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Affections that arc truly spiritual and gracious, arise from those influences and operations on the heart, which are spiritual, supernatural, and divine.
I will explain what I mean by these terms, whence will appear their use to distinguish between those affections which are spiritual, and those which are not so.—We find that true saints, or those persons who are sanctified by the Spirit of God, are in the New Testament called spiritual persons. And their being spiritual is spoken of as their peculiar character, and that wherein they are distinguished from those who are not sanctified. This is evident, because those who are spiritual are set in opposition to natural men, and carnal men. Thus the spiritual man and the natural man are set in opposition one to another, 1 Cor. ii. 14, 15. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual, judgeth all things.” The Scripture explains itself to mean an ungodly man, or one that has no grace, by a natural man: thus the apostle Jude, speaking of certain ungodly men, that had crept in unawares among the saints, (ver. 4. of his epistle,) says, ver. 19. “There are sensual, having not the Spirit.” This the apostle gives as a reason why they behaved themselves in such a wicked manner as he had described. Here the word NOT ENGLISH translated sensual, is the very same, which in 1 Cor. ii. 14, 15. is translated natural. In like manner, in the continuation of the same discourse, spiritual men are opposed to carnal men; which the connexion plainly shows mean the same, as spiritual men and natural men, in the foregoing verses; 464464 1 Cor. iii. 1. “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal;” i. e. as in a great measure unsanctified. 465465 That by carnal the apostle means corrupt and unsanctified, is abundantly evident, by Rom. vii. 25. & viii 1, 4-12,13. Gal. v. 16. to the end. Col. ii. 18. Now therefore, if by natural and carnal, in these texts, be intended unsanctified, then doubtless by spiritual, which is opposed thereto, is meant sanctified and gracious. And as the saints are called spiritual in Scripture, so we also find that there are certain properties, qualities, and principles, that have the same epithet given them. So we read of a spiritual mind, Rom. viii. 6, 7. of spiritual wisdom, Col. i. 9. and of spiritual blessings, Eph. i. 3.
Now it may be observed, that the epithet spiritual, in these and other parallel texts of the New Testament, is not used to signify any relation of persons or things to the spirit or soul of man, as the spiritual part of man, in opposition to the body, or material part. Qualities are not said to be spiritual, because they have their seat in the soul, and not in the body: for there are some properties that the Scripture calls carnal or fleshly, which have their seat as much in the soul, as those properties that are called spiritual, Thus pride and self-righteousness, and a man’s trusting to its own wisdom, the apostle calls fleshly, Col. ii. 18. Nor are things called spiritual, because they are conversant about those things that are immaterial, and not corporeal. For so was the wisdom of the wise men, and princes of this world, conversant about spirits, and immaterial beings; yet the apostle speaks of them as natural men, totally ignorant of those things that are spiritual, 1 Cor. chap. ii. But it is with relation to the Holy Ghost, or Spirit of God, hat persons or things are termed spiritual, in the New Testament. Spirit, as the word is used to signify the third person in the Trinity, is the substantive, of which is formed the adjective spiritual in the Holy Scriptures. Thus christians are called spiritual persons, because they are born of the Spirit, and because of the indwelling and holy influences of the Spirit of God in them. And things are called spiritual as related to the Spirit of God; 1 Cor. ii. 13, 14. “Which things also we speak, not in the words man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” Here the apostle himself expressly signifies, that by spiritual things, he means the things of the Spirit of God, and things which the Holy Ghost teacheth. The same is yet more abundantly apparent by viewing the whole context. Again, Rom. viii. 6. To be carnally minded, is death; to be spiritually minded, is life and peace. The apostle explains what he means by being carnally and spiritually minded, in what follows in the 9th verse, and shows that by being spiritually minded he means, having the indwelling and holy influences of the Spirit of God in the heart. But ye are not in the flesh, butIN the spirit, if so be the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. The same is evident by all the context. But time would fail to produce all the evidence of this in the New Testament.
And it must be here observed, that although it is with relation to the Spirit of God and his influences, that persons and things are called spiritual; yet not all those persons who are subject to any kind of influence of the Spirit of God, are ordinarily called so in the New Testament. They who have only the common influences of God’s Spirit, are not so called, in the places cited above. It has been already proved, that by spiritual men is meant godly men, in opposition to natural, carnal, and unsanctified men. And it is most plain, that the apostle by spiritually minded, Rom. viii. 6. means graciously minded. And though the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, which natural men might have, are sometimes called spiritual, because they are from the Spirit; yet natural men, whatever gifts of the Spirit they had, were not, in the usual language of the New Testament, called spiritual persons. For it was not by men’s having the gifts, but the virtues of the Spirit, that they are called spiritual; as is apparent, by Gal. vi. l. “Brethren, if any man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.” Meekness is one of those virtues which the apostle had just spoken of in the verses next preceding, showing what are the fruits of the Spirit. Those qualifications, therefore, are said to be spiritual in the language of the New Testament, which are truly gracious, and peculiar to the saints.
Thus when we read of spiritual wisdom and understanding—as in Col. i. 9. “We desire that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual, understanding”—hereby is intended that wisdom which is gracious, and from the sanctifying influences of the Spirit of God. For, doubtless, by spiritual wisdom, is meant that which is opposite to what the Scripture calls natural wisdom; as the spiritual man is opposed to the natural man. And therefore spiritual wisdom is doubtless the same with that wisdom which is from above, James iii. 17. “The wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle,”. &c. for this the apostle opposes to natural wisdom, ver. 15. “This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual”—the last word in the original is the same that is translated natural, in 1 Cor. ii. 14.
So that although natural men may be the subjects of many influences of the Spirit of God, as is evident by many scriptures, 466466 As Num. xxiv. 2. 1 Sam. x 10. and 1 Sam. xi. 6. xi. 6. and xvi. 14. 1 Cor. xiii. 1, 2, 3. Heb. vi. 4, 5, 6. and many others. yet they are not in the sense the Scripture 265 spiritual persons; neither are any of those effects, common gifts, qualities, or affections, that are from the influence of the Spirit of God upon them, called spiritual things. The great difference lies in these two things.
1. The Spirit of God is given to the true saints to dwell in them, as his proper lasting abode; and to influence their hearts, as a principle of new nature, or as a divine supernatural spring of life and action. The Scriptures represent .the Holy Spirit, not only as moving, and occasionally influencing, the saints, but as dwelling in them as his temple, his proper abode, and everlasting dwelling-place, (1 Cor. iii. 16. 2 Cor. vi. 16. John xiv. 16,17.) And he is represented as being there so united to the faculties of the soul, that he becomes there a principle or spring of a new nature and life.
So the saints are said to live by Christ living in them, Gal. ii. 20. Christ by his Spirit not only is in them, but lives in them; they live by his life. His Spirit is united to them, as a principle of life in them. They not only drink living water, but this living water becomes a well or fountain of water, in the soul, springing up into spiritual and everlasting life, John iv. 14. and thus becomes a principle of lire in them—this living water the evangelist himself explains to intend the Spirit of God, ( chap. vii. 38, 39.) The light of the Sun of righteousness does not only shine upon them, but is so communicated to them that they shine also, and become little images of that sun which shines upon them. The sap of the true vine is not only conveyed into them, as the sap of a tree may be conveyed into a vessel, but is conveyed as sap is from a tree into one of its living branches, where it becomes a principle of life. The Spirit of God being thus communicated and united to the saints, they are from thence properly denominated from it, and are called spiritual.
On the other hand, though the Spirit of God may many ways influence natural men; yet because it is not thus communicated to them, as an indwelling principle, they do not derive any denomination or character from it; for there being no union, it is not their own. The light may shine upon a body that is very dark or black; and though that body be the subject of the light, yet, because the light becomes no principle of light to it, so as to cause the body to shine, hence that body does not properly receive its denomination from it, so as to be called a lightsome body. So the Spirit of God acting upon the soul only, without communicating itself to be an active principle in it, cannot denominate it spiritual. A body that continues black, may be said not to have light, though the light shines upon it: so natural men are said not to have the Spirit,Jude 19. sensual or natural, as the word is elsewhere rendered, having not the Spirit.
2. Another reason why the saints and their virtues are called spiritual, (and which is the principal thing.) is, that the Spirit of God, dwelling as a vital principle in the souls, produces there those effects wherein he exerts and communicates himself in his own proper nature. Holiness is the nature of the Spirit of God, therefore he is called in Scripture the Holy Ghost. Holiness, which is as it were the beauty and sweetness of the divine nature, is as much the proper nature of the Holy Spirit, as heat is the nature of fire, or sweetness was the nature of that holy anointing oil, which was the principal type of the Holy Ghost in the Mosaic dispensation. Yea, I may rather say, that holiness is as much the proper nature of the Holy Ghost, as sweetness was the nature of the sweet odour of that ointment. The Spirit of God so dwells in the hearts of the saints, that he there, as a seed or spring of life, exerts and communicates himself, in this his sweet and divine nature. He makes the soul a partaker of God’s beauty and Christ’s joy, so that the saint has truly fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, in thus having the communion or participation of the Holy Ghost. The grace which is in the hearts of the saints, is of the name nature with the divine holiness, though infinitely less in degree; as the brightness in a diamond which the sun shines upon, is of the same nature with the brightness of the sun, but only that it is as nothing to it in degree. Therefore Christ says, John iii. 6. “That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit,” i. e. the grace that is begotten in the hearts of the saints, is something of the same nature with that Spirit, and so is properly called a spiritual nature; after the same manner as that which is born of the flesh is flesh, or that which is born of corrupt nature is corrupt nature.
But the Spirit of God never influences the minds of natural men after this manner. Though he may influence them many ways, yet he never, in any of his influences, communicates himself to them in his own proper nature. Indeed he never acts disagreeably to his nature, either on the minds of saints or sinners: but the Spirit of God may act upon men agreeably to his own nature, and not exert his proper nature in the acts and exercises of their minds. The Spirit of God may act so, that his actions may be agreeable to his nature, and yet may not at all communicate himself in his proper nature, in the effect of that action. Thus, for instance, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and there was nothing disagreeable to his nature in that action; but yet he did not at all communicate himself in that action, there was nothing of the proper nature of the Holy Spirit in that motion of the waters. And so he may act upon the minds of men many ways, and not communicate himself any more than when he acts on inanimate things.
Thus, not only the manner of the Spirit’s relation to the subject of his operations, is different; but the influence and operation itself, and the effect wrought, exceeding different. So that not only the persons are called spiritual, as having the Spirit of God dwelling in them; but those qualifications, affections, and experiences that are wrought in them by the Spirit, are also spiritual. Therein they differ vastly in their nature and kind from all that a natural man can be the subject of, while he remains in a natural state; and also from all that of which men or devils can be the authors. It is a spiritual work in this high sense; and therefore above all other works is peculiar to the Spirit of God. There is no work so high and excellent; for there is no work wherein God doth so much communicate himself, and wherein the mere creature hath, in so high a sense, a participation of God; so that it is expressed in Scripture by the saints being made partakers of the divine, nature, 2 Pet. i. 4. and having God dwelling in them, and they in God, 1 John iv. 12, 15, 16. and chap. iii. 21. and having Christ in them, John xvii. 21. Rom. viii. 10. being the temples of the living God, 2 Cor. vi. 16. living by Christ’s life, Gal. ii. 20. being made partakers of God’s holiness, Heb. xii. 10. having Christ’s love dwelling in them, John xvii. 26. having his joy fulfilled in them, John xvii. 13. seeing light in God’s light, and being made to drink of the river of God’s pleasures, Ps. xxxvi. 8, 9. having fellowship with God, or communicating and partaking with him, (as the word signifies,) 1 John i. 3. Not that the saints are made partakers of the essence, of God—or godded with God, and christed with Christ, according to the blasphemous language of some heretics—but, to use the scripture phrase, they are made partakers of God’s fulness, (Eph. iii. 17-19. John i. 16.) that is, of God’s spiritual beauty and happiness, according to the measure and capacity of a creature. So the word fulness signifies in scripture language. Grace in the hearts of the saints being therefore the most glorious work of God, wherein he communicates of the goodness of his nature, it is doubtless his peculiar work, and in an eminent manner above the power of all creatures. And this is what I mean by those influences that are divine, when I say, that truly gracious affections arise from those influences that are spiritual and divine.
True saints only have that which is spiritual; others not only have not these communications of the Spirit in so high a degree as the saints, but have nothing of that nature or kind. For the apostle James tells us, that natural men have not the Spirit; and Christ teaches the necessity of a new birth, or a being born of the Spirit, from this, that he that is born of the flesh, has only flesh, and no spirit, John iii. 6. They have not the Spirit of God dwelling in them in any degree; for the apostle teaches, that all who have the Spirit of God dwelling in them are his, Rom. viii. 9-11.. And, having the Spirit of God is spoken of as a certain sign, that persons shall have the eternal inheritance; for it is the earnest of it, (2 Cor. i. 22. and v. 5. Eph. i. 14.) and having any thing of the Spirit is mentioned as a sure sign of being in Christ, 1 John iv. 13. “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, because he bath given us of his Spirit.” Ungodly men not only have not so much of the divine nature as the saints, but they are not partakers of it; which implies that they have nothing of it; for a being partaker of the divine nature is spoken of as the peculiar privilege of the true saints, 2 Pet. i. 4. Ungodly men are not partaken of God’s holiness, Heb. xii. 10. A natural man has no experience of those things that are spiritual: he is so far from it, that he knows nothing about them, and is a perfect stranger to them. To talk about such things is all foolishness to him, he knows not what it means, 1 Cor. ii. 14. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” And to the like purpose Christ teaches us that the world is wholly unacquainted with the Spirit of God, John xiv. 17. “Even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him.” And it is further evident, that natural men have nothing in them of the same nature with the true grace of the saints, because the apostle teaches us, that those of them who go farthest in religion, have no charity, or true christian love, ( chap. xiii.) So Christ elsewhere reproves the Pharisees, those high pretenders to religion, that they had not the love of God in them, John v. 42. Hence natural men have no communion or fellowship with Christ, or participation with him, as these words signify, for this is spoken of as the peculiar privilege of the saints, (1 John i. 3, 6, 7. and 1 Cor. i. 8, 9.) And the Scripture speaks of the actual existence of a gracious principle in the soul, though in its first beginning, like a seed planted there, as inconsistent with a man’s being a sinner, 1 John iii. 9. And natural men are represented in Scripture, as having no spiritual light, no spiritual life, and no spiritual being; and therefore conversion is often compared to opening the eyes of the blind, raising the dead, and a work of creation, wherein creatures are made entirely new, and becoming new-born children.
From these things it is evident, that those gracious influences of the saints, and the effects of God’s Spirit which they experience, are entirely above nature, and altogether of a different kind from any thing that men find in themselves by the exercise of natural principles. No improvement of those principles that are natural, no advancing or exalting of them to higher degrees, and no kind of composition, will ever bring men to them; because they not only differ from what is natural, and from every thing that natural men experience, in degree and circumstances, but also in kind; and are of a nature vastly more excellent. And this is what I mean by supernatural, when I say, that gracious affections are from those influences that are supernatural.
From hence it follows, that in those gracious exercises and affections which are wrought in the saints, through the saving influences of the Spirit of God, there is a new inward perception or sensation of their minds, entirely different in its nature and kind from any thing that ever their minds were the subjects of before they were sanctified. For, if God by his mighty power produces something that is new, not only in degree and circumstances, but in its whole nature—all that which could be produced by no exalting, varying, or compounding of what was there before, or by adding any thing of the like kind—then, doubtless, something entirely new is felt, or perceived. There is what some metaphysicians call a new simple idea. If grace be, in the sense above described, an entirely new kind of principle; then the exercises of it are also new. And if there be in the soul a new sort of conscious exercises, which the soul knew nothing of before, and which no improvement, composition, or management of what it was before could produce; then it follows that the mind has an entirely new kind of perception or sensation. Here is, as it were, a new spiritual sense, or a principle of new kind of perception or spiritual sensation, which is in its whole nature different from any former kinds of sensation of the mind, as tasting is diverse from any of the other senses. And something is perceived by a true saint, in the exercise of “this new sense of mind in spiritual and divine things, as entirely diverse from any thing that is perceived in them by natural men, as the sweet taste of honey is diverse from the ideas men get of honey by only looking on and feeling it. So that the spiritual perceptions which a sanctified and spiritual person has, are not only diverse from all that natural men have as the perceptions of the same sense may differ one from another, but rather as the ideas and sensations of different senses differ. Hence the work of the Spirit of God in regeneration is often in Scripture compared to the giving of a new sense, eyes to see, ears to hear, unstopping the ears of the deaf, opening the eyes of them that were born blind, and turning from darkness unto light. And because this spiritual sense is immensely the most noble and excellent, and that without which all other principles of perception, and all our faculties, are useless and vain; therefore the giving of this new sense, with the blessed fruits and effects of it in the soul, is compared to raising the dead, and to a new creation.
This new spiritual sense, and the new dispositions that attend it, are no new faculties, but new principles of nature: I use the word principles, for want of a word of a more determinate signification. By a principle of nature in this place, I mean that foundation which is laid in nature, either old or new, for any particular manner or kind of exercise of the faculties of the soul; or a natural habit, or foundation for action, giving a person ability and disposition to exert the faculties in exercises of such a certain kind; so, that to exert the faculties in that kind of exercises, may be said to be his nature. So this new spiritual sense is not anew faculty of understanding, but it is a new foundation laid in the nature of the soul, for a new kind of exercises of the same faculty of understanding. So that the new holy disposition of heart that attends this new sense, is not a new faculty of will, but a foundation laid in the nature of the soul, for a new kind of exercises of the same faculty of will.
The Spirit of God, in all his operations upon the minds of natural men, only moves, impresses, assists, improves, or some way acts upon natural principles; but gives no new spiritual principle. Thus when the Spirit of God gives a natural man visions, as he did Balaam, he only impresses a natural principle—the sense of seeing, immediately exciting ideas of that sense—but gives no new sense; neither is there any thing supernatural, spiritual, or divine in it. If the Spirit of God impresses on a man’s imagination, either in a dream, or when he is awake, any outward ideas of any of the senses, either voices or shapes and colours, it is only exciting ideas of the same kind that he has by natural principles and senses. So if God reveals to a natural man any secret fact; for instance, something that he shall hereafter see or hear; this is not infusing or exercising any new spiritual principle, or giving the ideas of any new spiritual sense; it is only impressing, in an extraordinary manner, the ideas that will hereafter be received by sight and hearing. So in the more ordinary influences of the Spirit of God on the hearts of sinners, he only assists natural principles to do the same work to a greater degree, which they do of themselves by nature. Thus the Spirit of God by his common influences may assist men’s natural ingenuity, as he assisted Bezaleel and Aholiab in the curious works of the tabernacle. He may assist men’s natural abilities in political affairs, and improve their courage and other natural qualifications; as he is said to have put his Spirit on the seventy elders, and on Saul, so as to give him another heart. God may greatly assist natural men’s reason, in their reasoning about secular things, or about the doctrines of religion, and may greatly advance the clearness of their apprehensions and notions in many respects, without giving any spiritual sense. So in those awakenings and convictions that natural men may have, God only assists conscience, which is a natural principle, to do that work in a further degree, which it naturally does. Conscience naturally gives men an apprehension of right and wrong, and suggests the relation there is between them and a retribution. The Spirit of God assists men’s consciences to do this in a greater degree, and against the stupifying influence of worldly objects and their lusts. Many other ways might be mentioned, wherein the Spirit acts upon, assists, and moves natural principles; but after all, it is no more than nature moved, acted, and improved; here is nothing supernatural and divine. But the Spirit of God in his spiritual influences on the hearts of his saints, operates by infusing or exercising new, divine, and supernatural 267 principles; principles which are indeed a new and spiritual nature, and principles vastly more noble and excellent than all that is in natural men.
From what has been said it follows, that all spiritual and gracious affections are attended with, and arise from. some apprehension, idea, or sensation of mind, which is in its whole nature different, yea exceeding different, from all that is or can be in the mind of a natural man. The natural man discerns nothing of it, (1 Cor. ii. 14.) any more than a man without the sense of tasting can conceive of the sweet taste of honey; or a man without the sense of hearing can conceive of the melody of a tune; or a man born blind can have a notion of the beauty of the rainbow.
But here two things must be observed, in order to the right understanding of this.
1. On the one hand it must be observed, that not every thing which appertains to spiritual affections, is new and entirely different from what natural men experience; some things are common to gracious affections with other affections; many circumstances, appendages, and effects are common. Thus a saint’s love to God has a great many things appertaining to it, which are common with a man’s natural love to a near relation. Love to God makes a man seek the honour of God, and desire to please him; so docs a natural man’s love to his friend make him desire his honour, and to please him. Love to God causes a man to delight in the thoughts of him, in his presence; to desire conformity to God, and the enjoyment of him; and so it is with a man’s love to his friend. Many other things might be mentioned which are common to both. But yet, that idea which the saint has of the loveliness of God, and the kind of delight he has in that view which is as it were the marrow and quintessence of his love, is peculiar, and entirely diverse from any thing that a natural man has, or can have any notion of. And even in those things that seem to be common, there is something peculiar. Both spiritual love and natural, cause desires after the object beloved; but they are not the same sort of desires; there is a sensation of soul in the spiritual desires of one that loves God, which is entirely different from all natural desires. Both spiritual and natural love are attended with delight in the object beloved; but the sensations of delight are not the same, but entirely and exceedingly diverse. Natural men may have conceptions of many things about spiritual affections; but there is something in them which is as it were the nucleus, or kernel, of which they have no more conceptions, than one born blind has of colours.
It may be clearly illustrated thus: we will suppose two men; one, born without the sense of tasting, the other with it. The latter loves honey, because he knows the sweet taste of it; the other loves certain sounds and colours. The love of each has many things in common; it causes both to desire and delight in the object beloved, causes grief when it is absent, &c. but yet that sensation which he, who knows the taste of honey, has of its excellency and sweetness, as the foundation of his love, is entirely different from any thing the other has or can have. So both these persons may in some respects love the same object. The one may love a delicious kind of fruit, not only because he has seen its pleasant colours, but knows its sweet taste; the other, perfectly ignorant of the latter, loves it only for its beautiful colours. Many things seem, in some respect, to be common to both; both love, both desire, and both delight; but the love, desire, and delight of the one, is altogether diverse from that of the other. The difference between the love of a natural and spiritual man resembles this; but only it must be observed, that the kinds of excellency perceived in spiritual objects, by these different kinds of persons, are in themselves vastly more diverse than the different kinds of excellency perceived in delicious fruit by a tasting and a tasteless man. In another respect, it may not be so great, viz. as the spiritual man may have a sense to perceive that divine and most peculiar excellency but in small beginnings, and in a very imperfect degree.
2. On the other hand, it must be observed, that a natural man may have religious apprehensions and affections, which may be, in many respects, very new and surprising to him; and yet what he experiences, be nothing like the exercises of a new nature. His affections may be very new, in a very new degree, with a great many new circumstances, a new co-operation of natural affections, and a new composition of ideas. This may be from some extraordinary powerful influence of Satan, and some great delusion. There is nothing, however, but nature extraordinarily acted. As if a poor man who had always dwelt in a cottage, and had never looked beyond the obscure village where he was born, should, in a jest, be taken to a magnificent city and prince’s court, and be there arrayed in princely robes, and set in the throne, with the crown royal on his head, peers and nobles bowing before him—and should be made to believe that he was now a glorious monarch—his ideas, and the affections he would experience, would in many respects be very new, and such as he had no imagination of before. Yet who would suppose, that what was done to him was any thing more than extraordinarily raising and exciting natural principles, and newly exalting, varying, and compounding such sort of ideas as he had by nature? Who would infer, that this was giving him a new sense?
Upon the whole, I think it is clearly manifest, that all truly gracious affections arise from special and peculiar influences of the Spirit, working that sensible effect or sensation in the souls of the saints, which are entirely different from all that is possible a natural man should experience; different, not only in degree and circumstances, but in its whole nature. So that a natural man not only cannot experience that which is individually the same, but cannot experience any thing but what is exceedingly diverse, and immensely below it, in its kind; and that which the power of men or devils is not sufficient to produce, or any thing of the same nature.
I have insisted the more largely on this matter, because this view of the subject is evidently of great importance and use, in order to discover the delusions of Satan, in many kinds of false religious affections, by which multitudes are deluded, and probably have been in all ages of the christian church; also in order to settle and determine many articles of doctrine, concerning the operations of the Spirit of God, and the nature of true grace.—Let us now, therefore, apply these things to the purpose of this discourse.
From hence it appears, that impressions which some have on their imagination—their imaginary ideas of God, or Christ, or heaven, or any thing appertaining to religion—have nothing in them that is spiritual, or of the nature of true grace. Though such things may attend what is spiritual, and be mixed with it, yet in themselves they are not any part of gracious experience.
Here, for the sake of the less informed, I will explain what is intended by impressions on the imagination, and imaginary ideas. The imagination is that power of the mind, whereby it can have a conception, or idea, of external things, or objects of the outward senses, when those things are not present, and therefore not perceived by the senses. It is called imagination, from the word image; because thereby a person can have an image of some external thing in his mind, when that thing is not present in reality, nor any thing like it. What we perceive by our five senses, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling, are external things: and when a person has an image of these things in his mind, but does not really see, hear, smell, taste, nor feel them; that is to have an imagination of them, and these ideas are imaginary ideas. When such ideas are strongly impressed upon the mind, and the image is very lively, almost as if one saw, or heard them, &c. that is called an impression on the imagination. Thus colours and shapes are outward things, objects of the outward sense of seeing: therefore, when any person has in his mind a lively idea of any shape, or colour, or form of countenance; of light or darkness, such as he perceives by the sense of seeing; of any marks made on paper, suppose letters and words written in a book: that is to have an imagination, or an external and imaginary idea of such things as we sometimes perceive by our bodily eyes. And when we have the ideas of sounds, voices, or words spoken; this is only to have ideas of outward things, perceived by the external sense of hearing, and so that also is imagination. When these ideas are impressed with liveliness, almost as if they were really heard with the ears, this is to have an impression on the. imagination. And so I might instance in the ideas of things appertaining to the other three senses of smelling, tasting, and feeling.
268 Many who have had such things, have ignorantly supposed them to be of the nature of spiritual discoveries. They have had lively ideas of some external shape, and beautiful form of countenance; and this they call spiritually seeing Christ. Some have had impressed upon them ideas of a great outward light; and this they call a spiritual discovery of God’s or Christ’s glory. Some have had ideas of Christ hanging on the cross, and his blood running from his wounds; and this they call a spiritual sight of Christ crucified, and the way of salvation by his blood. Some have seen him with his arms open ready to embrace them; and this they call a discovery of the sufficiency of Christ’s grace and love. Some have had lively ideas of heaven, and of Christ on his throne there, and shining ranks of saints and angels; and this they call seeing heaven opened to them. Some from time to time have had a lively idea of a person of a beautiful countenance smiling upon them; and this they call a spiritual discovery of the love of Christ to their souls, and tasting the love of Christ. And they look upon it a sufficient evidence that these things are spiritual discoveries, and that they see them spiritually, because they say they do not see these things with their bodily eyes, but in their hearts; for they can see them when” their eyes are shut. And in like manner, the imaginations of some have been impressed with ideas of the sense of hearing; they have had ideas of words, as if they were spoken to them, sometimes the words of Scripture, and sometimes other words. They have had ideas of Christ speaking comfortable words to them. These things they have called having the inward call of Christ, hearing the voice of Christ spiritually in their hearts, having the witness of the Spirit, the inward testimony of the love of Christ, &c.
The common and less considerate sort of people, are the more easily led into apprehensions that these are spiritual things, because, spiritual things being invisible, we are forced to use figurative expressions in speaking of them, and to borrow names from sensible objects by which to signify them. Thus we call a clear apprehension of things spiritual by the name of light; and having an apprehension of things, by the name of seeing such things. The conviction of the judgment, and the persuasion of the will, by the word of Christ in the gospel, we signify by spiritually hearing the call of Christ. The Scripture itself abounds with such like figurative expressions. Persons hearing these often used, and having pressed upon them the necessity of having their eyes opened, of having a discovery of spiritual things, seeing Christ in his glory, having the inward call, and the like, they ignorantly look and wait for some external discoveries, and imaginary views. And when they have them, they are confident that now their eyes are opened, now Christ has discovered himself to them, and they are his children; and hence they are exceedingly affected and elevated with their deliverance, and many kinds of affections are at once set in a violent motion.
But it is exceedingly apparent that such ideas have nothing in them which is spiritual and divine, in the sense wherein it has been demonstrated that all gracious experiences are spiritual and divine. These external ideas are in no wise entirely, and in their whole nature, diverse from all that men have by nature: so far from this, they are of the same sort which we have by the external senses, among the inferior powers of human nature. They are merely ideas of external objects, of the outward sensitive kind; the same sort of sensations of mind (differing not in degree, but only in circumstances) that we have by those natural principles which are common to us with the beasts.
This is a low, miserable notion of spiritual sense, to suppose that it is only a conceiving or imagining that sort of ideas which we have by our animal senses, which senses the beasts have in as great perfection as we. Is this any thing better than, as it were, a turning of Christ, or the divine nature in the soul, into a mere animal? Is there any thing wanting in the soul, as it is by nature, to render it capable of being the subject of all these external ideas, without any new principles? A natural man is capable of having an idea, and a lively idea, of shapes, and colours, and sounds, when they are absent, even as capable as a regenerate man is: so there is nothing supernatural in them. And it is known by abundant experience, that it is not the advancing or perfecting of human nature, which makes persons more capable of having such lively and strong imaginary ideas; but on the contrary, the weakness of body and mind, makes persons abundantly more susceptive of such, impressions. 467467 “Conceits and whimsies abound most in men of weak reason; children, and such as are cracked in their understanding, have most of them; strength of reason banishes them, as the sun does mists and vapours. But now the more rational any gracious person is, by so much more is he fixed and settled, and satisfied in the grounds of religion: yea, there is the highest and purest reason in religion; and when this change is wrought upon men, it is carried on in a rational way, Isa. i. 18. John xix. 9.“ Flavel’s Preparation for Sufferings, chap. vi.
As to a truly spiritual sensation, not only is the manner of its coming into the mind extraordinary, but the sensation itself is totally diverse from all that men have, or can have, in a state of nature, as has been shown. But as to these external ideas, though the way of their coming into the mind is sometimes unusual, yet the ideas in themselves are not the better for that; they are still of no different sort from what men have by their senses; they are of no higher kind, nor a whit better. For instance, the external idea a man has now of Christ hanging on the cross, and shedding his blood, is no better in itself, than the external idea that the Jews his enemies had, who stood round his cross, and saw this with their bodily eyes. The imaginary idea which men have now of an external brightness and glory of God, is no better than the idea the wicked congregation in the wilderness had of the external glory of the Lord at mount Sinai, when they saw it with bodily eyes; or any better than that idea which millions of cursed reprobates will have of the external glory of Christ at the day of judgment, who shall see and have a very lively idea of ten thousand times greater external glory of Christ, than ever yet was conceived in any man’s imagination. 468468 “If any man should see and behold Christ really, immediately, this is not the saving knowledge of him. I know the saints do know Christ as if immediately present: they are not strangers by their distance: if others have seen them more immediately, I will not dispute it. But if they have seen the Lord Jesus as immediately as if here on earth, yet Capernaum saw him so; nay some of them were disciples for a time, and followed him. John vi. And yet the Lord was hid from their eyes. Nay, all the world shall see him in his glory, which shall amaze them; and yet this is far short of having the saving knowledge of him, which the Lord doth communicate to the elect. So that though you see the Lord so really, as that you become familiar with him, yet, Luke xiii. 26. Lord, have we not eat and drank, &c. — and so perish.” Shepard’s Parable of the Ten Virgins, P. I. p. 197, 198. Is the image of Christ which men conceive in their imaginations, in its own nature, of any superior kind to the idea the papists conceive of Christ, by the beautiful and affecting images of him which they see in their churches? Are the affections they have, if built primarily on such imaginations, any better than the affections raised in ignorant people, by the sight of those images, which oftentimes are very great; especially when these images, through the craft of the priests, are made to move, speak, weep, and the like? 469469 “Satan is transformed into an angel of light: and hence we have heard that some have heard voices; some have seen the very blood of Christ dropping on them, and his wounds in his side; some have seen a great light shining in the chamber; some wonderfully affected with their dreams: some in great distress have had inward witness. Thy sins are forgiven; and hence such liberty and joy, that they are ready to leap up and down the chamber. O adulterous generation! this is natural and usual with men, they would fain see Jesus, and have him present to give them peace; and hence papists have his images—Woe to them that have no other manifested Christ, but such an one.” Shepard’s Parable of the Ten Virgins. P. I. 198. Merely the way of persons receiving these imaginary ideas, does not alter the nature of the ideas themselves that are received: let them be received in what way they will, they are still but external ideas, or ideas of outward appearances, and so are not spiritual. Yea, if men should actually receive such external ideas by the immediate power of the most high God upon their minds, they would not be spiritual, they should be no more than a common work of the Spirit of God; as is evident in fact, in the instance of Balaam, who had impressed on his mind, by God himself, a clear and lively outward representation or idea of Jesus Christ, as the Star rising out of Jacob, when he heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the Most High, and saw the vision of the Almighty, falling, into a trance, Numb. xxiv. 16, 17. But Balaam had no spiritual discovery of Christ; that day-star never spiritually rose in his heart, he being but a natural man.
And as these external ideas have nothing divine or 269 spiritual in their nature, and nothing but what natural men, without any new principles, are capable of; so there is nothing in their nature which requires that peculiar inimitable and unparalleled exercise of the glorious power of God, in order to their production, which it has been shown there is in the production of true grace. There appears to be nothing in their nature above the power of the devil. It is certainly not above the power of Satan to suggest thoughts to men; because otherwise he could not tempt them to sin. And if he can suggest any thoughts or ideas at all, doubtless imaginary ones, or ideas of things external, are not above his power; 470470 “Consider how difficult, yea and impossible, it is to determine that such a voice, vision, or revelation is of God, and that Satan cannot feign or counterfeit it; seeing he hath left no certain marks by which we may distinguish one spirit from another.” Flavel’s Causes and Cures of Mental Errors, Cause 14. for these are the lowest sort of ideas. These ideas may be raised only by impressions made on the body, by moving the animal spirits, and impressing the brain. Abundant experience certainly shows, that alterations in the body will excite imaginary ideas in the mind; as in a high fever, melancholy, &c. These external ideas are as much below the more intellectual exercises of the soul, as the body is a less noble part of man than the soul.
Again, there is not only nothing in the nature of these imaginations of outward appearances, from whence we can inter that they are above the power of the devil; but it is certain also that the devil can excite, and often hath excited, such ideas. They were external ideas which he excited in the dreams and visions of the false prophets of old, who were under the influence of lying spirits. 471471 See Deut. xiii. 1. 1 Kings xxii. 22. Isa. xxviii. 7. Ezek xiii. 7. Zech. xiii. 4. And they were external ideas that he often excited in the minds of the heathen priests, magicians, and sorcerers, in their visions and ecstasies; and they were external ideas that he excited in the mind of the man Christ Jesus, when he showed him all the kingdoms of the world, with the glory of them, when those kingdoms were not really in sight.
And if Satan, or any created being, has power to impress the mind with outward representations, then no particular sort of outward representations can be any evidence of a divine power. Is almighty power any more requisite to represent the shape of man to the imagination, than the shape of any thing else? Is there any higher kind of power necessary to form in the brain one bodily shape or colour than another? Does it need a power any more glorious to represent the form of the body of man, than the form of a chip or block; though it be of a very beautiful human body, with a sweet smile in his countenance, or arms open, or blood running from hands, feet, and side? May not that sort of power which can represent blackness or darkness to the imagination, also represent white and shining brightness? May not the power and skill which can well and exactly paint a straw, or a stick, on a piece of paper or canvass, only perhaps further improved, be sufficient to paint the body of a man, with great beauty and in royal majesty, or a magnificent city, paved with gold, full of brightness, and a glorious throne? So it is no more than the same sort of power, that is requisite to paint one as the other of these on the brain. The same sort of power that can put ink upon paper, can put on leaf-gold. So that it is evident to a demonstration, if we suppose it to be in the devil’s power to make any sort of external representation at all on the fancy—and never any one questioned it who believed there was a devil, that had any agency with mankind—that a created power may extend to all kinds of external appearances and ideas in the mind.
From hence it again clearly appears, that no such things have any thing in them that is spiritual, supernatural, and divine, in the sense in which it has been proved that all truly gracious experiences have. And though external ideas, through man’s make and frame, ordinarily in some degree attend spiritual experiences; yet these ideas are no part of their spiritual experience, any more than the motion of the blood, and beating of the pulse. And though, undoubtedly, through men’s infirmity in the present state, and especially through the weak constitution of some persons, gracious affections which are very strong, do excite lively ideas in the imagination; yet it is also undoubted, that when affections are founded on imaginations, which is often the case, those affections are merely natural and common, because they are built on a foundation that is not spiritual; and so are entirely different from gracious affections, which, as has been proved, do evermore arise from those operations that are spiritual and divine.
These imaginations oftentimes raise the carnal affections of men to an exceeding great height: 472472 There is a remarkable passage of Mr. John Smith, in his discourse on the shortness of a Pharisaic righteousness, p. 370, 371. of his select discourses, describing that sort of religion which is built on such a foundation as I am here speaking of. I cannot forbear transcribing the whole of it. Speaking of a sort of Christians, whose life is nothing but a strong energy of fancy, he says, “Lest their religion might too grossly discover itself to be nothing else but a piece of art, there may be sometimes such extraordinary motions stirred up within them, which may prevent all their own thoughts, that they may seem to be a true operation of the divine life; when yet all this is nothing else but the energy of their own self-love, touched with some fleshly apprehensions of divine things, and excited by them. There are such things in our christian religion, when a carnal, unhallowed mind takes the chair, and gets the expounding of them, may seem very delicious to the fleshly appetites of men; some doctrines and notions of free grace and justification, the magnificent titles of sons of God and heirs of heaven, ever-flowing streams of joy and pleasure that blessed souls shall swim in to all eternity, a glorious paradise in the world to come, always springing up with well-scented and fragrant beauties, a new Jerusalem paved with gold, and bespangled with stars, comprehending in its vast circuit such numberless varieties, that a busy curiosity may spend itself about to all eternity. I doubt not but that sometimes the most fleshly and earthly men, that fly in their ambition to the pomp of this world, may be so ravished with the conceits of such things as these, that they may seem to be made partakers of the powers of the world to come. I doubt not but that they might be much exalted with them, as the souls of crazed or distracted persons seem to be sometimes, when their fancies play with those quick and nimble spirits, which a distempered frame of body, and unnatural heat in their beads, beget within them. Thus may these blazing comets rise up above the moon, and climb higher than the sun; which yet, because they have no solid consistence of their own, and are of a base and earthly alloy will soon vanish and fall down again, being only borne up by an external force. They may seem to themselves to have attained higher than those noble Christians, that are gently moved by the natural force of true goodness: they seem to be pleniores Deo. (i. e. more full of God,) than those that are really informed and actuated by the divine Spirit, and do move on steadily and constantly in the way towards heaven. As the seed that was sown in stony ground, grew up and lengthened out its blade faster, than that which was sown in the good and fruitful soil. And as the motions of our sense, and fancy, and passions, while our souls are in this mortal condition, sunk down deeply into the body, are many times more vigorous, and make stronger impressions upon us, than those of the higher powers of the soul, which are more subtle, and remote from these mixt animal perceptions: that devotion which is there seated, may seem to have more energy and life in it, than that which gently, and with a more delicate kind of touch, spreads itself upon the understanding, and from thence mildly derives itself through our wills and affections. But however the former may be more boisterous for a time, yet this is of a more consistent, spermatical, and thriving nature. For that proceeding indeed from nothing but a sensual and fleshly apprehension of God and true happiness, is but of a flitting and fading nature; and as the sensible powers and faculties grow more languid, or the sun of divine light shines more brightly upon us, these earthly devotions, like our culinary fires, will abate their heat and fervour. But a true celestial warmth will never be extinguished, because it is of an immortal nature; and being once seated vitally in the souls of men, it will regulate and order all the motions of it in a due manner; as the natural heat, radicated in the hearts of living creatures, hath the dominion and economy of the whole body under it. True religion is no piece of artifice; it is no boiling up of our imaginative powers, nor the glowing heats of passion; though these are too often mistaken for it, when in our jugglings in religion we cast a mist before our own eyes; but it is a new nature, informing the souls of men; it is a God-like frame of spirit, discovering itself most of all in serene and clear minds, in deep humility, meekness, self-denial, universal love to God and all true goodness, without partiality, and without hypocrisy, whereby we are taught to know God, and knowing him, to love him, and conform ourselves as much as may be to all that perfection which shines in him ” and no wonder, when the subjects of them have an ignorant but undoubting persuasion, that they are divine manifestations, which the great jehovah immediately makes to their souls, therein giving them testimonies, in an extraordinary manner, of his high and peculiar favour.
Again, it is evident from what has been observed and proved of the manner in which gracious operations and effects in the heart are spiritual, supernatural, and divine, that the immediate suggesting of the words of Scripture to the mind, has nothing in it which is spiritual.—I have had occasion to say something of this already; and what has been said may be sufficient to evince it: but if the reader bears in mind what has been said concerning the nature of spiritual influences and effects, it will be more abundantly manifest that this is no spiritual effect. For I suppose there is no person of common understanding, who will say, that the bringing of any words to the mind, is an effect of that nature, that it requires any new divine sense in the soul; or that the bringing of sounds or letters to the mind, is an effect of so high, holy, and excellent a nature, that it is impossible any created power should be the cause of it.
As the suggesting of scripture words to the mind, is only exciting in the mind ideas of certain sounds or letters; so it is only one way of exciting ideas in the imagination; for sounds and letters are external things, the objects of the external senses of seeing and hearing; therefore, by 270 what has been already said concerning these external ideas, it is evident they are nothing spiritual; and if at any time the Spirit of God suggests these letters or sounds to the mind, this is a common, and not any special or gracious, influence of that Spirit. And therefore it follows from what has been already proved, that those affections which have this effect for their foundation, are no spiritual or gracious affections.—But let it be remembered, that what I maintain is briefly this: when the immediate and extraordinary manner of words of Scripture coming to the mind, is that which excites the affections, and is properly the foundation of them, then these affections are not spiritual. Indeed persons may have gracious affections going with scriptures which come to their minds, and the Spirit of God may make use of those scriptures to excite them; when it is a spiritual sense or taste they have of the divine things contained in those scriptures, which excites their affections, and not the extraordinary and sudden manner of their entrance. They are affected with the instruction they receive from the words, and the view of the glorious things of God or Christ, which they contain; and not because the words came suddenly, as though God did as it were immediately speak to them. Persons oftentimes arc exceedingly affected on this foundation; the words of some great promises of Scripture come suddenly to their minds, as though that moment they proceeded out of the mouth of God as spoken to them. Thus they take it as a voice from God, immediately revealing to them their happy circumstances, and promising: them such and such great things: and this it is that affects and elevates them. There is no new or spiritual understanding of the divine things contained in the Scripture, or new spiritual sense of the glorious things taught in that part of the Bible, going before their affection, and as the foundation of it: all the new understanding they have, or think they have, as the foundation of their affection, is this, that the words are spoken to them, because they come so suddenly and in so extraordinary a manner. And so this affection is built wholly on the sand; because it is built on a conclusion for which they have no foundation. And if it was true that God brought the words to their minds, and they certainly knew it, even that would not be spiritual knowledge; it may be without any spiritual sense. Balaam might know that the words which God suggested to him, were indeed suggested to him by God, and yet have no spiritual knowledge. So that affections built on that notion, that texts of Scripture are sent immediately from God, are built on no spiritual foundation, and are vain and delusive. Persons who have their affections thus raised, if they should be asked, whether they have any new sense of the excellency of the things contained in those scriptures, would probably say, Yes, without hesitation: but it is true no otherwise than because they have taken up that notion, that the words are spoken immediately to them. That it is which makes them appear sweet, excellent, and wonderful. As for instance, supposing these were the words brought suddenly to their minds, Fear not,—it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Having confidently taken up a notion that the words were immediately spoken from heaven to them, as an immediate revelation, that God was their Father, and had given the kingdom to them, they are greatly affected by it, and the words seem sweet to them. Oh, say they, what excellent things are contained in those words! But the reason why the promise seems excellent to them, is only because they think it is made to them immediately: all the sense they have of any glory in them, is only from self-love, and from their own imagined interest in the words. They had not any sense of the holy nature of the kingdom of heaven, the spiritual glory of that God who gives it, and of his excellent grace to sinful men, in giving them this kingdom of his own good pleasure, preceding their imagined interest in these things, and their being affected by them. On the contrary, they first imagine they are interested in these things, then are highly affected with that consideration, and then can own these things to be excellent. So that the sudden and extraordinary way of the scripture’s coming to their mind, is plainly the foundation of the whole; which is a clear evidence of the wretched delusion they are under.
The first comfort of many persons, and what they call their conversion, is after this manner: after awakening and terrors, some comfortable promise comes suddenly and wonderfully to their minds; and the manner of its coming makes them conclude it comes from God to them. This is the very foundation of their faith, hope, and comfort: from hence they take their first encouragement to trust in God and in Christ, because they think that God, by some scripture so brought, has now already revealed to them that he loves them, and has already promised them eternal life. But this is very absurd; for every one of common knowledge of religious principles, knows that it is God’s manner to reveal his love to men, and their interest in the promises, after they have believed, and not before. They must first believe, before they have any personal and possessive* interest in the promises to be revealed. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of truth, and not of lies: he does not bring scriptures to men’s minds in order to reveal to them that they have a personal and possessive interest in God’s promises, when they have none, having not yet believed. For this would be the case, if God bringing texts of scripture to men’s minds, in order to show them that their sins were forgiven, or that it was God’s pleasure to give them the kingdom, or any thing of that nature, went before and was the foundation of their first faith. No promise of the covenant of grace belongs possessively to any man, until he has first believed in Christ; for it is by faith alone that we become thus interested in Christ, and the promises of the new covenant made in him. Therefore, whatever spirit applies the promises of that covenant to a person who has not first believed, as being already his, (in the sense already mentioned,) must be a lying spirit; and that faith which is first built on such an application of promises, is built upon a lie. God’s manner is not to bring comfortable texts of scripture to give men assurance of his peculiar love, and that they shall be happy, before they have had a faith of dependence. 473473 Mr. Stoddard in his Guide to Christ, p. 8. says, that “sometimes men, after they have been in trouble awhile, have some promises come to them, with a great deal of refreshing; and they hope God has accepted them:” And says, that “In this case, the minister may tell them, that God never gives a faith of assurance, before he gives a faith of dependence; for he never manifests his love, until men are in a state of favour and reconciliation, which is by faith of dependence. When men have comfortable scriptures come to them, they are apt to take them as tokens of God’s love; but men must be brought into Christ, by accepting the offer of the gospel, before they are fit for such manifestations. God’s method is, first to make the soul accept of the offers of grace, and then to manifest his good estate unto him.” And p. 76. speaking of them “that scorn to be brought to lie at God’s foot, and give an account of their closing with Christ, and that God revealed Christ to them, and drawn their hearts to him, and that they do accept of Christ,” he says, “In this case, it is best to examine whether by that light that was given him, he saw Christ and salvation offered to him, or whether he saw that God loved him, or pardoned him: for the offer of grace and our acceptance goes before pardon, and therefore, much more, before the knowledge of it. Mr. Shepard, in his Parable of the Ten Virgins, Part II. p. 15. says, that “Grace and the love of Christ (the fairest colours under the sun) may be pretended; but if you shall receive, under this appearance, that God witnesseth his love, first by an absolute promise, take heed there; for under this appearance you may as well bring in immediate revelations, and from thence come to forsake the Scriptures. And in Part I. p. 66. he says, “Is Christ yours? Yes, I see it. How? By any word or promise? No: this is delusion.” And p. 136. speaking of them that have no solid ground of peace, he reckons, “Those that content themselves with the revelation of the Lord’s love, without the sight of any work, or not looking to it” And says presently after, “The testimony of the Spirit does not make a man more a Christian, but only evidenceth it; as it is the nature of a witness, not to make a thing to be true, but to clear and evidence it.” And p. 140. speaking of them that say they have the witness of the Spirit, that makes a difference between them and hypocrites, he says. “The witness of the Spirit makes not the first difference: for first a man is a believer, and in Christ, and justified, called, and sanctified, before the Spirit does witness it; else the Spirit should witness to an untruth and lie.” And if the scripture which comes to a person’s mind, be not so properly a promise, as an invitation; yet if he makes the sudden or unusual manner of its coming to his mind, the ground on which he believes that he is invited, it is not true faith; because it is built on that which is not the true ground of faith. True faith is built on no precarious foundation. But a determination that the words of such a particular text were, by the immediate power of God, suggested to the mind, at such a time, as though then spoken and directed by God to him, because they came after such a manner, is wholly an uncertain and 271 precarious determination; and therefore is a false and sandy foundation for faith; and accordingly the faith which is built upon it is also false. The only certain foundation which any person has to believe that he is invited to partake of the blessings of the gospel, is, that the word of God declares that persons so qualified as he is, are invited, and God who declares it, is true and cannot lie. If a sinner be once convinced of the veracity of God, and that the Scriptures are his word, he will need no more to convince and satisfy him that he is invited; for the Scriptures are full of invitations to sinners, to the chief of sinners, to come and partake of the benefits of the gospel. He will not want of God any thing new; what he hath spoken already will be enough with him.
As the first comfort of many persons, and their affections at the time of their supposed conversion, are built on such grounds as these mentioned; so are their joys, hopes, and other affections afterwards. They have often particular words of scriptures, sweet declarations and promises, suggested to them, which, by reason of the manner of their coming, they think are immediately sent from God to them, fit that time. This they look upon as their warrant, the main ground of appropriating them to themselves, of their comfort, and the confidence they receive from them. Thus they imagine a kind of conversation is carried on between God and them; and that God, from time to time, as it were, immediately speaks to them, and satisfies their doubts, testifies his love to them, promises them supports and supplies, and reveals to them clearly their interest in eternal blessings. And thus they are often elevated, and have a sudden and tumultuous kind of joys, mingled with strong confidence, and a high opinion of themselves; when indeed the main ground of these joys, and this confidence, is not any thing contained in or taught by these scriptures, but the manner of their coming to them; which is a certain evidence of their delusion. There is no particular promise in the word of God made to the saint, or spoken to him, otherwise than all the promises of the covenant of grace are his, and are spoken to him. 474474 Mr. Shepard, in his Sound Believer, p. 159. of the late impression at Boston, says, “Embrace in thy bosom, not only some few promises, but all.” And then he asks the question, “When may a Christian take a promise without presumption, as spoken to him?” He answers, “The rule is very sweet, but certain: when he takes all the Scripture, and embraces it as spoken unto him. he may then take any particular promise boldly. My meaning is, when a Christian takes hold and wrestles with God for the accomplishment of all the promises of the New Testament, when he sets all the commands before him, as a compass and guide to walk after, when he applies all the threatenings to drive him nearer unto Christ the end of them. This no hypocrite can do; this the saints shall do; and by this they may know when the Lord speaks in particular unto them.” Some indeed of these promises may be more peculiarly adapted to his case than others; and God by his Spirit may enable him better to understand some than others, and to have a greater sense of the preciousness, glory, and suitableness of the blessings contained in them.
But here, some may be ready to say, What, is there no such thing as any particular spiritual application of the promises of Scripture by the Spirit of God? I answer, there is doubtless such a thing as a spiritual and saving application of the invitations and promises of Scripture to the souls of men. But it is also certain, that the nature of it is wholly misunderstood by many persons, to the great insnaring of their own souls. Hereby Satan acquires a vast advantage against them, against the interest of religion, and the church of God. The spiritual application of a scripture promise does not consist in its being immediately suggested to the thoughts by some extrinsic agent, and being borne into the mind with this strong apprehension, that it is particularly spoken and directed to them at that time. There is nothing of the hand of God evidenced in this effect, as events have proved in many notorious instances. It is a mean notion of a spiritual application of Scripture; there is nothing in the nature of it at all beyond the power of the devil; for there is nothing in the nature of the effect implying any vital communication of God. A truly spiritual application of the word of God is of a vastly higher nature; as much above the devil’s power, as it is for him to apply the word of God to a dead corpse so as to raise it to life: or to a stone, to turn it into an angel. A spiritual application of the word of God consists in applying it to the heart; in spiritual, enlightening, sanctifying influences. A spiritual application of an invitation, or offer of the gospel, consists in giving the soul a spiritual sense, or relish, of the holy and divine blessings offered, and also the sweet and wonderful grace of the offerer, in making so gracious an overture, and of his holy excellency and faithfulness to fulfil what he offers, and his glorious sufficiency for it; so leading and drawing forth the heart to embrace the offer; and thus giving the man evidence of his title to, and personal interest in, the thing offered. And so a spiritual application of the promises of Scripture, for the comfort of the saints, consists in enlightening their minds to see the holy excellency and sweetness of the blessings promised, also the holy excellency of the promiser, his faithfulness and sufficiency; thus drawing forth their hearts to embrace the promiser, and thing promised; and by this means, giving the sensible actings of grace, enabling them to see their grace, and so their possessive title to the promise. An application not consisting in this divine sense and enlightening of the mind, but consisting only in the words being borne into the thoughts, as if immediately then spoken, so making persons believe, on no other foundation, that the promise is theirs; is a blind application, and belongs to the spirit of darkness, and not of light.
When persons have their affections raised after this manner, those affections are really not raised by the word of God; the Scripture is not the foundation of them; it is not any thing contained in those scriptures which come to their minds, that raise their affections; but truly that effect, viz. the strange manner of the word being suggested to their minds, and a proposition from thence taken up by them, which indeed is not contained in that scripture, nor in any other; as that his sins are forgiven him, or that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give him in particular the kingdom, or the like. There are propositions to be found in the Bible, declaring that persons of such and such qualifications are forgiven and beloved of God: but there are none declaring that such and such particular persons, independent on any previous knowledge of qualifications, are forgiven and beloved of God. Therefore, when any person is comforted, and affected by any such proposition, it is by another word, a word newly coined, and not any word of God contained in the Bible. 475475 “Some Christians have rested with a work without Christ, which is abominable: but after a man is in Christ, not to judge by the work, is first not to judge from the word. For though there is a word, which may give a man a dependence on Christ, without feeling any work, nay when he feels none, as absolute promises; yet no word giving assurance, but that which is made to some work. He that believeth, or is poor in spirit, &c. until that work is seen, has no assurance from that promise.” Shepard’s Parable of the Ten Virgins, Part I. p. 86. “If God should tell a saint that he has grace, he might know it by believing the word of God: but it is not in this way that godly men do know that they have grace: it is not revealed in the word, and the Spirit of God doth not testify it to particular persons.” Stoddard’s Nature of saving Conversion, p. 84, 85. And thus many persons are vainly affected and deluded.
Again, it plainly appears from what has been demonstrated, that no revelation of secret facts by immediate suggestion, is any thing spiritual and divine, in that sense wherein gracious effects and operations are so. By secret facts, I mean things that have been done, or are come to pass, or shall hereafter come to pass, which do not appear to the senses, nor are known by any argumentation, nor any other way, but only by immediate suggestion of ideas to the mind. Thus for instance, if it should be revealed to me, that the next year this land would be invaded by a fleet from France, or that such and such persons would then be converted, or that I myself should then be converted—not by enabling me to argue these events from any thing which now appears in providence; but—immediately suggesting, in an extraordinary manner, that these things would come to pass: or if it should be revealed to me, that this day there is a battle fought between the armies of such and such powers in Europe, or that such a prince in Europe was this day converted, or is now in a converted state, or that one of my neighbours is converted, or that I myself am converted; not by having any other evidence of these facts, but an immediate extraordinary suggestion or excitation of these ideas, and a strong impression of them upon my mind: this is a revelation of secret facts by immediate suggestion, as much as if the facts were future; for the facts being past, present, or future, alters 272 not the case, as long as they are secret, hidden from my senses and reason, and not spoken of in Scripture, nor known by me any other way than by immediate suggestion. If I have it revealed to me, that such a revolution is come to pass this day in the Ottoman empire, it is the very same sort of revelation, as if it were revealed to me that such a revolution would come to pass there this day come twelvemonth; because, though one is present and the other future, yet both are equally hidden from me, any other way than by immediate revelation. When Samuel told Saul that the asses which he went to seek were found, and that his father had left caring for the asses, and sorrowed for him; this was by the same kind of revelation, as that by which he told Saul, that in the plain of Tabor there should meet him three men going up to God to Bethel, (1 Sam. x. 2, 3.) though one of these things was future, and the other was not. So when Elisha told the king of Israel the words that the king of Syria spake in his bed-chamber, it was by the same kind of revelation with that by which he foretold many things to come.
It is evident that this revelation of secret facts by immediate suggestion, has nothing of the nature of a spiritual and divine operation, in the sense fore-mentioned. There is nothing at all in the nature of the ideas themselves, excited in the mind, that is divinely excellent, above the ideas of natural men; though the manner of exciting the ideas be extraordinary. In those things which are spiritual, as has been shown, not only the manner of producing the effect, but the effect wrought is divine, and so vastly above all that can be in an unsanctified mind. Now simply the having an idea of facts, setting aside the manner of producing those ideas, is nothing beyond what the minds of wicked men are susceptible of, without any goodness in them; and they all either have or will have, the knowledge of the greatest and most important facts, that have been, are, or shall be.
And as to the extraordinary manner of producing the perception of facts, even by immediate suggestion, there is nothing in it, but what the minds of natural men are capable of; as is manifest in Balaam, and others spoken of in the Scripture. And therefore it appears that there is nothing appertaining to this immediate suggestion of secret facts that is spiritual, in the sense in which it has been proved that gracious operations are so. If there be nothing in the ideas themselves, which is holy and divine, and so nothing but what may be in a mind not sanctified, then God can put them into the mind by immediate power, without sanctifying it. As there is nothing in the idea of a rainbow of a holy and divine nature; so God, if he pleases, and when he pleases, immediately, and in an extraordinary manner, may excite that idea in an unsanctified mind. So also, as there is nothing in the idea or knowledge that such particular persons are forgiven and accepted of God, and entitled to heaven, but what unsanctified minds may have, and will have, concerning many at the day of judgment; so God can, if he pleases, extraordinarily and immediately suggest this to, and impress it upon, an unsanctified mind now. There is no principle wanting in an unsanctified mind in order to make it capable of such an impression; nor is there any thing in them necessarily to prevent such a suggestion.
And if these suggestions of secret facts be attended with texts of Scripture, immediately and extraordinarily brought to mind, about other facts that seem in some respects similar; that does not make the operation to be of a spiritual and divine nature. For that suggestion of words of Scripture is no more divine, than the suggestion of the facts themselves; as has been just now demonstrated; and two effects together, which are neither of them spiritual, cannot make up one complex effect spiritual.
Hence it follows, from what has been already shown, that those affections which are properly founded on such immediate suggestions of secret facts, are not gracious affections. Not but that it is possible that such suggestions may be the occasion or accidental cause of gracious affections; for so may a mistake and delusion; but it is never properly the foundation of gracious affections: for gracious affections, as has been shown, are all the effects of an influence and operation which is spiritual, supernatural, and divine. But there are many affections, and nigh affections, which have such revelations for their very foundation. They look upon these as spiritual discoveries; but they are a gross delusion; and this delusion is truly the spring whence their affections flow.
Here it may be proper to observe, from what has been said, that what many persons call the witness of the Spirit, that they are the children of God, has nothing in it spiritual and divine; and consequently, that the affections built upon it, are vain and delusive. That which many call the witness of the Spirit, is no other than an immediate suggestion and impression of that fact, otherwise secret, that they are made the children of God, and so that their sins are pardoned, and that God has given them a title to heaven. This kind of knowledge, viz. knowing that a certain person is converted, and delivered from hell, and entitled to heaven, is no divine sort of knowledge in itself. This sort of fact requires no more divine suggestion, in order to impress it on the mind, than what Balaam had impressed on his mind. It requires no higher sort of idea for a man to have the apprehension of his own conversion impressed upon him, than to have the apprehension of his neighbour’s conversion, in like manner. God, if he pleased, might impress the knowledge of this fact, that he had forgiven his neighbour’s sins, and given him a title to heaven, as well as any other fact, without any communication of his holiness. The excellency and importance of the fact, does not at all hinder a natural man’s mind being susceptible of an immediate suggestion and impression of it. Balaam had as important facts as this immediately impressed on his mind, without any gracious influence; particularly, the coming of Christ, his setting up his glorious kingdom, the blessedness of the spiritual Israel in his peculiar favour, and their happiness living and dying. Yea, Abimelech king of the Philistines had God’s special favour to Abraham revealed to him, Gen. xx. 6, 7. He revealed to Laban his special favour to Jacob, sec Gen. xxxi. 24. and Psal. cv. 15. And if a truly good man should have an immediate revelation from God, in like manner, concerning his favour to his neighbour, or himself; would it be any higher kind of influence? Would it be any more than a common influence of God’s Spirit, as the gift of prophecy, and all revelation by immediate suggestion is? See 1 Cor. xiii. 2. And though it be true, that a natural man cannot have an individual suggestion from the Spirit of God, that he is converted, because it is not true; yet that does not arise from the nature of the influence, as too high for him. The influence which immediately suggests this fact, when it is true, is of no different kind from that which immediately suggests other true facts: and so the kind and nature of the influence is not above what is common to natural men.
But this is a mean ignoble notion of the witness of the Spirit of God given to his dear children, to suppose that there is nothing in the nature of that influence, but what is common to natural men, altogether unsanctified, and the children of hell; and that therefore the gift itself has nothing of the holy nature or vital communication of that Spirit. This notion greatly debases that most exalted kind of operation which there is in the true witness of the Spirit. 476476 The late venerable Stoddard in his younger time, falling in with the opinion of some others, received this notion of the witness of the Spirit, by way of immediate suggestion: but in the latter part of his life, when he had more thoroughly weighed things, had experience of it: but they may easily mistake; when the Spirit of God doth eminently stir up a spirit of faith, and sheds abroad the love of God in the heart, it is easy to mistake it for a testimony. And that is not the meaning of Paul’s words. The Spirit reveals things to us, by opening our eyes to see what is revealed in the word; but the Spirit doth not reveal new truths, not revealed in the word. The Spirit discovers the grace of God in Christ, and thereby draws forth special actings of faith and love, which are evidential; but it doth not work in way of testimony. If God do but help us to receive the revelations in the word, we shall have comfort enough without new revelation’s.” That which is called the witness of the Spirit, Rom. viii. is elsewhere in the New Testament called the seal of the Spirit, 2 Cor. i. 22. Eph. i. 13. and iv. 13. alluding to the seal of princes, annexed to the instrument, by which they advanced any of their subjects to some 273 high honour and dignity, as a token of their special favour. Which is an evidence that the influence of the Spirit of the Prince of princes, in sealing; his favourites, is far from being of a common kind; and that there is no effect of God’s Spirit whatsoever, which is in its nature more divine; nothing more holy, peculiar, inimitable, and distinguishing of divinity. Nothing is more royal than the royal seal; nothing more sacred to a prince, and more peculiarly denoting what belongs to him; it being the very design of it, to be the most peculiar stamp and confirmation of the royal authority. It is the great note of distinction, whereby that which proceeds from the king, or belongs to him, may be known from every thing else. And therefore undoubtedly the seal of the great King of heaven and earth enstamped on the heart, is something high and holy in its own nature, some excellent communication from the infinite fountain of divine beauty and glory; and not merely making known a secret fact by revelation or suggestion; which is a sort of influence of the Spirit of God of which the children of the devil have often been the subjects. The seal of the Spirit is an effect of the Spirit of God on the heart, of which natural men while such, can form no manner of notion. Rev. ii. 17. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it.” There is all reason to suppose that what is here spoken of, is the same evidence, or blessed token of special favour, which is elsewhere called the seal of the Spirit.
What has misled many in their notion of that influence of the Spirit of God of which we are speaking, is the word witness, its being called the witness of the Spirit. Hence they have taken it to be not any work of the Spirit upon the heart, giving evidence from whence men may argue that they are the children of God, but an inward immediate suggestion, as though God inwardly spoke to the man, and told him that he was his child, by a kind of secret voice, or impression. The manner in which the word witness, or testimony, is often used in the New Testament, viz. holding forth evidence from whence a thing may be argued and proved to be true. Thus, Heb. ii. 4. God is said to bear witness, with signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost. Now these miracles are called God’s witness, not because they are of the nature of assertions, but evidences and proofs. So Acts xiv. 3. “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” And John v. 36. “But I have greater witness than that of John; for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.” Again, chap. x. 25. “The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.” So the water and the blood are said to bear witness, 1 John v. 8. not that they asserted any thing, but they were evidences. So God’s works of providence, in rain and fruitful seasons, are witnesses of God’s being and goodness, i. e. they were evidences of these things. And when the Scripture speaks of the seal of the Spirit, it is an expression which properly denotes—not an immediate voice or suggestion, out—some work or effect of the Spirit left as a divine mark upon the soul, to be an evidence by which God’s children might be known. The seals of princes were their distinguishing marks; and thus the seal of God is his mark, Rev. vii. 3. “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads;” Ezek. ix. 4. “Set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and that cry for all the abominations that are done in the midst thereof.” When God sets his seal on a man’s heart by his Spirit, there is some holy stamp, some image impressed, and left upon the heart by the Spirit, as by the seal upon the wax. And this holy stamp, or impressed image, exhibiting clear evidence to the conscience, that the subject of it is the child of God, is the very thing which in Scripture is called the seal of the Spirit, and the witness or evidence of the Spirit. And this mark enstamped by the Spirit on God’s children, is his own image. That is the evidence by which they are known to be God’s children; they have the image of their Father stamped upon their hearts by the Spirit of adoption. Seals anciently had en-engraven on them two things, viz. the image and the name of the person whose seal it was. Therefore when Christ says to his spouse, Cant. viii. 6. “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm:” it is as much as to say, let my name and image remain impressed there. The seals of princes, moreover, were wont to bear their image; so that what they set their seal and royal mark upon, had their image left on it. It was their manner also to have their image engraven on their jewels and precious stones; the image of Augustus engraven on a precious stone, was used as the seal of the Roman emperors, in the times of Christ and the apostles. 477477 See Chambers’s Dictionary, under the word ENGRAVING. The saints are the jewels of Jesus Christ, the great potentate, who possesses the empire of the universe: and these jewels have his image enstamped upon them by his royal signet, which is the Holy Spirit. And this is undoubtedly what the Scripture means by the seal of the Spirit; especially when it is fair and plain to the eye of conscience; which is what the Scripture calls our spirit. This is truly an effect that is spiritual, supernatural, and divine. This is in itself of a holy nature, being a communication of the divine nature and beauty. That kind of influence of the Spirit which gives and leaves this stamp upon the heart, is such as no natural man can have. If there were any such thing as a witness of the Spirit by immediate suggestion or revelation, this would be vastly more noble and excellent, and as much above it as the heaven is above the earth. This the devil cannot imitate. 478478 Mr. Shepard is abundant in militating against the notion of men’s knowing their good estate by an immediate witness of the Spirit, without judging by any effect or work of the Spirit wrought on the heart, as an evidence and proof that persons are the children of God. Parab. P. I. p. 134, 135, 137, 176, 177, 215, 216. P. II. 168. 169. Again, in his Sound Believer, there is a long discourse of sanctification as the chief evidence of justification, from p. 221, for many pages following; I shall transcribe but a very small part of it. “Tell me, how you will know that you are justified. You will say, by the testimony of the Spirit And cannot the same Spirit shine upon your graces, and witness that you are sanctified, as well? 1 John iv. 13, 24. 1 Cor. ii. 12. Can the Spirit make the one clear to you, and not the other? Oh beloved, it is a sad thing, to hear such questions, and such cold answers also, that sanctification possibly may be an evidence. May be! Is it not certain?” Mr. Flavel also much opposes this notion of the witness of the Spirit by immediate revelation. Sacramental Meditations, med. 4. speaking of the sealing of the Spirit, he says, “In sealing the believer, he doth not make use of an audible voice, nor the ministry of angels, nor immediate and extraordinary revelations; but he makes use of his own graces, implanted in our hearts, and his own promises, written in the Scripture: and in this method, he usually brings the doubting, trembling heart of a believer to rest and comfort” Again, ibid. “Assurance is produced in our souls by the reflexive arts of faith: the Spirit helps us to reflect upon what hath been done by him formerly upon our hearts; hereby we know that we know him, 1 John ii. 3. To know that we know, is a reflex act. Now it is impossible there should be a reflex, before there hath been a direct act. No man can have the evidence of his faith, before the habit is infused, and the vital act performed. The object matter, to which the Spirit seals, is his own sanctifying operation.” Afterwards, ibid, he says, “Immediate ways of the Spirit’s sealing are ceased. No man may now expect, by any new revelation, or sign from heaven, by any voice, or extraordinary inspiration, to have his salvation sealed; but must expect that mercy in God’s ordinary way and method, searching the Scriptures, examining our own hearts, and waiting on the Lord in prayer. The learned Gerson gives an instance of one that had been long upon the borders of despair, and at last sweetly assured and settled: he answered, Non ex nova aliqua revelatione; not by any new revelation, but by subjecting my understanding to, and comparing my heart with, die written word. And Mr. Roberts, in his treatise of the covenants, speaks of another, that so vehemently panted after the sealings and assurance of the love of God to his soul, that for a long time be earnestly desired some voice from heaven; and sometimes, walking in the solitary fields, earnestly desired some miraculous voice from the trees or stones there. This was denied him; but in time, a better was afforded, in a scriptural way.” Again, ibid. “This method of sealing, is beyond, all other methods in the world. For in miraculous voices and inspirations, it is impossible there may subesse falsum, be found some cheat, or impostures of the devil: but the Spirit’s witness in the heart, suitable to the revelation in the Scripture, cannot deceive us.” The seal of the Spirit is called the earnest of the Spirit, in the Scripture. 2 Cor. i. 22. “Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” And Eph. i. 13, 14. “In whom, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” Now the earnest is part of the money agreed for given in hand, as a token of the whole to be paid in due time; a part of the promised inheritance granted now, in token of full possession of the whole hereafter. But surely that kind of communication of the Spirit of God, which is of the nature of eternal glory, is the highest and most excellent kind of communication, It is something in its own nature spiritual, holy, and divine; and therefore high above any thing of the nature of inspiration, or revelation of hidden 274 facts by suggestion of the Spirit of God, which many natural men have had. What is the earnest and beginning of glory, but grace itself, especially in the more lively and clear exercises of it? It is not prophecy, nor tongues, nor knowledge, but that more excellent thing, charity that never faileth, which is a beginning of the light, sweetness, and blessedness of heaven, that world of love or charity. Grace is the seed of glory; the earnest of the future inheritance. What is the beginning or earnest of eternal life in the soul, but spiritual life? and what is that but grace? The inheritance that Christ has purchased for the elect, is the Spirit of God; not in any extraordinary gifts, but in his vital indwelling in the heart, exerting and communicating himself there, in his own proper, holy, or divine nature. The Father provides the Saviour, and the purchase is made of him; the Son is the purchaser and the price; and the Holy Spirit is the great blessing or inheritance purchased, as is intimated Gal. iii. 13, 14. and hence the Spirit is often spoken of as the sum of the blessings promised in the gospel. 479479 Luke xxiv. 49. Acts i. 4. and chap. ii. 38, 39. Gal. iii. 14. Eph. i. 13. This inheritance was the grand legacy which Christ left his disciples and church, in his last will and testament, John chap. xiv. xv. xvi. This is the sum of the blessings of eternal life, which shall be given in heaven. 480480 Compare John vii. 37, 38, 39. and John iv. 14. with Rev. xxi. 6. and Rev. xxii. 1, 17. Rev. xxii. 1, 17. xxii. 1, 17. It is through the vital communications and indwelling of the Spirit, that the saints have all their light, life, holiness, beauty, and joy in heaven: and it is through the vital communications and indwelling of the same Spirit, that the saints have all light, life, holiness, beauty, and comfort on earth; but only communicated in less measure. And this vital indwelling of the Spirit in the Saints, in this less measure, is the earnest of the Spirit, the earnest of the future inheritance, and the first-fruits of the Spirit, as the apostle calls it, Rom. viii. 22. where, by the first-fruits of the Spirit, the apostle undoubtedly means the same vital gracious principle, that he speaks of in all the preceding part of the chapter, which he calls Spirit, and sets in opposition to flesh or corruption. Therefore this earnest of the Spirit, and first-fruits, which has been shown to be the same with the seal of the Spirit, is his vital, gracious, sanctifying influence, and not any immediate suggestion or revelation of facts. 481481 “After a man is in Christ, not to judge by the work, is not to judge by the Spirit For the apostle makes the earnest of the Spirit to be the teal. Mow, earnest is part of the money bargained for; the beginning of heaven, of the light and life of it. He that sees not that the Lord is his by that, sees no God his at all. Oh therefore, do not look for a spirit, without a word to reveal, nor a word to reveal, without seeing and feeling of some work first I thank the Lord, I do but pity those that think otherwise. If a sheep of Christ, oh, wander not.” Shepard’s Par. P. I. p. 86.
And indeed the apostle, when (Rom. viii. 16.) he speaks of the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God, sufficiently explains himself. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God: for ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear: but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father: the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God.” Here, what the apostle says, if we take it together, plainly shows, that what he has respect to, when he speaks of the Spirit’s giving us witness or evidence that we are God’s children, is his dwelling in us, and leading us, as a spirit of adoption, or of a child, disposing us to behave towards God as to a father. And what is that, but the spirit of love? There are two kinds of spirits of which the apostle speaks, the spirit of bondage, that is fear; and the spirit of adoption, and that is love. The apostle says, we have not received the spirit of bondage, or of slaves, which is a spirit of fear; but we have received the more ingenuous, noble spirit of children, a spirit of love, which naturally disposes us to go to God, as children to a father. And this is the witness which the Spirit of God gives us that we are children. This is the plain sense of the apostle. The spirit of bondage works by fear, the slave fears the rod; but love cries, Abba, father; it disposes us to go to God, and behave ourselves as children. So that the witness of the Spirit of which the apostle speaks, is far from being any whisper, or immediate suggestion; but is that gracious, holy effect of the Spirit of God in the hearts of the saints, the disposition and temper of children, appearing in sweet child-like love to God, which casts out fear. It is plain the apostle speaks of the Spirit, over and over again, as dwelling in the hearts of the saints, as a gracious principle, in opposition to the flesh or corruption; as in the words that immediately introduce this passage, ver. 13. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the flesh, ye shall live.”
Indeed it is past doubt with me, that the apostle has a more special respect to the spirit of grace, or of love, or the spirit of a child, in its more lively actings; for it is perfect love or strong love only, which so witnesses or evidences that we are children, as to cast out fear, and wholly deliver from the spirit of bondage. The strong and lively exercises of evangelical, humble love to God, give clear evidence of the soul’s relation to God, as his child; which very greatly and directly satisfies the soul. And though it be far from true, that the soul in this case judges only by an immediate witness, without any sign or evidence; vet the saint stands in no need of multiplied signs, or any long reasoning upon them. And though the sight of his relative union with God, and being in his favour, is not without a medium, viz. his love; yet his sight of the union of his heart to God is immediate. Love, the bond of union, is seen intuitively; the saint sees and feels plainly the union between his soul and God; it is so strong and lively, that he cannot doubt of it. And hence he is assured that he is a child. How can he doubt whether he stands in a child-like relation to God, when he plainly sees a child-like union between God and his soul, and hence cries, Abba, Father.
And whereas the apostle says, the Spirit bears witness with our spirits; by our spirit here, is meant our conscience, which is called the spirit of man; Prov. xx. 27. “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly.” We elsewhere read of the witness of this spirit, or of conscience, 2 Cor. i. 12. “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience.” And 1 John iii. 19-21. “And hereby do we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.” When the apostle Paul speaks of the Spirit of God bearing witness with, our spirit, he does not mean two separate, collateral, independent witnesses; but that by one, we receive the witness of the other. The Spirit of God gives the evidence, by infusing and shedding abroad the love of God, the spirit of a child, in the heart; and our spirit, or our conscience, receives and declares this evidence for our rejoicing.
Many mischiefs have arisen from that false and delusive notion of the witness of the Spirit, that it is a kind of inward voice, suggestion, or declaration from God to a man, that he is beloved, pardoned, elected, or the like, sometimes with and sometimes without a text of Scripture; for many have been the false and vain (though very high} affections that have arisen from hence. It is to be feared that multitudes of souls have been eternally undone by it; I have therefore insisted the longer on this head.—But I proceed now to a second characteristic of gracious affections.
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