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Preached at Halifax N. S. Before the Wesleyan Ministers of the Nova
Scotia District, and published by their request
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Romans viii, 16.
CHRISTIANITY presents to our regard, in perfect unison with the eminency of its claims, the brightest characters of the wisdom, benignity, and holiness of God. As a system of doctrines, it discloses truths profoundly interesting to every human being, which reason, under the highest cultivation and the most inspiring auspices, was never able to discover. Its moral code, prevaded with the lustre of unsullied purity, whilst it throws its salutary laws and awful sanctions over the whole mass of this world's inhabitants, is yet sufficiently minute in its specification of particular duties, to afford appropriate directions in every circumstance and relation in life.—Nor are its provisions for the consolation of the penitent, and the happiness of the genuine believer, less strikingly characterised by fulness and perfection. Justly does an inspired apostle represent the evangelical promises, by virtue of which we are made partakers of the divine nature, as “exceeding great and precious.” Distributed through the pages of divine inspiration, like so many radient luminaries adorning the firmament of the church, they effuse a pure and vital effulgence over the path of immortality. Yet these promises, so multiplied and invaluable, may all be comprised in one—that of the gift of the Holy Spirit; a gift which we are taught by the evangelist Luke, to regard as inclusive of all good things, chap. xi. 13. compared with Matt.
vii. 11. The Holy Spirit is emphatically denominated “the promise of the Father.” Acts i, 4. It is indeed the grand promise of the New Testament, as the Messiah was of the old; and hence it gives to the evangelic dispensation its high and appropriate character of THE MINISTRATION OF
From the quickening influences of this Spirit, it is that the gospel derives all its vitality, along with that wonder-working energy, in virtue of which it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” To expatiate over the range of the hallowing and beneficent operations of this divine agent, is an exercise alike adapted to promote the instruction of the mind and the melioration of the heart. Among these operations, that to which your earnest attention is now invited, is the benign act, by which he conveys to the believer's mind, a persuasion of his interest in the paternal love of God. This equally momentous and consolatory truth, is clearly exhibited in the words selected as the basis of the present discourse, not in the form of a mere doctrinal statement, but in the more animated and spirit-stirring language of actual and blessed experience:“ The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God."
It is of great importance that our views of the Internal Witness of the Spirit, as the common privilege of christian believers, should be scripturally correct, and that in regard to a doctrine, so intimately associated with all that is consoling in the gospel scheme, we should be ready always to give an answer to any man that asketh us a reason of the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear.” Let your attention then be given,
1. To the nature of the witness of the spirit.
The proposed elucidation of the interior testimony of the Spirit, cannot reasonably be expected to embrace the mode in which it is communicated to the believers heart, accompanied with the most satisfying convictions of its heavenly origin. Such knowledge lies without the sphere of reason, and it is a point upon which revelation is silent. Amidst abundance of disclosure, the revealing Spirit has maintained on the subject of his own influences, as on all others connected with our salvation, the inost dignified reserve. But to tolerate a doubt in our minds as to the reality of this operation, merely because we are incapable of comprehending its manner, were as unrea
reasonable, as the attempt to pry into so elevated a mystery would be vain and unhallowed. "The wind bloweth, says our blessed Lord, " where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth: So is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Till the curtains of futurity are uplifted, we must be satisfied to know in part, and to prophecy in part. Instead, therefore, of exclaiming in a tone of sceptical astonishment—" How can these things be?” Instead of wasting our intellectual strength in strenuous idleness, by endeavoring to develope what is shaded in impenetrable obscurity, let the full vigor of our minds be directed, under the guidance of the word and spirit of God, to attain accurate conceptions of the nature of that witness, which he that believeth on the Son of God, hath in himself." The subject, my brethren, is of paramount importance; It is the basis on which the living temple of experimental religion is founded, and the glory by which it is pervaded and animated.
In what then, “are you not ready, with some degree of impatient solicitude to put the question,” in what consists the internal witness of the Spirit? Sensible of our inadequacy to speak in explanation of the things of God, with that accuracy and precision which their peculiarly sacred and momentous character requires, we could wish it were in our power to reply to this interrogation in words which the Holy Spirit teacheth. But though the sacred volume no where furnishes a definition of the witness of the Spirit, it does what nearly amounts to the same, in a manner more accordant with the dignity of a divine revelation, by supplying materials in abundance, out of which such a definition may be educed, with appropriate illustrations.
In exact consonance, we conceive, with those passages that refer to the subject under consideration, the witness of the Spirit may be defined—A vivid and joyous impression, wrought in the believer's heart, by the immediale energy of the Holy Ghost, whereby he is satisfactorily assured, that his sins are pardoned, and that he is adopted into the spiritual family of God.
It is thus that, when God justifies the sinner through faith in the propitiation of his dear Son, he gives him at the same time, “the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins.' Till this divine attestation of our pardon is communicated, it is impossible for us, while the salvation of our souls is the supreme object of our solicitude, to experience true peace of mind. Concious guilt forbids it—the awful dread of dying unforgiven forbids it—the heart appaling anticipations of the coming judgement forbid it—the Spirit of bondage, speaking to our hearts in a voice which we can neither sílence nor mistake, forbids it. Despondence and gloom oppress our minds: our downcast eyes and hands indicate the deep and agonizing emotions of our souls; the delusion of worldly vanity is at an end; and we refuse to be comforted by such shadowy and evanescent pleasures as earth presents. Prostrate at the throne of heavenly grace, we implore mercy with the earnestness of a dying
In full view of the high alter of Calvery, and in an undivided dependence upon the merits of the divine piacular victim, with
whose blood it is imbued, we sue for redeeming grace. is heard; our plea is accepted; and he with whom there is plenteous redemption, blotted out our sins as with a cloud, and our transgressions as with a thick cloud. It is now that the Holy Spirit resigns his office as reprover, and assumes the more attractive and endearing character of the comforter; “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father.” Rom. viii. 15.
In order more luminously to unfold the nature of the interior testimony which this great agent bears to the believing mind, I specify some of its distinguishing characteristics.
Let it be observed and remembered then, that it is purely of a spiritual character. In expatiating on spiritual subjects, the most remote from any strict analogy to objects of vision or of sensation, the imperfection of our knowledge renders it compulsory to convey our ideas of the former, in language and illusions borrowed from the latter. Hence the tropical style pervades the sacred volume. Now, this manner of exhibiting the things of God, though of absolute necessity, and combining, when rightly apprehended, many valuable advantages, is, nevertheless, susceptible, of misapprehension and abuse from those who have not their senses exercised to discern spiritual things.” Such persons, associating gross material conceptions, with the imagery imployed by the Spirit of inspirations to give us clear and vivid perceptions of spiritual subjects, comprehend not the light that encircles them, but remain veiled in ignorance and unbelief. An impressive and memorable example of this we have in the case of Nicodemus. Had he known that the words with which the Redeemer accosted him were spirit and life, he would not have instituted in reply the impertinent enquiry “ How can a man be born when he is old? ” nor, rapt in unbelieving surprise, have cryed out “ How can these things be? ” The language employed concerning the internal witness of the Spirit has not escaped similar perversion. It has been thought by some, that the advocates of the doctrine in question believe that this divine attestation is conveyed to the recipient by means of an audible voice from heaven, or through the medium of a visionary representation. Nothing can be more erroneous and unfounded than such an idea. That the Spirit's testimony is ever invested with such circumstances we contend not; and were it always conveyed with some such solemn and significant accompaniment, still this would no more form any constituent or essential part of the witness itself than did the live-coal with which one of the Seraphim touched the lips of the awe-struck prophet, of that divine and hallowing influence, by which his iniquity was taken away, and his sin purged. It is a testimony borne not to the eye-to the ear—nor
even to any of the inferior faculties of the soul, but immediately to the mind—the understanding, by a preternatural, and interiorly sensible operation of the Spirit of the living God.
This witness is immediate and direct.
It is not a result arrived at, by a process of rational -inference or deduction, from principles however luminous and divine, but a persuasion
instantaneously produced, by a direct manifestation of the Holy Ghost, shedding abroad the love of God in the heart. This is its most prominent and identifying feature. regret, we add, however, it is that feature which a large and respectable class of theologians regard, if not with positive dislike, yet with the most sensitive jealousy and suspicion. They too, indeed, admit, that there is a witness of the Spirit, which it is the the privilege of christians to enjoy. But what, according to their views, is this witness? The Spirit, they say, has laid down in the New Testament, the discriminating marks of a genuine believer in Christ, and, if on comparing our character and experience with those marks, we trace a coincidence between them, we are authorised in deducing the conclusion that " we are the children of God.” Some advance a step further, and recognising the indispensible necessity of divine guidance to conduct us in so solemn an investigation, to a conclusion in which we may repose with unsuspicious confidence, tell us that " whilst believers are examining themselves as to the reality of their conversion, and find scriptural evidence of it, the Holy Spirit, from time to time shines upon his work, excites their holy affections into lively exercise, renders them very efficacious upon their conduct, and thus puts the matter beyond doubt; for while they feel the spirit of dutiful children towards God they become satisfied concerning his paternal love to them."*
It is readily granted, that frequent and scrutinizing examination of our spiritual state, by the word of God, is at once an imperative duty, and a valuable means by which christians attain confirmatory evidence of their interest in the Divine Redeemer. fectly gratuitous and absurd, to call the evidence derived from this source
the witness of the Spirit of God. For, it is obviously the witness of our own spirit, or in the words of St. Paul, the testimony of our conscience, a testimony altogether distinct from, though harmonizing with, the attestation borne by the Spirit of God. Have the persons who thus commingle and confound the Spirit's testimony with the operations of our own minds, ever duly weighed the explicit and emphatic phraseology which the Apostle employs, as if with a design to preclude the possibility of his being misunderstood ? “ The Spirit itself beareth witness.” Could worlds be more precisely indicative of a personal and direct operation ?
* Scott's Commentary.
But it is per