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already attained, hold fast," by reaching forth urto those things which are before; until “the God of peace make thee perfect in every good work, working in thee that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ: to whom be glory for ever and ever! Amen!"
SERMON X.—The Witness of the Spirit.
DISCOURSE I. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God," Rom. viii, 16.
1. How many vain men, not understanding what they spake, neither whereof they affirmed, have wrested this scripture to the great loss, if not the destruction, of their souls ? IIow many have mistaken the voice of their own imagination for this “ witness of the Spirit of God," and thence idly presumed, they were the children of God, while they were doing the works of the devil? These are truly and properly enthusiasts ; and, indeed, in the worst sense of the word. But with what difficulty are they convinced thereof, especially, if they have drank deep into that spirit of error! All endeavours to bring them into the knowledge of themselves, they will then account fighting against God; and that vehemence and impetuosity of spirit, which they call “ contending earnestly for the faith,” sets them so far above all the usual methods of conviction, that we may well say, “ with men it is impossible."
2. Who can then be surprised, if many reasonable men, seeing the dreadful effects of this delusion, and labouring to keep at the utmost distance from it, should sometimes lean towards another extreme? If they are not forward to believe any who speak of having this witness, concerning which others have so grievously erred ? If they are almost ready to set all down for enthusiasts, who use the expressions which have been so terribly abused? Yea, if they should question, whether the witness or testimony here spoken of, be the privilege of ordinary Christians, and not rather, one of those cxtraordinary gifts, which they suppose belonged only to the apostolic age.
3. But is there any necessity laid upon us, of running either into one extreme or the other ? May we not steer a middle course,-keep a sufficient distance from the spirit of error and enthusiasm, without denying the gift of God, and giving up the great privilege of his children ? Surely we may. In order thereto, let us consider in the presence and fear of God,
First, What is this witness or testimony of our spirit ; what is the testimony of God's Spirit ; and, how does he “ bear witness with our spirit that we are the children of God ?”
Secondly, How is this joint testimony of God's Spirit and our own, clearly and solidly distinguished from the presumption of a natural mind, and from the delusion of the devil ?
I. 1. Let us first consider, What is the witness or testimony of our spirit. But here I cannot but desire all those who are for swallowing up the testimony of the Spirit of God, in the rational testimony of our own spirit, to observe, that in this text the apostle is so far from speaking of the testimony of our own spirit only, that it may be questioned
whether he speaks of it at all,—whether he does not speak only of the testimony of God's Spirit? It does not appear, but the original text may be fairly understood thus. The apostle had just said, in the preceding verse, “Ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father ;' and immediately subjoins, AUTO TO Teula (some copies read, το αυτο πνευμα) συμμαρτυρεί τω πνευματι ημων, οσι εσμεν σενα @sx; which may be translated, “The same Spirit beareth witness to our spirit, that we are the children of God." (The preposition ouv only denoting, that he witnesses this at the same time that he enables us to cry, Abba, Father,) But I contend not; seeing so many other texts, with the experience of all real Christians, sufficiently evince, that there is in every believer, both the testimony of God's Spirit, and the testimony of his own, that he is a child of God.
2. With regard to the latter, the foundation thereof is laid in those numerous texts of Scripture, which describe the marks of the children of God, and that so plainly, that he which runneth may read them. These are also collected together, and placed in the strongest light, by many both ancient and modern writers. If any need farther light, he may receive it by attending on the ministry of God's word; by meditating thereon before God in secret; and by conversing with those who have the knowledge of his ways. And by the reason or understanding that God has given him, which religion was designed not to extinguish, but to perfect ;according to that of the apostle, “ Brethren, be not children in understanding ; in malice (or wickedness] be ye children ; but in understanding be ye men;" 1 Cor. xiv, 20 ;-every man apply, ing those scriptural marks to himself, may know whether he is a child of God. Thus, if he know, first, “ As many as are led by the Spirit of God," into all holy tempers and actions, “they are the sons of God;" (for which he has the infallibļe assurance of holy writ;) secondly, I am thus “ led by the Spirit of God;" he will easily conclude,-therefore I am a son of God.
3, Agreeable to this are all those plain declarations of St. John in his first epistle; “ Hereby we know, that we do know him, if we keep his commandments," chap. ii, 3. “Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected : hereby know we that we are in him ;” that we are indeed the children of God, ver. 5. “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him," ver. 29. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren,” chap. iii, 14. “ Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him," ver. 19; namely, because we “ love one another, not in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” “Hereby we know that we dwell in him, because he hath given us of his [loving] Spirit," chap. iv, 13. And,“ Hereby we know that he abideth in us by the [obedient] Spirit which he hath given us,” chap. iii, 24.
4. It is highly probable, there never were any children of God, from the beginning of the world unto this day, who were farther advanced in the grace of God, and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, than the apostle John at the time when he wrote these words, and the fathers in Christ to whom he wrote. Notwithstanding which, it is evident, both the apostle himself, and all those pillars in God's temple, were very far from despising these marks of their being the children of
God; and that they applied them to their own souls for the confirmation of their faith. Yet all this is no other than rational evidence, the witness of our spirit, our reason or understanding. It all resolves into this : Those who have these marks are the children of God: but we have these marks : therefore we are children of God.
5. But how does it appear that we have these marks? This is a question which still remains. How does it appear that we do love God and our neighbour, and that we keep his commandments ? Observe, that the meaning of the question is, How does it appear to ourselves ? (not to others.) I would ask him, then, that proposes this question, How does it appear to you, that you are alive? And that you are now in ease, and not in pain? Are you not immediately conscious of it ? By the same immediate consciousness, you will know if your soul is alive to God; if you are saved from the pain of proud wrath, and have the ease of a meek and quiet spirit. By the same means you cannot but perceive if you love, rejoice, and delight in God. By the same you must be directly assured, if you love your neighbour as yourself; if you are kindly affectioned to all mankind, and full of gentleness and long suffering. And with regard to the outward mark of the children of God, which is, according to St. John, the keeping his commandments, you undoubtedly know in your own breast, if, by the grace of God, it belongs to you. Your conscience informs you, from day to day, if you do not take the name of God within your lips, unless with seriousness and devotion, with reverence and godly fear ; if you remember the sabbath day to keep it holy; if you honour your father and mother; if you do to all as you would they should do unto you; if you possess your body in sanctification and honour; and if, whether you eat or drink, you are temperate therein, and do all to the glory of God.
6. Now this is properly the testimony of our own spirit ; even the testimony of our own conscience, that God hath given us to be holy of heart, and holy in outward conversation. It is a consciousness of our having received, in and by the spirit of adoption, the tempers mentioned in the word of God, as belonging to his adopted children; even a loving heart towards God, and towards all mankind; hanging with childlike confidence on God our Father, desiring nothing but him, casting all our care upon him, and embracing every child of man with earnest, tender affection; so as to be ready to lay down our life for our brother, as Christ laid down his life for us:-a consciousness, that we are inwardly conformed, by the Spirit of God, to the image of his Son, and that we walk before him in justice, mercy, and truth, doing the things which are pleasing in his sight.
7. But what is that testimony of God's Spirit, which is superadded to and conjoined with this? How does he “ bear witness with our spirit that we are the children of God ?" It is hard to find words in the language of men to explain “ the deep things of God.” Indeed, there are none that will adequately express what the children of God experience. But perhaps one might say, (desiring any who are taught of God, to correct, to soften, or strengthen the expression,) the testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; and that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.
8. That this testimony of the Spirit of God must needs, in the very nature of things, be antecedent to the testimony of our own spirit, may appear from this single consideration : we must be holy of heart, and holy in life, before we can be conscious that we are so; before we can have the testimony of our spirit that we are inwardly and outwardly holy. But we must love God, before we can be holy at all; this being the root of all holiness. Now we cannot love God, till we know he loves us. “We love him, because he first loved us." And we cannot know his pardoning love to us, till his Spirit witnesses it to our spirit. Since, therefore, this testimony of his Spirit must precede the love of God and all holiness, of consequence it must precede our inward consciousness thereof, or the testimony of our spirit concerning them.
9. Then, and not till then—when the Spirit of God beareth that witness to our spirit, " God hath loved thee, and given his own Son to be the propitiation for thy sins; the Son of God hath loved theè, and hath washed thee from thy sins in his blood ;'-—" we love God, because he first loved us ;'and, for his sake, we love our brother also. And of this we cannot but be conscious to ourselves : we “ know the things that are freely given to us of God.” We know that we love God and keep his commandments; and “ hereby also we know that we are of God." This is that testimony of our own spirit, which, so long as we continue to love God and keep his commandments, continues joined with the testimony of God's Spirit, “ that we are the children of God.”
10, Not that I would by any means be understood, by any thing which has been spoken concerning it, to exclude the operation of the Spirit of God, even from the testimony of our own spirit. In no wise. It is he that not only worketh in us every manner of thing that is good, but also shines upon his own work, and clearly shows what he has wrought, Accordingly, this is spoken of by St. Paul, as one great end of our receiving the Spirit, “ That we may know the things which are freely given to us of God :" that he may strengthen the testimony of our conscience, touching our “ simplicity and godly sincerity ;' and give us to discern, in a fuller and stronger light, that we now do the things which please him.
11. Should it still be inquired, How does the Spirit of God “bear witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God," so as to exclude all doubt, and evince the reality of our sonship, the answer is clear from what has been observed above. And first, as to the witness of our spirit: The soul as intimately and evidently perceives when it loves, delights, and rejoices in God, as when it loves and delights in any thing on earth. And it can no more doubt, whether it loves, delights, and rejoices or no, than whether it exists or no. If, therefore, this be just reasoning,
He that now loves God, that delights and rejoices in him with an humble joy, and holy delight, and an obedient love, is a child of God :
But I thus love, delight, and rejoice in God;
Therefore, I am a child of God :Then a Christian can in no wise doubt of his being a child of God. Of the former proposition he has as full an assurance as he has that the Scriptures are of God; and of his thus loving God, he has an inward proof, which is nothing short of self evidence. Thus, the testimony of our own spirit is with the most intimate conviction manifested to our
hearts, in such a manner, as beyond all reasonable doubt to evince the reality of our sonship.
12. The manner how the divine testimony is manifested to the heart, I do not take upon me to explain. Such knowledge is too wonderfu and excellent for me : I cannot attain unto it. The wind bloweth, and I hear the sound thereof; but I cannot tell how it cometh, or whither it goeth. As no one knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man that is in him; so the manner of the things of God knoweth no one, save the Spirit of God. But the fact we know ; namely, that the Spirit of God does give a believer such a testimony of his adoption, that while it is present to the soul, he can no more doubt the reality of his sonship, than he can doubt of the shining of the sun, while he stands in the full blaze of his beams.
II. 1. How this joint testimony of God's Spirit and our spirit, may be clearly and solidly distinguished from the presumption of a natural mind, and from the delusion of the devil, is the next thing to be considered. And it highly imports all who desire the salvation of God, to consider it with the deepest attention, as they would not deceive their own souls. An error in this is generally observed to have the most fatal consequences; the rather, because he that errs, seldom discovers his mistake, till it is too late to remedy it.
2. And first, how is this testimony to be distinguished from the presumption of a natural mind ? It is certain, one who was never convinced of sin, is always ready to flatter himself, and to think of himself, especially in spiritual things, more highly than he ought to think. And hence, it is in no wise strange, if one, who is vainly puffed up by. his fleshly mind, when he hears of this privilege of true Christians, among whom he undoubtedly ranks himself, should soon work himself up into a persuasion that he is already possessed thereof. Such instances now abound in the world, and have abounded in all ages. How then may the real testimony of the Spirit with our spirit, be distinguished from this damning presumption ?
3. I answer, the Holy Scriptures abound with marks, whereby the one may be distinguished from the other. They describe, in the plainest manner, the circumstances which go before, which accompany, and which follow, the true, genuine testimony of the Spirit of God with the spirit of a believer. Whoever carefully weighs and attends to these will not need to put darkness for light. He will perceive so wide a difference, with respect to all these, between the real and the pretended witness of the Spirit, that there will be no danger, I might say, no possibility, of confounding the one with the other.
4. By these, one who vainly presumes on the gift of God might surely know, if he really desired it, that he hath been hitherto“ given up to a strong delusion," and suffered to believe a lie. For the Scriptures lay down those clear, obvious marks, as preceding, accompanying, and following that gift, which a little reflection would convince him, beyond all doubt, were never found in his soul. For instance, the Scripture describes repentance, or conviction of sin, as constantly going before this witness of pardon. So, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Matt. iii, 2. “Repent ye, and believe the gospel,” Mark i, 15. “ Repent, and be baptized every one of you, for the remission of sins," Acts ii, 38. “Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins