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(or rather the SAME Spirit, namely, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit which was given us at our baptism, as an earnest of our inheritance, and sealed us as children of God,) beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." That is the same Spirit, by which we were sealed and which we received as an earnest of " the promises of God made to us in that sacrament';" continues to "bear witness," through our Christian course, that we are children of God.
But this question here immediately suggests itself "How does the Spirit bear witness? By what tokens are we to distinguish his testimony?"
Some will answer this question by referring us to inward feelings, or to "experiences." We disclaim these. We refer to the simple and sound criterion given by our Saviour himself; "the tree is known by its FRUITS "." This is the rule by which we can ascertain whether, and in what degree we continue to have the witness of the Spirit: therefore, St. Paul says, “If ye live after the flesh, ye
* Αυτο το πνέυμα.
"In reference to this point let the reader observe, what an admirable comment the Gospel for the day forms to the Epistle; so much so, indeed, that we cannot but characterise their selection, as a judicious comparison of Scripture with Scrip
shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, dò mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God"." For if the Spirit dwell in us, (and if we quench it not, it will dwell in us abundantly) it will produce its proper fruits. What those fruits are our Apostle has thus enumerated. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance"." In proportion as a man shall find these graces indwelling, and operative in his heart, in the same degree he has the witness of the Spirit to his continuance as a child of God, and may hope to inherit the kingdom of heaven.
But the conviction that these graces do dwell in him, is neither more nor less than the "testimony of his conscience." As St. Paul himself declares, "Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience." And again; "What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him1???
Rom. viii. 13, 14.
"O but how shall I know that the Holy Ghost is within me? some man, perchance, will say. Forsooth, as the tree is known by his fruit, so is the Holy Ghost. The fruits of the Holy Ghost, according to the mind of St. Paul, are these," &c. Homily for Whitsunday. P Gal. v. 22.
92 Cor. i, 12.
* 1 Cor. ii. 11.
And in conformity with these sentiments, our Apostle, in the passage before us, declares, “ the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit.” It is the joint testimony of the Spirit and of our own conscience which assures us, that we are the children of God. That we are adopted, we have the earnest of the Spirit, when we are “ born of water and of the Spirit;" that we continue to be sons of God, and are endeavouring to make our “calling and election sure, the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit ; the one enabling us to bring forth its fruits, the other comparing our hearts and conduct with our duty, and satisfying us, that we are diligently cultivating and labouring to encrease them.”
5“ Far from me, (said Bishop Mant, in whose declaration I most cordially join) be the arrogance and the folly of denying, that "God hath given us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts,' or that the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.' However arduous may be the task of defining the limits of his agency, and drawing a line of separation between his motions and the natural suggestions of the human mind, (a task which the great Searcher of hearts alone may be deemed capable of performing), still the belief that we are blessed with this inward witness,' is a source of consolation, peace, and encouragement to the humble believer : he embraces it with gladness, and he acknowledges it with gratitude.
“ Do I then deny the sensible influence of the Spirit ? I answer, we may feel in ourselves the working of the Spirit of Christ :'-our Church employs the language ; and I scruple
This appears to me to be the sound and scriptural exposition of the passage, and to harmonise with the prevailing tone of exhortation which may be traced throughout the Bible. The life of a Christian is uniformly pourtrayed, as a life of vigilance, activity, and caution. In no point of view does it seem reconcileable with the tenor of Christ's instructions or promises to suppose, that his followers are to derive the assurance of salvation from internal feelings * ;-feelings which every man of common sense must know are fallacious, liable to be confounded with the morbid operations of a deranged mind or body; or with the delusions created by the declamations of imposture or fanaticism working upon a nervous habit, an untaught mind, or a weak intellect.
not to repeat it, nor, when scripturally understood, to maintain it for the doctrine of Scripture: but we feel it no otherwise than we do our thoughts and meditations; we cannot distinguish them, by their manner of affecting us, from our natural reasonings, and the operation of truth upon our souls ; so that,
; if God had only designed to give the Holy Spirit to us, without making any mention of it in his word, we could never have known, unless it had been communicated to us by some private revelation, that our souls are moved by a divine power, when we love God and keep his commandments.”—Mant's Bampton Lectures, p. 298, 299.
* If it be held that the witness of the Spirit is to be distinguished, not by our conscience discerning its fruits, but by certain indescribable but perceptible impulses, and those, and those only, are in a state of salvation, who are conscious of these impulses; to what fatal results may it lead. The wicked may be hardened in his sins and impenitence, by inferring that, because he has not these feelings and this witness, it is of little importance whether he continue in sin or not. The presumptuous, fancying that he has it, may be puffed, and, like the Pharisee, arrogantly thank God that he is not as other men
The methods which reason and religion point out for ascertaining a spiritual state, are diligent study of the Holy Scriptures, and impartial and frequent self-examination : study of the Scriptures to inform our conscience ; self-examination to satisfy it. Thus we may apply to ourselves the declaration of St. John: “ If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.”
There yet remains one portion of our text to be considered. The Apostle having declared that“ the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God," proceeds thus : « And if the children, then heirs ; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.”
Supposing, then, a man to have ascertained (no matter by what means or at what period of his life) that he has received this witness of the Spirit as to his being a child of God;
The desponding and melancholy, not being able to persuade himself that he has the witness, may be driven to recklessness and desperation.