« PreviousContinue »
II. To give some account from Scripture. There we are taught that human nature is corrupt and degenerate, and no longer able to stand alone against the temptations which itself breeds; and yet less when they are strengthened by the suggestions of wicked men, and of our adversary the devil, who as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour * : that therefore our Maker, who still requires obedience from his creatures, and yet doth not require impossibilities, hath from the beginning striven with the bad †, and instructed and established § the good, by his Spirit within them ||; though it were more abundantly poured forth, when the Gospel was published: from which we learn, that except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven I that by the spirit of adoption **, changing our nature and condition, we are entitled, through faith in Christ, to call God our Father; and that if we, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto our children; much more shall our Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him ††. Now in this declaration our blessed Redeemer evidently means, not giving his miraculous powers (which few in proportion ever had, and perhaps none ever presumed to request for themselves), but his saving graces; which, to use the preceding words, every one that seeketh, findeth; and which answer in the spiritual life, to bread in the natural. Accordingly St. Paul in the conclusion of his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, prays, that the fellowship, or communion, the communication of the blessings of the Holy Ghost, may be with them all, as well as the grace of our Lord
1 Pet. v. 8. § Psalm li. 12.
** Rom. viii. 15.
+ Gen. vi. 3.
Jesus Christ, and the love of God. Certainly thi means, not a benefit peculiar to a few in the primitive days, but an influence from the blessed Spirit on the soul, of which every true believer in every age might partake.
Thus then the Holy Ghost is given to all Christians. And, as we are taught in the same Scriptures more particularly, he opens our understandings and hearts +, that we may discern our lost condition, by sin original and actual; may attend to the offers of the Gospel, and know the things that are freely given us of Godt. He also inclines our souls not only to embrace, but obey the truth §. Such as comply with his motions, he leads || uniformly on to their maturity in goodness, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ ¶. Those who deviate from the right way, he brings back **; by representing, partly the terrors of religion, partly the mercies; renews them in the spirit of their minds ††, and forms them again to the image of God. In this manner he conducts the whole flock of Christ; helps their infirmities in their devotions, making intercession within them ‡‡; enables them to profit by the ordinances appointed for them §§; teaches them all things, which they need to know ||||; in every affliction and temptation makes his grace sufficient for them II. Proportionably as they use these advantages well, he fills them with the fruits of the Spirit, which are in all goodness and righteousness and truth ***: and thus is present with them, and dwells in them continually more and more, so that they grow up, to use the Apostle's expressions,
Luke xxiv. 45. § 1 Pet. i. 2. 22. 1 Eph. iv. 13.
Rom. viii. 26. 2 Cor. xii. 9.
† Acts xvi. 14. || Rom. viii. 14. ** Ps. cxix. 176.
1 Cor. xii. 7.
+ 1 Cor. ii. 12. Gal. v. 18.
++ Eph. iv. 23. John ii. 20. 27.
*** Eph. v. 9. Phil. i. 11.
into temples of the Holy Ghost, habitations of God through the Spirit *.
Not that all good Christians have an equal sense, or equal share, of this happiness. For though they must feel, with some degree of comfort, the good dispositions which the Holy Ghost hath wrought in them; yet fears and doubts concerning their spiritual state may, at times especially, prevail: and the best persons, through mistaken opinion, or constitutional lowness of spirits, think too ill of themselves; as the worst people often think too well, and have lively perceptions of groundless confidence. It is not therefore by our inward enjoyments, but our obedience, that we are to judge of our condition. However, generally speaking, in those of confirmed goodness, the Spirit bears witness powerfully with their spirit, makes the testimony of their conscience clear and strong, that they are the children of God†. And hence arises that joy in the Holy Ghost the Comforter, which is a foretaste of heavenly happiness: that assurance of God's favour, which is called, in Scripture, being sealed with the spirit of promise, the earnest of our inheritance §.
And now, having seen what reason and Scripture teach in this matter, it will be time to enquire,
III. Whether sad experience doth not contradict both. For it will be said, Who is there, that feels any other principle moving within him, than the natural workings of his own mind? And it must be owned, that the generality of men, at least, have no such perception of any secret impulses upon them, as can make it certain, that the Spirit of God is the author of them, any otherwise than as we know, that
* 1 Cor. vi. 19. Eph. ii. 21, 22.
† Rom. viii. 16.
§ Eph. i. 13, 14.
every good gift is from above*. Yet sometimes a religious or virtuous thought shall present itself to us so very suddenly and seasonably, that we cannot but have a more particular persuasion, if we reflect at all, of its proceeding immediately from a gracious invisible Power. But were this otherwise: we every day see persons influenced by their fellow-creatures, and strongly too, without perceiving it in the least. And is not our Creator infinitely abler to do the same thing? Our Saviour argues very justly: The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the spirit. The very motion of the air is much too subtle to have its course and the manner of its operations minutely traced; yet its effects are very manifest, and very great. Thus likewise the Spirit of God, though it be invisible, is yet powerful in its movements, producing such changes in the heart, as nothing else can.
But it may be urged, that "even of these effects there is by no means the evidence, which might be. expected. Many persons are as bad, as they well can be and few, if any, so good, as they easily might be where then is the proof of those heavenly influences, which are to reform the one sort and perfect the other?" Now we should remember, that throughout the dispensations of God towards rational creatures, he in no case doth so much as he can: for doing less is more properly suited to their make. As we have not by nature a sufficient power, he is ready to add to it. But as we have by nature some power, of taking preliminary, though of themselves ineffectual, steps towards amendment, he requires we should first exert that: and ordinarily will † John iii. 8.
* James i. 17.
make our behaviour the measure of his own: though sometimes that he may shew the exceeding riches of his grace*, he extends uncommon degrees of it to very great sinners. Our Saviour therefore, when in the text he promises the Holy Spirit to his disciples, doth it only on the condition, that, with the strength which they already had, they kept his commandments: and tells them that the rest of the world cannot receive this Comforter, because it seeth him not,neither knoweth him; they turn their eyes from the light, and harden themselves against feeling conviction. Yet even such he treats, by his Spirit, for some time, in the manner, which himself describes: Behold, I stand at the door, and knock. If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him. But if men resist the Holy Ghost, grieve him §, and do despite to him ||; no wonder, if at last he depart, and leave them to the sin and misery, which they have chosen. For into a malicious soul wisdom shall not enter; nor dwell in the body, that is subject unto sin. The Holy Spirit of discipline will flee deceit; and remove from thoughts, that are without understanding: and will not abide, when unrighteousness cometh in **.
They then, who are resolute in wickedness, can hope for no experience of our Saviour's promise: and for the same reason, such as are irresolute in goodness, can expect but little. For the rule so often repeated in the Gospel, is, notwithstanding its first appearance, very reasonable: unto him that hath, shall be given; and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, even that he hath shall be taken from him t+: to all, who receive and use the grace of God, it shall be continually increased; and from
+ Rev. iii. 20.
* Eph. ii. 7. § Eph. iv. 30. ++ Matth. xiii. 12. xxv. 29. Mark iv. 25.
|| Heb. x. 29.
Acts vii. 51.
** Wisd. i. 4, 5.
Luke viii. 18. xix. 26.