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Unto whom the Holy Spirit is promised and given as a comforter, or the object of his acting in this office.
We have considered the promise of Christ to send the Holy Spirit to be the comforter of the church, and unto that end to abide with them forever. The nature also of that office and work, in general, which hereon he undertakes and dischargeth, with the properties of 380them, have been declared. Our next inquiry is, unto whom this promise is made, and towards whom it is infallibly fulfilled. How and unto what ends, in what order, as unto his effects and operations, the Holy Spirit is promised unto any persons and received by them, hath been already declared in our former discourses, book iv. chap. iii.162162 See the previous volume of his works. — Ed. We shall, therefore, here only declare in particular whom he is promised unto and received by as a comforter; and this is to all, and only unto, believers, — those who are actually so. All his operations required unto the making of them so to be are antecedent hereunto; for the promise of him unto this end, wherever it is recorded, is made directly unto them, and unto them it is confined. Immediately it was given unto the apostles, but it was not given unto them as apostles, but as believers and disciples of Christ, with a particular respect unto the difficulties and causes of disconsolation which they were under or should meet withal upon the account of their being so. See the promises unto this purpose expressly, John xiv. 16, 17, 26, xv. 26, xvi. 7, 8. And it is declared withal that the world, which in that place is opposed unto them that do believe, cannot receive him, chap. xiv. 17. Other effectual operations he hath upon the world, for their conviction and the conversion of many of them; but as a Spirit of consolation he is neither promised unto them nor can they receive him, until other gracious acts of his have passed on their souls. Besides, we shall see that all his actings and effects as a comforter are confined unto them that believe, and do all suppose saving faith as antecedent unto them.
And this is the great fundamental privilege of true believers, whereby, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, they are exalted above all other persons in this world. And this will the more evidently appear when we shall consider those especial operations, acts, and effects, whereby consolation is administered unto them. That the life of man is the subject of innumerable troubles is made evident and uncontrollable by catholic experience. That “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward,” has been the constant acknowledgment of all that have been wise in all ages. And those who have designed to drown the sense of them in security and sensuality of life have been ever looked on as greatly exorbitant from the principles of nature and dictates of reason, voluntarily degenerating into the condition of creatures brutish and irrational. Others, who will not forego the privilege of their being, have always made it a principal inquiry how or whence they might take and receive relief and comfort for their supportment against their unavoidable troubles, sorrows, and disconsolation; yea, it is natural and necessary unto all men so to do. All men cannot but seek after rest and peace, not only 381out of choice but instinct of nature, trouble and sorrow being diametrically contrary unto it in its being, and tending unto its dissolution. Wherefore, they all naturally seek for consolation: Hence the best and most useful part of the old philosophy consisted in the prescription of the ways and means of comforting and supporting the minds of men against things noxious and grievous to nature, with the sorrows which ensue thereon; and the topics they had found out unto this purpose were not to be despised where men are destitute of spiritual light and supernatural revelation. Neither did the wisdom or reason of man ever arise unto any thing more useful in this world than to discover any rational considerations that might allay the sorrows or relieve the minds of them that are disconsolate: for things that are really grievous unto the generality of mankind do outweigh all the real satisfaction which this life and world can afford; and to place either satisfaction or relief in the pursuit of sensual lusts is brutish. But yet what did all the spring and well-heads of rational and philosophical consolation rise unto? what refreshment did their streams afford? The utmost they attained unto was but to confirm and make obstinate the minds of men in a fancy, an opinion, or persuasion, contrary unto what they felt and had experience of; for what they contended for was but this, that the consideration of the common lot of mankind, the unavoidableness of grieving accidents, the shortness of human life, the true exercise of reason upon more noble objects, with others of the like nature, should satisfy men that the things which they endured were not evil or grievous.
But what doth all this amount unto in comparison of this privilege of believers, of this provision made for them in all their disconsolations, by Him in whom they do believe? This is a relief that never entered into the heart of man to think of or conceive. Nor can it be understood by any but those by whom it is enjoyed; for the world, as our Saviour testifies, neither knoweth this Spirit nor can receive him; — and, therefore, what is spoken of him and this work of his is looked on as a fancy or the shadow of a dream. And although the Sun of Righteousness be risen in this matter, and shines on all that dwell in the land of Goshen, yet those that abide still in Egypt make use only of their lanterns. But those who are really partakers of this privilege do know in some measure what they do enjoy, although they are not able to comprehend it in its excellency, nor value it in a due manner; for how can the heart of man, or our poor weak understandings, fully conceive this glorious mystery of sending the Holy Ghost to be our comforter? Only they receive it by faith, and have experience of it in its effects. There is, in my judgment, an unspeakable privilege of those who are believers, antecedent unto their believing, as they are elect, — namely, that Christ 382died in their stead alone. But this is like the wells which Isaac’s servants digged, that the Philistines strove about as those which belonged unto them, which, though fresh, useful springs in themselves, caused them to be called Esek and Sitnah, [that is, contention and hatred.] Mighty strivings there are to break down the enclosure of this privilege, and lay it common unto all the world, that is, indeed, waste and useless; for it is contended that the Lord Christ died equally for all and every one of mankind, for believers and unbelievers, for those that are saved and those that are damned. And to this purpose many pretences are pleaded to show how the most of them for whom Christ died have no real benefit by his death, nor is any thing required in them to evidence that they have an interest therein. But this privilege we now treat of is like the well Rehoboth [that is, room]; Isaac kept it unto himself, and the Philistines strove not about it. None contend that the Spirit is a comforter unto any but believers; therefore is it by the world despised and reproached, because they have no interest in it, nor have the least pretence to strive about it. Did believers, therefore, duly consider how they are advanced hereby, through the love and care of Jesus Christ, into an inexpressible dignity above the residue of mankind, they would more rejoice in it than in all that this world can supply them withal. But we must proceed.
It appears, from what hath been discoursed, that this is not the first saving work of the Holy Spirit on the souls of men. Regeneration and habitual sanctification do always precede it. He comforteth none but those whom he hath before sanctified. Nor are any other but such capable of his consolations; there is nothing in them that can discern his acting, or value what he doth of this kind. And this is the true reason why the whole work of the Holy Spirit as a comforter, wherein consists the accomplishment of the most glorious promise that ever Christ made to his church, and the greatest evidence of his continued care thereof, is so neglected, yea, despised, amongst the generality of professed Christians; — a great evidence of the apostatized state of Christianity. They can have no concern in any work of his but in its proper order. If men be not first sanctified by him, they can never be comforted by him; and they will themselves prefer in their troubles any natural reliefs before the best and highest of his consolations; for however they may be proposed unto them, however they may be instructed in the nature, ways, and means of them, yet they belong not unto them, and why should they value that which is not theirs? The world cannot receive him. He worketh on the world for conviction, John xvi. 8, and on the elect for conversion, John iii. 8; but none can receive him as a comforter but believers Therefore is this whole work of the Holy 383Spirit little taken notice of by the most, and despised by many. Yet is it nevertheless glorious in itself, being fully declared in the Scripture, nor the less useful to the church, being testified unto by the experience of them that truly believe.
That which remaineth for the full declaration of this office and work of the Holy Ghost, is the consideration of those acts of his which belong properly thereunto, and of those privileges whereof believers are made partakers thereby. And whereas many blessed mysteries of evangelical truth are contained herein, they would require much time and diligence in their explanation. But as to the most of them, according unto the measure of light and experience which I have attained, I have prevented myself the handling of them in this place; for I have spoken already unto most of them in two other discourses, the one concerning the perseverance of true believers,163163 Vol. xi. of the author’s works. — Ed. and the other of our communion with God,164164 Vol. ii. — Ed. and of the Holy Spirit in particular. As, therefore, I shall be sparing in the repetition of what is already in them proposed unto public view, so it is not much that I shall add thereunto. Yet what is necessary unto our present design must not be wholly omitted, especially seeing I find that farther light and evidence may be added unto our former endeavours in this kind.
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