Here’s a thought to make the soul stagger: if you are in Christ, then the God of highest heaven has made your heart his home. The Holy Spirit has moved in, so to speak, filling your soul’s halls and rooms with himself. And he will never, ever move out.
“If anyone loves me,” Jesus told his disciples, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). In Christ, not only do we have a home in heaven (John 14:2), but heaven has made a home in us now. Already, we feel some of the warmth of our Father’s fireplace, and hear some of his music dancing down the halls, and smell some of the food from his table, because the very Spirit of that home is here.
And what a Spirit he is. Richard Sibbes (1577–1635), one of the great Puritan theologians of the Spirit, writes that when the Spirit takes us “for a house for himself,” he
doth also become unto us a counselor in all our doubts, a comforter in all our distresses, a solicitor to all duty, a guide in the whole course of life, until we dwell with him forever in heaven, unto which his dwelling here in us doth tend. (The Works of Richard Sibbes, 5:414)
Before the Spirit brings us to heaven, he brings something of heaven to us. How foolish, then, to ignore or refuse this glorious guest — and how happy to host him well.
Entertaining the Spirit
Sibbes, in his seventeenth-century way, liked to talk of “entertaining” the Spirit, by which he simply referred to our showing him hospitality (as in the language of Hebrews 13:2, “Some have entertained angels unawares”). If the Holy Spirit dwells in us (Romans 8:9–11), then our great duty and joy is to entertain him, to welcome him, to lovingly host him until he brings us to heaven.
And how? Consider four pieces of counsel from Sibbes, a master in Spiritual hospitality.
1. Hear his voice.
The Spirit, like the best of guests, comes to speak with us. And though he may at times impart a prophetic word (1 Corinthians 12:8, 10), he speaks most clearly, and with final authority, in the pages of Scripture. These are the words he once breathed out (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21), and for those with ears to hear, they are “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), the Spirit’s breath still warm upon them.
“Read the Bible” is, I suppose, old counsel for most of us. But Sibbes alerts us to two common ways we read Scripture with ears muffled to the Spirit: by hearing selectively, and by hearing superficially.
“If the Spirit‘s words never wound us (and then heal us), we are not hearing his voice.”
First, he writes, “It is a dangerous grieving of the Spirit, when, instead of drawing ourselves to the Spirit, we will labour to draw the Spirit to us” (Works, 5:420). He has in mind the person who reads Scripture to hear not what the Spirit actually says — however uncomfortable it may be — but what he wants the Spirit to say. How easily I forget that the “living and active” word is also “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12) — and the Spirit wields the weapon. If his words never wound us (and then heal us), we are not hearing his voice.
Second, Sibbes speaks directly into our hurried age:
Another way whereby we commonly grieve the Spirit of God is, when the mind is troubled with a multitude of business . . . for multitude of business begets multitudes of passions and distractions; that when God’s Spirit dictates the best things that tend to our comfort and peace, we have no time to hear. (422)
The Spirit’s voice can be drowned by the noise of a distracted life (Mark 4:19). We may hear his word in a quick, cursory way, as a husband hears his wife while rushing out the door. But “we have no time” to listen, unhurried and undistracted, so that the Spirit’s voice sinks down deep.
Hearing the Spirit — really hearing him — takes humility, time, and quiet, just as hearing a spouse or a friend does. We would do well, then, first thing in the morning, and perhaps at key moments throughout the day, to dismiss all other company from the soul and invite the Spirit to speak.
2. Heed his motions.
Intimately related to the Spirit’s voice are what Sibbes calls the Spirit’s “motions.” By “motions,” he refers not to what some today call “impressions” (often a sense that we should take some unusual course of action), but what many of us might call “conviction.” Motions are spiritual promptings to apply a specific part of Scripture — read, heard, or remembered — to a specific part of life.
Say, for example, that you hear a sermon or teaching on fasting, and (as happened to me recently) you sense your negligence in this spiritual discipline and feel the need to change. You may in that moment be feeling one of the Spirit’s motions, “sent to make way for God in our hearts” (Works, 5:426).
Now, the question is, What will you do? We likely can resonate with Sibbes when he says, “How many holy motions are kindled in hearing the word, and receiving the sacraments, etc., which die as soon as they are kindled for want of resolution!” (428). Sermon over, we leave the gathering, get caught in the current of the day, and forget what we felt (James 1:22–24). The Spirit has invited us to enjoy more of his presence and power, and by our actions we have silently said no.
How then do we heed the Spirit’s motions? Through what Paul calls a “resolve for good” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). Sibbes writes, “When the Spirit suggests good motions, turn them presently into holy resolutions. Is this my duty, and that which tends to my comfort? Certainly I will do it. Let not those motions die in us” (428). Sermon over, we leave the gathering and perhaps tell a trusted friend what we’ve felt, discerning if the motion was truly spiritual. If so, we might then make a plan for how we will “work out” the Spirit’s motions “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), laboring to open every door to him.
3. Hate his enemies.
Opening every door to him requires closing every door to sin. As Sibbes writes, “Who will think himself well entertained into an house, when there shall be entertainment given to his greatest enemy with him, and shall see more regard had, and better countenance shewed, to his enemy than to him?” (Works, 5:419). Holiness is far more than keeping some abstract law or code of conduct. Holiness begins with good hospitality.
“How many of our excuses for sin would wither and die if we remembered the holy guest in our souls?”
How many of our excuses for sin would wither and die if we remembered the holy guest in our souls? Where can we go from this Spirit? Or where can we flee from his presence? If we ascend to angry heights, he is there. If we make our bed in hidden fantasies, he is there. If we take the wings of the morning and sin where no human eye sees, even there he with us; even there his heart grieves (Ephesians 4:30).
Hear Sibbes’s spiritually sane counsel: “Take heed of little sins, which we count lesser sins perhaps than God doth” (429). Yes, take heed of little sins, for every sin, if given entertainment, will seek to destroy the Spirit’s work. Take heed of gossip and borderline shows. Take heed of greed and second glances. Take heed of bitterness and snap judgments. Take heed as you would of a thief at your door.
The counsel will not sound too strict to those who have enjoyed the Spirit’s fellowship. When he is Master of the house, and all enemies are outside, then the music plays, the feast arrives, the fires blaze; then the soul rests happy at home. And so, we will not hesitate to say, “Come and help me kill your foes” (Romans 8:13).
4. Have his grace.
Of course, anyone who has entertained the Spirit knows what it feels like to grieve the Spirit — to stifle his voice, kill his motions, welcome his enemies (Ephesians 4:30). And yet, even in the aftermath of those miserable moments, we need not wait to entertain him again — or worse, try to work our way back to a welcome. No, we can entertain him right here, right now, by agreeing to have his grace.
To entertain the Spirit is, in essence, to welcome the Spirit in his various offices. And his most precious office is to glorify Jesus (John 16:14). We are never more hospitable, therefore, than when we let him lift our eyes to Christ.
“Let not our despairing hearts cross the Spirit in his comforts,” Sibbes writes (Works, 5:428). To refuse the Spirit’s comfort, even after we have confessed our sin, may feel humble. But those who persistently refuse the Spirit’s comfort persistently refuse the Spirit himself, as much as a host who leaves his guest outside.
Let your broken heart take courage. The Spirit comes to us with grace. He comes with comfort. He comes to give us Jesus Christ.
Heaven’s Happiness on Earth
“It is the happiest condition in the world,” Sibbes writes, “when the soul is the temple of the Holy Spirit; when the heart is as the ‘holy of holies,’ where there be prayers and praises offered to God. . . . While the Spirit and his motions are entertained by us we shall be happy in life, happy in death, happy to eternity” (Works, 5:432).
The deepest, most durable happiness, a hint of heaven’s own joy, can be felt here below. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who entertain him. So, hear his voice, heed his motions, hate his enemies, have his grace — and welcome the indwelling Spirit of joy.