xxiii and Deut. xvi. The place appointed for the observation thereof was Jerusalem, where was great recourse of people from all parts of the world; as may well appear in the second chapter of the Acts, wherein mention[1] is made of Parthians, Medes, Elamites, inhabiters of Mesopotamia, inhabiters of Jewry, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, and divers other such places; whereby we may also partly gather what great and royal solemnity was commonly used in that feast.

Now, as this was given in commandment to the Jews in the old Law, so did our Saviour Christ as it were confirm the same in the time of the Gospel, ordaining after a sort a new Pentecost for his disciples; namely[2] when he sent down the Holy Ghost visibly in form of cloven tongues like fire, and gave them power to speak in such sort, that every one might hear them, and also understand them, in his own language. This miracle, that it might be had in perpetual remembrance, the Church hath thought good to solemnize and keep holy this day, commonly called Whitsunday. And here is to be noted, that, as the Law was given to the Jews in the mount Sinai the fiftieth day after Easter, so was the preaching of the Gospel through the mighty power of the Holy Ghost given to the Apostles in the mount Sion the fiftieth day after Easter. And hereof this feast hath his name, to be called Pentecost, even of the number of the days. For, as St. Luke writeth in the Acts of the Apostles, when fifty days were come to an end , the disciples being all together with one accord in one place, the Holy Ghost came suddenly among them, and sat upon each of them, like as it had been cloven tongues of fire. Which thing was undoubtedly done, to teach the Apostles and all other men, that it is he which giveth eloquence and utterance in preaching the Gospel; that it is he which openeth the mouth to declare the mighty works of God; that it is he which engendereth a burning zeal toward God’s word, and giveth all men a tongue, yea, a fiery tongue, so that they may boldly and cheerfully profess the truth in the face of the whole world: as Esay was indued with this Spirit. The Lord saith Esay, gave me a learned and a skillful tongue so that I might know to raise up them that are fallen with the word.[3] The Prophet David crieth to have this gift, saying, Open thou my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.[4] For our Saviour Christ also in the Gospel saith to his disciples, it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which is within you.[5] All which testimonies of holy Scripture do sufficiently declare, that the mystery of the tongues betokeneth the preaching of the Gospel, and the open confession of the Christian faith, in all them that are possessed with the Holy Ghost. So that, if any man be a dumb Christian, not professing his faith openly, but cloaking and colouring himself for fear of danger in time to come, he giveth men occasion, justly and with good conscience, to doubt lest he have not the grace of the Holy Ghost within him, because he is tongue tied, and doth not speak.

Thus then have ye heard the first institution of this feast of Pentecost or Whitsuntide, as well in the old Law among the Jews, as also in the time of the Gospel among the Christians. Now let us consider what the Holy Ghost is, and how consequently he worketh his miraculous works towards mankind.

The Holy Ghost is a spiritual and divine substance, the third Person in the Deity, distinct from the Father and the Son, and yet proceeding from them both. Which thing to be true, both the Creed of Athanasius beareth witness, and may be also easily proved by most plain testimonies of God’s holy word. When Christ was baptized of John in the river Jordan, we read[6] that the Holy Ghost came down in the form of a dove, and that the Father thundered from heaven, saying, This is my dear and well beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Where note three divers and distinct Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; which all notwithstanding are not three gods but one God. Likewise, when Christ did first institute and ordain the Sacrament of Baptism, he sent his disciples into the whole world, willing them to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.[7] Also in another place he saith, I will pray unto my Father, and he shall give you another comforter. Again, When the Comforter shall come, whom I will send from my Father.[8] These and such other places of the New Testament do so plainly and evidently confirm the distinction of the Holy Ghost from the other Persons in the Trinity that no man can possibly doubt thereof, unless he will blaspheme the everlasting truth of God’s word. As for his proper nature and substance, it is altogether one with God the Father and God the Son, that is to say, spiritual, eternal, uncreated, incomprehensible, almighty; to be short, he is even God and Lord everlasting. Therefore he is called the Spirit of the Father; therefore he is said to proceed from the Father and the Son; and therefore he was equally joined with them in the commission that the Apostles had to baptize all nations.

But, that this may appear more sensibly to the eyes of all men, it shall be requisite to come to the other part, namely, to the wonderful and heavenly works of the Holy Ghost, which plainly declare unto the world his mighty and divine power. First, it is evident that he did wonderfully govern and direct the hearts of the Patriarchs and Prophets in old time, illuminating their minds with the knowledge of the true Messiah, and giving them utterance to prophesy of things that should come to pass a long time after. For, as St. Peter witnesseth, the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but the holy men of God spake as they were moved inwardly by the Holy Ghost.[9] And Zachary the high priest it is said in the Gospel that he being full of the Holy Ghost prophesied and praised God.[10] So did also Simeon, Anna, Mary, and divers other, to the great wonder and admiration of all men. Moreover, was not the Holy Ghost a mighty worker in the conception and the nativity of Christ our Saviour? St. Matthew saith that the blessed virgin was found with child of the Holy Ghost before Joseph and she came together.[11] And the angel Gabriel did expressly tell her that it should come to pass, saying the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee.[12] A marvellous matter, that a woman should conceive and bear a child without the knowledge of man. But, where the Holy Ghost worketh, there nothing is unpossible: as may further also appear by the inward regeneration and sanctification of mankind.

When Christ said to Nicodemus, Unless a man be born anew of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.[13] He was greatly amazed in his mind, and began to reason with Christ, demanding how a man might be born which was old? Can he enter, saith he, into his mother’s womb again, and so be born anew? Behold a lively pattern of a fleshly and carnal man. He had little or no intelligence of the Holy Ghost, and there fore he goeth bluntly to work, and asketh how this thing were possible to be true: whereas otherwise, if he had known the great power of the Holy Ghost in this behalf, that it is he which inwardly worketh the regeneration and new birth of mankind, he would never have marvelled at Christ’s words, but would have rather taken occasion thereby to praise and glorify God. For, as there are three several and sundry Persons in the Deity, so have they three several and sundry offices proper unto each of them, the Father to create, the Son to redeem, the Holy Ghost to sanctify and regenerate. Whereof the last, the more it is hid from our understanding, the more it ought to move all men to wonder at the secret and mighty working of God’s Holy Spirit, which is within us. For it is the Holy Ghost, and no other thing, that doth quicken the minds of men, stirring up good and godly motions in their hearts, which are agreeable to the will and commandment of God, such as otherwise of their own crooked and perverse nature they should never have. That which is born of the flesh saith Christ, is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[14] As who should say, Man of his own nature is fleshly and carnal, corrupt and naught, sinful and disobedient to God, without any spark of goodness in him, without any virtuous or godly motion, only given to evil thoughts and wicked deeds: as for the works of the Spirit, the fruits of faith, charitable and godly motions, if he have any at all in him, they proceed only of the Holy Ghost, who is the only worker of our sanctification, and maketh us new men in Christ Jesus. Did not God’s Holy Spirit miraculously work in the child David[15]when of a poor shepherd he became a princelike Prophet? Did not God’s Holy Spirit miraculously work in Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom[16] when of a proud publican he became an humble and lowly Evangelist? And who can choose but marvel to consider that Peter should become of a simple fisher a chief and mighty Apostle, Paul of a cruel and bloody persecutor a faithful disciple of Christ to teach the Gentiles ?

Such is the power of the Holy Ghost to regenerate men, and as it were to bring them forth anew, so that they shall be nothing like the men that they were before. Neither doth he think it sufficient inwardly to work the spiritual and new birth of man, unless he do also dwell and abide in him. Know ye not, saith St. Paul, that ye are the temples of the Holy Ghost, which is within you? Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, which is within you?[17] Again he saith you are not in the flesh but in the spirit; for why the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.[18] To this agreeth the doctrine of St. John, writing on this wise: the anointing which ye have received (he meaneth the Holy Ghost) dwelleth in you.[19] And the doctrine of Peter saith the same, who hath these words: The Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you. O what a comfort is this to the heart of a true Christian, to think that the Holy Ghost dwelleth within him! If God be with us as the apostle saith, who can be against us?[20]

O but how shall I know that the Holy Ghost is within me? some man perchance will say. Forsooth, as the tree is known by his fruit[21] so is also the Holy Ghost The fruits of the holy Ghost according to the mind of St. Paul are these; love joy peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance;[22] contrawise the deeds of the flesh are these: adultery fornication, uncleanness, wantonness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, debate, emulation, wrath, contention, sedition, heresy, envy, murder, drunkenness, gluttony, and such like.[23] Here is now that glass wherein thou must behold thyself, and discern whether thou have the Holy Ghost within thee, or the spirit of the flesh. If thou see that thy works be virtuous and good, consonant to the prescript rule of God’s word, savouring and tasting not of the flesh but of the Spirit, then assure thyself that thou art endued with the Holy Ghost: otherwise in thinking well of thyself thou doest nothing else but deceive thyself.

The Holy Ghost doth always declare himself by his fruitful and gracious gifts, namely, by the words of wisdom by the word of knowledge which is the understanding of the Scriptures by faith in doing of miracles, by healing them that are diseased by prophecy which is the declaration of God’s mysteries, by the discerning of spirits, diversity of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.[24] All which gifts, as they proceed from one Spirit, and are severally given to man according to the measurable distribution of the Holy Ghost, even so do they bring men, and not without good cause, into a wonderful admiration of God’s divine power. Who will not marvel at that which is written in the Acts of the Apostles, to hear their bold confession before the council at Jerusalem, and to consider that they went away with joy and gladness, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer rebukes and cheeks for the Name and faith of Christ Jesus?[25] This was the mighty work of the Holy Ghost; who, because he giveth patience and joyfulness of heart in temptation and affliction, hath therefore worthily obtained this name in Scripture, to be called a Comforter.[26] Who will not also marvel to read the learned and heavenly sermons of Peter and the other disciples, considering that they were never brought up in school of learning, but called even from their nets to supply rooms of Apostles? This was likewise the mighty work of the Holy Ghost; who, because he doth instruct the hearts of the simple in the true knowledge of God and his holy word is most justly termed by this name and title to be the Spirit of Truth. Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History telleth a strange story of a certain learned and subtle philosopher, who, being an extreme adversary to Christ and his doctrine, could by no kind of learning be converted to the faith, but was able to withstand all the arguments that could be brought against him with little or no labour. At length there started up a poor simple man, of small wit and less knowledge, one that was reputed among the learned as an idiot; and he on God’s Name would needs take in hand to dispute with this proud philosopher. The bishops and other learned men standing by were marvellously abashed at the matter, thinking that by his doings they should be all confounded and put to open shame. He notwithstanding goeth on, and, beginning in the Name of the Lord Jesus, brought the philosopher to such point in the end, contrary to all men’s expectation, that he could not choose but acknowledge the power of God in his words, and to give place to the truth. Was not this a miraculous work, that one seely soul, of no learning, should do that which many bishops, of great knowledge and understanding, were never able to bring to pass? So true is that saying of Bede: “Where the Holy Ghost doth instruct and teach, there is no delay at all in learning.” Much more might here be spoken of the manifold gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost, most excellent and wonderful in our eyes: but, to make a long discourse through all, the shortness of time will not serve; and, seeing ye have heard the chiefest, ye may easily conceive and judge of the rest.

Now were it expedient to discuss this question, whether all they which boast and brag that they have the Holy Ghost do truly challenge this unto themselves, or no? Which doubt, because it is necessary and profitable, shall, God will, be dissolved in the next part of this Homily. In the mean season let us, as we are most bound, give hearty thanks to God the Father and his son Jesus Christ for sending down this Comforter into the world: humbly beseeching him so to work in our hearts by the power of this Holy Spirit, that we, being regenerate and newly born again in all goodness, righteousness, sobriety, and truth, may in the end be made partakers of everlasting life in his heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ our only Lord and Saviour. Amen.

  1. Acts ii, 5-11
  2. Acts ii, 1-11
  3. Is I, 4
  4. Ps iii, 15
  5. Matt x, 30
  6. Matt iii, 16-17
  7. Matt xvii, 19
  8. John xiv, 16; xv, 1
  9. 2 Pet I, xi
  10. Luke I, 64-67
  11. Matt I, 18
  12. Luke I, 35
  13. John iii, 3-5
  14. John iii, 6
  15. Sam xvii, 33-37
  16. Matt ix, 9
  17. 1 Cor iii, 16; vi, 19
  18. Rom viii, 31
  19. 1 John ii, 27
  20. 1 Pet iv, 14
  21. Matt xii, 33
  22. Gal v, 19-23
  23. Ibid
  24. 1 Cor xii, 3-11
  25. Acts v, 29-41
  26. John xiv, 16

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