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here are two witnesses mentioned, who together testify the same thing; the Spirit of God, and our own spirit. The late Bishop of London, in his sermon on this text, seems astonished that any one can doubt of this, which appears upon the very face of the words. Now, “ The testimony of our own spirit (says the Bishop) is one, which is the consciousness of our own sincerity;” or to express the same thing a little more clearly, the consciousness of the fruit of the Spirit. When our spirit is conscious of this, of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, it easily infers from these premises, that we are the children of God.
2. It is true, that great man supposes the other witness to be, “The consciousness of our own good works.” This, he affirms, is the testimony of God's Spirit. But this is included in the testimony of our own spirit; yea, and in sincerity, even according to the common sense of the word. So the Apostle, “Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have had our conversation in the world :" where it is plain, sincerity refers to our words and actions, at least as much as to our inward dispositions. So that this is not another witness, but the very same that he mentioned before, the consciousness of our good works being only one branch of the consciousness of our sincerity. Consequently here is only one witness still. If therefore the text speaks of two witnesses; one of these is not the consciousness of our good works; neither of our sincerity; all this being manifestly contained in the testimony of our spirit.
3. What then is the other Witness ? This might easily be learned, if the text itself were not sufficiently clear, from the verse immediately preceding : “ Ye have received, not the Spirit of bondage, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”- It follows, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”
4. This is farther explained by the parallel text, (Gal. iv. 6,) “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” Is not this something immediate and direct, not the result of reflection or argumentation? Does not this Spirit cry, “ Abba, Father,” in our hearts, the moment it is given, anteccdently to any reflection upon our sincerity; yea, to any reasoning whatsoever ? And is not this the plain, natural sense of the words, which strikes any one as soon as he hcars them? All these texts then, in their most obvious meaning, describe a direct testimony of the Spirit.
5. That the testimony of the Spirit of God must, in the very nature of things, be antecedent to the testimony of our own spirit, may appear from this single consideration : le must be holy in heart and life, before we can be conscious that we are so. But we must love Gou beiore 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 love to us, till his Spirit witnesses it to our spirit. Till then we camot believe it ; we cannot say, “ The life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himsell for me.”
* Thun, only then we feel
Our interest in his blood,
Thou art my Lord, my God.' Since, therefore, the testimony of his Spirit must precede the love of God, and all holiness, of consequence it must precede our consciousness thereof.
6. And here properly comes in, to confirm this scriptural doctrine, the Experience of the children of God; the experience not of two or three, not of a few, but of a great multitude which no man can number. It has been confirmed, both in this and in all ages, by a cloinci of living and dying witnesses, It is confirmed by your experience and mine. The Spirit itself bore witness to my spirit, that I was a child of God, gave me an evidence hereof, and I immediately cried, Abba, Father ! And this I did, (and so did yoll,) before I reflected on, or was couscious of, any fruit of the Spirit. It was from this testimony reccived, that love, joy, peace, and the whole fruit of the Spirit Nowed. First I heard,
" Thy sins are forgiven ! Accepted thou art !
I listen'd, and heaven Sprung up in my heart.” 7. But this is confirmed, not only by the experience of the children of God; thousands of whom can declare, that they never did know themselves to be in the favour of God, till it was directly witnessed to them by his Spirit ;—but by all those who are convinced of sin, who feel the wrath of God abiding on them. These cannot be satisfied with any thing less than a direct testimony from his Spirit, that he is “merciful to their
unrighteousness, and remembers their sins and iniquities no more.” Tell any of these, “ You are to know you are a child, by reflecting on what he has wrought in you, on your love, joy, and peace;” and will he not immediately reply, “ By all this I know I am a child of the Devil. I have no more · love to God than the Devil has : my carnal inind is enmity against God. I have no joy in the Holy Ghost: my soul is sorrowful even unto death. I have no peace : iny heart is a troubled sea : I am all storm and tempest.” And which way can these souls possibly be comforted, but by a divine testimony (not that they are good, or sincere, or conformable to the Scripture in heart and life, but) that God justifieth the ungodly?him that, till the moment he is justified, is all ungodly, void of all truc holiness ; “him that worketh not,” that worketh nothing that is truly good, till be is conscious that he is accepted, “ not for (any) works of righteousness which he hath done,” but by the mere, free mercy of God; wholly and solely, for what the Son of God hath done and suffered for him. And can it be any otherwise, if" a man is justified by faith, without the works of the law ?" If so, what inward or outward goodness can he be conscious of, antecedent to his justification ? Nay, is not the having nothing to pay, that is, the being conscious that “there dwelleth in us no good thing,” neither inward nor outward goodness, essentially, indispensably necessary, before we can be “justified freely, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ?” Was ever any man justified since bis coming into the world, or can any man ever be justified, till he is brought to that point,
“I give up every plea beside,
Lord, I am damn'd; But thou hast died ?” 8. Every one therefore who denies the existence of such a testimony, does in effect deny justification by faith. It follows, that either he never experienced this, either he never was justiþed, or that he has forgotten, as St. Peter speaks, to καθαρισμό των παλαι αμαρτιων, the purification from his former sins ; the experience be then had himself; the manner wherein God wrought in his own soul, when his former sins were blotted out.
9. And the experience even of the children of the world here confirms that of the children of God. Many of these have a desire to please God: some of them take much pains to please him: but do they not, one and all, count it the
highest absurdity for any to talk of knowing his sins are forgiven ? Which of them even pretends to any such thing? And yet many of them are conscious of their own sincerity. Many of them undoubtedly havc, iu a degree, the testimony of their own spirit, a consciousness of their own uprightness. But this brings them no consciousness that they are forgiven ; no knowledge that they are the children of God. Yea, the morc sincere they are, the more uneasy they generally are, for want of knowing it; plainly showing that this cannot be known, in a satisfactory manner, by the bare testimony of our own spirit, without God's directly testisying that we are bis children.
IV. But abundance of Objections have been made to this; the chief of which it may be well to consider.
1. It is objected first, “ Experience is not sufficient to prove a doctrine which is not founded on Scripture.” This is undoubtedly truc; and it is an important truth; but it does not affect the present question: for it has been shown, that this doctrine is founded on Scripture: Therefore experience is properly alleged to confirm it.
2. “But madmen, French prophcts, and enthusiasts of every kind, have imagined they cxperienced this witness." They have so; and perhaps not a few of them did, although they did not retain it long: but if they did not, this is no proof at all that others have not experienced it; as a madman's imagining himself a king, does not prove that there are no real kings.
“ Nay, many who pleaded strongly for this, have utterly decried the Bible.” Perhaps so; but this was no necessary conscqucncc: thousands plead for it who have thc highest esteem for the Bible.
“Yea, but many have fatally deceived themselves hereby, and got above all conviction.”
And yet a scriptural doctrine is no worse, though men abuse it to their own destruction.
3. “But I lay it down as an undoubted truth, the fruit of the Spirit is the witness of the Spirit." Not undoubted; thousands doubt of, yea, flatly deny it: but let that pass. “If this witness be sufficient, there is no need of any other. But it is sufficient, unless in one of these cases, l, The total absence of the fruit of the Spirit.” And this is the case, when the direct wilde: is fils ive: 2, "The not perceiving it. But to contend for it in this case, is to contend for being in the favour of God, and not knowing it." True, not knowing it at that time any otherwise, than by the testimony which is given for that end. And this we do contend for; we contend that the direct witness may shine clear, even while the indirect one is under a cloud.
4. It is objected, secondly, “The design of the witness contended for, is to prove that the profession we make is genuine. But it does not prove this.” I answer, the proving this is not the design of it. It is antecedent to our making any profession at all, but that of being lost, undone, guilty, helpless sinners. It is designed to assure those to whom it is given, that they are the children of God; that they are “justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.” And this does not suppose that their preceding thoughts, words, and actions, are conformable to the rule of Scripture; it supposes quite the reverse; namely, that they are sinners all over; sinners both in heart and life. Were it otherwise, God would justify the godly; and their own works would be counted to them for righteousness. And I cannot but fear that a supposition of our being justified by works, is at the root of all these objections; for, whoever cordially believes, that God imputes to all that are justified righteousness without works, will find no difficulty in allowing the witness of his Spirit, preceding the fruit of it.
5. It is objected, thirdly, “ One Evangelist says, Your heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask bim.' The other Evangelist calls the same thing good gifts;' abundantly demonstrating that the Spirit's way of bearing witness is by giving good gifts." Nay, here is nothing at all about bearing witness, either in the one text or the other. Therefore till this demonstration is better demonstrated, I let it stand as it is.
6. It is objected, fourthly, “The Scripture says, “The tree is knowu by its fruits. Prove all things. Try the spirits. Examine yourselves.'" Most true: therefore, let every man who believes he “hath the witness in himself,” try whether it be of God; if the fruit follow, it is; otherwise it is not. Por certainly “the tree is known by its fruit:" hereby we prove if it be of God. “But the direct witness is never referred to in the Book of God.” Not as standing alone; not as a single witness; but as connected with the other; as giving a