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Christ alone suffered :-we answer, 1. Experience is sufficient to confirm a doctrine which is grounded on Scripture: 2. Though many fancy they experience what they do not, this is no prejudice to real experience : 3. The design of that witness is, to assure us we are children of God; and this design. it does answer : 4. The true witness of the Spirit is known by its fruit, “ love, peace, joy;” not indeed preceding, but following it: 5. It cannot be proved, that the direct, as well as the indirect witness, is not referred to in that very text, “Know ye not your ownselves that Jesus Christ is in you ?". 6. The Spirit of God, witnessing with our spirit, does secure us from all delusion : And, lastly, we are all liable to trials, wherein the testimony of our own spirit is not sufficient; wherein nothing less than the direct testimony of God's Spirit can assure us that we are his children.
3. Two inferences may be drawn from the whole : the first, Let none ever presume to rest in any supposed testimony of the Spirit, which is separate from the fruit of it. If the Spirit of God does really testify that we are children of God, the immediate consequence will be the fruit of the Spirit, even “ love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, temperance." And however this fruit may be clouded for a while, during the time of strong temptation, so that it does not appear to the tempted person, while Satan is sifting him as wheat; yet the substantial part of it remains, even under the thickest cloud. It is true, joy in the Holy Ghost may be withdrawn, during the hour of trial; yea, the soul may be "exceeding sorrowful,” while “ the hour and power of darkness” continue; but even this is generally restored with increase, till we rejoice "with joy unspeakable and full of glory."
4. The second inference is, Let none rest in any supposed fruit of the Spirit without the witness. There may be foretastes of joy, of
peace, of love, and those not delusive, but really from God, long before we have the witness in ourselves; before the Spirit of God witnesses with our spirits that we have “redemption in the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sins.” Yea, there may be a degree of long suffering, of gentleness, of fidelity, meekness, temperance, (not a shadow thereof, but a real degree, by the preventing grace of God,) before we " are accepted in the Beloved," and consequently, before we have a testimony of our acceptance : but it is by no means advisable to rest here; it is at the peril of our souls if we do. If we are wise, we shall be continually crying to God, until his Spirit cry in our heart, Abba, Father! This is the privilege of all the children of God, and without this we can never be assured that we are his children. Without this we cannot -retain a steady peace, nor avoid perplexing doubts and fears. But when we have once received this Spirit of adoption, this “peace which passes all understanding," and which expels all painful doubt and fear, will
keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." And when this has brought forth its genuine fruit, all inward and outward holiness, it is undoubtedly the will of Him that calleth us, to give us always what he has once given ; so that there is no need that we should ever more be deprived of either the testimony of God's Spirit, or the testimony of our own, the consciousaess of our walking in all righteousness and true holiness.
Newry, April 4 176
SERMON XII.-The Witness of our own Spirit.
“ This is our rejoicing, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world,” 2 Cor. i, 12.
1. Such is the voice of every true believer in Christ, so long as he abides in faith and love. “ He that followeth me,” saith our Lord, “ walketh not in darkness :" and while he hath the light, he rejoiceth therein. As he hath “received the Lord Jesus Christ,” so he walketh in him ; and while he walketh in him, the exhortation of the apostle takes place in his soul, day by day, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice."
2. But that we may not build our house upon the sand, (lest when the rains descend, and the winds blow, and the floods arise and beat upon it, it fall, and great be the fall thereof,) I intend in the following discourse to show, what is the nature and ground of a Christian’s joy. We know, in general, it is that happy peace, that calm satisfaction of spirit, which arises from such a testimony of his conscience, as is here described by the apostle. But, in order to understand this the more thoroughly, it will be requisite to weigh all his words; whence will easily appear, both what we are to understand by conscience, and what by the testimony thereof; and also, how he that hath this testimony rejoiceth
3. And, first, what are we to understand by conscience? What is the meaning of this word that is in every one's mouth? One would imagine it was an exceeding difficult thing to discover this, when we consider how large and numerous volumes have been from time to time wrote on this subjeci; and how all the treasures of ancient and modern learning have been ransacked, in order to explain it. And yet it is to be feared, it has not received much light from all those elaborate inquiries. Rather, have not most of those writers puzzled the cause; darkening counsel by words without knowledge;" perplexing a subject, plain in itself, and easy to be understood ? For, set aside but hard words, and
every man of an honest heart will soon understand the thing.
4. God has made us thinking beings, capable of perceiving what is present, and of reflecting or looking back on what is past. In particular, we are capable of perceiving whatsoever passes in our own hearts or lives; of knowing whatsoever we feel or do; and that either while it passes, or when it is past. This we mean when we say, man is a conscious being : he hath a consciousness, or inward perception, both of things present and past, relating to himself, of his own tempers and outward behaviour. But what we usually term conscience, implies somewhat more than this. It is not barely the knowledge of our present, or the remembrance of our preceding life. To remember, to bear witness either of past or present things, is only one, and the least office of conscience: its main business is to excuse or accuse, to approve or disapprove, to acquit or condemn.
5. Some late writers indeed have given a new name to this, and have chose to style it a moral sense. But the old word seems preferable to the new, were it only on this account, that it is more comraon and familiar among men, and therefore easier to be understood. And to Christians it is undeniably preferable, on another account also; namely, because it is scriptural; because it is the word which the wisdom of God hath chose to use in the inspired writings.
And according to the meaning wherein it is generally used there, particularly in the epistles of St. Paul, we may understand by conscience, a faculty or power, implanted by God in every soul that comes into the world, of perceiving what is right or wrong in his own heart or life, in his tempers, thoughts, words, and actions.
6. But what is the rule whereby men are to judge of right and wrong? whereby their conscience is to be directed ? The rule of heathens, as the apostle teaches elsewhere, is "the law written in their hearts.” " These,” saith he, “not having the soutward] law, are a law unto themselves : who show the work of the law (that which the outward law prescribes) written in their heart ; [by the finger of God;] their conscience also bearing witness, [whether they walk by this rule or not,] and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or even excusing," acquitting, defending them; n xai atooyounusuwv, Rom. ii, 14, 15. But the Christian rule of right and wrong is the word of God, the writings of the Old and New Testament; all that the prophets and "holy men of old” wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost;" all that Scripture which was given by inspiration of God, and which is indeed profitable for doctrine, or teaching the whole will of God; for reproof of what is contrary thereto; for correction of error, and for instruction, or training us up in righteousness, 2 Tim. iii, 16.
This is a lantern unto a Christian's feet, and a light in all his paths. This alone he receives as his rule of right or wrong, of whatever is really good or evil. He esteems nothing good, but what is here enjoined, either directly or by plain consequence; he accounts nothing evil but what is here forbidden, either in terms, or by undeniable inference. Whatever the Scripture neither forbids nor enjoins, either directly or by plain consequence, he believes to be of an indifferent nature; to be in itself neither good nor evil; this being the whole and sole outward rule whereby his conscience is to be directed in all things.
7. And if it be directed thereby, in fact, then hath he "the answer of a good conscience towards God.” “A good conscience” is what is elsewhere termed by the apostle, "a conscience void of offence.” So, what he at one time expresses thus, “ I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day,” Acts xxiii
, 1, he denotes at another, by that expression, “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man," chap. xxiv, 16. Now in order to this there is absolutely required, first, a right understanding of the word of God, of his "holy, and acceptable, and perfect will” concerning us, as it is revealed therein. For it is impossible we should walk by a rule, if we do not know what it means. There is,
secondly, required (which how few have attained !) a true knowledge of ourselves; a knowledge both of our hearts and lives, of our inward tempers and outward conversation : seeing, if we know them not, it is not possible that we should compare them with our rule. There is required, thirdly, an agreement of our hearts and lives, of our tempers and conversation, of our thoughts, and words, and works, with that rule, with the written word of God. For, without this, if we have any conscience at all, it
can be only an evil conscience. There is, fourthly, required, an inward perception of this agreement with our rule: and this habitual perception, this inward consciousness itself, is properly a good conscience; or, in the other phrase of the apostle, a conscience void of offence, towards God and towards man.
8. But whoever desires to have a conscience thus void of offence, let him see that he lay the right foundation. Let him remember, “other foundation" of this can no man lay, than that which is laid, even Jesus Christ.” And let him also be mindful, that no man buildeth on him but by a living faith; that no man is a partaker of Christ, until he can clearly testify, “ The life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God;" in him who is now revealed in my heart; who “loved me, and gave himself for me. Faith alone is that evidence, that conviction, that demonstration of things invisible, whereby the eyes of our understanding being opened, and divine light poured in upon them, we “ see the wondrous things of God's law,” the excellency and purity of it; the height, and depth, and length, and breadth thereof, and of every commandment contained therein. It is by faith that, beholding “the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” we perceive, as in a glass, all that is in ourselves, yea, the inmost motions of our souls. And by this alone can that blessed love of God be “shed abroad in our hearts," which enables us so to love one another as Christ loved us. By this is that gracious promise fulfilled unto all the Israel of God, " I will put my laws into their minds, and write (or engrave) them in their hearts ;" Heb. viii, 10; hereby producing in their souls an entire agreement with his holy and perfect law, and“ bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
And, as an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit, so a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. As the heart therefore of a believer, so likewise his life, is thoroughly conformed to the rule of God's commandments; in a consciousness whereof, he can give glory to God, and say with the apostle, “ This is our rejoicing, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had 'our conversation in the world.”
9. “We have had our conversation :" The apostle in the original expresses this by one single word, avespapnuev; but the meaning thereof is exceeding broad, taking in our whole deportment, yea, every inward as well as outward circumstance, whether relating to our soul or body. It includes every motion of our heart, of our tongue, of our hands, and bodily members. It extends to all our actions and words; to the employment of all our powers and faculties; to the manner of using every talent we have received, with respect either to God or man.
10.“ We have had our conversation in the world;" even in the world of the ungodly: not only among the children of God; (that were comparatively a little thing :) but among the children of the devil, among those that lie in wickedness, év tw Tovnew, in the wicked one.
What a world is this! How thoroughly impregnated with the spirit it continually breathes! As our God is good, and doeth good, so the god of this world, and all his children, are evil, and do evil, (so far as they are suffered,) to all the children of God. Like their father, they are always lying in wait, or “walking about, seeking whom they may devour;"
rising fraud or force, secret wiles or open violence, to destroy those who are not of the world; continually warring against our souls, and by old or new weapons, and devices of every kind, labouring to bring them back into the snare of the devil, into the broad road that leadeth to destruction.
11. “ We have had our (whole] conversation,” in such a world, “ in simplicity and godly sincerity.” first, in simplicity: This is what our Lord recommends, under the name of a " single eye.” “The light of the body,” saith he, " is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." The meaning whereof is this: What the eye is to the body, that the intention is to all the words and actions: if therefore this eye of thy soul be single, all thy actions and conversation shall be " full of light of the light of heaven, of love, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
We are then simple of heart, when the eye of our mind is singly fixed on God; when in all things we aim at God alone, as our God, our portion, our strength, our happiness, our exceeding great reward, our all
, in time and eternity. This is simplicity; when a steady view, a single intention of promoting his glory, of doing and suffering his blessed will, runs through our whole soul, fills all our heart, and is the constant spring of all our thoughts, desires, and purposes.
12. “We have had our conversation in the world,” secondly, "in godly sincerity." The difference between simplicity and sincerity seems to be chiefly this : simplicity regards the intention itself, sincerity the execution of it; and this sincerity relates not barely to our words, but to our whole conversation, as described above. It is not here to be understood in that narrow sense, wherein St. Paul himself sometimes uses it, for speaking the truth, or abstaining from guile, from craft, and dissimulation ; but in a more extensive meaning, as actually hitting the mark, which we aim at by simplicity. Accordingly, it implies in this place, that we do, in fact, speak and do all tò the glory of God; that all our words are not only pointed at this, but actually conducive thereto; that all our actions flow on in an even stream, uniformly subservient to this great end; and that, in our whole lives, we are moving straight towards God, and that continually; walking steadily on in the highway of holiness, in the paths of justice, mercy and truth.
13. This sincerity is termed by the apostle, godly sincerity, or the sincerity of God; £ikexpivsia Oex; to prevent our mistaking or confound ing it with the sincerity of the heathens; (for they had also a kind os sincerity among them, for which they professed no small veneration ;) likewise to denote the object and end of this, as
Christian virtue, seeing whatever does not ultimately tend to God, sinks among “the beggarly elements of the world.” By styling it the sincerity of God, he also points out the Author of it, the “Father of lights, from whom every good and perfect gift descendeth ;" which is still more clearly declared in the following words, “ Not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God.”
14. “ Not with fleshly wisdom :” as if he had said, “We cannot thus converse in the world, by any natural strength of understanding, neither by any naturally acquired knowledge or wisdom. We cannot gain this simplicity, or practise this sincerity, by the force either of good sense, good nature, or good breeding. It overshoots all our native