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of our own kindling:" and this difference also is immediately and directly perceived if our spiritual senses are rightly disposed.
10. To require a more minute and philosophical account of the man ner whereby we distinguish these, and of the criteria, or intrinsic marks, whereby we know the voice of God, is to make a demand which can never be answered; no, not by one who has the deepest knowledge of God. Suppose when Paul answered before Agrippa, the wise Roman had said, “Thou talkest of hearing the voice of the Son of God. How dost thou know it was his voice? By what criteria, what intrinsic marks, dost thou know the voice of God ? Explain to me the manner of distinguishing this from a human or angelic voice ?” Can you believe, the apostle himself would have once attempted to answer so idle a demand? And yet, doubtless, the moment he heard that voice, he knew it was the voice of God. But how he knew this, who is able to explain? Perhaps neither man nor angel.
11. To come yet closer : suppose God were now to speak to any soul, “ Thy sins are forgiven thee," -he must be willing that soul should know his voice; otherwise he would speak in vain. And he is able to effect this; for, whenever he wills, to do is present with him. And he does effect it: that soul is absolutely assured,“ this voice is the voice of God.” But yet he who hath that witness in himself, cannot explain it to one who hath it not: nor indeed is it to be expected that he should. Were there any natural medium to prove, or natural method to explain, the things of God to unexperienced men, then the natural man might discern and know the things of the Spirit of God. But this is utterly contrary to the assertion of the apostle, that "he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned ;" even by spiritual senses, which the natural man hath not.
12. “ But how shall I know that my spiritual senses are rightly disposed ?". This also is a question of vast importance; for if a man mistake in this, he may run on in endless error and delusion. “And how am I assured that this is not my case; and that I do not mistake the voice of the Spirit ?” Even by the testimony of your own spirit; by " the an. swer of a good conscience towards God.” By the fruits which he hath wrought in your spirit, you shall know the testimony of the Spirit of God. Hereby you shall know, that you are in no delusion, that you have not deceived your own soul. The immediate fruits of the Spirit, ruling in the heart, are " love, joy, peace, bowels of mercies, humbleness of mind, meekness, gentleness, long suffering." And the outward fruits are, the doing good to all men; the doing no evil to any; and the walking in the light,-a zealous, uniform obedience to all the commandments of God.
13. By the same fruits shall you distinguish this voice of God, from any delusion of the devil. That proud spirit cannot humble thee before God. He neither can nor would soften thy heart, and melt it first into earnest mourning after God, and then into filial love. It is not the adversary of God and man, that enables thee to love thy neighbour; or to put on meekness, gentleness, patience, temperance, and the whole armour of God.
He is not divided against himself, or a destroyer of sin, his own work. No; it is none but the Son of God who cometh “ to destroy the works of the devil.” As surely therefore as holiness is of God, and as sin is the work of the devil, so surely the witness thou hast in thyself is not of Satan, but of God.
14. Well then mayest thou say,
« Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!” Thanks be unto God, who giveth me to “know in whom I have believed ;" who hath “sent forth the Spirit of his Son into my heart, crying, Abba, Father,” and even now, “ bearing witness with my spirit that I am a child of God!" And see, that not only thy lips, but thy life, show forth his praise. He hath sealed thee for his own; glorify him then in thy body and thy spirit, which are his. Ber loved, if thou hast this hope in thyself, purify thyself as he is pure. While thou beholdest what manner of love the Father hath given thee, that thou shouldest be called a child of God; cleanse thyself“ from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God;" and let all thy thoughts, words, and works be a spiritual sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God through Christ Jesus !
SERMON XI.-The Witness of the Spirit.
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God,” Rom. viii, 16.
I. 1. None who believe the Scriptures to be the word of God, can doubt the importance of such a truth as this ;-a truth revealed therein, not once only, not obscurely, not incidentally; but frequently, and that in express terms; but solemnly and of set purpose, as denoting one of the peculiar privileges of the children of God.
2. And it is the more necessary to explain and defend this truth, because there is a danger on the right hand and on the left. If we deny it, there is a danger lest our religion degenerate into mere formality: lest,“ having a form of godliness," we neglect, if not “ deny the power of it.” If we allow it, but do not understand what we allow, we are liable to run into all the wildness of enthusiasm. It is therefore needful, in the highest degree, to guard those who fear God from both these dangers, by a scriptural and rational illustration and confirmation of this momentous truth.
3. It may seem, something of this kind is the more needful, because so little has been wrote on the subject with any clearness; unless some discourses on the wrong side of the question, which explain it quite away. And it cannot be doubted, but these were occasioned at least in a great measure, by the crude, unscriptural, irrational explication of others, who“ knew not what they spake, nor whereof they affirmed.”
4. It more nearly concerns the Methodists, so called, clearly to understand, explain, and defend this doctrine; because it is one grand part of the testimony, which God has given them to bear to all mankind. It is by his peculiar blessing upon them in searching the Scriptures, confirmed by the experience of his children, that this great evangelical truth has been recove
overed, which had been for many years well nigh lost and forgotten.
II. 1. But what is the witness of the Spirit? The original word Maprupsa, may be rendered either (as it is in several places) the witness, or less ambiguously, the testimony, or the record : so it is rendered in our translation, 1 John v, 11, “ This is the record,” (the testimony, the sum of what God testifies in all the inspired writings,] "that God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.". The testimony now under consideration is given by the Spirit of God to and with our spirit: he is the person testifying. What he testifies to us is," that we are the children of God.” The immediate result of this testimony is, “the fruit of the Spirit;" namely," love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness:" and without these, the testimony itself cannot continue. For it is inevitably destroyed, not only by the commission of any outward sin, or the omission of known duty, but by giving way to any inward sin; in a word, by whatever grieves the Holy Spirit of God.
2. I observed many years ago, “ 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 Spirit of God works in his children. But perhaps one might say, (desiring any who are taught of God, to correct, soften, or strengthen the expression,) by the testimony of the Spirit, I mean, an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.”
3. After twenty years' farther consideration, I see no cause to retract any part of this. Neither do I conceive how any of these expressions may be altered, so as to make them inore intelligible. I can only add, that if any of the children of God will point out any other expressions, which are more clear or more agreeable to the word of God, I will readily lay these aside.
4. Meantime let it be observed, I do not mean hereby, that the Spirit of God testifies this by any outward voice; no, nor always by an inward voice, although he may do this sometimes. Neither do I suppose, that he always applies to the heart, (though he often may,) one or more texts of Scripture. But he so works upon the soul by his immediate influence, and by a strong, though inexplicable operation, that the stormy wind and troubled waves subside, and there is a sweet calm; the heart resting as in the arms of Jesus, and the sinner being clearly satisfied that God is reconciled, that all his “ iniquities are forgiven, and his sins covered.”
5. Now what is the matter of dispute concerning this ? Not whether there be a witness or testimony of the Spirit ? Not whether the Spirit does testify with our spirit, that we are the children of God ? None can deny this, without flatly contradicting the Scriptures, and charging a lie upon
the God of truth. Therefore that there is a testimony of the Spirit, is acknowledged by all parties.
6. Neither is it questioned, whether there is an indirect witness, or testimony, that we are the children of God. This is nearly, if not exactly, the same with the testimony of a good conscience towards God; and is the result of reason, or reflection on what we feel in our own souls. Strictly speaking it is a conclusion drawn partly from the word of God, and partly from our own experience.
The word of God says, every one who has the fruit of the Spirit is a child of God; experience, or inward consciousness, tells me, that I have the fruit of the Spirit; and hence I rationally conclude, therefore I am a child of God. This is likewise allowed on all hands, and so is no matter of controversy.
7. Nor do we assert, that there can be any real testimony of the Spirit without the fruit of the Spirit. We assert, on the contrary, that the fruit of the Spirit immediately.springs from this testimony; not always indeed in the same degree, even when the testimony is first given; and much less afterwards. Neither joy nor peace is always at one stay ; no, nor love; as neither is the testimony itself always equally strong and clear.
8. But the point in question is, Whether there be any direct testimony of the Spirit at all? Whether there be any other testimony of the Spirit, than that which arises from a consciousness of the fruit?
III. 1. I believe there is; because that is the plain, natural meaning of the text, “ The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” It is manifest, here are two witnesses mentioned, who together testify the same thing; the Spirit of God, and our own spirit. The late Bishop of London, in his sermon on this text, seems astonished that any one can doubt of this, which appears upon the
face of the words. Now, “The testimony of our own spirit (says the Bishop) is one, which is the consciousness of our own sincerity;” or to express the same thing a little more clearly, the consciousness of the fruit of the Spirit. When our spirit is conscious of this, of love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, it easily infers from these premises, that we are the children of God.
2. It is true, that great man supposes the other witness to he, “The consciousness of our own good works.” This, he affirms, is the testi mony of God's Spirit. But this is included in the testimony of our own spirit; yea, and in sincerity, even according to the common sense of the wond. So the apostle, “ Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have had our conversation in the world :” where it is plain, sincerity refers to our words and actions, at least as much as to our inward dispositions. So that this is not another witness, but the very same that he mentioned before ; the consciousness of our good works being only one branch of the consciousness of our sincerity. Consequently here is only one witness still. If therefore the text speaks of two witnesses; one of these is not the consciousness of our good works; neither of our sincerity; all this being manifestly contained in the testimony of our spirit.
3. What then is the other witness ? This might easily be learned, if the text itself were not sufficiently clear, from the verse immediately preceding : “Ye have received, not the spirit of bondage, but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” It follows, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God."
4. This is farther explained by the parallel text, Gal. iv, 6," Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” Is not this something immcdiate and direct, not the result of reflection or argumentation ? Does not this Spirit cry,
Abba, Father,” in our hearts the moment it is given, antecedentiy io any
reflection upon our sincerity; yea, to any reasoning whatsoever ? And is not this the plain natural sense of the words, which strikes any one as soon as he hears them ? All these texts then, in their most obvious meaning, describe a direct testimony of the Spirit
. 5. That the testimony of the Spirit of God, must, 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 in heart and life, before we can be conscious that we are so. 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 love to us, till his Spirit witnesses it to our spirit. Till then we cannot believe it; we cannot say, “ The life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
6. Then, only then we feel
Our interest in his blood,
Thou art my Lord, my God.”
6. And here properly comes in, to confirm this scriptural doctrine, the experience of the children of God; the experience not of two or three, not of a few, but of a great multitude which no man can number. It has been confirmed, both in this and in all ages, by a cloud of living and dying witnesses. It is confirmed by your experience and mine. The Spirit itself bore witness to my spirit, that I was a child of God, gave me an evidence hereof, and I immediately cried, Abba, Father! And this I did, (and so did you,) before I reflected on, or was conscious of, any fruit of the Spirit. It was from this testimony received, that love, joy, peace, and the whole fruit of the Spirit flowed. First I heard,
“Thy sins are forgiven! Accepted thou art !
I listen'd, and heaven sprung up in iny heart.” 7. But this is confirmed, not only by the experience of the children of God; thousands of whom can declare, that they never did know themselves to be in the favour of God, till it was directly witnessed to them by his Spirit ;-but by all those who are convinced of sin, who feel the wrath of God abiding on them. These cannot be satisfied with any thing less than a direct testimony from his Spirit, that he is " merciful to their unrighteousness, and remembers their sins and iniquities no more. Tell any of these, “ You are to know you are a child, by reflecting on what he has wrought in you, on your love, joy, and peace;" and will he not immediately reply, “ By all this I know I am a child of the devil. I have no more love to God than the devil has : my carnal mind is enmity against God. I have no joy in the Holy Ghost : my soul is sorrowful even unto death. I have no peace: my heart is a troubled sea : I am all storm and tempest.” And which way can these souls possibly be comforted, but by a divine testimony (not that they are good, or sincere, or conformable to the Scripture in heart and life, but) that God justifieth the ungodly?-him that, till the moment he is justified, is all ungodly, void of all true holiness; “ him that worketh not,” that worketh nothing that is truly good, till he is conscious that he is accepted," not for (any) works of righteousness which he hath done," but by the mere, free mercy of God; wholly and solely, for what the Son of God hath done and suffered for him. And can it be any otherwise, if "a man is justified by faith, without the works of the law ?" If so, what inward or outward goodness can he be conscious of, antecedent to his justification ? Nay, is not the having nothing to pay, that is, the being conscious that “there dwelleth in us no good thing, neither inward nor outward goodness, essentially, indispensably neces