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that state, and to us after we had attained to that experience; whilst, however, in the mean time, they may convey to us enough of information, to admonish us in our conduct, to support our hope, and to incite our endeavours. Therefore the meeting with difficulties, owing to this cause, ought not to surprise us, nor to trouble us over much. Seriousness, nay, even anxiety, touching every thing which concerns our salvation, no thoughtful man can help; but it is possible we may be distressed by doubts and difficulties more than there is any occasion to be distressed.
Lastly, under all our perplexities, under all the misgivings of mind, to which even good men (such is the infirmity of human nature) are subject, there is this important assurance to resort to, that we have a protection over our heads, which is constant and abiding; that God, blessed be his name, is for evermore; that Jesus Christ our Lord is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; that, like as a traveller by land or sea, go where he will, always sees, when he looks up, the same sun; so in our journey through a varied existence, whether it be in our present state, or in our next state, or in the awful passage from one to the other; in the world in which we live, or in the country which we seek; in the hour of death, no less than in the midst of health, we are in the same uphold-dren, how much more shall your heavenly Father ing hands, under the same sufficient and unfailing support.
First; It is not arbitrary in its origin; for you read that it is given to prayer. "If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your chil
OF SPIRITUAL INFLUENCE IN GENERAL.
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and
THERE are ways of considering the subject of spiritual influence, as well as a want of considering it, which lay it open to difficulties and to misconceptions. But if the being liable to misapprehension and to misrepresentation be thought an objection to any doctrine, I know of no doctrine which is not liable to the same; nor any which has not, in fact, been loaded at various times with great mistakes.
to him seemeth good,) we must have the several motives which presented themselves to the mind of the donor before us. This, with respect to the Divine Being, is impossible. Therefore we allow, that, either in this, or any other matter, to canvass the gifts of God is a presumption not fit to be indulged. We are to receive our portion of them with thankfulness. We are to be thankful, for instance, for the share of health and strength which is given us, without inquiring why others are healthier and stronger than ourselves. This is the right disposition, of mind with respect to all the benefactions of God Almighty towards us.
One difficulty which has struck the minds of some is, that the doctrine of an influencing Spirit, and of the importance of this influence to human salvation, is an arbitrary system; making every thing to depend, not upon ourselves, nor upon any exertion of our own, but upon the gift of the Spirit.
It is not for us, we allow, to canvass the gifts of God; because we do not, and it seems impossible that we should, sufficiently understand the motive of the giver. In more ordinary cases, and in cases more level to our comprehension, we seem to acknowledge the difference, between a debt and a gift. A debt is bound, as it were, by known rules of justice: a gift depends upon the motive of the giver, which often can be known only to himself. To judge of the propriety either of granting or withholding that to which there is no claim (which is, in the strictest sense, a favour, which, as such, rests with the donor to bestow as
But unsearchable does not mean arbitrary. Our necessary ignorance of the motives which rest and dwell in the Divine mind in the bestowing of his grace, is no proof that it is not bestowed by the justest reason. And with regard to the case at present before us, viz. the gifts and graces of the Spirit, the charge against it, of its being an arbitrary system, or, in other words, independent of our own endeavours, is not founded in any doctrine or declaration of Scripture. It is not arbitrary in its origin, in its degree, or in its final success.
give the Holy Spirit to them that ask it?" But whether we will ask it or not, depends upon ourselves. It is proposed, you find, as a subject for our prayers; for prayer, not formal, cold, heartless, transitory, but prayer from the soul, prayer earnest and persevering; for this last alone is what the Scripture means by prayer. In this, therefore, it cannot be said to be arbitrary, or independent of our endeavours. On the contrary, the Scripture exhorts us to a striving in prayer for this best of all gifts.
But, it will be asked, is not the very first touch of true religion upon the soul, sometimes at least, itself the action of the Holy Spirit? this, therefore, must be prior to our praying for it. And so it may be, and not yet be arbitrarily given. The religious state of the human soul is exceedingly various. Amongst others, there is a state in which there may be good latent dispositions, suitable faculties for religion, yet no religion. In such a state, the spark alone is wanting. To such a state, the elementary principle of religion may be communicated, though not prayed for. Nor can this be said to be arbitrary. The Spirit of God is given where it is wanted; where, when given, it would produce its effect; but that state of heart and mind, upon which the effect was to be produced, might still be the result of moral quali fication, improvement, and voluntary endeavour. It is not, I think, difficult to conceive such a case as this.
Nevertheless it may be more ordinarily true, that the gift of the Spirit is holden out to the struggling, the endeavouring, the approaching Christian. When the penitent prodigal was yet a great way off, his father saw him. This parable was delivered by our Lord expressly to typify God's dealing with such sinners as are touched with a sense of their condition. And this is one circumstance in it to be particularly noticed. God sees the returning mind; sees every step and every advance towards him, "though we be yet a great way off;" yet at a great distance; though much remains to be done, and to be attained, and to be
accomplished. And what he sees, he helps. His aid and influence are assisting to the willing Christian, truly and sincerely willing, though yet in a low and imperfect state of proficiency; nay, though in the outset, as it were, of his religious progress. "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart;" Psalm xxxiv. 18. But in all this there is nothing arbitrary.
Nor, secondly, is the operation of the Spirit arbitrary in its degree. It has a rule, and its rule is this: "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath." Now, of this rule, which is expressed under some, but under no great difference of phrase, in all the first three Gospels, I have first to observe, that though it carry the appearance of harshness and injustice, it is neither the one nor the other, but is correctly and fundamentally just. The meaning is, that whosoever uses, exercises, and improves the gifts which he has received, shall continue to receive still larger portions of these gifts; nay, he who has already received the largest portion, provided he adequately and proportionably uses his gifts, shall also in future receive the largest portion. More and more will be added to him that has the most; whilst he who neglects the little which he has, shall be deprived even of that. That this is the sound exposition of these texts, is proved from hence, that one of them is used as the application of the parable of the talents, concerning the meaning of which parable there can be no doubt at all; for there, he who had received, and, having received, had duly improved ten talents, was placed over ten cities; and of him the expression in question is used, "whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance." On the contrary, he who had received one talent, and had neglected what he had received, had it taken from him; and of him the other part of the expression is used: "whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath." But there is a point still remaining, viz. whether this Scripture rule be applicable to spiritual gifts. I answer that it is so applied, more especially to spiritual knowledge, and the use which we make thereof. "Take heed how ye hear; unto you that hear shall more be given; for he that hath to him shall be given, and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath." So stands the passage in Mark; and substantially the same, that is, with a view to the same application, the passage stands in Matthew and Luke. I consider it, therefore, to be distinctly asserted, that this is the rule with regard to spiritual knowledge. And I think the analogy conclusive with regard to other spiritual gifts. In all which there is nothing arbitrary.
Nor, thirdly, is it arbitrary in its final success. "Grieve not the Spirit of God." Therefore he may be grieved. "And hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace:" Heb. x. 29. Therefore he may be despised. Both these are leading texts upon the subject. And so is the following: "And his grace, which was bestowed upon me, was not in vain" I Cor. xv. 10. Therefore it might have been in vain. The influence, therefore, of the Spirit, may not prevail, even as the admonitions of a friend, the warnings of a parent, may not prevail, may not be successful, may not be attended to; may be rejected, may be resisted,
may be despised, may be lost. So that both in its gift, in its degree, operation, and progress, and, above all, in its final effect, it is connected with our own endeavours; it is not arbitrary. Throughout the whole, it does not supersede, but co-operates with ourselves.
But another objection is advanced, and from an opposite quarter. It is said, that if the influence of the Spirit depend, after all, upon our endeavours, the doctrine is nugatory; it comes to the same thing, as if salvation was put upon ourselves and our own endeavours alone, exclusive of every further consideration, and without referring us to any influence or assistance whatever. I answer, that this is by no means true; that it is not the same thing either in reality, or in opinion, or in the consequences of that opinion.
Assuredly it is not the same thing in reality. Is it the same thing, whether we perform a work by our own strength, or by obtaining the assistance and co-operation of another? Or does it make it the same thing, that this assistance is to be obtained by means which it is in our own choice to use or not. Or because, when the assistance is obtained, we may, or may not, avail ourselves of it; or because we may, by neglecting, lose it? After all, they are two different things, performing a work by ourselves, and performing it by means of help.
Again; It is not the same thing in the opinions, and sentiments, and dispositions which accompany it. A person who knows or believes himself to be beholden to another for the progress and success of an undertaking, though still carried on by his own endeavours, acknowledges his friend and his benefactor; feels his dependency and his obligation; turns to him for help and aid in his difficulties; is humble under the want and need which he finds he has of assistance; and, above all things, is solicitous not to lose the benefit of that assistance. This is a different turn of mind, and a different way of thinking from his, who is sensible of no such want, who relies entirely upon his own strength; who, of course, can hardly avoid being proud of his success, or feeling the confidence, the presumption, the self-commendation, and the pretensions, which, however they might suit with a being who achieves his work by his own powers, by no means, and in no wise suit with a frail constitution, which must ask and obtain the friendly aid and help of a kind and gracious benefactor, before he can proceed in the business set out for him, and which it is of unspeakable consequence to him to execute somehow or other.
It is thus in religion. A sense of spiritual weakness and of spiritual wants, a belief that divine aid and help are to be had, are principles which carry the soul to God; make us think of him, and think of him in earnest; convert, in a word, morality into religion; bring us round to holiness of life, by the road of piety and devotion; render us humble in ourselves and grateful towards God. There are two dispositions which compose the true Christian character; humility as to ourselves, affection and gratitude as to God; and both these are natural fruits and effects of the persuasion we speak of. And what is of the most importance of all, this persuasion will be accompanied with a corresponding fear, lest we should neglect, and, by neglecting, lose this invaluable assistance.
On the one hand, therefore, it is not true, that I will be unknown when that order is disturbed, or the doctrine of an influencing Spirit is an arbi- altered, or affected; therefore it may be altered, it trary system, setting aside our own endeavours, may be affected, by the interposition of a foreign Nor, on the other hand, is it true, that the con- influence, without that interposition being pernecting it with our own endeavours, as obtained ceived. through them, as assisting them, as co-operating with them, renders the doctrine unimportant, or all one as putting the whole upon our endeavours without any such doctrine. If it be true, in fact, that the feebleness of our nature requires the succouring influence of God's Spirit in carrying on the grand business of salvation; and in every state and stage of its progress, in conversion, in regeneration, in constancy, in perseverance, in sanctification; it is of the utmost importance that this truth be declared, and understood, and confessed, and felt; because the perception and sincere acknowledgment of it will be accompanied by a train of sentiments, by a turn of thought, by a degree and species of devotion, by humility, by prayer, by piety, by a recourse to God in our religious warfare, different from what will, or perhaps can, be found in a mind unacquainted with this doctrine; or in a mind rejecting it, or in a mind unconcerned about these things one way or other.
ON THE INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT.
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?-1 Cor.
Ir is undoubtedly a difficulty in the doctrine of spiritual influence, that we do not so perceive the action of the Spirit, as to distinguish from the suggestions of our own minds. Many good men acknowledge, that they are not conscious of any such immediate perceptions. They, who lay claim to them, cannot advance, like the apostles, such proofs of their claim as must necessarily satisfy others, or, perhaps, secure themselves from delusion. And this is made a ground of objection to the doctrine itself. Now, I thin the objection proceeds upon an erroneous principle, name ly, our expecting more than is promised. The agency and influence of the Divine Spirit are spoken of in Scripture, and are promised; but it is no where promised that its operations shall be always sensible, viz. distinguishable at the time from the impulses, dictates, and thoughts of our own minds. I do not take upon me to say that they are never so I only say that it is not necessary, in the nature of things, that they should be so; nor is it asserted in the Scripture that they are so; nor is it promised that they will be so.
The nature of the thing does not imply or require it: by which I mean, that, according to the constitution of the human mind, as far as we are acquainted with that constitution, a foreign influence or impulse may act upon it without being distinguished in our perception from its natural operations, that is, without being perceived at the time. The case appears to me to be this: The order in which ideas and motives rise up in our minds is utterly unknown to us, consequently it
Again, and in like manner, not only the order in which thoughts and motives rise up in our minds is unknown to ourselves, but the causes also are unknown, and are incalculable, upon which the vividness of the ideas, the force and strength, and impression of the motives which enter into our minds, depend. Therefore that vividness may be made more or less, that force may be increased or diminished, and both by the influence of a spiritual agent, without any distinct sensation of such agency being felt at the time. Was the case otherwise; was the order, according to which thoughts and motives rise up in our minds fixed, and being fixed, known; then I do admit the order could not be altered or violated, nor a foreign agent interfere to alter or violate it, without our being immediately sensible of what was passing. As also, if the causes upon which the power and strength of either good or bad motives depend were ascertained, then it would likewise be ascertained when this force was ever increased or diminished by external influence and operation; then it might be true, that external influence could not act upon us without being perceived. But in the ignorance under which we are concerning the thoughts and motives of our minds, when left to themselves, we must, naturally speaking, be, at the time, both ignorant and insensible of the presence of an interfering power; one ignorance will correspond with the other; whilst, nevertheless, the assistance and benefit derived from that power, may, in reality, be exceedingly, great.
In this instance, philosophy, in my opinion, comes in aid of religion. In the ordinary state of the mind, both the presence and the power of the motives which act upon it, proceed from causes of which we know nothing. This philosophy confesses, and indeed teaches. From whence it follows, that when these causes are interrupted or influenced, that interruption and that influence will be equally unknown to us. Just reasoning shows this proposition to be a consequence of the former. From whence it follows again, that immediately and at the time perceiving the operation of the Holy Spirit is not only not necessary to the reality of these operations, but that it is not consonant to the frame of the human mind that it should be so. I repeat again, that we take not upon us to assert that it is never so. Undoubtedly God can, if he please, give that tact and quality to his communications, that they shall be perceived to be divine communications at the time. And this probably was very frequently the case with the prophets, with the apostles, and with inspired men of old. But it is not the case naturally; by which I mean, that it is not the case according to the constitution of the human soul. It does not appear by experience to be the case usually. What would be the effect of the influence of the Divine Spirit being always or generally accompanied with a distinct notice, it is difficult even to conjecture. One thing may be said of it, that it would be putting us under a quite different dispensation. It would be putting us under a miraculous dispensation; for the agency of the Spirit in our souls distinctly perceived is, properly speak
ing, a miracle. Now miracles are instruments in
to take upon ourselves to determine what the
And in this there is a close analogy with the course of nature, as carried on under the divine government. We have every reason which Scripture can give us, for believing that God frequently interposes to turn and guide the order of events in the world, so as to make them execute his purpose: yet we do not so perceive these interpositions, The conversion of a sinner, for instance, may as, either always or generally, to distinguish them be sudden; nay, may be instantaneous, yet be from the natural progress of things. His provi- both sincere and permanent. We have no audence is real, but unseen. We distinguish not thority whatever to deny the possibility of this. between the acts of God and the course of nature. On the contrary, we ought to rejoice when we It is so with the Spirit. When, therefore, we observe in any one even the appearance of such a teach that good men may be led, or bad men con- change. And this change may not only by posverted, by the Spirit of God, and yet they them-sibility be sudden, but sudden changes may be selves not distinguish his holy influence; we teach more frequent than our observations would lead no more than is conformable, as, I think, has been us to expect. For we can observe only effects, shown, to the frame of the human mind, or rather and these must have time to show themselves in; to our degree of acquaintance with that frame; while the change of heart may be already wrought. and also analogous to the exercise of divine power It is a change of heart which is attributable to the in other things; and also necessary to be so; un- Spirit of God, and this may be sudden. The less it should have pleased God to put us under a fruits, the corresponding effects, internal reformaquite different dispensation, that is, under a dis- tion and external good actions, will follow in due pensation of constant miracles. time. "I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh.”— (Ezek. xi. 19.) These words may well describe God's dealings with his moral creatures, and the operations of his grace. Then follows a description of the effects of these dealings, of these operations, of that grace, viz. that they may walk in my statutes, and keep my ordinances and do them;" which represents a permanent habit and course of life (a thing of continuance,) resulting from an inward change, (which might be a thing produced at once.).
In the mean time it may be true, that the more ordinary course of God's grace is gradual and successive; helping from time to time our endeavours, succouring our infirmities, strengthening our resolutions; "making with the temptation a way to escape;" promoting our improvement, assisting our progress; warning, rebuking, encouraging, comforting, attending us, as it were, through the different stages of our laborious advance in the road of salvation.
And as the operations of the Spirit are indefinite, so far as we know, in respect of time, so are they likewise in respect of mode. They may act, and observation affords reason to believe that they do sometimes act, by adding force and efficacy to instruction, advice, or adinonition. A passage of Scripture sometimes strikes the heart with wonderful power; adheres, as it were, and cleaves to the memory, till it has wrought its work. An impressive sermon is often known to sink very deep. It is not, perhaps, too much to hope, that the Spirit of God should accompany his ordibenances, provided a person bring to them seriousness, humility, and devotion. For example, the devout receiving of the holy sacrament may draw down upon us the gift and benefit of divine grace, or increase our measure of it. This, as being the most solemn act of our religion, and also an appointment of the religion itself, may be properly placed first; but every species of prayer, provided it be earnest; every act of worship, provided it be sincere, may participate in the same effect; may 49*
I do not apprehend that the doctrine of spiritual influence carries the agency of the Deity much farther than the doctrine of providence carries it; or, however, than the doctrine of prayer carries it. For all prayer supposes the Deity to be intimate with our minds.
But if we do not know the influence of the Spirit by a distinguishing perception at the time, by what means do we know any thing of it at all? I answer by its effects, and by those alone. And this I conceive to be that which our Saviour said to Nicodemus. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit:" that is, thou perceivest an effect, but the cause which produces that effect operates in its own way, without thy knowing its rule or manner of operation. With regard to the cause, "thou canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth." A change or improvement in thy religious state is necessary. The agency and help of the Spirit in working that change or promoting that improvement, are likewise necessary.
"Except a man be born of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." But according to what particular manner, or according to what rule the Spirit acts, is as unknown to us as the causes are which regulate the blowing of the wind, the most incalculable and unknown thing in the world. Its orig is unknown; its mode is unknown; but still it is known in its effects: and so it is with the Spirit. If the change have taken place; if the improvement be produced and proceeding; if our religious affairs go on well, then have we ground for trust, that the enabling, assisting Spirit of God is with us; though we have no other knowledge or perception of the matter than what this affords.
Perhaps there is no subject whatever, in which we ought to be so careful not to go before our guide as in this of spiritual influence. We ought neither to expect more than what is promised, nor
be to us the occasion, the time, and the instrument of this greatest of all gifts.
Now, if there be any foundation in fact for this charge, it arises from some persons holding this doctrine defectively; I mean from their not attending to one main point in the doctrine, which is, that the promise is not to those who have the Spirit, but to those who are led by the Spirit; not to those who are favoured with its suggestions, but to those who give themselves up to follow, and do actually follow these suggestions. Now, though a person, by attending to his feelings and consciousnesses may persuade himself that he has the Spirit of God; yet if he stop and rest in these sensations without consequential practical exertions, can by no possibility be said of him, nor, one would think, could he possibly bring himself to believe, that he is led by the Spirit, that he follows the Spirit; for these terms necessarily imply something done under that influence, necessarily carry the thoughts to a course of conduct entered into and pursued in obedience to, and by virtue of, that influence. Whether the objection here noticed has any foundation in the conduct of those who hold the doctrine of which we treat, I am uncertain; accounts are different: but at any rate the objection lies not against the doctrine, but against a defective apprehension of it. For, in confirmation of all which we have said, we may the doctrine of spiritual influence higher than he produce the example of St. Paul. No one carried did, or spoke of it so much; yet no character in the world could be farther than his was from resting in feelings and sensations. On the contrary, it was all activity and usefulness. His whole history confirms what he said of himself, that “in labours," in positive exertions, both of mind and body, he was "above measure." It will be said, perhaps, that these exertions were in a particular
As all doctrine ought to end in practice, and all sound instruction lead to right conduct, it comes, in the last place, to be considered, what obligations follow from the tenet of an assisting grace and spiritual influence; what is to be done on our part in consequence of holding such a persuasion; what is the behaviour corresponding and consist-way, viz. in making converts to his opinions; but ent with such an opinion. For we must always it was the way in which, as he believed, he was bear in mind, that the Grace and Spirit of God promoting the interest of his fellow-creatures in no more take away our freedom of action, our the greatest degree possible for him to promote it; personal and moral liberty, than the advice, the and it was the way also which he believed to be admonitions, the suggestions, the reproofs, the enjoined upon him by the express and particular expostulations, the counsels of a friend or parent command of God. Had there been any other mewould take them away. We may act either right thod, any other course and line of beneficent enor wrong, notwithstanding these interferences. It deavours, in which he thought he could have been still depends upon ourselves which of the two we more useful, and had the choice been left to himwill do. We are not machines under these im- self, (which it was not,) the same principle, the pressions; nor are we under the impression of the same eager desire of doing good, would have Holy Spirit. Therefore there is a class of duties manifested itself with equal vigour in that other relating to this subject, as much as any other; line. His sentiments and precepts corresponded and more, perhaps, than any other important. with his example: "Do good unto all men, espe cially unto them that are of the household of Christ." Here doing is enjoined. Nothing less than doing can satisfy this precept. Feelings and sensations will not, though of the best kind. "Let him that stole, steal no more, but rather let him labour with his hands, that he may have to give to him that needeth." This is carrying setive beneficence as far as it can go. Men are commanded to relieve the necessities of their poor brethren out of the earnings of their manual labour, nay, to labour for that very purpose; and their doing so is stated as the best expiation for former dishonesties, and the best proof how much and how truly they are changed from what they were. "Let him that ruleth, do it with diligence." This is a precept which cannot be complied with without activity. These instructions could not come from a man who placed religion in feelings and sensations.
Having noticed this objection (for it well de
In all these instances, and in all indeed that relate to the operations of the Spirit, we are to judge, if we will take upon us to judge at all, (which I do not see that we are obliged to do,) not only with great candour and moderation, but also with great reserve and caution; and as to the modes of Divine grace, or of its proceedings in the hearts of men, as of things undetermined in Scripture, and undeterminable by us. In our own case, which it is of infinitely more importance to each of us to manage rightly, than it is to judge even truly of other men's, we are to use perse-it veringly, every appointed, every reasonable, every probable, every virtuous endeavour to render our selves objects of that merciful assistance, which undoubtedly and confessedly we much want, and which, in one way or other, God, we are assured, is willing to afford.
ON THE INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT.
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God; and
And, first, I would apply myself to an objection, which belongs to this, namely, the practical part of the subject; which objection is, that the doctrine of spiritual influence, and the preaching of this doctrine, causes men to attend chiefly to the feelings within them, to place religion in feelings and sensations, and to be content with such feelings and sensations, without coming to active duties and real usefulness: that it tends to produce a contemplative religion, accompanied with a sort of abstraction from the interests of this world, as respecting either ourselves or others; a sort of quietism and indifference which contributes nothing to the good of mankind, or to make a man serviceable in his generation; that men of this description sit brooding over what passes in their hearts, without performing any good actions, or well discharging their social or domestic obligations, or indeed guarding their outward conduct with sufficient care.