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ON THE INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT.
1 Corinthians, iii. 16. Know ye not that
not that ye are the temple of God, and that
the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? It is undoubtedly a difficulty in the doctrine of spiritual influence that we do not so perceive the action of the Spirit as to distinguish it from the suggestions of our own minds. Many good men acknowledge that they are not conscious of any such immediate perceptions. They, who lay claim to them, cannot advance, like the apostles, such proofs of their claim as must necessarily satisfy others, or, perhaps, secure themselves from delusion. And this is made a ground of objection to the doctrine itself. Now, I think, the objection proceeds upon an erroneous principle namely, our expecting more than is promised. The agency and influence of the Divine Spirit are spoken of in Scripture, and are promised : but it is no where promised that its operations shall be always sensible, viz. distinguishable at the time from the impulses, dictates, and thoughts, of our own minds. I do not take upon me to say that they are never so : I only
: say that it is not necessary, in the nature of things, that they should be so ; nor is it asserted in the Scripture that they are so ; nor is it promised that they will be so.
The nature of the thing does not imply or require it: by which I mean that, according to the constitution of the human mind, as far as we are acquainted with that constitution, a foreign influence or impulse may act upon it, without being distinguished in our perception from its natural operations, that is, without being perceived at the time. The case appears to me to be this. The order in which ideas and motives rise up in our minds is utterly unknown to us, consequently it will be unknown when that order is disturbed or altered or affected: therefore it may be altered, it may be affected, by the interposition of a foreign influence, without that interposition being perceived. Again, and in like manner, not only the order in which thoughts and motives rise up in our minds is unknown to ourselves, but the causes also are unknown, and are incalculable, upon which the vividness of the ideas, the force and strength and impression of the motives, which enter into our minds, depend. Therefore, that vividness may be made more or less, that force may be increased or diminished, and both by the influence of a spiritual agent, without any distinct sensation of such agency being felt at the time. Was the case otherwise, was the order according to which thoughts and motives rise up in our minds fixed, and, being fixed, known; then I do admit the order could not be altered or violated, nor a foreign agent interfere to alter or violate it without our being immediately sensible of what was passing. As, also, if the causes, upon which the power and strength of either good or bad motives depend, were ascertained, then it would likewise be ascertained when this force was ever increased or diminished by external influence and operation; then it might be true that external influence could not act upon us without being perceived. But, in the ignorance under which we are, concerning the thoughts and motives of our minds, when left to themselves, we must, naturally speaking, be, at the time, both ignorant and insensible of the presence of an interfering power ; one ignorance will correspond with the other: whilst, nevertheless, the assistance and benefit derived from that power may, in reality, be exceedingly great. In this instance philosophy, in my opinion, comes in aid of religion. In the ordinary state of the mind, both the presence and the
of the motives which act upon it proceed from causes of which we know nothing. This philosophy confesses, and indeed teaches. From whence it follows, that, when these causes are interrupted or influenced, that interruption and that influence will be equally unknown to us. Just reasoning shows this proposition to be a consequence of the former. From whence it follows, again, that immediately and at the time perceiving the operation of the Holy Spirit is not only not necessary to the reality of these operations, but that it is not consonant to the frame of the human mind that it should be so. I repeat, again, that we take not upon us to assert that it is never so. Undoubtedly, God can, if he please, give that tact and quality to his communications that they shall be perceived to be Divine communications at the time. And this probably was very frequently the case with the prophets, with th
apostles, and with inspired men of old. But it is not the case naturally, by which I mean that it is not the case according to the constitution of the human soul. It does not appear, by experience, to be the case usually. What would be the effect of the influence of the Divine Spirit being always or generally accompanied with a distinct notice, it is difficult even to conjecture. One thing may be said of it, that it would be putting us under a quite different dispensation. It would be putting us under a miraculous dispensation ; for the agency of the Spirit in our souls. distinctly perceived is, properly speaking, a miracle. Now, miracles are instruments in the hand of God of signal and extraordinary effects, produced upon signal and extraordinary occasions. Neither internally nor externally do they form the ordinary course of his proceeding with his reasonable creatures.
And in this there is a close analogy with the course of nature, as carried on under the Divine government. We have every reason, which Scripture can give us, for believing that God frequently interposes to turn and guide the order of events in the world, so as to make them execute his purpose : yet we do not so perceive these interpositions, as either always or generally to distinguish them from the natural progress of things. His providence is real, but unseen. We distinguish not between the acts of God and the course of nature. It is so with the Spirit. When, therefore, we teach that good men may be led, or bad men converted, by the Spirit of God, and yet they themselves not distinguish his holy influence; we teach no more than what is conformable, as, I think, has been shown, to the frame of the human mind, or rather to our degree of acquaintance with that frame; and also analogous to the exercise of Divine power in other things; and also necessary to be so; unless it should have pleased God to put us under a quite different dispensation, that is, under a dispensation of constant miracles. I do not apprehend that the doctrine of spiritual influence carries the agency of the Deity much farther than the doctrine of providence carries it: or, however, than the doctrine of
prayer carries it. For all prayer supposes the Deity to be intimate with our minds.
But, if we do not know the influence of the Spirit by a distinguishing perception at the time, by what
means do we know anything of it at all? I answer, by its effects, and by those alone. And this I conceive to be that which our Saviour said to Nicodemus. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth, so is every one that is born of the Spirit;" that is, thou perceivest an effect, but the cause which produces that effect operates in its own way, without thy knowing its rule or manner of operation. With regard to the cause, “Thou canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth.” A change or improvement in thy religious state is necessary. The agency and help of the Spirit in working that change or promoting that improvement are likewise necessary. “Except a man be born of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” But according to what particular manner, or according to what rule, the Spirit acts, is as unknown to us as the causes are which regulate the blowing of the wind, the most incalculable and unknown thing in the world. Its origin is unknown ; its mode is unknown ; but still it is known in its effects : and so it is with the Spirit. If the change have taken place ; if the improvement be produced and be proceeding: if our religious affairs go on well; then have we ground for trust, that the enabling assisting Spirit of God is with us; though we have no other knowledge or perception of the matter than what this affords.
Perhaps there is no subject whatever, in which we ought to be so careful not to go before our guide, as in this of spiritual influence. We ought neither to expect more than what is promised, nor to take upon ourselves to determine what the Scriptures have not determined. This safe rule will produce both caution
. in judging of ourselves, and moderation in judging, or rather a backwardness in taking upon us to judge,