So sometimes we speak. But, have we noticed, this is never the language of the New Testament. To begin with, it is not the language of Christ. There is an unmistakable emphasis in His words: “Because I have spoken these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is expedient for you that I go away.” When Paul was a prisoner in Rome, he wrote to the Philippians, saying, “I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better; yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake.” That is how a good man, in the prospect of death, naturally feels towards those who are in any way dependent on him. But Christ’s language is the very opposite of this; He says, not that it is needful to abide, but that it is expedient to depart. And in every reference to Christ by the apostles after His Ascension, the same note is struck. It is hardly too much to say, as one writer does, “that no apostle, no New Testament writer, ever remembered Christ." They thought of Him as belonging, not to the past, but to the present; He was the object, not of memory, but of faith. Never do they wish Him back in their midst; never do they mourn for Him as for a friend whom they have lost. On the contrary, they felt that Christ was with them now in a sense in which He had never been. There is no hint that any even of the Twelve would have gone back to the old days had it been possible. They had lost, but they had also gained, and their gain was greater than their loss. “Even though we have known Christ after the flesh,” they also would have said, “yet now we know Him so no more.” Read over again St. Luke’s account of our Lord’s Ascension: “He led them out until they were over against Bethany; and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and were continually in the temple, blessing God.” Christ had gone from them a second time, no more to return as before He had returned from the tomb; yet now it is not despair but joy which fills their hearts: “They returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” When in the Upper Room, Christ had said, “It is expedient for you that I go away,” sorrow had filled their hearts; but, now that He is gone, their sorrow is turned into joy. How shall we explain this strange reversal?
It is to be explained in part, of course, by the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, but mainly—and this is the fact with which just now we are concerned—by the gift of the Holy Spirit whom Christ had promised to His disciples to abide with them for ever. But now, what do we mean when we speak of the gift of the Holy Spirit? What is the Holy Spirit, and what is it that He does for us? Many of us, I think, must have felt how extremely unreal, and