A Comforter to Guide Us in All Truth

Bernini, “Holy Dove”

Spiritual Sunday

Today’s Gospel reading is Jesus’s reassurance to his disciples that, after he leaves, he will ask God to send “another Advocate, to be with you forever.” The Holy Spirit is available to all who open themselves to receive it. Jesus’s reassurance was very important to Milton as he was writing Paradise Lost.

Here’s the promise (John 14: 15-21):

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Milton certainly felt orphaned: his stated purpose, “to justify God’s ways to man,” is in large part a desire to justify God to himself. After all, his selfless dedication to the Puritan revolution, which he saw as an attempt to establish God’s kingdom on earth, had resulted in imprisonment and blindness. You see his doubts in Adam’s questions to the Archangel Michael, who has been telling him about Jesus’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Adam is concerned about the good people left behind:

But say, if our deliverer up to Heav’n
Must reascend, what will betide the few
His faithful, left among th’ unfaithful herd,
The enemies of truth; who then shall guide
His people, who defend? will they not deal
Worse with his followers then with him they dealt?

Michael’s initial words are not reassuring: yes, Jesus’s followers will suffer much. Fortunately, they will be sent a “Comforter” to help them deal with their circumstances:

Be sure they will, said th’ Angel; but from Heav’n
He to his own a Comforter will send,
The promise of the Father, who shall dwell
His Spirit within them, and the Law of Faith
Working through love, upon their hearts shall write,
To guide them in all truth, and also arm
With spiritual Armor, able to resist
Satan’s assaults, and quench his fiery darts,
What Man can do against them, not afraid,
Though to the death, against such cruelties
With inward consolations recompensed,
And oft supported so as shall amaze
Their proudest persecutors…

Michael goes on to list the wonders the apostles will perform when lifted up by the Holy Spirit:

                                                    [F]or the Spirit
Powered first on his Apostles, whom he sends
To evangelize the Nations, then on all
Baptized, shall them with wondrous gifts endue
To speak all Tongues, and do all Miracles,
As did their Lord before them. Thus they win
Great numbers of each Nation to receive
With joy the tidings brought from Heav’n…

Milton then takes a shot at those who, while claiming to follow in the apostles’ steps, instead prove to be hypocrites, putting their own greed and ambition above the love of God:

Wolves shall succeed for teachers, grievous Wolves,
Who all the sacred mysteries of Heav’n
To their own vile advantages shall turn
Of lucre and ambition, and the truth
With superstitions and traditions taint…

One imagines that all this would have been difficult for Adam to absorb, but of course Milton is really directing the words to us. We still have far too many false apostles who invoke Jesus’s name for nefarious purposes. It’s important that we do not let them blind us to the true miracle: that we have, within each of us, a direct conduit to God.

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