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
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
"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
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.