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OF THE ORDINARY INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY GHOST, ON THE MINDS OF CHRISTIANS.
But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive. For the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.—John vii. 39.
IN my former discourse from these words, I observed, that the gift of the Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, comprehends under it two things.
First, Those extraordinary and miraculous gifts, which were bestowed upon the apostles and primitive Christians, in order to the planting and propagating of the Christian religion in the world; together with that extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit upon the minds of believers, which accompanied the first preaching of the gospel.
Secondly, The more ordinary and gentle influence of the Spirit of God, upon the minds of all those who believe and embrace the gospel.
The latter of these I proposed to speak to more particularly and fully, and that under these four heads:
First, To open the nature of this influence.
Secondly, To shew the necessity of it, to enable us to perform the condition of the gospel-covenant.
Thirdly, To consider the blessed effects of it.
Fourthly, To consider the extent of it, as to persons and times.449
The two first of these I have spoken to, and now proceed to what remains; viz.
Thirdly, To consider the blessed effects of this gift of the Holy Ghost. And they are many and great.
I shall enumerate them as briefly as I can, not in tending to insist long upon them. And in general, all the good that is in us, and proceeds from us, all good thoughts and inclinations, all good purposes and resolutions, all good works and actions, are in Scripture every where ascribed to the dictates and motions, to the influence and assistance, of the Holy Spirit of God. It is he that works in us, both to will and to do of his own mere goodness. All our strength and sufficiency is from him. To his blessed inspirations and aids we owe all good inclinations, our beginning, and our progress, and our perseverance, in virtue and goodness. And though the Spirit be said to be given to them that do already believe, that is, so as to dwell and reside, to take up his constant habitation and abode only in those who have already sincerely embraced the Christian faith; yet this doth not exclude a preventing influence and operation of God’s Holy Spirit upon the minds of those to whom the gospel is offered disposing them to embrace and entertain it, and by this means working faith in them. And in this sense it is, that faith in Scripture is said to be the gift of God, because it is first wrought in them by the influence and operation of that blessed Spirit, which is promised to dwell and reside in them after they have believed, and sincerely embraced, the Christian religion.
More particularly these blessed fruits and effects are constantly in Scripture attributed to the Holy Spirit of God:—450
1. Our sanctification. We are said to be renewed by the Holy Ghost, and by the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the flesh. That great change which is wrought in man, which in Scripture is called by the several names of regeneration and a new birth, of the new creature, and the new man, is constantly ascribed to the Spirit of God, as the author of it.
2. The conduct of our whole Christian course, and all the actions of it, and our constancy and perseverance in it, are likewise ascribed to the same blessed cause. We are said to be “led by the Spirit, and to walk in the Spirit;” that is, to be guided and assisted in all that we do by this blessed principle, which does, as it were, act and animate all good men; and we are said to be “kept by the mighty power of God,” that is, by the powerful operation of God’s Holy Spirit, “through faith unto salvation.”
3. All particular graces and virtues are likewise said to be the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal. v. 22.) “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith (or rather fidelity), meekness, temperance.” And, (Ephes. v. 9.) “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth.” And charity, which is the sum almost of all other graces and virtues, is said to be planted and wrought in us by the Spirit: (1 Pet. i. 22.) “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth, through the Spirit, unto charity, or unfeigned love of the brethren.”
4. By the same Spirit we are said to be made partakers of that great and glorious privilege of adoption, and are advanced to that high honour and dignity of being called the sons of God; (Rom. viii. 14.) “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, are 451the sons of God,” and consequently heirs of a blessed resurrection to eternal life. For so the apostle reasons: (ver. 16, 17.) “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit,” that is, is a testimony within us, “that we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” So that the Holy Spirit of God, which is conferred upon all sincere Christians, and does reside in them, is a mark or seal of their being the children of God, and a pledge or earnest of the blessed inheritance of eternal life, as the Scripture very plainly and frequently declares: (2 Cor. i. 21, 22.) “Now he which establisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us,” or set his signature and mark upon us; and what this is, he explains in the next words; “and he hath given us the earnest or pledge of the Spirit in our hearts.” (Eph. i. 13, 14.) “In whom, also, 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.” And (chap. iv. 30.) “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”
5. By this Spirit we have free access to God in prayer, in confidence that we shall have our petitions granted: (Ephes. ii. 18.) “For through him,” that is, through Jesus Christ, “we both have an access by one Spirit unto the Father.” By the same Spirit, likewise, we are assisted in our prayers to God, and directed what to ask of him. So St. Paul tells us, (Rom. viii. 26.) that “we do not know what to pray for as we ought; but the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, and intercedeth for us;” that is, suggests 452to us such petitions and requests as are fit for us to put up to God.
6. By the same Spirit, joy and peace in believing, and from the testimony of a good conscience, great consolation and good hope through grace, are frequently instilled into us, and shed abroad in our hearts. Hence are those expressions so frequent in Scripture, of “the consolations of the Spirit,” of “peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,” which, as it is the natural fruit of righteousness, so it is likewise produced and increased in us, by the secret operation and influence of God’s Holy Spirit.
7. And lastly, By the same Spirit, Christians are supported and borne up, cheered and comforted in all their troubles and afflictions, and that in a very extraordinary and supernatural manner, when they fall under great tribulations and sufferings for righteousness’ sake. And this influence and assistance of the Divine Spirit, was very visible and remarkable among the primitive Christians, who were so terribly exposed to the most fierce and cruel persecutions: and may proportionably be expected in all cases of extraordinary suffering for the testimony of God’s truth.
And though this influence and assistance, this conduct and guidance of the Divine Spirit, be commonly very gentle and secret, and do usually work upon us in so imperceptible a manner, that it is very hard, if not impossible, particularly to distinguish between the motions of God’s Spirit and those of our own minds, between the immediate suggestions of the Holy Ghost and the dictates of our own reason; yet we are in general sufficiently assured of it, partly from the effects themselves, but principally from the express promise and declarations 453of Scripture, that Christians are acted by a supernatural principle, and secretly assisted by the influence of a Spirit above our own: and, therefore, we have reason, as the Scripture constantly does, to ascribe all the good that is in us, or that is done by us, to this gracious assistance and powerful influence of the Holy Spirit of God upon our minds, and thankfully to acknowledge, that in us, that is, in our flesh, in our carnal minds considered as destitute of the Spirit of God, “there dwells nothing that is good;” and that “by the grace of God we are what we are,” and are enabled to do all the good we do, “through Christ strengthening of us by his Spirit in the inner man.” I proceed to the
Fourth and last thing I proposed to consider; viz. The extent of this gift of the Holy Spirit of God, as to persons and times. And, in short, this gift is bestowed upon every particular Christian, every sincere believer; for we receive the promise of the Spirit by faith: and, “if any man,” says the apostle, (Rom. viii. 9.) “have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his;” that is, he does not be long to him, he is no true Christian. And, (1 Cor. iii. 16.) “Know ye not,” says the same apostle, speaking of all Christians in general, “know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”
And that this gift extends to all persons, in all times and ages of the church, to all that sincerely embrace the Christian profession, and are admitted into it by baptism, is plain from that discourse of St. Peter, which I had occasion to mention before: (Acts ii. 38.) “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the 454Holy Ghost.” And that this was not a favour and privilege peculiar to the first ages of Christianity but common to all succeeding times, is evident from what follows; (ver. 39.) “But the promise,” that is, the great promise of the Holy Ghost, “is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” That is, this promise of the Spirit extends to all those who shall hereafter embrace the Christian profession.
And in this sense, our Saviour makes good that promise which he made to the apostles, to be with them always in the work of making disciples, and baptizing them, to the end of the world; that is, he would accompany the labours of the pastors and teachers of his church in all ages, with such a presence and influence of his Spirit upon those that were taught and baptized, as should be suitable to the occasions and necessities of the church, both the pastors and the members of it, unto the end of the world. In a word, this gift of God’s Holy Spirit is bestowed upon all those who by baptism are admitted into Christ’s religion; and if it be cherished and complied with, and the blessed motions of it be not resisted and quenched by us, it will abide and continue with us, and produce those blessed fruits and effects which I have before mentioned.
Having thus explained the several particulars contained in the text, all that now remains is, to make some useful inferences from the whole; and they shall be these following, and I shall be very brief in them.
I. What an encouragement is here to our duty, that we have such a mighty aid and assistance promised 455and afforded to us in the gospel! So that the apostle doth with great reason exhort, (2 Cor. vii. 1.) “Having therefore these promises, dearly be loved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” And we are utterly inexcusable, if we do not make use of that grace which is promised, and ready to be afforded to us to this end; it is our own fault if sin still have dominion over us, and reign in our mortal bodies, that we should obey it in the lusts of it.
II. What great cause have we thankfully to acknowledge the wonderful goodness of God to us, in bestowing such an invaluable gift upon us, as this of the Holy Spirit, by whose grace and assistance alone we are made partakers of all the other blessings and benefits of the gospel! Had we been still left without strength, that great salvation which Christ hath purchased for us, and which the gospel offers, would have signified nothing to us, for want of power to have performed the conditions, which the gospel requires of all that hope for eternal life and salvation.
III. Let us always be ready to comply with the motions and suggestions of the blessed Spirit, and sincerely make use of those aids and assistances which he is always ready to afford to us; and let us take great heed, that we do not by any disobedience of ours to his blessed motions, or by any wilful presumptuous sins, resist, and quench, and grieve this Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption.
If the Spirit of God vouchsafe to dwell in us, and to make his abode in our sinful souls and bodies; let us do nothing that is unworthy of so 456Divine and heavenly a guest; let his presence with us fill our hearts with a continual awe and reverence of him, and engage us effectually “to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit;” let nothing be acted by us, or proceed from us, which may defile this temple of the Holy Ghost. “Ye are the temple of the living God,” says St. Paul, (2 Cor. vi. 16.) And in the 1st of the Corinthians, (chap. iii. 16, 17.) “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” More particularly the apostle useth it as an argument to flee from fornication, because our bodies also are “the temples of the Holy Ghost:” (1 Cor. vi. 18, 19.) “Flee fornication; for every sin that a man doeth,” that is, other sins which men commit, “are without the body; but he that committeth fornication, sinneth against his own body;” that is, pollutes and defiles it. And then it follows: “What, know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
IV. Let us earnestly beg of God’s Holy Spirit, and continually depend upon him for his grace and assistance, in a humble sense of our own impotency and weakness, of the frailty and treachery of our own spirits, of the fickleness and inconstancy of our best purposes and resolutions, always remembering that saying of our Saviour’s, (John xv. 5.) “With out me ye can do nothing.” And that of St. Paul, (Ephes, ii. 8.) “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of 457God.” And that of St. Peter, (1 Pet. i. 5.) speaking in general of all true Christians, “Who (says he) are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” This power of God is the Spirit, which they that believe receive, and by the blessed guidance and influence whereof they are kept unto salvation.
V. This shews us what an advantage we have by the Christian religion, which makes us partakers of the Holy Ghost, whereby is afforded to us all necessary direction, and assistance, and comfort in our Christian course. Our Saviour tells his disciples, that the presence and influence of this Comforter and Advocate, whom “he would send to abide with them for ever,” would be more to them, than even his own personal presence among them, which surely we should look upon as an unspeakable privilege and happiness; and yet the inward presence of the Divine Spirit is more for our security and comfort, than the best teacher and example; because it is inward, and conveys a real strength to us; and it is universal, diffusing itself at once into the hearts and minds of all good men, and is always present to them, which Christ’s personal and visible presence was not, nor could be; so that, to all purposes of direction and assistance, of security and comfort, we are in a better condition under the continual influence and conduct of God’s Holy Spirit, than they who had the advantage and happiness of conversing personally with our Saviour here upon earth. And therefore he tells his disciples, that it was really for their benefit and advantage, that he should leave the world, to make way for the coming of this Comforter and advocate; (John xvi. 7.) “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I 458go away. For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you: but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” So that they were gainers by their loss, and his departure from them upon these terms was really to their advantage.
VI. This shews the great fault of the contempt and neglect of the sacrament of baptism, which was instituted by our Saviour as the solemn rite and ceremony of admitting persons into the Christian religion, and the means of making us partakers of this gift of the Spirit, and of all the blessed fruits and effects of it; so that this sacrament cannot be neglected or slighted, without great affront to the Christian religion, and contempt of one of the great est blessings promised in the gospel. They that were admitted to the solemn profession of Christianity by baptism, were “made partakers of the Holy Ghost;” and this not only in the apostles times, but in all after ages; for this “promise of the Holy Ghost was to them and their children, and to all that were afar off, even to as many as the Lord their God should call;” that is, to all that should embrace the Christian religion, and make a solemn profession of it in baptism, in all succeeding ages to the end of the world.
VII. What hath been discoursed upon this argument, discovers the vanity of many men’s pretensions to the Spirit. Some pretend to infallibility, all pretence whereto is vain, without miracles to justify and make good this pretence; and yet upon this presumption of infallibility, without any proof of it, but only that it is convenient for them to have it, which will as well prove all others to be infallible, because it is every whit as convenient for them: I say, upon this presumption and pretence, they assume 459to themselves to dictate to all the world, what they shall believe, and to censure and condemn all those who will not submit to their dictates, as miserably mistaken, and out of the way of salvation; whereas the infallibility of the apostles was a supernatural gift, not evident of itself, but evidenced to the world by the miracles which were wrought, to confirm the truth of their testimony and doctrine; and without this evidence of infallibility, no man’s, no church’s pretences to it ought to be regarded, but ought to be looked upon as fanatical enthusiasm: be sides, the prodigious uncharitableness of this spirit, is as directly contrary as can be to the first and chief fruit of the Spirit mentioned by the apostle, which is love or charity.
Others pretend to be guided by the Spirit in all their actions, and to be governed in an extraordinary manner by particular impulses and impressions from the Spirit of God; which they likewise pretend they can certainly discern from the motions of their own minds and imaginations. But as they can give no reason for this, so we have seen many times in experience, that men have been led into unlawful and wicked practices, and have done weak, and unreasonable, and ridiculous things, and then have blasphemously charged them upon the Spirit of God; a presumption of a high nature, and which hath some resemblance to the sin against the Holy Ghost, and seems to be of near affinity with it. For as the un pardonable sin against the Holy Ghost consisted in resisting the evidence of our Saviour’s miracles, and perversely and maliciously imputing the operations of the Spirit of God to the power and efficacy of the devil; so, on the other hand, to pretend to the Spirit of God, and his motions for the works of the devil, 460and any thing that is wicked; and to ascribe these things, which are most likely to proceed from the instigation of that evil spirit, to the impulse of the Holy Spirit of God, is a high blasphemy of the Holy Ghost.
Others pretend, that the Spirit doth immediately dictate to them their prayers, which many times are very confused and unbeseeming, and too plainly the issue of a heated imagination; whereas “God is not the God of confusion, but of order.” And what is merely the effect of an acquired habit, or natural fluency and facility of expression and warm affections, they confidently ascribe to the Spirit of God; whereas the Spirit of God is more frequently and certainly in the still voice, than in the high wind and fire, the boisterous passions, and fiery zeal of men. And certainly, he that takes care to put up wise and decent petitions to God, and considers carefully what to beg of him, and asks it in a be coming manner, with faith and true fervency of affection, though in a form, hath much more reason to conclude that he prays in and by the Spirit of God, than he that hath the greatest freedom of extempore effusions.
And, after all, there is a much better and clearer demonstration, that a man hath the Spirit of God, than any of these pretences; and that is, from the undoubted fruits of the Spirit, in the graces and virtues of a good life, which are visible and manifest in the temper and conversation of a good man; and without these, all pretences to the Spirit of God are but fancy and vain delusions; such men “deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them.”
VIII. And lastly, From hence it appears, how happy it is for us, that we are not left in our own 461hands, and to our own weakness and impotency, and “to work out our own salvation,” but that we are under the continual conduct, and powerful protection of such a guardian, and that the Holy Spirit is always ready to be afforded to us, to all the purposes of guidance and assistance, of comfort and support, of sanctification and obedience, of patient continuance and perseverance in well-doing. “Let us, therefore, (as the apostle exhorts,) work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that worketh in us, both to will and to do.” We are not left to ourselves to carry on this great work, for then it would certainly miscarry; but “God works in us,” both the will .and inclination to that which is good, and gives us the power to do it: he does not force our wills, but incline them by the gentle suggestions and motions of his blessed Spirit; with which, if we comply, we are happy; if we resist them, and rebel against them, “we receive the grace of God in vain,” and “our ruin and destruction is of ourselves.”
But can we then do nothing? No, not without the preventing and assisting grace of God; but that being afforded to us, we may comply with the motions of God’s blessed Spirit; we may co-operate and concur with his assistance. God assists, but we do; he sanctifies and renews us by the Holy Ghost, and yet we purify and cleanse ourselves.
But is not this injurious to the grace of God, if we do any thing at all, and the grace of God do not all in us and for us? I answer,
1. It is a great grace of God, to help our weakness, and to relieve our impotency, and to strengthen and enable us to do what we cannot do of ourselves. We owe our salvation to the grace of God, to the 462influence and assistance of his Holy Spirit, if so be that without it we should still remain “dead in trespasses and sins,” and should never be able to emerge and recover out of that corrupt and miserable state.
2. Grace does not destroy nature, nor Divine assistance take away our liberty, but frees us from our bondage; and, as David expresseth it, “enlargeth our hearts to run the ways of God’s commandments;” for if God do all, and we nothing, all exhortations and persuasions would be in vain.
But then it seems that we may “receive the grace of God in vain,” and “resist the Holy Ghost,” and our complying with it, or not resisting of it, is our own act; which is to make men their own saviour, and to give the casting and determining vote to human liberty. I answer,
1. The Scripture expressly says, that men may “receive the grace of God in vain, and reject the counsel of God against themselves;” and that if we rebel against, and disobey the motions of God’s Spirit, he will depart from us, and we forfeit his assistance.
2. All this is, ἀργός λόγος, mere cavil; as will appear to any one by this plain instance: A rebel is convicted, and liable to the sentence and condemnation of the law; he sues for a pardon, and obtains and accepts it: will any man now say, that because he asks and accepts it from the king, and the king does not take his hand and open it, and violently thrust his pardon into it, that this man saves himself, and takes away the glory of the king’s grace and mercy, and that he owes his life to himself, and not to the king’s bounty and goodness? A man would be thought very senseless, that should so ascribe this 463man’s deliverance from death to any act of his own, as not to think it wholly owing to the king’s grace and favour. I think the case is the very same, concerning men’s complying with that grace which God affords them for their “repentance unto life.” I would fain know of these subtle objectors, whether Moses, when he says, (Deut. xxx. 19.) “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing, therefore choose life;” does not, in so saying, plainly suppose, that men may choose life or refuse it? And if so, whether he intended to make men their own saviour?
But this objection is pressed yet a little farther; that if this be so, then Judas had as much cause to thank God as Peter had. And who ever denied, or can deny, that a rebel who refuseth a pardon offered to him by his prince, hath the same real obligation of gratitude to his prince, with him that accepts it? The prince offers the same favour to both, and the obligation is equal; and though he that accepts it doth not save himself, yet he that refuseth it destroys himself. And at the judgment of the great day, all impenitent sinners under the gospel, shall be forced to acknowledge the grace of God to them, in affording the opportunity of salvation, and shall only blame and condemn themselves for neglecting that happy opportunity. But if an irresistible degree of grace be necessary to every man’s salvation, it is plain, that impenitent sinners never had the opportunity of salvation, and consequently cannot condemn themselves for the neglect of it.
I have been the longer upon this, that I might root out of the minds of men an inveterate false persuasion, concerning the manner of the operation 464of God’s grace in the conversion of sinners. And thus much may suffice to have been spoken concerning the operation of God’s Spirit upon men, in order to their conversion and making of them good: but after men are converted, and do sincerely “repent and believe the gospel, they have the Spirit of God in another manner; he “dwells and resides in believers,” as a constant and settled principle of holiness and obedience, as I have already shewn.465
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