George Whitefield Sermon 42

Marks of having Received the Holy Ghost.

Acts 19:2, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?"

Two different significations have been given of these words. Some have

supposed, that the question here put, is, Whether these disciples, whom St.

Paul found at Ephesus, had received the Holy Ghost by imposition of hands

at confirmation? Others think, these disciples had been already baptized

into John's baptism; which not being attended with an immediate effusion of

the Holy Spirit, the Apostle here asks them, Whether they had received the

Holy Ghost by being baptized into Jesus Christ? And upon their answering in

the negative, he first baptized, and then confirmed them in the name of the

Lord Jesus.

Which of these interpretations is the most true, is neither easy nor

very necessary to determine. However, as the words contain a most important

inquiry, without any reference to the context, I shall from them,

FIRST, Show who the Holy Ghost here spoken of, is; and that we must

all receive him, before we can be stiled true believers.

SECONDLY, I shall lay down some scripture marks whereby we may know,

whether we have thus received the Holy Ghost or not. And

THIRDLY, By way of conclusion, address myself to several distinct

classes of professors, concerning the doctrine that shall have been


FIRST, I am to show who the Holy Ghost spoken of in the text, is; and

that we must all receive him before we can be stiled true believers.

By the Holy Ghost is plainly signified the Holy Spirit, the third

Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, consubstantial and co-eternal with the

Father and the Son, proceeding from, yet equal to them both. He is

emphatically called Holy, because infinitely holy in himself, and the

author and finisher of all holiness in us.

This blessed Spirit, who once moved on the face of the great deep; who

over-shadowed the blessed Virgin before that holy child was born of her;

who descended in a bodily shape, like a dove, on our blessed Lord, when he

came up out of the water at his baptism; and afterwards came down in fiery

tongues on the heads of all his Apostles at the day of Pentecost: this is

the Holy Ghost, who must move on the faces of our souls; this power of the

Most High, must come upon us, and we must be baptized with his baptism and

refining fire, before we can be stiled true members of Christ'' mystical


Thus says the Apostle Paul, "Know ye not that Jesus Christ is in you,

(that is, by his Spirit) unless you are reprobates?" And, "If any man hath

not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his," And again, says St. John, "We

know that we are his, by the Spirit that he hath given us."

It is not, indeed, necessary that we should have the Spirit now given

in that miraculous manner, in which he was at first given to our Lord's

Apostles, by signs and wonders, but it is absolutely necessary, that we

should receive the Holy Ghost in his sanctifying graces, as really as they

did: and so will it continue to be till the end of the world.

For this stands the case between God and man: God at first made man

upright, or as the sacred Penman expresses it, "In the image of God made he

man;" that is, his soul was the very copy, the transcript of the divine

nature. He, who before, by his almighty fiat, spoke the world into being,

breathed into man the breath of spiritual life, and his soul was adorned

with a resemblance of the perfections of Deity. This was the finishing

stroke of the creation: the perfection both of the moral and material

world. And so near did man resemble his divine Original, that God could not

but rejoice and take pleasure in his own likeness: And therefore we read,

that when God had finished the inanimate and brutish part of the creation,

he looked upon it, and beheld it was good; but when that lovely, God-like

creature man was made, behold it was very good.

Happy, unspeakably happy must man needs be, when thus a partaker of

the divine nature. And thus might he have still continued, had he continued

holy. But God placed him in a state of probation, with a free grant to eat

of every tree in the garden of Eden, except the tree of knowledge of good

and evil: the day he should eat thereof, he was surely to die; that is, not

only to be subject to temporal, but spiritual death; and consequently, to

lose that divine image, that spiritual life God had not long since breathed

into him, and which was as much his happiness as his glory.

These, one would imagine, were easy conditions for a finite creature's

happiness to depend on. But man, unhappy man, being seduced by the devil,

and desiring, like him, to be equal with his Maker, did eat of the

forbidden fruit; and thereby became liable to that curse, which the eternal

God, who cannot lie, had denounced against his disobedience.

Accordingly we read, that soon after Adam had fallen, he complained

that he was naked; naked, not only as to his body, but naked and destitute

of those divine graces which, before decked and beautified his soul. The

unhappy mutiny, and disorder which the visible creation fell into, the

briars and thorns which not sprung up and overspread the earth, were but

poor emblems, lifeless representations of that confusion and rebellion, and

those divers lusts and passions which sprung up in, and quite overwhelmed

the soul of man immediately after the fall. Alas! he was now no longer the

image of the invisible God; but as he had imitated the devil's sin, he

became as it were a partaker of the devil's nature, and from an union with,

sunk into a state of direct enmity against God.

Now in this dreadful disordered condition, are all of us brought into

the world: for as the root is, such must the branches be. Accordingly we

are told, "That Adam beget a son in his own likeness;" or, with the same

corrupt nature which he himself had, after he had eaten the forbidden

fruit. And experience as well as scripture proves, that we also are

altogether born in sin and corruption; and therefore incapable, whilst in

such a state, to hole communion with God. For as light cannot have

communion with darkness, so God can have no communion with such polluted

sons of Belial.

Here then appears the end and design why Christ was manifest in the

flesh; to put an end to these disorders, and to restore us to that

primitive dignity in which we were at first created. Accordingly he shed

his precious blood to satisfy his Father's justice for our sins; and

thereby also he procured for us the Holy Ghost, who should once more re-

instamp the divine image upon our hearts, and make us capable of living

with and enjoying the blessed God.

This was the great end of our Lord's coming into the world; nay, this

is the only end why the world itself is now kept in being. For as soon as a

sufficient number are sanctified out of it, the heavens shall be wrapped up

like a scroll, the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth, and

all that therein is, shall be burnt up.

This sanctification of the Spirit, is that new birth mentioned by our

blessed Lord to Nicodemus, "without which we cannot see the kingdom of

God." This is what St. Paul calls being "renewed in the spirit of our

minds;" and it is the spring of that holiness, without which no man shall

see the Lord.

Thus then, it is undeniably certain, we must receive the Holy Ghost

ere we can be stiled true members of Christ's mystical body. I come in the

SECOND place to lay down some scriptural marks, whereby we may easily

judge, whether we have thus received the Holy Ghost or not. And the

FIRST I shall mention, is, our having received a spirit of prayer and

supplication; for that always accompanies the spirit of grace. No sooner

was Paul converted, but "behold he prayeth." And this was urged as an

argument, to convince Ananias that he was converted. And God's elect are

also said to "cry to him day and night."

And since one great work of the Holy Spirit is to convince us of sin,

and to set us upon seeking pardon and renewing grace, through the all-

sufficient merits of a crucified Redeemer, whosoever has felt the power of

the world to come, awakening him from his spiritual lethargy, cannot but be

always crying out, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?" Or, in the

language of the importunate blind Bartimeus, "Jesus, thou Son of David,

have mercy upon me."

The blessed Jesus, as he received the Holy Ghost without measure, so

he evidenced it by nothing more, than his frequent addresses at the throne

of grace. Accordingly we read, that he was often alone on the mountain

praying; that he rose a great while before day to pray: nay, that he spent

whole nights in prayer. And whosoever is made partaker of the same Spirit

which the holy Jesus, will be of the same mind, and delight in nothing so

much, as to "draw nigh unto God," and lift up holy hands and hearts in

frequent and devout prayer.

It must be confessed, indeed, that this spirit of supplication is

often as it were sensibly lost, and decays, for some time, even in those

who have actually received the Holy Ghost. Through spiritual dryness and

barrenness of soul, they find in themselves a listlessness and backwardness

to this duty of prayer; but then they esteem it as their cross, and still

persevere in seeking Jesus, though it be sorrowing: and their hearts,

notwithstanding, are fixed upon God, though they cannot exert their

affections so strongly as usual, on account of that spiritual deadness,

which God, for wise reasons, has suffered to benumb their souls.

But as for the formal believer, it is not so with him: no; he either

prays not at all, or if he does enter into his closet, it is with

reluctance, out of custom, or to satisfy the checks of his conscience.

Whereas, the true believer can no more live without prayer, than without

food day by day. And he finds his soul as really and perceptibly fed by the

one, as his body is nourished and supported by the other. A

SECOND scripture mark of our having received the Holy Ghost, is, Not

committing sin.

"Whosoever is born of God, (says St. John) sinneth not, neither can he

sin, because his seed remaineth in him." Neither can he sin. This

expression does not imply the impossibility of a Christian's sinning: for

we are told, that "in many things we offend all:" It only means thus much:

that a man who is really born again of God, doth not willfully commit sin,

much less live in the habitual practice of it. For how shall he that is

dead to sin, as every converted person is, live any longer therein?

It is true, a man that is born again of God, may, through surprise, or

the violence of a temptation, fall into an act of sin: witness the adultery

of David, and Peter's denial of his Master. But then, like them, he quickly

rises again, goes out from the world, and weeps bitterly; washes the guilt

of sin away by the tears of sincere repentance, joined with faith in the

blood of Jesus Christ; takes double heed to his ways for the future, and

perfects holiness in the fear of God.

The meaning of this expression of the Apostle, that "a man who is born

of God, cannot commit sin," has been fitly illustrated, by the example of a

covetous worldling, to the general bent of whose inclinations, liberality

and profuseness are directly opposite: but if, upon some unexpected, sudden

occasion, he does play the prodigal, he immediately repents him of his

fault, and returns with double care to his niggardliness again. And so is

every one that is born again: to commit sin, is as contrary to the habitual

frame and tendency of his mind, as generosity is to the inclinations of a

miser; but if at any time, he is drawn into sin, he immediately, with

double zeal, returns to his duty, and brings forth fruits meet for

repentance. Whereas, the unconverted sinner is quite dead in trespasses and

sins: or if he does abstain from gross acts of it, through worldly selfish

motives, yet, there is some right eye he will not pluck out; some right-

hand which he will not cut off; some specious Agag that he will not

sacrifice for God; and thereby he is convinced that he is but a mere Saul:

and consequently, whatever pretensions he may make to the contrary, he has

not yet received the Holy Ghost. A

THIRD mark whereby we may know, whether or not we have received the

Holy Ghost, is, Our conquest over the world.

"For whosoever is born of God, (says the Apostle) overcometh the

world." By the world, we are to understand, as St. John expressed it, "all

that is in the world, the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the

pride of life:" And by overcoming of it, is meant, our renouncing these, so

as not to follow or be led by them: for whosoever is born from above, has

his affections set on things above: he feels a divine attraction in his

soul, which forcibly draws his mind heavenwards; and as the hart panteth

after the water-brooks, so doth it make his soul so long after the

enjoyment of his God.

Not that he is so taken up with the affairs of another life, as to

neglect the business of this: No; a truly spiritual man dares not stand any

day idle; but then he takes care, though he laboreth for the meat which

perisheth, first to secure that which endureth to everlasting life. Or, if

God has exalted him above his brethren, yet, like Moses, Joseph, and

Daniel, he, notwithstanding, looks upon himself as a stranger and pilgrim

upon earth: having received a principle of new life, he walks by faith and

not by sight; and his hopes being full of immortality, he can look on all

things here below as vanity and vexation of spirit: In short, though he is

in, yet he is not of the world; and as he was made for the enjoyment of

God, so nothing but God can satisfy his soul.

The ever-blessed Jesus was a perfect instance of overcoming the world.

For though he went about continually doing good, and always lived as in a

press and throng; yet, wherever he was, his conversation tended

heavenwards. In like manner, he that is joined to the Lord in one spirit,

will so order his thoughts, words, and actions, that he will evidence to

all, that his conversation is in heaven.

On the contrary, an unconverted man being of the earth, is earthy; and

having no spiritual eye to discern spiritual things, he is always seeking

for happiness in this life, where it never was, will, or can be found.

Being not born again from above, he is bowed down by a spirit of natural

infirmity: the serpent's curse becomes his choice, and he eats of the dust

of the earth all the days of his life. A

FOURTH scripture mark of our having received the Holy Ghost, is, Our

loving one another.

"We know (says St. John) we are passed from death unto life, because

we love the brethren." "And by this (says Christ himself) shall all men

know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one towards another." Love

is the fulfilling of the gospel, as well as of the law: for "God is love;

and whosoever dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God."

But by this love we are not to understand a softness and tenderness of

mere nature, or a love founded on worldly motives (for this a natural man

may have); but a love of our brethren, proceeding from love towards God:

loving all men in general, because to their relation to God; and loving

good men in particular, for the grace we see in them, and because they love

our Lord Jesus in sincerity.

This is Christian charity, and that new commandment which Chris gave

to his disciples. NEW, not in its object, but in the motive and example

whereon it is founded, even Jesus Christ. This is that love which the

primitive Christians were so renowned for, that it became a proverb, SEE

HOW THESE CHRISTIANS LOVE ONE ANOTHER. And without this love, though we

should give all our goods to feed the poor, and our bodies to be burnt, it

would profit us nothing.

Further, this love is not confined to any particular set of men, but

is impartial and catholic: A love that embraces God's image wherever it

beholds it, and that delights in nothing so much as to see Christ's kingdom


This is the love wherewith Jesus Christ loved mankind: He loved all,

even the worst of men, as appears by his weeping over the obstinately

perverse; but wherever he saw the least appearance of the divine likeness,

that soul he loved in particular. Thus we read, that when he heard the

young man say, "All these things have I kept from my youth," that so far he

loved him. And when he saw any noble instance of faith, though in a

Centurion and a Syrophonecian, aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, how is

he said to marvel at, to rejoice in, speak of, and commend it? So every

spiritual disciple of Jesus Christ will cordially embrace all who worship

God in spirit and in truth, however they may differ as to the appendages of

religion, and in things not essentially necessary to salvation.

I confess, indeed, that the heart of a natural man is not thus

enlarged all at once; and a person may really have received the Holy Ghost,

(as Peter, no doubt, had when he was unwilling to go to Cornelius) though

he be not arrived to this: but then, where a person is truly in Christ, all

narrowness of spirit decreases in him daily; the partition wall of bigotry

and party zeal is broken down more and more; and the nearer he comes to

heaven, the more his heart is enlarged with that love, which there will

make no difference between any people, nation, or language, but we shall

all, with one heart, and one voice, sing praises to him that sitteth upon

the throne for ever. But I hasten to a

FIFTH scripture mark, Loving our enemies.

"I say unto you, (says Jesus Christ) Love your enemies, bless them

that curse you, do good to those that hate you, ad pray for them that

despitefully use you and persecute you." And this duty of loving your

enemies is so necessary, that without it, our righteousness does not exceed

the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, or even of Publicans and

sinners: "For if you do good to them only, who do good to you, what do you

more than others?" What do you extraordinary? "Do not even the Publicans

the same?" And these precepts our Lord confirmed by his own example; when

he wept over the bloody city; when he suffered himself to be led as a sheep

to the slaughter; when he made that mile reply to the traitor Judas,

"Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" and more especially,

when in the agonies and pangs of death, he prayed for his very murderers,

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

This is a difficult duty to the natural man; but whosoever is made

partaker of the promise of the Spirit, will find it practicable and easy:

for if we are born again of God, we must be like him, and consequently

delight to be perfect in this duty of doing good to our worst enemies in

the same manner, though not in the same degree as he is perfect: He sends

his rain on the evil and the good; causeth his sun to shine on the just and

unjust; and more especially commended his love towards us, that whilst we

were his enemies, he sent forth his Son, born of a woman, made under the

law, that he might become a curse for us.

Many other marks are scattered up and down the scriptures, whereby we

may know whether or not we have received the Holy Ghost: such as, "to be

carnally minded, is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace."

"Now the fruits of the Spirit are joy, peace, long-suffering, meekness,"

with a multitude of texts to the same purpose. But as most, if not all of

them, are comprehended in the duties already laid down, I dare affirm,

whosoever upon an impartial examination, can find the aforesaid marks on

his soul, may be as certain, as though an angel was to tell him, that his

pardon is sealed in heaven.

As for my own part, I had rather see these divine graces, and this

heavenly temper stamped upon my soul, than to hear an angel from heaven

saying unto me, Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.

These are infallible witnesses; these are Emmanuel, God with and in

us; these make up that white stone, which none knoweth, saving he who hath

receiveth it; these are the earnests of the heavenly inheritance in our

hearts: In short, these are glory begun, and are that good thing, that

better part, and which if you continue to stir up this gift of God, neither

men nor devils shall ever be able to take from us.

I proceed, as was proposed, in the THIRD place, to make an application

of the doctrine delivered, to several distinct classes of professors. And

FIRST, I shall address myself to those who are dead in trespasses and

sins. And, O how could I weep over you, as our Lord wept over Jerusalem?

For, alas! how distant must you be from God? What a prodigious work have

you to finish, who, instead of praying day and night, seldom or never pray

at all? And, instead of being born again of God, so as not to commit sin,

are so deeply sunk into the nature of devils, as to make a mock at it? Or,

instead of overcoming the world, so as not to follow or be led by it, are

continually making provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.

And, instead of being endued with the god-like disposition of loving all

men, even your enemies, have your hearts full of hatred, malice, and

revenge, and deride those who are the sincere followers of the lowly Jesus.

But think you, O sinners, that God will admit such polluted wretches into

his sight? Or should he admit you, do you imagine you could take any

pleasure in him? No; heaven itself would be no heaven to you; the devilish

dispositions which are in your hearts, would render all the spiritual

enjoyments of those blessed mansions, ineffectual to make you happy. To

qualify you to be blissful partakers of that heavenly inheritance with the

saints in light, there is a meetness required: to attain which, ought to be

the chief business of your lives.

It is true, you, as well as the righteous, in one sense, shall see

God; (for we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ) but you

must see him once, never to see him more. For as you carry about in you the

devil's image, with devils you must dwell: being of the same nature, you

must share the same doom. "Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your

sins may be blotted out." See that you receive the Holy Ghost, before you

go hence: for otherwise, how can you escape the damnation of hell?

SECONDLY, Let me apply myself to those who deceive themselves with

false hopes of salvation. Some, through the influence of a good education,

or other providential restraints, have not run into the same excess of riot

with other men, and they think they have no need to receive the Holy Ghost,

but flatter themselves that they are really born again.

But do you show it by bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit? Do you

pray without ceasing? Do you not commit sin? Have you overcome the world?

And do you love your enemies, and all mankind, in the same manner, as Jesus

Christ loved them?

If these things, brethren, be in you and abound, then may you have

confidence towards God; but if not, although you may be civilized, yet you

are not converted: no, you are yet in your sins. The nature of the old Adam

still reigneth in your souls; and unless the nature of the second Adam be

grafted in its room, you can never see God.

Think not, therefore, to dress yourselves up in the ornaments of a

good nature, and civil education, and say with Agag, "surely the bitterness

of death is past;" For God's justice, notwithstanding that, like Samuel,

shall hew you to pieces. However you may be highly esteemed in the sight of

men, yet, in the sight of God, you are but like the apples of Sodom,

dunghills covered over with snow, mere whited sepulchers, appearing a

little beautiful without, but inwardly full of corruption and of all

uncleanness: and consequently will be dismissed at the last day with a

"Verily, I know you not."

But the word of God is profitable for comfort as well as correction.

THIRDLY, Therefore I address myself to those who are under the

drawings of the Father, and are exercised with the Spirit of bondage, and

not finding the marks before mentioned, are crying out, Who shall deliver

us from the body of this death?

But fear not, little flock; for notwithstanding your present infant

state of grace, it shall be your father's good pleasure to give you the

kingdom. The grace of God, through Jesus Christ, shall deliver you, and

give you what you thirst after: He hath promised, he will also do it. Ye

shall receive the spirit of adoption, that promise of the Father, if you

faint not: only persevere in seeking it; and determine not to be at rest in

you soul, till you know and feel that you are thus born again from above,

and God's Spirit witnesseth with your spirits that you are the children of


FOURTHLY and LASTLY, I address myself to those who have received the

Holy Ghost in all his sanctifying graces, and are almost ripe for glory.

Hail, happy saints! For your heaven is begun on earth: you have

already received the first fruits of the Spirit, and are patiently waiting

till that blessed change come, when your harvest shall be complete. I see

and admire you, though, alas! at so great a distance from you: your life, I

know, is hid with Christ in God. You have comforts, you have meat to eat,

which a sinful, carnal, ridiculing world knows nothing of. Christ's yoke is

not become easy to you, and his burden light. You have passed through the

pangs of the new birth, and now rejoice that Christ Jesus is spiritually

formed in your hearts. You know what it is to dwell in Christ, and Christ

in you. Like Jacob's ladder, although your bodies are on earth, yet your

souls and hearts are in heaven: and by your faith and constant

recollection, like the blessed angels, you do always behold the face of

your Father which is in heaven.

I need not exhort you to press forward, for you know that in walking

in the Spirit there is a great reward. Rather will I exhort you, in

patience to possess your souls yet a little while, and Jesus Christ will

deliver you from the burden of the flesh, and an abundant entrance shall be

administered to you, into the eternal joy and uninterrupted felicity of his

heavenly kingdom.

Which God of his infinite mercy grant, through Jesus Christ our Lord:

To whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, three Persons and one God, be

ascribed all honor, power, and glory, for ever and ever.