01 June 2007
Spurgeon on Whitsunday
From early days, the church celebrated Whitsunday to commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other believers fifty days after the resurrection of Christ; an event that occurred during the Jewish festival called the “feast of weeks” or Pentecost (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10). The festival of Whitsunday owes its name to the white garments worn by those who were baptised during the vigil. And Pentecost derives its name from the Greek for “the fiftieth” (day after Easter).
Many interesting things have happened on Whitsunday through the Church’s history. After a disastrous season ministering in Georgia, the Wesley brothers returned to England believing their lives and ministry had failed. John Wesley wrote of his experience in Georgia, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?” The answer to his question came shortly after their return from America. Charles Wesley was the first of the two to be justified by faith. On Whitsunday, May 21, 1738, he experienced Pentecost. He wrote in his journal that the Spirit of God “chased away the darkness of my unbelief.”
Nearly 130 years later, Charles Spurgeon preached a message that explains why we must keep looking back to the church’s first Whitsunday (Pentecost) to find instruction on how to engage today’s generation with the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. Below is an edited portion from that sermon titled simply, “Pentecost.”
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
How absolutely necessary is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit! It is not possible for us to promote the glory of God or to bless the souls of men, unless the Holy Ghost shall be in us and with us.
Those who were assembled on that memorable day of Pentecost, were all men of prayer and faith; but even these precious gifts are only available when the celestial fire sets them on a blaze. Among them were the apostles and the seventy evangelists; yet even these favored and honoured saints can do nothing without the breath of God the Holy Ghost.
Surely, my brethren, if so it was with them, much more must it be the case with us. Let us beware of trusting to our well-adjusted machineries of committees and schemes; let us be jealous of all reliance upon our own mental faculties or religious vigor; let us be careful that we do not look too much to our leading preachers and evangelists, for if we put any of these in the place of the Divine Spirit, we shall err most fatally. Let us thank God for all gifts and for all offices, but oh, let us ever be reminded that gifts and offices are but as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, unless the quickening influence be present.
Now, I earnestly pray that, this morning I may stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance, by a simple exposition of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We are not observers of days and months, but it happens to be the season of the year in which the Early Church celebrated the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. We commonly talk of Whitsuntide, or White-Sunday, which name is not without its lesson.
In the earlier centuries on this particular day, in commemoration of the great baptism of the three thousand converted under the preaching of Peter, it was the custom of the Church to hold a great baptism, and the candidates for immersion being, as with us, robed in white — (hence the name “Candidates,” or “White ones”) — that Sunday was called White-Sunday.
The Season when the Spirit of God was given.
“When the day of Pentecost was fully come.” We may observe, first, that the Spirit of God was given in God’s chosen and appointed time. There is a set time to favor Zion. The Spirit is not at all times alike active in his manifest workings. Both to try our faith and to prove his own sovereignty, the right hand of the Lord is sometimes thrust into his bosom, and he will only make bare his arm only at such times and seasons as he shall have himself appointed. Brethren, if every drop of rain has its appointed birth-day, every gleam of light its predestinated pathway, and every spark of fire its settled hour of flying upward, certainly the will, foreknowledge, and decree of God must have arranged and settled the period of every revival, place of every gracious visitation. Times of refreshing, in a Church or a commonwealth, come not except as the Creator-Spirit has determined. In God’s accepted and appointed time, therefore, the light of heaven shall go forth; and although this is not to withhold or restrain us from asking for the Spirit every day, it is to encourage us if he do not at once begin to work, for if the vision tarry we are to wait for it, it shall come in due time — it will not tarry.
There was a further mystery in the season, for it was after the ascension. The Spirit of God was not given till after Jesus had been glorified. The various blessings which we receive are ascribable to different parts of Christ’s work. His life is our imputed righteousness; his death brings us pardon; his resurrection confers upon us justification; his ascension yields to us the Holy Spirit and those spiritual gifts which edify the body. “Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” As when Roman heroes returned from blood-red fields and the senate awarded them a triumph, they rode in their chariot drawn by milk-white steeds through the thronging streets of the capitol, so did Jesus Christ when he led captivity captive receive a triumph at his Father’s hands. The triumphal chariot bore him through the streets of glory, while all the inhabitants thereof with loud acclaim saluted him as Conqueror.
“Crown him! crown him! Crowns become the victor’s brow!”
It was the wont of the Roman conqueror as he rode along to distribute large quantities of money which were scattered among the admiring crowd. So our glorified Lord scattered gifts among men, yea to the rebellious also he gave those gifts that the Lord God might dwell among them; in this manner, then, to grace the triumph of Jesus, the Spirit of God was liberally poured out upon the Church below. Perhaps you remind me that our Lord had ascended ten days before. I know he had, but the delay might teach them patience. Not always does the flower bloom from the root in one hour. Christ has ascended and heaven is ringing with his praise, they have kept ten days of joyous holiday before the eternal throne, and now when Pentecost is fully come, the rushing mighty wind is heard.
Do you think, my brethren and sisters, that we plead Christ’s ascension enough as a reason why the Church should be blessed with the Spirit? I know we often reach as far as “By thine agony and bloody sweat, by thy cross and passion, by thy precious death and burial, by thy glorious resurrection,” — but do we proceed to “by thine ascension we beseech thee to hear us?” I am afraid we fail to perceive that the ascension of Christ is to be used as an argument in prayer, when we would have the Church revived by the holy breath of God, or have gifts bestowed upon her ministers and Church-officers.
Moreover, there is yet more teaching in the season. It was at Pentecost. Pentecost was a harvest-festival. On that day the sheaf was waved before the Lord and the harvest consecrated. The Passover was to our Savior the time of his solving, but Pentecost was the day of his reaping, and the fields which were ripe to the harvest when he sat on the well, are reaped now that he sits upon the throne.
But certainly the Spirit of God was given at Pentecost because there was then the most need of it. On that occasion vast crowds were gathered from all regions. The God of wisdom always knoweth how to time his gifts. What would have been the use of granting the many tongues when no strangers were ready to hear? If there had been no Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and dwellers in Mesopotamia collected in Jerusalem, there would have been no need for the cloven tongues; but inasmuch as the city was full and the high festival was being kept by unusual multitudes, it was most fit and right that now the Lord should say — “Thrust in thy sickle, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”
Dear friends, I think that whenever we see unusual gatherings of men, whenever the Spirit of hearing is poured out upon the people, we ought to pray for and expect an unusual visitation of the Spirit; and when I look upon these crowds assembled in this house every Sabbath year after year, I can but entreat you to cry mightily to him with whom is the residue of the Spirit that he would give us a Pentecost, for though neither Parthians, nor Medes, nor Elamites are here, yet there scarcely ever passes a Sabbath without there being representatives of almost all nations under heaven who hear the wonderful works of God, not in their own tongue it is true, but yet in a language which they understand. Oh! pray that the Spirit of God may fall upon the unexampled hosts assembled here.
Still, dear friends, we have not dwelt upon a leading reason why the Holy Spirit descended at this special season. “They were all with one accord in one place.” We have been expecting to see the days of heaven upon earth. Our soul has longed to hear the voice of God thundering out of heaven. We have hoped for days such as our fathers have told us comforted them in the old time. We looked to see thousands born in a day; alas, the vision cometh not. But look at our country! We have had spasms of revival; that is as much as I can say. Even the Irish revival, for which we can never sufficiently bless God, was but as a passing cloud; it was not an abiding, resting shower, and so with all the shakings we have had in these later times. We have had but glimpses where we wanted sights; we have had but twilight where we needed the sacred, everlasting noon.
What is the reason of this? Perhaps it is to be found in our want of union. “They were all with one accord in one place.” Christians cannot all be in one place. We have no room that would be large enough to hold them, blessed be God! But if they cannot all be in one place, yet they can all be of one accord. Oh! when there are no cold hearts, when there are no prejudices to divide us, no bigotries to separate; no apathy shall hold us down, no false doctrine shall thrust the flocks from one another, and no schism to rend the one sacred garment of Christ, then may we expect to see the Spirit of God resting upon us. And in any one Church where shall be no strife which shall be the greatest, no division about peculiarities, no fighting for respectabilities and selfishnesses, but when the Church are of one accord, then may we expect to hear the sound of abundance of heaven’s rain.
Note, dear friends, what they were doing. They were not merely unanimous, but they were earnest about one grand object. They had all been praying. Read the first chapter and you will perceive that they had been much in prayer. The whole of the time since the ascent of our Lord they had been occupied in constant supplication, and so pleading both day and night, it was no great wonder that the granaries of heaven should be unlocked. We have had weeks of prayer at the beginning of the last few years, and it was well, but if we had continued in prayer all the weeks of the year, if we had always been with one accord still crying unto heaven, still wrestling with the angel, still interceding, surely the little cloud, like a man’s hand, which the eye of faith has seen, would by this time have covered all the heavens, and have discharged a plenteous shower upon all nations of men. There must be unity, but that unity must not be the frozen union of death, but the glorious welding of a glowing furnace heat.
They had been much in prayer, and now I see them sitting still. Wherefore sit they so quietly? It is the quietude of expectation. When God’s Church adds expectation to supplication, then a blessing tarries no longer. We ask, but we do not expect to receive. We pray, but probably nothing would so alarm us as the answer to our prayers. If after having pleaded with God to send his Holy Spirit the Holy Spirit did come, there are many who would not believe it, there are others who would think it a mere excitement, and there are multitudes who would shut their eyes to it altogether. Oh Spirit of God! work in the hearts of thy children perfect harmony, intense anxiety, and confident expectation, and then wilt thou come to do thy mighty deeds once more.
These remarks concerning the season may lead to many practical questions; I will but put them rapidly, and leave them. Do I help to hinder the coming of the Spirit by any bitterness of my temper? Do I by any want of love tend to divide the Church? Are my prayers such as are likely to prevail? And when I pray do I expect the blessing of God? If not, how mournful that I should be the means of restraining and limiting the Holy One of Israel, that I should be a Church-robber, and commit sacrilege against the Church of God, not by stealing its gold and silver, but by closing the treasury of God! Let us as a Church humble ourselves under the hand of God, and then, girding up the loins of our mind, to wait upon him with patience and earnestness until the Spirit be poured out from on high!