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has been truly said that we are hardly ever certain of praying aright, except when we pray for the Spirit of God.—When we pray for temporal blessings, we do not know, though God does, whether we ask what is really for our good: when we ask for the assistance and sanctification of God's Spirit in the work and warfare of religion, we ask for that which by its very nature is good, and which, without our great fault, will be good to us.
But secondly; We must obtain it. God is propitious. You hear that he has promised it to prayer, to prayer really and truly such, to prayer, viz. issuing from the heart and soul; for no other is ever meant. We are suppliants to our Maker for various and continual blessings ; for health, for ease; it may be, for prosperity and success. There is, as hath already been observed, some degree of uncertainty in all these cases, whether we ask what is fit and proper to be granted ; or even, what, if granted, would do us good. There is this, likewise, farther to be observed, that they are what, if such be the pleasure of God, we can do without. But how incapable we are of doing without God's Spirit ; of proceeding in our spiritual course upon our own strength and our own resources; of finally accomplishing the work of salvation without it: the strong description, which is given by Saint Paul, may convince us, if our own experience had not convinced us before. Many of us, a large majority of us, either require or have required a great change, a moral regeneration. This is to be effectuated by the aid of God's Spirit. Vitiated hearts will not change themselves ; not easily, not frequently, not naturally, perhaps, not possibly. Yet, “without holiness no man shall see God.” How then are the unholy to become holy? Holiness is a thing of the heart and soul. It is not a few forced, constrained actions, though good as
actions which constitute holiness. It must reside within us; it is a disposition of soul. To acquire, therefore, that which is not yet acquired; to change that which is not yet changed ; to go to the root of the malady; to cleanse and purify the inside of the cup, the foulness of our mind; is a work for the Spirit of God within us. Nay more; many, as the Scripture most significantly expresses it, are dead in sins and trespasses, not only committing sins and trespasses, but dead in them; that is, as insensible of their condition under them as a dead man is insensible of his condition. Where this is the case, the sinner must, in the first instance, be roused and quickened to a sense of his condition, of his danger, his fate; in a word, he must, by some means or other, be brought to feel a strong compunction. This is also an office for the Spirit of God. “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." (Eph. ii. 1.) “Awake, thou
. that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” (Eph. v. 14.) Whether, therefore, we be amongst the dead in sin; or whether we be of the number of those with whom, according to Saint Paul's description, to will is present, but how to perform that which is good they find not; who, though they approve the law of God, nay delight in it after the inward man, that is, in the answers of their conscience, are nevertheless brought into captivity to the law of sin, which is in their members ; carnal, sold under sin : doing what they allow not, what they hate ; doing not the good which they would, but the evil which they would not: whichever of these be our wretched estate, for such the apostle pronounces it to be, the grace and influence of God's Spirit must be obtained, in order to rescue and deliver us from it, and the sense of this want and of this necessity lies at the root of our devotions, when directed to this object.
To those who are in a better state than what has been here described, little need be said, because the very supposition of their being in a better state includes that earnest and devout application by prayer for the continual aid, presence, and indwelling, of God's Holy Spirit, which we state to be a duty of the Christian religion.
But thirdly ; The assistance of God's Spirit being obtained, we are to yield ourselves to its direction; to consult, attend, and listen to its dictates, suggested to us through the admonitions of our conscience. The terms of Scripture represent the Spirit of God as an assisting, not forcing, power; as not suspending our own powers, but enabling them; as imparting strength and faculty for our religious work, if we will use them; but whether we will use them or not still depending upon ourselves. Agreeably hereunto Saint Paul, you have heard, asserts that there is no condemnation to them who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. The promise is not to them who have the Spirit, but to them who walk after the Spirit. To walk after the flesh is to follow wherever the impulses of sensuality and selfishness lead us; which is a voluntary act. To walk after the Spirit is steadily and resolutely to obey good motions within us, whatever they cost us: which also is a voluntary act. All the language of this remarkable chapter (Rom. vii.) proceeds in the same strain ; namely, that, after the Spirit of God is given, it remains and rests with ourselves whether we avail ourselves of it or not. “ If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the flesh, ye shall live.” It is through the Spirit that we are enabled to mortify the deeds of the flesh. But still, whether we mortify them or not, is our act, because it is made a subject of precept and exhortation so to do. Health is God's gift : but what use we will make of it is our choice.
Bodily strength is God's gift: but of what advantage it shall be to us depends upon ourselves. Even so, the higher gift of the Spirit remains a gift, the value of which will be exceedingly great; will be little; will be none; will be even an increase of guilt and condemnation ; according as it is applied and obeyed, or neglected and withstood. The fourth chapter of • Ephesians' (verse 30.) is a warning voice upon this subject. “Grieve not the Spirit of God :" therefore he may be grieved: being given, he may be rejected : rejected, he may be withdrawn.
Saint Paul (Rom. viii.) represents the gift and possession of the Spirit in these words : “ Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you :” and its efficacy, where it is efficacious, in the following magnificent terms: “ If the Spirit of him that raised Christ from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in you." What, nevertheless, is the practical inference therefrom stated in the very next words ? “ Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh; for if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die :” consequently it is still possible, and plainly conceived and supposed and stated to be so, even after this communication of the Spirit, to live notwithstanding according to the flesh : and still true, that if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die. “ We are debtors ;" our obligation, our duty, imposed upon us by this gift of the Spirit, is no longer to live after the flesh; but, on the contrary, through the Spirit so given, to do that which, without it, we could not have done, to “mortify the deeds of the body.” Thus following the suggestions of the Spirit, ye shall live : for “as many as are led by the Spirit of God,” as many as yield themselves to its guidance and direction, “they are the sons of God.”
To conclude the subject. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail in their Christian course, between those who obtain and those who do not obtain salvation, is this: They may both feel equally the weakness of their nature, the existence and the power of evil propensities within them ; but the
; former, by praying with their whole heart and soul, and that perseveringly, for spiritual assistance, obtain it; and, by the aid so obtained, are enabled to withstand, and do, in fact, withstand, their evil propensi
. ties; the latter sink under them. I will not say that all are comprised under this description : for neither are all included in Saint Paul's account of the matter, from which our discourse set out; but I think that it represents the general condition of Christians, as to their spiritual state, and that the greatest part of those who read this discourse will find that they belong to one side or other of the alternative here stated,