SERMON: The Paraclete, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

But now I go away to Him who sent me, and none of you asks me, “Where are you going?”  But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you. And when he has come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, because I go to my father and you see me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak; and he will tell you things to come. He will glorify me, for he will take of what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:5-14)

Notes (for it seems that written sermons do no good) – This Gospel and those for the other Sundays after Easter taken from Christ’s discourses before Easter, before his Passion, and in particular from the discourse delivered at the Last Supper.  They are out of their season and why.  Cannot give them the proper attention when engrossed with the Passion.  But when he should be done, Christ said, the Holy Ghost would remind them of what he has said: that time is now and, very suitably, at the earliest opportunity after Easter.

(However the Rector wishes me to write.)

Brethren, you see that this Gospel I have just read is taken from that discourse which Christ our Lord made to his disciples the night before he suffered.  So is the Gospel for last Sunday, so is the Gospel for next Sunday.  The words we read in these Gospels were spoken before Easter, on the night before the Passion,and we read them after Easter.  They come then out of their season.  But this cannot be helped; it is reasonable, it is wise and right.  During Lent, during Passiontide, it is the church’s wish that the minds of Christians should be full of the Passion, should be engrossed with Christ’s sufferings: the mind cannot pay full and proper heed to two thoughts at once, cannot be in two moods at once, and so it cannot, if it is fixed on Christ’s sorrows and what he underwent, be free to dwell on Christ’s wisdom and the words he said.  That must be put off, it has been wisely put off till after Easter and yet not long after, but at the first suitable opportunity to Christ’s words the church returns and so you hear them in last Sunday’s and today’s and next Sunday’s Gospels.  But indeed Christ’s own words on that same occasion explain all: This, he says (14:26), I have said to you while with you, but when the Holy Ghost is come, he will teach you all my meaning and remind you of all I have said.  That time is now come: Christ is gone to Heaven, the Holy Ghost has been sent and is, and has long been, at his work of teaching the church Christ’s meaning and reminding it of Christ’s words.  Therefore it comes about that with the assistance of the same Holy Ghost I must this morning endeavor to bring out Christ’s meaning in that Gospel which is this day appointed to be read.

[Begin thus –]  In the Gospel which you have just heard, brethren, are words reckoned, etc.

And that, brethren is no easy task; for in this same Gospel of today are found words reckoned by writers on Holy Scripture to be among the very darkest and most mysterious that the sacred page contains.  But since many enlightened minds and many learned pens have in the course of Catholic ages been busied upon them, it is now to be supposed that this darkness and mystery is in part cleared up and that with their help we need not go far astray.  Bend then, by brethren, your ears and minds to follow and understand, for it is church that has appointed the words to be read and not for nothing, not for us to stare or sleep over them but to heed them and take their meaning; besides that it seems to me a contemptible and unmanly thing, for men whose minds are naturally clear, to give up at the first hearing of a hard passage in the scripture and in the holiest of all kinds of learning to care to know no more than children know.

Here then are the mysterious words which we are to consider: And when he, that is the Holy Ghost, whom our Lord in this place calls the Paraclete, has come he will convince the world of sin and of justice and of judgment, and he adds a reason to each: of sin, he says, because so and so, of justice because so and so, and of judgment because so and so.  This is what needs explanation and in explaining it/by these steps I shall go: first I shall say what a Paraclete is and how both Christ and the Holy Ghost are Paracletes; then I shall show what a Paraclete has to do with those three things, sin and justice and judgment; lastly I shall show why Christ as a Paraclete would not do alone, why it was better for him to go and another Paraclete to come, why Christ’s struggle with the world taken by itself looked like a failure when the Holy Ghost’s struggling with the world is a success.  And in so speaking the meaning of the text will, I hope, have by degrees grown plain.

The first is to say what a Paraclete means.  As when the Holy Ghost came on Whitsunday upon the Apostles there was heard a rush of air before the tongues of fire were seen/so when we hear this name of Paraclete our ears and minds are filled with a confused murmuring of some mystery which we know to have to do with the Holy Ghost.  For God the Holy Ghost is the Paraclete, but what is a Paraclete?  Often it is translated comforter, but a Paraclete does more than comfort.  The word is Greek; there is no one English word for it and no one Latin word, comforter, is not enough.  A Paraclete is one who comforts, who cheers, who encourages, who persuades, who exhorts, who stirs up, who urges forward, who calls on; what the spur and word of command is to a horse, what clapping of hands is to a speaker, what a trumpet is to the soldier, that a Paraclete is to the soul: one who calls us on, that is what it means, a Paraclete is one who calls us on to good. One sight is before my mind, it is homely but it comes home: you have seen at cricket how when one of the batsmen at the wicket has made a hit and wants to score a run, the other doubts, hangs back, or is ready to run in again, how eagerly the first will cry/Come on, come on! – a Paraclete is just that, something that cheers the spirit of man, with signals and with cries, all zealous that he should do something and full of assurance that if he will he can, calling him on, springing to meet him half way, crying to his ears or to his heart: This way to do God’s will, this way to save your soul, come on, come on!

If this is to be a Paraclete, one who cries to the heart/Come on, no wonder Christ is a Paraclete.  For he was one, he said so himself; though the Holy Ghost bears the name, yet Christ is a Paraclete too: I will send you, he says, another Paraclete, meaning that he himself was a Paraclete, the first Paraclete, the Holy Ghost the second.  And did he not cry men on?  Not only by words, as by his marvelous teaching and preaching; not only by standards and signals, as by his splendid miracles; but best of all by deeds, by his own example: he led the way, went before his troops, was himself the vanguard, was the forlorn hope, bore the brunt of battle alone, died upon the field, on Calvary hill, and bought the victory by his blood.  He cried men on; he said to his disciples, Peter and Andrew, James and John, Matthew at the custom-house, and the rest: Follow me; they did so; he warned all: He that would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me; but when they would not follow he let them go and took the war upon himself.  I have told you, he said to those who came to arrest him, that I am Jesus of Nazareth: if therefore you seek me let these go their way.  For though Christ cheered them on they feared to follow, though the Captain led the way the soldiers fell back; he was not for that time a successful Paraclete: all, it says, they all forsook him and fled.  Not that they wanted will; the spirit was willing: Let us go too, said Thomas, that we may die with him; Peter was ready to follow him to prison and to death but the flesh was weak: Peter denied him in his Passion, Thomas in his resurrection, and all of them, all forsook him and fled.  I say these things, brethren, to show you that God himself may be the Paraclete, God himself may cheer men on and they too be willing to follow and yet not follow, not come on; something may still be wanting; and therefore Christ said: It is for your own good that I should go; for if I do not go away the Paraclete will not come to you, whereas if I go I shall send him to you.  The second Paraclete was to do what the first did not, he was to cheer men on and they to follow; therefore he is called, and Christ is not called, the Paraclete.

(2) I have said, brethren, what a Paraclete is and shown that God the Son as well as God the Holy Ghost is a Paraclete. Next I am to say what a Paraclete has to do with those three things – sin and justice and judgment.

If a Paraclete is one who cheers us on to good it must be good that is hard, good that left to ourselves we should hardly reach or not reach at all; it must be in the face of hardships, difficulties, resistance, enemies, that he cheers us on.  For now, after the Fall, good in this world is hard, it is surrounded by difficulties, the way to it lies through thorns, the flesh is against it, the world is against it, the devil is against it: therefore if a Paraclete cheers men on it will be to good that is hard.  Now one way or another all that makes good hard is/or comes from/sin.  So that a Paraclete must cheer us on to good in the face of sin.  And one question out of three is soon answered: we see well enough what a Paraclete has to do with sin.

But a Paraclete has also to do with justice.  And how? – Why, justice is that very good to which the Paraclete cheers men on.  Justice in the scripture means goodness.  If a Paraclete cheers men on to goodness/that is to say he cheers them on to justice.  [“And yet, etc., – omit all down to the end of the paragraph.]  And yet, mark you, cheering men on against sin is not the same as cheering men on to justice, though now the two things go together.  For it there were no sin in the world and yet man as dull in mind and heart as he is now/a Paraclete might well be needed still to stir him up and set him on, to show him what justice was and how great its beauty, before man would rouse himself to pursue it.  And again if there were no true goodness in the world, nothing, I mean, that would make men just before God, yet if his law bound them, forbidding sin, they would need a Paraclete to cheer them in resisting sin.  However now the Paraclete does both at once, cheers us on to follow justice and to stand against sin.  So much then of what a Paraclete has to do with sin and with justice.

There remains what a Paraclete has to do with judgment.  Though the Paraclete’s voice cry to men to come on to justice and cry to them to stand firm against sin, this will not do alone; the bare word will not do, nay the bare example will not do; there must be some bait before them and some spur or sting behind.  This bait and this spur are the thought of God’s judgments.  There is the bait or prize of hope, the crown in Heaven for the just, and there is the spur of fear, the fire of hell for the sinner.  And the Paraclete waves before them that golden prize and plies their hearts with that smarting spur.  And thus, brethren, it is clearly brought out that a Paraclete has to do, has everything to do, with sin, with justice, and with judgment.

(3) And now lastly we are to hear why it was good that Christ the first Paraclete should go and the Holy Ghost the second Paraclete, the Paraclete, should come and why this second Paraclete was to accomplish that task in the world which the first had not, in his lifetime, succeeded in accomplishing.  This task was to convince the world of sin, of justice, and of judgment.  The reason why Christ did not and the Holy Ghost does is not certainly that God the Son is less powerful than God the Holy Ghost: the Father, says the Athanasian Creed, is almighty, the Son almighty, the Holy Ghost almighty, and they are not three almighties, but one almighty; their almightiness, their might, their power is one and the same thing.  Neither is the reason that though Christ as God is almighty as man he is weak.  No, for the Father, we read, had put all things into his hands.  To understand it let us look at what this convincing the world of sin, justice, and judgment means.

When then it is said that the Paraclete will convince the world of three things it is meant that he will convict the world of its being wrong about these things, will convince it of himself being right about them, will take it to task about them, reprove it, and so bring the force and truth of his reproof home to it as to leave it no answer to make.  He will take it to task upon three heads and leave it no answer.  Now did Christ do this, did he leave the world no answer? – Certainly not.  To all that Christ taught and did the world’s answer was to put him to death and when he rose from the dead the world’s answer for a time was that his disciples had stolen his corpse away – for a time; that is to say/till the Holy Ghost came.

The world to which Christ spoke was, you know, not the world at large, not the Roman empire, much less the other kingdoms of the Earth; he spoke only, as he said himself, to the House of Israel.  And he did not convince the world he spoke to, he did not convince Israel.  Neither indeed has the Holy Ghost convinced them yet, but then they are not the world he speaks to; they are but a very little part of it.  To Christ they were the only world he spoke to and he did not convince them of his being in the right, did not convict them of their being in the wrong, on sin or on justice or on judgment.  He spoke to them first of sin: he sent the Baptist before him to preach the baptism of repentance, then he came himself saying, as we read (Matthew 4:17): Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  Did they repent? remember that when we say the world we mean most people, not a few: did most of the Jews, did the world of them repent? – They added to their sins by unbelief, they crowned their unbelief by crucifying him, the very prophet and Paraclete that thus reproved them.

Again he spoke to them of justice.  He preached the Sermon on the Mount; he set before the world of them a new standard of goodness and of holiness; a justice higher than that, he said, of their Scribes and Pharisees; a justice indeed without which he said they could not enter into the kingdom of Heaven; he did and taught, he went about doing good, he challenged them himself to prove a fault against him: Which of you, he asked, convinces or convicts me of sin?  They could not prove but they could accuse, they could not convict and yet they would condemn: they called him glutton and winebibber, sabbathbreaker, false prophet, blasphemer, deserving of death, no matter by what name, a malefactor any road, crying without shame to the Roman governor when he asked for a particular charge: If he were not a MALEFACTOR we would not have brought him to thee.  And they prevailed: as a malefactor he was judged, between thieves he was crucified, cum iniquis reputatus est/he was counted among evildoers, Jesus Christ the just.  So they were not convicted about sin nor about justice, they were not left without an answer, Crucify him/was their answer, and they crucified him.

Of judgment it is the same.  He warned them of God’s judgments: unless they repented, he said, they should all perish; unless they believed in him they should die in their sins; the fallen angel was their father, his desires they would do and of course would share his fall; Depart, they would hear said of them, cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.  Their answer was still the same: he was the sinner, the blasphemer, and cursed by God; it was he that was on the devil’s side and cast out devils by Beelzebub, prince of devils; it was he that by God’s own law deserved to die – and should die too, by stoning or somehow: they failed to stone him, get him crucified they did.  The world was not convinced about judgment nor put to silence; he was put to silence, put to trial, put to death, got rid of.  And, mark you, brethren, it was not like a martyrdom now: the tyrant when he has done his worst upon the martyr knows that he has but cut off one Christian or ten or a thousand, there are others yet that he cannot reach; he may wreak his rage on Christians, he cannot rid the world of Christianity.  But when Christ the shepherd was struck down the sheep were scattered and without him would not have reunited; when the head was off the body would go to pieces; when Christ died all his words and works came to the ground, all seemed over forever and the world his enemy’s triumph looked that day complete.

But they did not know that their seeming triumph was total defeat, that his seeming defeat was glorious victory.  For it was not the world Christ had come to fight but the ruler of this world, the devil.  The world he came not to condemn but to save: God did not send his son into the world, Christ said, to judge (or condemn) the world but that by him the world might be saved.  Only while he preached to them, trying to save them, they were judged by their way of receiving him; therefore he said, Now it is the trial of the world, now the ruler of the world is to be cast out; and I, though taken off the Earth, got rid of from the Earth, shall draw all things to me.  This then had happened: the rulers of this world, the devils, had crucified the Lord of Glory and at the instant of his death they saw themselves defeated, condemned, cast out, their empire of sin over the souls of men undone and the reins of power on all things drawn into the hand of the crucified victim.  They felt it with unutterable dismay and despair but the world did not at that time feel it; the hellish head was crushed but the Earthly members were not aware of a wound.  They were therefore not convinced or convicted of their sin, of Christ’s justice, or of God’s judgments.

Christ was gone and in 50 days the Holy Ghost the new Paraclete came.  He lost no time, but from nine o’clock in the morning of the first Whitsunday began his untiring age-long ever-conquering task of convincing the world about sin and justice and judgment.  But first he would play the Paraclete among the disciples before he went out to convince and convert the world.  First he cheered them, but he cheered them on not like Christ by his example from without but by his presence, his power, his breath and fire and inspiration from within; not by drawing but by driving; not by showing them what to do but by himself within them doing it.  His mighty breath ran with roaring in their ears, his fire flamed in tongues upon their foreheads, and their hearts and lips were filled with himself, with the Holy Ghost.  And they went forth and he went forth in them to convince the world.  Hear a sample of how he convinces it.  Saint Peter spoke to the multitude, a crowd well representing the world, for there were men there, it is said, from every nation under Heaven.  At the end of his speaking, 3,000 souls were added to the church.  Three thousand were at one stroke convinced: here was a beginning of the world’s being convinced and converted indeed.  Hear too how it was done.  First he told them that Jesus of Nazareth, a man marked by miracles with the stamp of God’s approval, they had put to death: here then they were convinced of their sin because they had not believed in Christ.  Then he said that this same Jesus God had raised again, that he had gone up to Heaven, and that it was he who had that very day poured out the Holy Ghost: here then they were convinced of Christ’s justice, because he had gone to the Father and could be seen no more.  Lastly he bid them save themselves from that wicked generation, and they obeyed: they were then convinced that the world they had belonged to was doing the devil’s work and condemned like him; they were convinced what God’s judgment on the world was, because its prince was Satan, and he was already judged.

And now, brethren, time fails me.  Else I would show you how the Holy Ghost has followed and will follow up this first beginning, convincing and converting nation after nation and age after age till the whole Earth is hereafter to be covered, if only for a time, still to be covered with the knowledge of the Lord.  I should show too the manner of his convincing the world, the thousand thousand tongues he speaks by and his countless ways of working, drawing much more than I have drawn from my mysterious text, but I must forbear: yet by silence or by speech to him be glory who with the Father and the Son lives and reigns forever and ever.

Amen.

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