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THE WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT.
“ The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are
the children of God.” Rom. vii. 16. 1. How many vain men, not understanding what they spake, neither whereof they affirined, hare wrested this Scripture to the great loss, if not the destruction, of their sculs? How 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 ihey 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 crror! All endeavours to bring them to the knowledge of themscives, they will then account fighting against God; and that vehemence and impetuosity of spirit, which they call “contending carnestly 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 toward 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 rcady to set all down for Enthusiasts, who use the expressions which bave 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 extraordinary gifts, which they suppose belonged only to the apostolic age.
33. 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 that 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 ?
1. 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 be 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 jast said, in the preceding verse, “Ye have received the Spirit of Adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father ;'' and immediately subjoins, Auto TO EVEUHL (some copies read, to AUTO AVEULG) wymagtugat TW TVEUMATI nuwv, oti bojley TeXva ©£y; 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 plain, that he which runneth may read them. These are also collected together, and placed in the strongest ligbt, 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 ;)-(very man applying 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 infallible assurance of Holy Writ;) secondly, I am thus “led by the Spirit of God;” he will casily conclude,—therefore I am a son of God.
3. Agrecable to this arc 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 irc that we are in bim ;” that we are indeed the children of God. (ver. 5.) “If ye kuow 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. 11.) “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 know we that we dwell in him, because he hath given us of bis [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 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 ? Obscrve, that the meaning of the ques
tion 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 longsuffering. 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 Sabbathday 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 toward God, and toward all mankind; hanging with child-like 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 super-added 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 nonc that will adequately express what the children of God experience. But perhaps one night say, (desiring any who are tauglit 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 rcconciled 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 bis 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 loveth thee, and given his own Son to be the propitiation for thy sins ; the Son of God hath loved thee, and bath 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 lip has trought,