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may be blotted out,” Acts iii, 19. In conformity whereto, our church also continually places repentance before pardon, or the witness of it. “ He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent, and unfeign edly believe his holy gospel." “ Almighty God-hath promised forgiveness of sins to all them, who, with hearty repentance and true faith, turn unto him." But he is a stranger even to this repentance: he hath never known a broken and a contrite heart : “the remembrance of his sins" was never “ grievous unto him,” nor the burden of them intolerable.” In repeating those words, he never meant what he said ; he merely paid a compliment to God. And were it only from the want of this previous work of God, he hath too great reason to believe, that he hath grasped a mere shadow, and never yet known the real privilege of the sons of God.
5. Again, the Scriptures describe the being born of God, which must precede the witness that we are his children, as a vast and mighty change; a change " from darkness to light, as well as “ from the power of Satan unto God;" as a "passing from death unto life,” a resurrection from the dead. Thus the apostle to the Ephesians;“ You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins," chap. ii, 1 And again,“When we were dead in sins, he hath quickened us together with Christ; and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus," ver. 5, 6. But what knoweth he, concerning whom we now speak, of any such change as this ? He is altogether unacquainted with this whole matter. This is a language which he does not understand. He tells you, “ He always was a Chris tian. He knows no time when he had need of such a change." Bv this also, if he give himself leave to think, may he know, that he is not born of the Spirit; that he has never yet known God; but has mistaken the voice of nature for the voice of God.
6. But waiving the consideration of whatever he has or has not experienced in time past; by the present marks may we easily distinguish a child of God from a presumptuous self deceiver. The Scriptures describe that joy in the Lord which accompanies the witness of his Spirit, as an humble joy, a joy that abases to the dust; that makes a pardoned sinner cry out, “ I am vile! What am I, or my father's house ? Now mine eye seeth Thee, I abhor myself in dust and ashes !” And wherever lowliness is, there is meekness, patience, gentleness, long suffering. There is a soft, yielding spirit; a mildness and sweetness, a tenderness of soul, which words cannot express. But do these fruits attend that supposed testimony of the Spirit, in a presumptuous man? Just the reverse. The more confident he is of the favour of God, the more is he lifted up; the more does he exalt himself; the more haughty and assuming is his whole behaviour. The stronger witness he imagines himself to have, the more overbearing is he to all around him; the more incapable of receiving any reproof; the more impatient of contradiction. Instead of being more meek, and gentle, and teachable, 7. Once more: the Scriptures teach, “This is the love of God," the sure mark thereof, “ that we keep his commandments,” 1 John V, 3. And our Lord himself saith, “ He that keepeth my commandments, he it is that loveth me," John xiv, 21. Love rejoices to obey; to do, in every point, whatever is acceptable to the Beloved. A true lover of God hastens to do his will on earth as it is done in heaven. But is this the character of the presumptuous pretender to the love of God ? Nay, but his love gives him a liberty to disobey, to break, not keep, the commandments of God. Perhaps, when he was in fear of the wrath of God, he did labour to do his will. But now, looking on himself as not under the law," he thinks he is no longer obliged to observe it. He is therefore less zealous of good works; less careful to abstain from evil ; less watchful over his own heart; less jealous over his tongue. He is less earnest to deny himself, and to take up his cross daily. In a word, the whole form of his life is changed, since he has fancied himself to be at liberty. He is no longer "exercising himself unto godliness ;" “wrestling not only with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers,” enduring hardships,“ agonizing to enter in at the strait gate." No; he has found an easier way to heaven; a broad, smooth, flowery path; in which he can say to his soul,“ Soul, take thy ease; eat, drink, and be merry.
swift to hear, and slow to speak,” he is more slow to hear, and swift to speak; more unready to learn of any one; more fiery and vehement in his temper, and eager in his conversation. Yea, perhaps, there will sometimes appear a kind of fierceness in his air, his manner of speaking, his whole deportment, as if he were just going to take the matter out of God's hands, and himself to “devour the adversaries."
It follows with undeniable evidence, that he has not the true testimony of his own spirit. He cannot be conscious of having those marks which he hath not; that lowliness, meekness, and obedience: nor yet can the Spirit of the God of Truth bear witness to a lie; or testify that he is a child of God, when he is manifestly, a child of the devil.
8. Discover thyself, thou poor self-deceiver !—thou who art confident of being a child of God; thou who sayest,“I have the witness in myself," and therefore defiest all thy enemies. Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting ; even in the balance of the sanctuary. The word of the Lord hath tried thy soul, and proved thee to be reprobate silver. Thou art not lowly of heart; therefore thou hast not received the Spirit of Jesus unto this day. Thou art not gentle and meek; therefore thy joy is nothing worth: it is not joy in the Lord. Thou dost not keep his commandments; therefore thou lovest him not, neither art thou partaker of the Holy Ghost. It is consequently as certain and as evident, as the oracles of God can make it, his Spirit doth not bear witness with thy spirit that thou art a child of God. Oh cry unto him that the scales may fall off thine eyes; that thou mayest know thyself as thou art known; that thou mayest receive the sentence of death in thyself, till thou hear the voice that raises the dead, saying, “ Be of good cheer : thy sins are forgiven ; thy faith hath made thee whole.”
9. “But how may one who has the real witness in himself distinguish it from presumption ?" How, I pray, do you distinguish day from night? How do you distinguish light from darkness; or the light of a star, or a glimmering taper, from the light of the noonday sun? Is there not an inherent, obvious, essential difference between the one and the other ? And do you not immediately and directly perceive that difference, provided your senses are rightly disposed ? In like manner, there is an inherent, essential difference between spiritual light and spiritual darkness; and between the light wherewith the Sun of righteousness shines upon our heart, and that glimmering light which arises only from “sparks 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 answer 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. Beloved, 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 recovered, which had been for many years well nigh lost and forgotten.
II. 1. But what is the witness of the Spirit ? The original word MapTupia, 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 more 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