« Prev A Sermon on Romans viii. 14. Disc. I. Next »

A SERMON

ON

ROMANS VIII. 14.


DISC. I.


ROMANS viii. 14.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

THERE is that known averseness in the nature of man (as now it stands) to all acts of virtue, (especially such as are of an higher strain,) and withal that deplorable impotence and inability to go through with them, whensoever it undertakes them, that not only in the Christian, but also in all other religions, men have found it necessary, in every great action, to engage some other agent and principle besides the man himself. So that amongst the heathens, who acknowledged a plurality of gods, you will hardly find any noble or heroic achievement done by any of them, but you will find some one or other of their gods made a coadjutor in the case. Thus Homer brings in Diomedes and Ulysses assisted by Mars and Pallas, (one notable for acts of valour, and the other for those of counsel and wisdom;) and the like is said of many others. All which was but a kind of tacit acknowledgment of that weakness and decay upon man’s nature, which has been ever since the fall. For they found, it seems, within themselves an experience 33of the thing itself, though they could give no account of its cause. And accordingly, being ignorant of the source of the malady, it could not be expected but that they should be as much out in the remedies they applied for relief against it. Only thus much is deducible from the whole matter, that they clearly saw themselves concerned to do many worthy things, which they found themselves wholly unable to do without the help of divine power, or at least some power much superior to their own.

Now what these ignorant heathens blundered about, touching this great debilitation of human nature to great and good actions, (a thing owned and agreed to by the common experience of the most considering part of mankind,) having been first taught the world (though more obscurely) by Moses, has been since more fully and clearly declared to the Christian church (and that above all Pelagian or Socinian opposition whatsoever) by our blessed Saviour himself. For as the books of Moses and of the prophets do assure us, that man was at the first created perfect in all his faculties, and strong in his inclinations to good; and that by the fall of our first pa rents the entireness of these perfections was lost, both to themselves and to their posterity; so the gospel (like a tabula post naufragium) informs us, that the great design of the Redeemer of the world was to repair these sad breaches made upon man’s nature; (so far as it was necessary to the grand purposes of man’s salvation;) and that to effect this, (amongst other things which he purchased of his Father by his meritorious death,) he procured the assistance and abode of his Spirit to be in us, as it is 34 in John xiv. 17; and to dwell in us, Rom. viii. 9; and to help our infirmities, as in Rom. viii. 26; and, in a word, to lead us into all truth, in John xvi. 13; and so to be, as it were, an universal assisting genius more or less to all mankind.

It being clear, therefore, from these and the like places of scripture, that the Spirit of God, in some degree, leads and helps all men, though more eminently and peculiarly some; I shall cast the prosecution of the words under these four heads. As,

I. I shall shew how the Spirit is said to be in men.

II. I shall shew how men are led by the Spirit.

III. I shall shew what is here meant by being the sons of God.

IV. And lastly, I shall gather some conclusions by way of use and information from the whole. And first,

For the first of these. The Spirit may be said to be in men two ways.

1. Substantially, as he is God filling all things; and by reason of the infinity and indivisibility of his nature, being wholly every where and in every thing. For his nature being infinite, he can be excluded from no place or thing whatsoever; and being also indivisible, wheresoever he is, he is and must be totally. Forasmuch as his simplicity and indivisibility render him without parts or quantity; the only things that make a being so present to a place by one of its parts, as not to be present to the same place at the same time by another. And according to this sense the Spirit of God is equally in all men, and indeed in all things, and that essentially and 35necessarily by the omnipresence and unlimited expansion of his divine nature. And therefore this cannot be the thing we are now inquiring after.

2. The Spirit may be said to be in men, in respect of the effects he produces in them. And thus God is said to be in heaven, and sometimes in one place more than in another, because of some notable operation which he exerts in that place and not in another. In like manner the Spirit of God is said to be in that man, whom, by any immediate impulse or motion, he causes to do a thing; or in whom he creates those habits or dispositions to action, by which he is enabled to act with more proneness and facility one way than another; and that, whether those habits relate to matters of morality, as those graces of the Spirit, with which the hearts of believers are sanctified, certainly do; or whether they refer only to matters of a civil import, as the arts of working infused into Bezaleel and Aholiab; or of governing infused into Saul; or of wisdom into Solomon; all of them, no doubt, wrought and produced in those persons by the Spirit of God.

These, I say, are the two allowed ways by which the Spirit or Holy Ghost may be said to be in men; and besides these two, I know no other possible; though there are some who assign a third, namely, the personal indwelling of the Spirit in believers, (as they call it,) and that wholly different from his being in any other persons or things, by either of those ways before mentioned by us. This, I find, has been confidently asserted by some, and particularly by those called Familists; but before it be admitted, it is fit it should be examined; and that upon terms 36 of reason and scripture: for by one or both of these it must be proved, or not at all.

1. And first, upon grounds of reason, I affirm, that it is impossible for the person of the Holy Ghost, by any other and different way from the two former, to be more in one man than in another. Forasmuch as his nature or essence being equally diffused through all things, and that nature or essence being likewise included in, and inseparable from, his person; it carries in it a manifest contradiction, for the nature to be any where, and the person including it, and inseparably united to it, not to be there also. Add to this, that if the person of the Holy Ghost should substantially reside or inhabit more in one man than in another, it must needs be because he is freely pleased so to do: but the manner of the divine existence is an attribute of his nature, and so cannot be an effect of his will; since what is purely natural, is also necessary, and so far cannot be free. For it is not free to God, whether he will be present to all and every part of the universe, or no: but it is as necessary for him to be so, as omnipresence is a necessary result of infinity. And infinity is the first and grand thing included in the very nature and notion of a Deity. Reason therefore has nothing to say for this personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost in some certain men more than in others; but explodes it as a mere figment and paradox, contrary to all the principles of natural theology.

2. In the next place, therefore, we are to see what the assertors of this personal indwelling of the Spirit in believers are able to produce for it from scripture. And here we shall find nothing but arguments drawn 37from some scripture expressions, in which we are either said to be the temples of the Holy Ghost, as in 1 Cor. vi. 19, or that the Spirit dwells in us, as in Rom. viii. 11, with other such like phrase importing inhabitation: which way of inexistence, they say, cannot properly be applied to accidents; such as are the sanctifying graces wrought in us by the Spirit; but only to persons, who alone can be properly said to be in places or temples. And this is all that they argue from scripture.

But metaphors, we know, are but weak mediums to prove any thing. And I refer it to any one of a clear impartial reason, to judge, whether, when the Spirit is said to be in us as in a temple, this does not, at the very first sight, appear to be a metaphorical expression; the words importing no more, than that we should be as wholly devoted to God’s use and service as a temple is: and that, as it is sacrilegious to alienate a temple to other worldly and profane uses; so is it a piece of no less sacrilege and impiety, after we have consigned over, and, in a manner, dedicated ourselves to the Spirit, to make ourselves servants to sin, Satan, or the world. According to which way of speaking also, in Jer. iv. 14, vain thoughts are said to lodge in men’s hearts. And in Coloss. iii. 16, the apostle speaks of the word of Christ dwelling richly in them. Both which expressions of lodging and dwelling, strictly taken, indeed import only a local presence, but yet are elegantly applied to thoughts, and such other things as are no more than mere accidents existing in the soul: the meaning of the words being this; that these things reside as constantly and familiarly there, as an inhabitant does in the house where he dwells. 38 And he that would strain any more from such texts, may sooner fetch blood than any sound sense out of them; it being not always the way of scripture to speak according to the philosophical exactness of things, but in a familiar known latitude of expression. Nor indeed is any thing more usual in the word of God, than to find actions proper to persons ascribed to qualities. As wisdom is said to build her an house, Prov. ix. 1; and charity to think no evil, to hope all things, and to suffer all things, in 1 Cor. xiii. 7; with innumerable the like instances. And therefore such places are manifestly short of proving the thing they are here alleged for.

And thus having shewn in what sense the Spirit of God may be said to be in men, I come now to the

Second general thing proposed, which was to shew, what it is for men to be led by the Spirit. Concerning which we must observe, that the word leading, taken by itself alone, without the addition of any particular term, to which we are said to be led, (as Jesus was said to be led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Matt. iv. 1,) naturally and properly signifies a guidance of us, not in respect of any one particular action or passage of our lives, but in respect of the whole course of them. And consequently, under this leading of the Spirit, we are not to consider those particular transports and ecstasies, whether by prophecy or vision, which the Spirit of God has, at several times, raised some persons to. For these were sudden, transient beams, or flashes, upon extraordinary occasions, and not constant light to live and walk by. As, therefore, the Spirit’s leading us imports a continued steady direction of us in 39the whole course of our lives or actions, so it imports in it these two things.

1. His prescribing rules and laws to us, to which we are to conform our actions; and so he leads us by those excellent precepts held forth to mankind both in the law and gospel; both of which were dictated by the same eternal Spirit of truth.

2. His enlightening the understanding to discern, and his bending the wills and affections of men to comply with those rules and precepts so held forth to them. The first way he leads us by providing us a path to walk in; and the second, by giving us legs to walk with. For (as I said at first) there is since, and by the fall of man, that innate darkness in his understanding, that it is of itself unable spiritually to perceive the things of God; and that obliquity and rebelliousness in his will, that it cannot heartily choose and embrace them. And therefore, though the Spirit should lead us never so much by the former way, that is, by proposing to us rules and precepts to act by; yet it is impossible that we should follow till those indispositions are in some measure removed; and this is to be done only by the Spirit.

But since some there are so hardy (or profane rather) as to affirm, that to assert that the Spirit imprints upon or creates in any faculty of the soul any disposition or habit that shall give it a facility in its actings, is enthusiasm; and that, I suppose, because they may account every thing enthusiasm which is not Pelagianism: I answer, that if these persons will but own original sin, and a general depravation of man’s nature consequent thereupon, (as they are hardly Christians if they do not,) I would fain learn how nature shall be able to rid itself from 40 the effects of this depravation or corruption, which has so universally seized all the powers of it, but by some certain principle distinct from and greater than itself. And I would fain know further, why the almighty power of God’s Spirit may not work in any faculty of the soul the same readiness or permanent facility of acting (commonly by another word called an habit) which that faculty can produce, or acquire to itself, by a frequent repetition of its own actions; especially since there is nothing which the first cause produces by the mediation of the second, but what it can and sometimes does produce solely by itself, (except the vital acts issuing from and denominating their respective powers or principles,) in the number of which, habits cannot be reckoned, but are qualities abiding in the soul, even while there is a total cessation from acting, and may be lost again; whereas the power or faculty, wherein they are vested, cannot. But as for those who deny the immediate infusion of habits into the soul, they should do well to try their strength, and shew some principle of reason or scripture contradicted by it; and I dare undertake to allege that from both, which shall bid fair for the proof of it.

And thus much for the two ways by which the Spirit leads men; namely, 1. outwardly, by the written word; and, 2. inwardly, by his illumination of the judgment, and bending of the will. Concerning which this must carefully be observed, that though the Spirit frequently, nay ordinarily leads men the former way without this latter; as being indeed rather a direction, or bare pointing out, whither we should go, than a leading us, (forasmuch as many are so led or directed who never follow,) yet now-a-days 41the Spirit never leads men the latter way, namely, by his effectual inward operation upon the soul, but he does it in conjunction with the former; that is, first holding forth a rule in the word written or preached, and then working those gracious dispositions, abilities, or fitnesses in the soul, which shall cause it actually to comply with and square its actions to the same.

And these are all the ways by which the Spirit of God leads the church now. But as I shew concerning the Spirit’s being in men, that there were some who, besides his being in them by his essential omnipresence, and by those effects which he works within them, held a third distinct way, namely, his personal indwelling in believers; so there are some likewise, who, besides the Spirit’s leading men by the written word, and by his enlightening the understanding, and bending the will, assert yet another way, namely, the Spirit’s speaking inwardly to them, and directing them by a secret, uttered (as they pretend) intelligibly enough to the soul of him to whom it is spoke, though unknown to any person besides. And if we will give things their right names, this is truly and properly enthusiasm, that pestilent and vile thing, which, wheresoever it has had its full course, has thrown both church and state into confusion. For if men may be admitted to plead, that the Spirit leads them by an inward voice speaking to them, and known only to themselves, it is impossible that they should acknowledge any rule or governor of their actions but themselves. The folly and mischief of which pretence, therefore, I shall endeavour to make appear (which is the principal design of this discourse) from several considerations. But before 42 I come to mention particulars, I shall give you one remarkable instance, and home to the subject now before us. And it is this; that the main instrument and engine which that grand and vilest of impostors, Mahomet, first set up with, in the venting and offering his blasphemous impostures to the world, was this secret, inward voice of the Spirit conversing with him, and revealing to him the several heads of his detestable religion: which as nobody did or could pretend to be conscious to but himself, so I will maintain, that upon this principle of the inward voice of the Spirit, there is nobody since. Mahomet (no not the Whigs’ demigod Oliver himself ) but might (had he met with such an amazing torrent of success as Mahomet found) have carried on any enthusiastic design as effectually as ever that monster did. But now to pass to those particular considerations, before promised by us, for the beating down and exploding this secret voice of the Spirit, which such hypocrites so confidently pretend to be led by, you may observe as follows.

1. That the word of God in scripture is proposed and declared by the Spirit itself speaking in the same as a rule both necessary and sufficient for men to be led and acted by in all their spiritual concerns; and consequently no such inward word or voice from the same Spirit to the soul of any particular person whatsoever can be proved or allowed to be such a rule. For if this inward word pretends to reveal the very same things which are actually revealed in the said scripture already, in that case such revelation being but the bare repetition of truths both already revealed and sufficiently confirmed, it cannot pass for a rule really necessary; 43nor, on the other side, if it speaks things different from (and much more contrary to) what the written word speaks, (supposing the said written word to be a full and sufficient rule both for belief and practice, as all who receive it must hold it to be,) can this inward voice and word then, in the proper notion of a rule, be so much as allowable. For does not the scripture stand vouched by apostolical and divine authority, as able to make the man of God perfect? and to furnish him to every good work? And will not all this satisfy? or would these men have any more? But alas! as good works (especially in the matter of justification) use to be accounted dangerous things; so whatsoever these men’s new faith in the inward word or voice of the Spirit may do for them this way, I dare say, that their good works are never like to justify or sanctify either them or their religion; as will appear from the

Second and next consideration; which is the great and just suspiciousness of the forementioned pretence, that the inward word or voice of the Spirit is the rule which it leads men by, in that it is seldom or never alleged, but for the patronage of such actions as cannot be warranted or defended upon any other account whatsoever. For you shall never hear such men pleading, that the Spirit tells them they must obey their governors, reverence the church and the ministers of it, be charitable to the poor, behave themselves justly to all, injure nobody, defraud nobody, and the like; which duties both reason and the written word of God so much press and inculcate. But when the yoke of government begins to sit uneasy upon their unruly necks, or when they have run themselves out of their estates, 44 and so come to cast a longing eye upon the revenues of the church, or of their rich neighbours about them; why then the word, that commands obedience, and forbids all violence and injustice, presently becomes not only a dead, but a killing letter, and a beggarly rudiment, and in comes the Spirit with a mighty controlling force to relieve and set them at liberty, teaching them to bind kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; assuring them withal, that the godly only have any right to possess the earth. And if so, then let them alone to persuade themselves, (and others too if they can,) that they only are the godly; and that by rules and arguments which the scripture is wholly a stranger to. For the scripture, all know, is looked upon by these seraphic pretenders as a very mean insignificant thing; and never made nor intended to direct such sons of perfection, but to be directed and overruled by them. And now let any one judge, whether that inward voice or word can proceed from the Spirit, which is still urged in justification of those actions and opinions, which neither law nor gospel (though both of them infallibly dictated by that very Spirit) can speak one word for.

3. A third argument against the same pretence is, that such a pretence is contrary to the experience of the generality of Christians, and those also the most pious, humble, and best exercised in the ways of God of any others. For did the apostles themselves pretend to any such thing? Or did the primitive professors of Christianity, and the martyrs of the church, own any thing but the written word of God, as that which they were to believe and practise by? Or did they acknowledge, that the Spirit 45whispered any thing to their souls by any immediate voice distinct from the scripture? Which yet they would certainly have found, had this been the way by which the Spirit of God led believers. For there is no question, but that as all of them were still led by the same Spirit, and that to the same great end, so they were led also by the same way: there being but one way to heaven and happiness, both then and now established by God; the same things being to be believed, and the same things to be practised, and those also generally the same way to be learned, in order to men’s salvation.

4. A fourth argument against this pretence of an inward word or voice being the rule which the Spirit leads men by, is, that such a pretence directly opens a door to all profaneness and licentiousness of living. For the Spirit of God being God, who gave mankind the laws which they are to live by; and it being clear, that the same power that gave or enacted the law, can dispense with its obligation in any particular instance of duty; let a man but persuade himself, that the Spirit dwells personally in him, and speaks upon all occasions to him; how easily and readily may he plead, that the Spirit tells him he may kill his enemy, plunder his neighbour, cast off all obedience to his governors? And if the written law of God commanding the contrary be alleged to such an one, he may presently reply, that the same God that made that law, does, by an inward voice speaking to him, exempt him from the obliging power of it in such and such actions. Upon which account, let a man be never so much a villain, provided he be so in a godly sort, and will patronize all his lewd practices by the authority of the Spirit, 46 it is impossible that that man should sin; forasmuch as the Spirit takes off the obligation of the law to his hand, so that though it may bind the rest of man kind, yet he is dispensed with, and stands particularly excepted from that common rule.

Thus the late rebel army having conquered and imprisoned their consciences as well as their prince, completed all by bringing the Spirit to their lure, and reducing enthusiasm to an act; still governing all their transactions with their abused sovereign by this invincible principle, which enabled them with so much ease to charge through the obligation of all laws, oaths, and promises whatsoever. So that in their several treatings with the king, being asked by him, whether they would stand to such and such agreements and promises, they still answered him, that they would do as the Spirit should direct them. Whereupon that blessed prince would frequently condole his hard fate, that he had to deal with persons to whom the Spirit dictated one thing one day, and commanded the clean contrary the next. In the strength of this almighty principle also, they would openly and professedly call their seizing upon the goods, lands, and estates of the royalists, a robbing of the Egyptians; affirming, that the Spirit had clearly revealed to them, that God had alienated the right and property of those estates from the other, and transferred it to them; so that they held what they had took from their neighbours, by immediate donation from God himself; which, could it have been proved, was undoubtedly the surest and the best title in the world. Upon the same principle also was it, that some of their factious preachers, having first fired their fellow citizens into 47a rage against their king, did, the next day, upon their going to that holy war, come personally amongst them, and, in the name of God, pronounce them absolved, and free from all former oaths and promises; such as those of supremacy, allegiance, and the like, whereby they might otherwise think themselves obliged not to fight against their sovereign, whom they had so solemnly sworn obedience to: and lastly, upon the stock of the same principle was it, that one of their prime leading doctors,55   Dr. O. being justly charged with schism, cleared himself from that imputation by affirming, that he knew himself to have the Spirit of God, and therefore that he neither was nor could be a schismatic. Which worthy argument had he used to the apostle St. Paul, I doubt not but he would have retorted it upon him, and told him, that his causeless separation from, and uncharitable invectives against the church, clearly proved him to be a schismatic; and that therefore in that case he neither had nor could have the Spirit of God. But if the other end of the argument be took, what person is there so vile and wicked, who may not justify himself and his actions by it? For it is but for him confidently to assert and face men down, that he has the Spirit, and then he has sufficiently proved his actings good and pious, and agreeable to the mind of God, though directly contrary to his law; while the Spirit’s impulse is urged against the Spirit’s commands, and his secret word bandied against his written; much like the late parliament’s pressing men in the king’s name to fight against the king’s person. And thus by this spiritual engine are all the laws of God, in the very 48 name and authority of God himself, overturned and made of none effect: and if so, how will any laws or statutes, made by men, be able to stand before it? No; it presently breaks through all such cob webs, and snaps asunder all these pitiful useless human ordinances, as unworthy to lay hold of such sons of perfection, as carry their law and their law giver about them. For whatsoever the Spirit commands, that in all reason they must do; especially since they are upon such fair terms, that the Spirit never commands them but what they please.

5. The fifth and last argument against this pretence of an inward voice of the Spirit is, that no man can assure either himself or others, that the Spirit of God speaks inwardly to him. And can any man look upon that as a rule to be led by, which is itself wholly unknown to him? For let any pretender to the Spirit prove, that it is really the Spirit of God which dictates this or that to him; and that what he takes for the voice of the Spirit is not indeed the dictates of his own mind or fancy, being strongly fixed upon some certain object. I have shewn elsewhere, that such as plead conscience, could not evidence the reality and truth of that plea to others, however they might know it themselves. But here, when men plead the Spirit, they can neither make out the truth of what they plead to others, nor yet to themselves. For if they would prove, that the things suggested to their minds are inspired and suggested by the immediate voice of the Spirit, they must prove it either from the quality of the things themselves, or from some argument extrinsic to those things. From the former they cannot; for neither the antecedent goodness 49or badness of the things, that come into their minds, can prove them to have proceeded or not proceeded from the Spirit; since this goodness is made a consequent of the Spirit’s suggestion; so that whatsoever the Spirit inspires or suggests, is upon that very account rendered good; and the truth is, for this cause alone is this inspiration pretended, viz. to stamp those things and actions good, which otherwise would not, could not be so; so that we must not prove the Spirit’s suggestion from the goodness of the thing suggested; but on the contrary infer, that the thing so suggested must needs be good, because it is suggested by the Spirit. Which is a compendious way for a man to authorize and sanctify whatsoever he does, thinks, or desires, by alleging, that the Spirit prompted it to him. And therefore that fanatic spoke home and fully to the point, who said, “that he had indeed read the scripture, and frequented ordinances for a long time, but could never gain any true comfort or quiet of mind, till he had brought himself to this persuasion, that whatsoever he had a mind to do, was the will of God that he should do.”

It being most clear therefore, that men cannot prove the Spirit’s speaking to them from the quality of the things spoke, they must fetch the proof of it from something else, and that must be either from reason, or scripture, or miracles. The first of these is not so much as pretended to; for the persons that pretend to the Spirit generally lay the foundation of this pretence in the ruins of reason, which they utterly decry. And for scripture, this in effect is as much balked as the other; since the inward voice of the Spirit is still alleged in the behalf of 50 those actions that find no patronage from scripture; but so much of it as they rely upon shall be considered, when I come to examine those scripture examples, by which these impostors would seem to defend themselves. The last way therefore, by which they must prove this immediate extraordinary guidance of the Spirit inwardly speaking to them, must be by miracles or prophecies. And surely there is all the reason in the world, that those, who pretend a guidance of the Spirit singular and extra ordinary above the rest of mankind, should be able to do something which the rest of mankind cannot do: for so our Saviour argued of himself, John x. 25. The works that I do, bear witness of me.

But as for our pretenders to the Spirit, what is there extraordinary or miraculous in them, but impudence, falseness, and hypocrisy? Consider the late army, the weapons of all whose warfare were in this (abused indeed) sense spiritual with a witness; and what miracles did they do, besides turning our rivers into blood, robbing, and cutting throats, and tumbling down principalities and powers to settle Christ in his kingdom, and to make themselves his deputies, to rule the nations of the earth till he came? In which office, when they were once settled, I suppose they would give him leave to stay away from his charge as long as he pleased, and perhaps the longer the better. And then for their being able to prove any of their pretences by prophecy, we may take an estimate of the prophetic spirit which inspired them, by those famous prophecies of Oliver’s recovery and long life two days before his death. As also by the so much talked of prophecies of 1666, which for a long time made the 51first article of the fanatics’ creed, till that year came at length, and fired them out of it.

And here having touched upon miracles and prophecies, I thought good to remark this by the way, that their proving efficacy is not so universal as to evince the truth or lawfulness of every thing that they may be brought to prove; but only of such things as are essentially good, or of such as have their moral goodness or evil depending upon the free sanction of God’s will, either commanding or forbid ding them. As for instance, the act of killing a man may be good or evil, according as it is done with or without sufficient authority; and the taking away a thing in another man’s possession may be lawful or unlawful, according as the property is either altered or not altered; both of which, we know, are in the number of those things which God may freely dispose of. But if any thing or action have a natural turpitude or indecency in it, founded upon the essential relation of one thing to another, this being repugnant to the divine holiness to be the author of; no miracles nor prophecies, though never so exactly fulfilled, can prove such things to be the will or mind of God, that they should be done; as is clear from Deut. xiii. 1, 2, where, if any one shews a sign or wonder, whereby he would persuade men to worship other gods, and that sign or wonder come to pass, God positively warns his people, that no credit should be given to such signs or miracles; and the reason is evident, because it is impossible for God to give his honour to another, or command the worship due to his divine nature to be conferred on idols, or on any thing but himself. But such signs or miracles come to pass only for the trial of men’s 52 faith, to see whether they will by any means be drawn off from their duty or no. And therefore, if any one should pretend an inward voice of the Spirit suggesting such things to him, and, to prove that inward voice, should shew a sign or miracle, neither the pretence of one nor the authority of the other ought to be admitted, as being brought to confirm a thing directly contrary both to God’s nature and his word.

And thus having shewn that no man pretending to this guidance of the Spirit, by an inward voice speaking to him, can prove that this is indeed the Spirit of God, by any argument, either from the quality of the things suggested by it, or from reason, or scripture, no, nor yet from miracles or prophecies, I suppose I have sufficiently demonstrated, that he has no way to prove it by at all.

And yet it must not be denied, that there is another way pretended to, by which a man may certainly know himself to have the Spirit, though he cannot prove it, and that is by the Spirit itself. For as light, they say, is seen and discovered by itself, and its own inherent brightness, without the help of any thing else to discover it to the eye; and as first principles shine and shew themselves to the under standing by their own innate evidence, without the help of any medium to prove them by; so is it with the Spirit, that shews and discovers itself to those that have it, by itself, and its own light, without any other argument to declare it.

In answer to this, I affirm, first, that this assertion of the self-evidence of the Spirit shewing itself to the soul of him who has it, or is led by it, must needs be false, as being directly contradicted by the scripture, 53which bids men examine themselves, and that particularly about this matter, whether Christ, i.e. the spirit of Christ, be in them or no, 2 Cor. xiii. 5.

The same scripture bids them also try the spirits, 1 John iv. 1, which, no doubt, respects the spirit in a man’s self, as well as in others. But surely nothing that is self-evident can be the proper subject of examination or trial: all examination being to make something clearer and better known, by being examined, than it was before, which in things self-evident, clear, and unquestionable, can have no place. For no man is ever bid to examine himself, whether he be alive or no; and whether he breathes and walks, while he is breathing and walking; for these things are self-evident to him: and if the Spirit were so too to him who has it, it would be altogether as senseless and absurd to bid such an one examine himself, whether the Spirit were in him or no. But such absurdities are not the language of scripture. And thus much to shew the falseness of the assertion itself. Now in the next place, for the argument brought to prove it, it is apparently fallacious, as depending upon the supposed parity of two instances, which indeed are not parallel. For though light is discerned by itself, because by itself it incurs into the eye, and first principles do by themselves shew and offer themselves to the understanding; yet I deny that the Spirit of God shews itself to the soul immediately by itself, and its own substance, but by its operations and effects; which are distinct from the Spirit itself, and consequently require some rule to try from what principle they proceed.

And that this is so, is manifest from this one consideration, that if the Spirit shew itself and its glorious 54 substance immediately to the soul, this would be properly the beatific vision, nor would there be any difference in our knowing God here and here after: for then only we shall know him by sight, and intuition of his glorious substance; which the scripture calls, a seeing him face to face, and knowing him as we are known. From whence it being clear, that the Spirit of God not shewing itself to the soul immediately by itself and its own substance, as light does to the eye, but by the mediation of its operations and effects upon the soul, it follows, that it is not discernible by itself, as light is, but by its operations; which operations are triable and distinguishable by certain rules. And so much in answer to the prime and grand plea of enthusiasm.

But here, if being driven off from the Spirit’s immediate evidencing of itself to the soul, they shall take up in the operations and effects of the Spirit, and affirm, that these carry such light and evidence in them, as must certainly discover them to the soul to have been from the Spirit; I answer, that those who allege this, mean either that the Spirit of God can exert such an operation upon the soul as shall carry in it this self-evidencing quality, or that it actually does so. The former, though granted, would be nothing to the present purpose. And for the latter, I utterly deny it, and leave it to its assertors to prove, giving withal this reason for my denial of it; that nothing is more usual than for believers to be ignorant of the graces that have been really wrought upon their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and thereupon to doubt whether they are in a state of favour with God or no. For who more apt oftentimes to complain of and bemoan the hardness and pride of their 55hearts, than such as are truly tender, humble, and poor in spirit? Which sufficiently demonstrates, that the operations of the Spirit do not always evidence themselves to the soul, though they have passed upon it in the production of real and great effects.

Having thus proved, that no man can be sure that the Spirit of God leads him by any word or voice inwardly speaking to him, I suppose I need not prove that he is much less able to assure others of it besides himself. And yet this must be added and insisted upon; that supposing a man to make this the rule of his actions, he stands bound not only to satisfy himself, but others also concerning it; forasmuch as he is bound to give no just occasion of offence to his Christian brethren; and consequently ought to render an account of the reason of his actings to those, who, upon great and sufficient ground, are scandalized at them; which the generality of Christians must needs be, when they see a professor of the same religion with themselves act contrary to that written rule, which they all judge themselves obliged to act and live by. But for them to satisfy others about this inward voice of the Spirit, which they can no ways evidence to themselves, is certainly impossible: and therefore this can by no means be admitted as a rule for any man to be led by: since nothing can be properly a rule, but that concerning which a man may rationally satisfy both himself and others; which if he cannot, nothing that he does by the direction of that rule, can be done either in faith or without scandal; and so long there unavoidably lies upon him, in all his life and actions, a necessity of sinning; the most deplorable condition certainly that can befall a man, 56 as being the very high road to hell, and the direct way to damnation.

And thus I have given the reasons, why this inward voice of the Spirit cannot be the rule which men are to be guided by. As namely; 1. Because it infers that the written word cannot be such a rule. 2. Because of its suspiciousness; for that it is never alleged but in the behalf of such actions as can plead no allowance upon any other account whatsoever. 3. Because it is contrary to the common experience of Christians, and those the most pious, knowing, and best acquainted with the ways of God. 4. Be cause it opens a door to all licentiousness, and what is more, sanctifies it with the name of piety and religion. And 5 and lastly, because it is such a rule, as a man can neither evidence to himself nor to others, and yet is bound to do both. Which reasons, I conceive, are abundantly sufficient to explode and extinguish this impudent and irrational pretence with all sober and intelligent persons whatsoever.

The remaining particulars shall, God assisting, be throughly considered and despatched in the following discourse.

Now to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and do minion, both now and for evermore. Amen.

57
« Prev A Sermon on Romans viii. 14. Disc. I. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |