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THE WITNESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT TO THE BELIEVER'S
(Continued from page 396.) CHAPTER V.-THE HOLY SPIRIT'S WITNESS DISTINGUISHED FROM
THE MERE OPERATIONS OR THE PRESUMPTUOUS CONCLUSIONS OF THE MIND.
SINCERE persons are frequently afraid of mistaking the mere operation or the presumptuous conclusions of their minds, for the divine testimony of the Holy Spirit ; and inquire, with all the solicitude which the great importance of the subject demands, for some rule to direct their judgment. They require a rule devoid of the perplexities of metaphysical speculation, and which embodies principles on which the docile mind can rely with confidence. Now, mere mental acts are ordinarily extensively affected by the senses; but the adoption of the believer belongs to a class of facts existing beyond the sphere of sense, and the witness connected with it is clearly distinguishable from any mere act of the mind. The understanding, in its enlightened converse with the truths of the Gospel, enlarges its knowledge, grasps the arguments which encourage faith in Christ, and, by repeated exercise, under the divine blessing, becomes acquainted with the provisions and arrangements of God's mercy in the salvation of sinners. But the sincere mind, in all its efforts, stops short of assuring itself of individual participation in the benefits of redemption, amidst all the discovered manifestations of God's abundant love to mankind, until, upon the exercise of faith in Him who justifieth the ungodly, it is persuaded, not by its own reasoning, but by the Holy Spirit, of its own interest in the paternal love of God. The impression is made upon the mind from without, by a foreign, by a divine, agent; and however temptation, acting upon the timidity and the humble and anxious sincerity of its subject, may weaken the evidence of its divinity, or cause it to be disregarded to the aggravation of disquietude, it is, at the time of its being bestowed, sufficiently distinct from any mere operation of the mind, to be readily recognised and relied upon with confidence and comfort. *
It is also to be remembered, that this blessing is ordinarily given in connexion with the due use, and never in the neglect, of prayer,
* The following expressions occur in St. Austin's Confessions, book vii., chap. 10:-“I saw with the eye of my soul the unchangeable light of the Lord (shining) above this very eye of my soul, and above my mind. I perceived that the light was not of the common kind, which is obvious to all flesh : neither did it appear a larger light of the same kind, but of another; it was superior, because it made me. He who knows the truth is acquainted with this light. 0 eternal Truth ! thou didst beat back the weakness of my own sight, and didst thyself powerfully shine into me.” See additional in Moore's “ Life of Wesley;" vol. ii., p. 508. VOL. IV.-FOURTH SERIES.
preaching, reading, meditation, and the sacraments. These are the means of salvation, and God honours his own ordinances by conveying this and other blessings of Christianity to us as we employ them. True, in the necessary seclusion of sickness, in the privations of unavoidable absence from the sanctuary, or in any inability whatever formally to attend upon the institutions of worship, God can and does bestow his benediction upon the soul that waits upon him, and extends forgiveness and favour to the penitent believer so situated. But when no such disqualification exists, God's method is imperative; and any persuasion felt in the total or comparative neglect of the means of grace, must be suspected, and should be renounced, as an unsupported and dangerous fabrication of foolish and criminal presumption. This witness follows deep and hearty repentance; its consolations are unknown till the spirit has been humbled and is contrite; till guilt has been felt, and alienation from God deplored; till iniquity has been abandoned, and the cry extorted, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” It is afforded, not to confirm Pharisaic notions of preexisting worth, but succeeds the discipline which discloses our unworthiness. It is given, not as the reward of meritorious attempts to amend our lives, but in connexion with the penitent and faithful admission of our utter hell-deservingness, and in the thankful personal appropriation of the benefits of Christ's atonement. It is in the presentation of the sacrifice which the faith of Abel respected, that we, with him, obtain the witness of our righteousness and of our sonship, to the glory of divine grace. But with this preparation presumption is unacquainted, and exists in total dissociation from any such hallowed recollections. “Observe," says Dr. Preston, “God's general method of dealing with sinners. He sends a wind that rends the rocks, and brings down the mountains, so much as makes the way plain, before he can come in the soft voice. There must go always a work of humiliation before the testimony of the Spirit. But mistake not here, as if turbulent sorrow and violent disquiet of mind must always go before peace; for it is not absolutely required that there should much trouble go before. For although it be true, that God never speaketh peace but when some trouble, some convincing of the Spirit, hath gone before ; yet the promise is made to the coming of Christ, and not to the preparation thereto. If a man find that he is in Christ, and hath a testimony of sonship from his Spirit, though he have not had such a work of humiliation as perhaps he expected, yet let him not doubt the soundness of his faith. If the mountains are broken down, after what manner soever it was,) that is enough : you have reason to joy in the God of your salvation, inasmuch as true faith is wrought in your heart.” *
The witness of the Holy Ghost excludes doubt respecting the subject of its attestation. It has not the imperfection of proceeding from partial and obscure to complete persuasion, by a graduated process. It persuades, it assures at once. The attestation may certainly be
o not , (afte oy is tbart" * aludes
* Breastplate of Faith and Love, 4to., 1634.
more or less vivid; but it is distinct in all cases, though the confidence produced by, and consequent upon, its presence, admits of gracious and abundant augmentation, as the mind increases in strength and purity, and as faith, in persevering exercise, developes more vigorous capabilities. “Here, as the evidences of sanctification are more, so is the assurance; and as we receive more of this light, so we grow from assurance to assurance.” *
In the highly-interesting correspondence between “ John Smith," who it is supposed was Archbishop Secker, and Mr. Wesley, † this exclusion of doubt concerning the relation witnessed, and the character of the attestation itself, is by J. S. understood to amount to the “infallible testimony” of the Holy Ghost, to the prevention of all present and future doubtfulness, and all mistake concerning its real nature and possession : so that none who have it not can, by wrong reasoning or false fancy, believe they have it ; and none who have it can believe they have it not. Against the latter, the case of H. Richardson, published by Mr. Wesley, is quoted, who for above a year after this attestation of adoption, continued almost in despair, fancying she should be damned. To this Mr. Wesley replied, that “infallible testimony” was not his phrase, and that he never used it. He allowed, that some may fancy they have it, when, in truth, they have it not ; but insists, that none, while possessed of it, or, to use J. S.'s words, “who have it, could fancy they had it not.” He recognises the possibility of its being lost or withdrawn, and that, therefore, doubts whether it were ever in the enjoyment of the party might arise and prevail ; and that it was so in the instance quoted, and with “ many of the children of God.” It was then objected, that Mr. Wesley had stated, that no one doubting of faith could be a child of God, but that he now said, that such doubts were, more or less, common to many of the children of God. We think Mr. Wesley's meaning is plain, and that there is no real contradiction in this apparent discrepancy. The former assertion refers to the present filial relation of him who now believes, and to the witness and confidence connected with the present act of faith : the latter admission, to the possible future and altered state of the same individual, to whom the phrase, “child of God,” is not, in such altered circumstances, strictly applicable, the relation being forfeited through unbelief. The phrase was used unguardedly; and the momentary advantage which it apparently gave in the argument was sagaciously improved, though not with the usual fairness observable in these letters. It was also assumed, that “no one can receive an attestation to-day from some credible and unquestionable authority, and yet doubt to-morrow whether he had any such attestation,” and that, if H. Richardson did so for above a twelvemonth after her justification, this witness was not such a manifest and “sunshine light as to be distinguishable from the suggestions of reason and fancy.” In reply, Mr. Wesley
* Preston's Breastplate of Faith and Love. + See Appendix to Moore's Life of Wesley, vol. ii.
rain to effect of any supach fact, of any day, it
reiterates his opinion, “that many receive from the Holy Ghost an attestation of their acceptance, as perceptible as the sun at noon-day; and yet these same persons,”—here the language is proper,—"at other times, doubt whether they ever had such attestation; nay, perhaps, more than doubt-perhaps wholly deny—all that God has ever done for their souls : inasmuch as, in this hour and power of darkness, they cannot believe they ever saw light.” This is charged upon Mr. Wesley as the “tip-top of all inconsistencies ;” and in a manner which Mr. Wesley considered not sufficiently serious for the occasion. It is asserted, that as we cannot doubt of our experience of a physical fact which occurred yesterday, if we remain in a sound mind, so neither can we doubt of any spiritual or divine attestation received yesterday, as such fact must remain to us a fact for ever; and that, therefore, any supposed attestation, afterwards doubted of, must be the effect of “ fancy, and not the work of God ;” and that it is vain to have recourse to the power of darkness to explain this. The analogy here employed is, we think, an unsuitable one, and the conclusion to which it led fallacious. Mr. Wesley rejoined, “ The fact stands thus : (1.) A man feels in himself the testimony of God's Spirit, that he is a child of God. And he can then no more deny or doubt thereof, than of the shining of the sun at noon-day. (2.) After a time, this testimony is withdrawn. (3.) He begins to reason within himself concerning it ; next to doubt whether the testimony was from God; and perhaps in the end to deny that it was. And yet he may be, all this time, in every other respect, of sound memory as well as understanding. Now, whether these propositions are true or false, they are not contradictory to each other. They cannot, unless it were affirmed that the same person has and has not the same testimony at the same time. The thing which is supposed impossible is this, that a man who once had this witness should ever doubt whether he had it or no: that is, (as you subjoin,) 'if he continue sound in mind' (or understanding) 'and memory.' Right ! 'if he so continue.' But the very supposition is, that in this respect, he does not continue 80. While he did so continue, he could not doubt. But his understanding is now darkened, and the very traces of that divine work wellnigh crossed out of his memory. Nor can I think, it is vain to have recourse here to the power of darkness. I verily believe, as it was the God of heaven who once shone in his heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God; so it is the god of this world who hath now blinded his heart, so that the glorious light cannot shine upon it.” Here it appears that the disputants employed the phrase, “in a sound mind” in different senses, and argued accordingly. J. S. intended by it mental sanity, as it ordinarily signifies : Mr. Wesley employed or referred to it as denoting also moral and religious consistency or soundness. We attribute this difference, and we think fairly, to something else than an attempt, on either hand, to perplex his opponent, or to evade the argument, -no such effort disgraces the correspondence,-to the varied habits of thought and the different media through which the subject was viewed by the parties. This led
J. S, to observe, that Mr. Wesley's opinion supposed, that the “god of this world can more strongly obliterate than the God of heaven can imprint;" and he calls this a “blasphemous” supposition. This Mr. Wesley denies. He says, “It is a plain and undeniable truth, that the god of this world can obliterate what the God of heaven has imprinted upon the soul. Yea, and that he surely will, unless we stir up the gift of God which is in us, by earnestly and continually watching unto prayer.” This, we think, is amply confirmed by the fall of our first parents. To the reiterated objection, that H. R. doubted whether she ever possessed an attestation of her salvation, Mr. Wesley replies, that she never did so doubt, that is, never doubted that she had received an attestation, but only whether that attestation were of God. And this through Satan, who deceived her by his subtilty, corrupting, spoiling, destroying, the soundness of her understanding, and of her memory too.
The controversy ended without either party professing to be convinced, or to have his views modified to any extent, by the arguments of his opponent. We have only referred to one point discussed in these letters, as it is the only one materially affecting our subject ; and of this we have given a brief and fair analysis. The sum and conclusion appears to be, that the parties were acute reasoners, conducting their discussion, on the whole, with excellent temper and candour ; and that apparent evasions arose from the want of such definitions of particular phrases as were equally perceived and allowed by both parties. Nor can we think that Mr. Wesley appears to any disadvantage in it. On the subject before us he never shifted his position nor altered his opinion, but proved, if not to the satisfaction of his opponent, yet in the argument itself, (1.) That a believer might receive such a spiritual and divine attestation of his adoption as to exclude all doubt, and that should be as manifestly spiritual and divine as the sun at noon-day. (2.) That so long as the exercise of faith continued, and guilt was not incurred by transgression, this attestation would remain, and the distinct perception of it continue. (3.) That though his possessing such attestation, at such time, would for ever remain a fact, yet, through unbelief, sin, and the “power of darkness,” such attestation might be lost. (4.) That, consequent upon such loss, doubts of the relation attested, and of the divinity of such attestation, might arise, and the denial of its heavenly character, of its having been a divine testimony, be arrived at. (5.) And that all this might occur, the party meanwhile not being in a state of mental unsoundness, as that phrase is usually understood. In a word, that so long as the Spirit bears witness with our spirits, it excludes doubts of our relation to God and of its own divine character, though it does not exclude the possibility of future doubting or denial. Thus Dr. Thomas Horton, “The Spirit of God bears witness to itself in its witnessing to us; and shows itself to be far different from all delusions and mistakes whatsoever. Though many who have the spirit of error, conceit themselves to have the Spirit of truth, yet those who have God's Spirit in truth, may assuredly know that it is so his, as