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Of THE TESTIMONY OF THE SPIRIT, TO THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL.
But without faith it is impossible to please God.—Heb. xi. 6.
IN discoursing of the faith or persuasion of a Divine revelation, I came to inquire, in what respects this may be called a Divine faith. To which my answer was, that it is a Divine faith, not only with respect to the object of it, and the argument whereby it is wrought, and the effect of it; but likewise in respect of the author and efficient of it, which is the Divine Spirit. I proceed, therefore, to consider the testimony of the Divine Spirit, not only as an argument whereby a persuasion of a Divine revelation, viz. that the Scriptures are the word of God, is wrought; but also, as he is the author and efficient cause of it. The Scripture doth, in a peculiar manner, ascribe the belief of a Divine revelation, especially of the revelation of the gospel, to the Spirit of God. In this sense the Scripture saith, that “no man can say that Jesus is the Christ, but by the Spirit of God.” And though every good persuasion that we have, be, in some sort or other, to be ascribed to God, yet I observe it to be the phrase of the New Testament, to attribute the belief of the gospel, in a more peculiar manner, to the Spirit of God. When any man believes the principles of natural religion, that there is a God, that the soul is immortal, and that there are rewards after this 244life, as the heathens did; even this is from God, who hath planted these principles in our nature; or, which conies to all one, hath given us such faculties, by the use and improvement of which, we may come to the knowledge of these principles: but it is not usual, in the phrase of Scripture, to attribute this natural knowledge, in such a peculiar manner, to the Spirit of God.
When any man believes the matters of Divine revelation (for instance, the doctrines contained in the gospel), this faith is to be attributed to the Spirit of God; but not as immediately persuading us of the truth of these doctrines, but by persuading us, that the gospel, which contains these truths, is a Divine revelation; or, which is all one, that the Lord Jesus Christ, who delivered these doctrines to the world, was a Divine person, and came from God: and if we once firmly believe and entertain this, that Jesus was the Messias, and sent from God to acquaint the world with his mind and will, we can make no doubt of the truth of any thing which he hath delivered. So that the faith which the Scripture doth in a peculiar manner attribute to the Spirit of God, is this persuasion, “that Jesus is the Christ;” that is, that he was the true Messias, and sent from God.
So that the question is—how the Spirit of God doth concur to the begetting of this faith or persuasion? Or, why this faith is in such a peculiar manner attributed to the Spirit of God?
I answer, Upon these two accounts:
First, In respect of the outward evidence which the Spirit of God gives us to persuade us to believe.
Secondly, In respect of the inward efficacy and operation of the Spirit of God upon the minds of men in believing.245
First, In respect of the outward evidence which the Spirit of God gives us to persuade us to believe. And if this be not that which divines mean by the testimony of the Spirit in this matter, yet I think it is that which may most properly be so called. Now the Spirit of God did outwardly testify concerning Jesus, that he was the Messias, and came from God; and that the doctrine which he taught was Divine.
1. In the voice from heaven, which accompanied the descending of the Spirit upon him, in the form of a dove, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” (Matt. iii. 17.)
2. In those miracles which Christ himself wrought by the Spirit of God; which were so eminent a testimony of the Spirit of God, that the resisting of the evidence of those miracles, and the attributing of them to the devil, is by our Saviour called a blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and such a sin as shall never be pardoned: because miracles being the highest attestation that can be given to the divinity of any person or his doctrine, whoever resists this evidence, resists his last remedy; and such a person must needs remain in his infidelity, because there is nothing more that can be done for his conviction.
.3. The third eminent testimony which the Holy Spirit gave to Christ, was in the great miracle of his resurrection from the dead; and hence it is that the great miracle of Christ’s resurrection, which was the highest attestation to the divinity of his person, and the grand confirmation to his doctrine, is frequently in Scripture, in a most peculiar manner, ascribed to the Spirit of God. (Rom. i. 4.) “And was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness;” that is, 246by those miracles which he wrought by the Holy Ghost, and by his resurrection from the dead. And so, (Rom. viii. 11.) “The Spirit of him that raised up Christ from the dead.” (1 Pet. iii. 18.) “Being put to death in the flesh; but quickened by the Spirit.”
4. In the effusion of the Spirit upon the apostles, who were to preach Christ and his doctrine to the world; and that it might carry its evidence along with it. God poured forth his Spirit upon those who were to be the publishers of it; by which Spirit they were endued with several miraculous powers and gifts, to convince the world of the truth of the doctrine which they preached. And with relation to this, I think, it is that the apostle saith, (1 Cor. ii. 4, 5.) “And my speech, and my preaching, was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom: but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God;” that is, they did not use human eloquence to persuade men, but delivered the gospel with all plainness: and that which made those plain discourses so powerful, were those powerful demonstrations of the Divine Spirit, which appeared in those miraculous gifts wherewith they were endowed. I am sure Origen understands this text so. And so likewise the apostle (1 Thess. i. 5.) speaks to the same purpose, that “the gospel came not unto you in word only: but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance;” that is, they did not only speak words to men, but the doctrine which they preached was attested in a powerful manner by the Holy Ghost, in those extraordinary gifts, which were bestowed upon them, which was a great evidence to their hearers, and 247gave them great assurance of the truth of what they delivered. I think this is the meaning of those two places, but I will mention two others which are more unquestionable: (Acts v. 32.) where Peter and the rest of the apostles tell the high priests and their officers, what evidence they had for what they preached concerning the resurrection and ascension of Christ. “We are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost whom God hath given to them that obey him.” Not only they themselves had seen what they preached; but, to confirm their testimony, the Holy Ghost was poured forth upon, them in miraculous gifts. And, (Heb. ii. 3, 4.) “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” So the Holy Ghost gave testimony to the truth of the doctrine which the apostles preached, by those gifts which he endowed them withal, and those miracles which he enabled them to work.
And I doubt not but with relation to the testimony which the Spirit of God gave to Christ by the miracles he wrought by Christ and his apostles; I say, I doubt not, but that with relation to his testimony it is, that the apostle saith, he was “justified in the Spirit:” (1 Tim. iii. 16.) “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit.” That is, the miraculous power of the Spirit which appeared in him, and did accompany his doctrine, did justify him to the world, and vindicate him from being an impostor and deceiver.248
From all which it appears, that the testimony which the Holy Spirit gives to Christ and his doctrine, was the miracles which he and his apostles wrought by the Spirit of God: and if we will take our forms of speaking from Scripture, this is that which may most properly be called the testimony of the Spirit to the truth of the gospel. But I deny not, but, besides this outward evidence, which the Spirit of God gives to the truth of the gospel, with respect to which the faith of the gospel is in a peculiar manner attributed to the Spirit of God, there is likewise an inward efficacy and operation of the Spirit of God upon the minds of men. Therefore,
Secondly, Faith is in a peculiar manner attributed to the Spirit of God, in respect of the inward efficacy and operation of the Divine Spirit upon the hearts and minds of those who sincerely and effectually believe and entertain the gospel; I say, who sincerely and effectually believe and entertain the gospel; that is, who so believe and entertain the gospel, as to obey it, and comply with it in their hearts and lives. For I doubt not but that there is so much evidence for the truth and Divine authority of the gospel, as is in itself sufficient, without any peculiar operation of the Spirit of God, to silence all opposers, and to convince them so far as that they cannot have any sufficient reason to disbelieve it: but withal, I do not think that this faith doth become an abiding and effectual persuasion in any person, without the special operation of the Holy Ghost. Now that the Spirit of God can work this effectual persuasion in the mind of man, cannot be doubted by any man who considers the vast power and influence which the Spirit of God, who made our souls, and knows the frame of them, can have upon the mind of man: 249all the difficulty is about the manner of it; how this faith is wrought in us by the Spirit of God. Now although it were sufficient for us to know the thing, though we were ignorant of the manner how it is done, and we might very well rest satisfied in (his; that the Spirit of God works this faith in us, though we did not know how he does it; yet, be cause many have taken upon them to state and determine the particular manner how it is done, it will be requisite, in order to the rectifying some mistakes about it, to inquire more particularly into this matter.
Now all the ways that have been assigned, or which, I think, we can easily imagine, may be reduced to one of these six heads. When we say the Spirit of God works faith in us, we must conceive it to be done some or all of these ways:
1. By strengthening the faculty, that is, raising and enabling our understanding to yield assent to the gospel. Or,
2. By enlightening and discovering the object, that is, the conclusion to be believed. Or,
3. By propounding to us the arguments, or evidence, whereby we may be persuaded of it. Or,
4. By holding our minds intent upon this evidence, till it have wrought its effect upon us. Or,
5. By removing the impediments which hinder our assent. Or,
6. By furthering and helping forward the efficacy of this persuasion upon our hearts and lives. That the Spirit can work faith in us, any, or all of these ways, so far as they are consistent with one another, I make not the least doubt. For what man, who believes the infinite power of the Divine Spirit, can make the least question, whether it can raise and 250heighten our faculties above their natural and ordinary pitch? or, whether it can Discover an object to us, with the greatest clearness and satisfaction? or, whether it can offer to our minds the best arguments, and the highest evidence, that a thing is capable of? or, whether it can hold our minds intent upon the consideration of any thing? or, whether it can remove all hinderances and impediments? or, whether it can make the persuasion of any truth effectual? No man, in reason, can doubt of the possibility of these. But the question is, what reason we have to assert this or that particular manner? and, what necessity and convenience there are from experience, or evidence of Scripture, so to do?
First of all, there seems no necessity of asserting the first; though I will not contend with any man that shall. For if this be true, that our under standings are naturally endowed with a sufficient power to assent to any truth that is sufficiently propounded to them; then there can be no necessity to assert, that the Spirit of God doth, in the work of faith, raise and elevate our understandings above their natural pitch. But I think it may easily be proved, that our understandings are naturally endowed with a sufficient power to assent to any truth that is sufficiently propounded to them; and that in such a case nothing hinders the assent of men, but their own perverseness and obstinacy, which usually proceeds from opposition of their lusts, or passions, or interest, to the truth which is propounded to them. For if men’s understandings be not naturally endowed with a sufficient power to yield assent to the gospel, when it is sufficiently propounded to them, how can it be men’s duty to 251believe it? or, what justice can condemn them for unbelief? But though there be no necessity of asserting, that God doth always strengthen and elevate the understandings of those who believe; yet there is no reason to deny but that God may do this when he pleaseth, and possibly he often doth it.
God is said, in Scripture, to “enlighten the eyes of our understandings,” which we may, if we please, understand in this sense; although that may be done by propounding such truths to us as we were ignorant of before, and could not have discovered, unless they had been revealed.
Secondly, The second way whereby the Spirit of God may be conceived to work faith in us, is by enlightening and discovering the object, or thing to be believed. In the case we are speaking of, the object or thing to be believed, is the gospel: now we may imagine the Spirit of God may work a faith or persuasion of this in us, by revealing or discovering to us this proposition, that the gospel is true. But this I need not speak much to, because I do not know any that pretend to have a particular and immediate revelation from God, that the gospel is true. So that though God may do this when he pleaseth, yet I do not know any who assert this to be the way whereby faith is wrought in men.
Thirdly, The Spirit of God may be conceived to work faith in us, by propounding and offering to us such arguments and evidence, as are apt to persuade us of the truth of the gospel. And this, the Spirit of God, which inspired the writers of the Scripture, doth mediately by the Scriptures, and those characters of divinity, which are in the doctrines contained in them; and by those miracles, 252which are there credibly related to be wrought by the Spirit of God, for the confirmation of that doctrine. And besides this, the Spirit of God may, when he pleaseth, and probably often doth, immediately suggest those arguments to our minds, and bring them to our remembrance.
Fourthly, The Spirit of God may be conceived to work faith in us, by holding our minds intent upon this evidence, tilt it hath wrought its effect upon us. And this, I do not doubt, but the Spirit of God, out of his abundant grace and goodness to men, often doth; and I believe many men have found their minds kept intent upon such considerations, as have mightily prevailed upon them, and been effectual to persuade them to entertain and obey the gospel; and must acknowledge that their minds were awakened by such considerations, and made attentive to them, beyond their own inclinations to think upon such things; and in such a strange and unaccountable manner, as they cannot in reason but attribute to some superior influence, viz. to the Holy Spirit of God.
Fifthly, By removing the impediments which hinder our effectual assent to the gospel. And in this and the last particular, I conceive the work of the Spirit of God in the producing of faith, principally to consist: I say, in these principally, not absolutely excluding the former. The great impediment to the belief and entertainment of the gospel, is the prejudice which the minds of men are apt to conceive against it, either upon account of their education in a contrary religion, or upon account of their lusts, or some worldly interest to which the gospel is opposite. Now these are as so many bars upon the understandings of men, to keep 253out the truth from entering into them. The prejudice of a contrary education, is a monstrous obstacle to religion. When men have believed otherwise from their youth, and have had contrary principles implanted in them in their tender years, and have all their lives been possessed with contrary apprehensions of things; the clearest truths that can be offered to them, come upon infinite disadvantage; their understandings are tinctured, and put false colours upon every thing that is represented to them. And this was the case of the Jews, when the Messias came: they were possessed with prejudices against his mean appearance, and had fashioned to themselves another kind of Messias, that should be a glorious temporal prince; and had been brought up in this apprehension; and this made them so invincibly obstinate against the reception of him; though the whole nation, when he came, were in expectation of him. And this was also the case of the gentiles, when the gospel was first preached to them; they had been educated in a contrary religion, and were possessed with quite other apprehensions, which made the passage of the gospel infinitely difficult. And I doubt not but that in the first publishing of the gospel, the Spirit did remarkably work upon the minds of men, for the removing of these prejudices, and thereby making way for the entertainment of the gospel. And though this prejudice be not now upon us in these parts of the world, who are brought up in the Christian religion; yet the lusts and interests of men are now great obstacles to the effectual entertainment of the gospel; and the Spirit of God doth many times eminently appear in the restraining and conquering the lusts of men, and removing 254those other prejudices which hinder them from embracing the truth.
Sixthly, The last way whereby the Spirit of God may be said to work in us an effectual belief of the gospel, is by furthering and helping forward the efficacy of this persuasion upon our hearts and lives, in the first work of conversion and regeneration, and in the progressive work of sanctification afterward, both which the Scripture doth every where attribute to the Spirit of God, as the author and efficient cause. The faith which purifies the heart, and conquers the world, and works by love, hath this effect from the Spirit of God. Hence we are said to be “sanctified by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, and the belief of the truth,” and to “be kept by the mighty power of God through faith unto salvation.”
Thus I have shewn you, as briefly and clearly as I could, how the Spirit of God doth concur to the begetting of this Divine faith and persuasion in us, and consequently in what respects faith may be said to be the gift of God. I shall only draw two or three inferences from this discourse.
I. We may learn from hence to attribute all the good that is in us, or that we do in any kind, to God. Every good thing is from God; so St. James tells us, that “every good and perfect work comes down even from the Father of lights.” Much more are we to ascribe to the free grace of God all the revelation of supernatural truth, which we cannot possibly come to the knowledge of, unless God of his free grace and goodness be pleased to discover it to us. And so likewise are we to ascribe to God, and the operation of his Holy Spirit upon our hearts, our belief of those truths, and assent to 255them. Considering the corruption and degeneracy of human nature, and the opposition of the lusts and prejudices of men to Divine truth, we stand in need of the grace of God, and the operation of his Spirit upon our hearts, to bring us to a firm assent to the gospel; for as flesh and blood could not reveal these truths to us, so neither are they very apt to assent to them when they are revealed.
In the phrase of Scripture, all good is attributed to God; and all spiritual good to the Holy Spirit of God working in us, and assisting us to the doing of it. As, on the other hand, the Scripture attributes all those sins that are committed in the world to the influence of evil spirits. “He that committeth sin is of the devil.” And though we do not know many times, how the Spirit of God worketh a good inclination in us, yet it is safe to follow the phrase of Scripture, and to ascribe all good to God, as in some way or other the author of it.
II. This doth not excuse the infidelity of men, that “faith is the gift of God.” For though no man doth believe without some influence of the Divine Spirit upon his heart, yet this does by no means excuse those who believe not; any more than it is an excuse to the infidelity of men, that the Scripture attributes it to the devil, as in some sort the cause of it. He is said to “blind the eyes of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine unto them.” But the unbelief of men is a fault for all this; because the devil can not blind our minds, unless we consent to it: he can only suggest false principles to us; but we may choose whether we will entertain them or not: he can only tempt us to reject the truth; but we may choose whether we will do so or not. In this we 256are faulty, because we may resist the devil, and quench or repel those fiery darts which he casts into our minds: but if we will consent to his temptations, and suffer ourselves to be blinded by him, the fault of our unbelief is our own, as well as his; and we are guilty of the infidelity which we suffer him to tempt us to.
So, on the other hand, though “faith” be “the gift of God;” yet those that believe not are faulty upon this account, that they quench and resist the blessed motions of God’s Spirit, and the influence and operation of the Spirit of God, which accompany the truth of the gospel to the minds of men, and produce their effect wherever they are not opposed and rejected by the prejudice and perverseness of men.
III. Let us depend upon God for every good gift, and earnestly beg the assistance and influence of his Holy Spirit, which is so necessary to us to be get faith in us, and to preserve and make it effectual upon our hearts and lives. Bread is not more necessary to the support of our natural life, than the Holy Spirit of God to our spiritual life.
For our encouragement to ask this gift, of God’s Holy Spirit, our Saviour hath told us, that God is very ready to bestow it upon us. No father upon earth is more ready to give bread to his children that cry after him, than God is to give his Spirit to those that heartily and earnestly beg it of him. So our Saviour assures us: (Luke xi. 11-13.) “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your 257children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”
And now I have done with the first thing that I propounded, which was to open the nature of faith to you in general. I have been the longer upon this, because I thought it very material and important to the settling of right apprehensions in us concerning religion and Divine things; and I have all along endeavoured to make things as easy and plain as the nature of the subject would permit. And though probably many things that I have said, might not be within the full reach and comprehension of all capacities, yet, because I hoped they might be useful and beneficial to some at least, I could not think the other consideration a sufficient reason why I should wholly omit them, and pass them by; remembering what St. Paul says, that “he was a debtor to the wise,” as well as the “unwise.” And St. Peter tells us, that St. Paul in his Epistles wrote “many things which were hard to be understood” by some persons; yet, because those things might be of use to others, the Spirit of God did not think fit to omit the writing of them. What remains I shall reserve to another discourse, with which I shall conclude this subject.258
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