The coming of the spirit

The disciples, not only the eleven but also the larger circle who had been won by Jesus in the days of his flesh, were further strengthened and empowered by the fulfilment of a promise which had been given them by their risen Lord. On Pentecost, the Jewish feast which came fifty days after the second day of, the Passover, there came upon the group in Jerusalem — a group which may have numbered slightly above a hundred — what they called the Holy Spirit. It was that occasion to which a large proportion of later Christians looked back as the birthday of the Christian Church. The continuing presence of the Holy Spirit was regarded by Christians as an essential feature of their life and faith.

Out of their experience with Jesus and with the Holy Spirit Christians found their conception of God enlarged and incalculably enriched. They continued to believe in one God and to name Him, as many pre-Christian Jews had done, Father. But they also believed that in Jesus they had seen God, that in Jesus the eternal Logos (a word which they found in current Hellenistic philosophic terminology) which was God Himself had be come flesh. They likewise were convinced that the power which they found at work within them and within the Christian fellowship was also God. Jews as the early Christians were, nurtured on the great central affirmation of Judaism, "Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord thy God, the Lord is one," they were constrained, possibly to their surprise, to think of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Three in One. The intellectual issues raised by that illumination were to have perennial interest and became major subjects of thought, and, sad to relate, of controversy. The experience could never be adequately expressed in words, although some of the creeds or symbols which were devised in an attempt to do so gained wide, indeed, almost universal acceptance among those who bore the Christian name. Nor could all the questions about it be answered with entire satisfaction. Always there was mystery, yet belief in the Trinity, based upon early and continuing experience, became a distinguishing characteristic of Christianity.

The effects of the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples were and are of major importance. From discouraged, disillusioned men and women who sadly looked back upon the days when they had hoped that Jesus "was he who should redeem Israel," they were made over into a company of enthusiastic witnesses. From them, as we are to see in the next chapter, faith in Jesus as Christ spread rapidly and spontaneously to many centres of the Graco-Roman world and even beyond it. They did not lose their individual characteristics nor were they immediately emancipated from their weaknesses. Most of the eleven apostles seem to have remained obscure. At least we do not have authentic reports of most of them after Pentecost. Except as names cherished in the memory of the Church and for stories about them which cannot be verified, the majority of them disappear from history. Indeed, we are not sure of the names of all of them, for the lists given do not fully agree. Peter, of whom we hear the most, for some time failed to grasp the full import of the universality of the Gospel which Jesus proclaimed and embodied and we read that on one occasion, either through lack of clarity of thought or cowardice, he compromised a principle which he had acknowledged. The disciples, like other men and Christians through the ages, remained human. Yet in them was a power, a life, which came to them through Jesus and which worked moral and spiritual transformation. That power, that life, proved contagious. The record of their operation in subsequent centuries is the history of Christianity.

How far were that power and that life to be effective? That they were potent within individual lives and groups is incontrovertible, but could the power displayed in the resurrection and at Pentecost remake the world, which had crucified Jesus? Was history to prove that early Christian to be right when he declared that God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved? That by the crucifixion the world, even at its seeming best, had been judged and found wanting is clear. But was the power that raised Jesus from the dead and which worked within the followers of Jesus completely to reshape that world and make it and all mankind to conform fully to the "high calling of God in Christ Jesus"? Could it lift even those who bore the Christian name "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ?" It is questions such as these that the history of Christianity should enable us to answer.

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