DANBURY AND RIDGEFIELD,
Right Reverend Abraham Jarvis,
BISHOP OF CONNECTICUT
Printed at the request of a number of the Members of those Churches
ROMANS viii. 15th.
THE SPIRIT ITSELF BEARETH WITNESS WITH OUR SPIRIT.
THAT WE ARE THE CHILDREN OF GOD.
THE Son of God came down from heaven, dwelt among us in our flesh, and, by offering himself a sacrifice on the cross, made an atonement for the sins of human kind. After he had arisen from the dead, he again ascended up to heaven, there to appear as an Advocate for us in the presence of God. Seated in that exalted office before the throne of God, and clothed with the plenitude of power to provide for, and govern, his Church on earth, he sent the Holy Spirit to abide with his apostles, and with all who should, through their preaching, believe in him and his Gospel. By this Holy Spirit, the apostles were enabled to declare the whole will of God concerning the salvation of mankind. They who believe and are baptized, are by the Spirit made the adopted sons of God; and if sons, then heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. In support of this truth, and for the consolation of the faithful, the Spirit also himself beareth witness. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the sons of God.
The subject is solemn and interesting: It shall therefore be my endeavour to seek for a probable and fair solution of the two following inquiries:
1st. In what manner the Spirit of God beareth witness with the spirit of Christians, that they are the children of God.
2d. What is that hope or persuasion which this witness produceth in the minds of Christians.
 The witness of the Holy Spirit to our condition as Christians, allows of no presumptive conceits, or working of human fancy. Here, that we may neither mock God nor deceive ourselves, we are bound to be cautious, and to think soberly as we ought to think. If we indulge our own fancies--if we divide the witnesses, and make the Spirit of God a single witness, and allege our inward sensations and feelings as proof, the spirit must be a false spirit, and the proof fallacious; because it is not the witness of which St. Paul speaks. Again; if we set up our own spirit by itself, for a distinct witness, the testimony in that case must be false, as it does not agree with the witness mentioned by the apostle. Every man who is able to read the language in which St. Paul wrote, may see that he uses a word which signifies a mutual concurrence of both witnesses, in one joint and united testimony. The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit. This cannot be understood of any immediate communication or act of the Holy Spirit on the human soul, whereby it becomes converted, and the man made an adopted child of God. Such an interpretation destroys the union asserted in the text, and makes the Holy Spirit cease to be a witness; and instead of a joint co-operation, one spirit is to be considered as doing an act, and the other as bearing the testimony to it: in other words, according to this construction, the soul that is converted is left to be the naked and solitary witness of its own conversion. The scripture, thus expounded, puts a matter of the highest concern upon the most slender and precarious footing. In a business of such moment, we may be allowed to recommend a due attention to those words of our blessed Saviour: "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true." It is expedient then to inquire for that witness which is true, and on which the Spirit of God gives us full authority to rely.
From the scriptures of truth, the Christian derives the happy instruction of his filial relation to God. These scriptures teach us, that this new relation originates in us, by the operation of the Holy Spirit; the knowledge of which is not conveyed to our minds by any immediate or direct act; but we are to obtain it by a conclusion drawn from certain fruits and effects, given as infallible proofs, by which we are to know that the Holy Spirit dwelleth in us, and in this manner, as the author of all holiness, [4/5] accompanies and bears witness with our mind and conscience, that we are the sons of God.
In the 9th verse of this chapter, we read, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his:" And in the 14th verse, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God." If, in order to belong to Christ, it is necessary to have his Spirit, it is as necessary for a man to know that he has the Spirit, as it is to know that he has Christ for a Saviour. From revelation he learns the one; by the same revelation he is taught how to know the other. Now the same apostle, who tells us that we must have this Spirit, gives us the signs and marks which always accompany, and are certain proofs that we possess and are led by it. "The fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Long-Suffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness, Temperance: against such there is no law." When, therefore, we find that these fruits do manifest themselves within us, we may draw the comfortable conclusion, that we are the sons of God and although the conclusion is our own act, yet, as the arguments on which that conclusion is grounded, proceed from the Holy Spirit, he may with strict propriety be said to concur with our own mind and conscience, in attesting to the truth of it. In strict conformity with the rule of St. Paul, is that given us by St. John: "Hereby we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit;" chap. iv. 13th. In the 12th verse he says, "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us." Here are two facts necessarily connected; and the truth of the former arises out of the certainty of the latter. We know that God dwelleth in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit; and we know that be hath given us the Spirit, from the love that we have one for another. Thus St. John tells you, that by the fruits, as described by St. Paul, you are to understand, or know, that you have the Spirit of Christ.
In reference to these fruits, which make men true disciples of Christ, and fit them for the kingdom of heaven, the Spirit is in scripture called God's earnest. "Who hath given us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts:" 2 Cor. i. 22d. An earnest we all know to be a part of a promised price, and a pledge for the after payment of the whole sum. Thus, the Holy Spirit is given us as [5/6] an earnest, to assure us that in due time we shall receive from God whatsoever he hath promised; provided always, that we keep the earnest, and make a right use of it, and do not return it back to him, or provoke him to take it from us.
But the Spirit is represented not only as an earnest for further and future blessings; but also as the seal of God upon what hath been already granted. The expression is figurative, and alludes to the custom among men, of putting a seal upon their goods, to designate their owner, and to ascertain the property. The fruits of the Spirit, having this meaning affixed to them, become the standing evidence, whereby we are to know that we belong to, and are in favour with God. On this foundation, reason maintains its place, and its proper sphere of action. "Conscience, purged from sin through faith and the Spirit of holiness," becomes clothed with authority to declare our relation to our heavenly Father. "My conscience," says St. Paul, "beareth me witness in the Holy Ghost." "If," says St. John, "our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God."
Let each one of us, then, in this manner, try the question for himself. Does his conscience bear him witness in the Holy Ghost, that God holds that supreme place in his heart, which he holds in creation? Does he love his neighbour in sincerity; and is he ever ready, in proportion to his ability, to do him good, and not evil? Can he forgive an enemy? Is he just and upright in all his dealings? Hath he taken up his cross, by denying the sinful lusts of the flesh? Does he not allow himself intentionally to speak what is false, or deliberately to commit any known sin? Is the religion of Christ to him an easy yoke, and a light burden? At all times, whether in prosperity or adversity, is it his delight, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, to make known his requests unto God? And under all the events of life, does he maintain a due sense of his dependence on God, and put his trustin him for help and relief?--In fine, while he feels the rod, does he look to the hand that appoints it? and when afflictions await him, does he endeavour to bear them with that submission which he owes to the will of God? These are the tests, as well as the genuine fruits of the Spirit. "from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works, do proceed." If these fruits come [6/7] from the heart, and are manifested by the tenor of our life, then will our conscience bear us witness in the Holy Ghost, that we are the sons of God.
Every pretension of this kind, founded upon claims different from this two-fold witness, must be mere presumption. All claims to the title of a child of God, that they may appear just, must rest upon their proper proofs; but no proofs, except those which God requires, are to be so considered, or with safety to be relied on. God hath appointed an outward visible act, to seal a covenant union with Christ, and our adoption as sons. "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." By the outward visible act of baptism, he gives us a new, internal, and invisible character. This invisible character he requires us to maintain and render effectual, by outward and visible acts. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven." "If ye keep my commandments, then are ye disciples indeed."
St.Paul, relating the foundation on which he built the peace, joy, and comfort of his mind, does not boast of his miraculous conversion; neither does he mention any secret instantaneous change wrought in him by the Holy Spirit. Our rejoicing, says he, is this; the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world. And elsewhere--The life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God. The testimony which his conscience bore to his integrity, and sincerity, and his manner of life, which was the fruit of the Spirit, were proofs to himself, and to others, that the Spirit dwelt in him, and that he was a good man; and thence arose the joy and peace of his mind.
The evidence be adduces, and the method he took to judge of his own condition, he recommends to every other Christian. Let every man prove his own work, and then he shall have rejoicing in himself. Here it is to be noted, that everyman must have his own work; for he cannot prove what he has not got; and there must be a rule by which the work is to be proved; and that rule must be one common measure, to which every man [7/8] must bring his own work for proof. If, on trial, he finds his work agrees with the standard, then he shall have rejoicing in himself. Secret impulses, or any special transactions of the Spirit on the minds of individuals, for reasons known only to God, and for purposes discerned by infinite wisdom, even if allowed, affect not the argument; for they are the work of God, and not of man, and therefore not the work to be proved, for that is every man's own work. Now, if men compare their tempers and actions with the several marks and characters declared to be the fruits of the Spirit, and find them to agree, then their conscience will acquit, and give them satisfaction and consolation; and so shall every man have rejoicing, or that delight in himself, which a good conscience always affords.
On a point of such importance to the Christian professor, it may justly give confidence to the humble inquirer after divine truth, to find the voice of the Church adding a sanction to his construction of the holy scriptures. In her exhortation to the communion, evidently guided by the foregoing and other apostolic injunctions, she directs us, in order that we may come holy and clean to such a heavenly feast, in the marriage garment required by God in holy scripture; and be received as worthy partakers of that holy table; to search our consciences, and examine our lives and conversations by the rule of God's commandments. Thus does the Church, in union with the apostles, send us to the scriptures of truth, which reveal the fruits of the Spirit, that by them we may learn what manner of spirit we are of, and may try our work.
In the 7th chapter of this epistle, the apostle, speaking of men in their natural state, as sons of Adam, represents them as living captives and slaves to a law, or power, which indeed binds them over to death, but not as being totally dead; for with dead men there is an end of all law. The chapter which contains the text, begins with the declaration, that the redemption by Christ delivers us from the necessity of continuing under that captivity any longer. The law of the Spirit of life, in Christ Jesus, hath made us free from the law of sin and death. Throughthe redemption that is in Christ Jesus, we are put under the direction of the Spirit. From the power of the Spirit, we derive strength [8/9] to obey the law of God. "The consequence of our being under the power of the Spirit, is thus stated:" that we walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, ver. 4; that we mind the things of the Spirit, ver. 5; that we mortify the deeds of the body, ver. 13; that we are the sons of God, ver. 14; that we cry Abba, Father, ver. 15. The three first particulars describe the deeds of the Spirit, and comprehend the Christian life. They are therefore the sure guide to resolve the question whether we are the children of God. To do the deeds of the Spirit, as we learn from the same instructor, is to act according to our mind or reason; for he had before said, that reason approved the things of God; and the things of the Spirit are the things of God. Seeing, then, that the Spirit co-operates with our reason in the great work of religion, it follows, that religion is what the apostle declares it to be, our reasonable service. Allow this to be the true character of the religion of Christ, and you must conceive it to be the office and work of his Spirit, to exalt and perfect reason, so that it may subdue the sinful lusts of the flesh. What reason alone cannot do, it is qualified for by the Spirit of God, who worketh with it, and gives power to will, and to do, according to his good pleasure. Now, if ye will know of the doctrines whether it be of God, ye must begin with an unfeigned desire to do his will. Therefore, to look aright for the witness of the Spirit, ye must look into yourselves, and there expect it from the report of your own reason and conscience. Do ye, with St. Paul, keep under your body, and bring it into subjection? Are your passions and appetites corrected and ruled by reason, enlightened by the doctrine, and sanctioned by the laws of the Gospel? Does your conscience acquit you at the bar of your own reason? Have you that sense of duty and filial affection, that meekness and humility, which disposes you to go, as a child to a tender parent, and cry Abba, Father? These are signs and evidences of the Spirit that cannot deceive, and you need not mistake.
When God himself has given you the evidence, whereby you may know that his Spirit is in you of a truth; why should you desire, or why should you seek for any other?
Hence it appears, that the evidence of the Spirit is not any "secret inspiration, or any assurance conveyed to the mind of [9/10] the faithful; but it is the evidence of works, such as by the Spirit we perform. And therefore, the only sign of sanctification is holiness; and the only mark of grace, is to obey from the heart the word of God." [Bishop Sherlock]
Do we meet with persons who say they have received the Spirit; that they are converted, and know themselves to be the children of God? We ask for the evidence given by the Spirit himself, as the signs of his presence in the hearts of men, by which it should be known who are governed and sanctified by him. Jesus did not require that men should believe that he was the Christ; only because he said he was. "If ye believe not me, believe the works that I do; for they testify of me."--John sent his disciples to inquire, "Art thou he that should come?" Jesus replied, "Go and tell John the things that ye hear and see." The prophets had foretold what the Messiah should do when he come: To those works Jesus appeals, and leaves them to compare what they saw with prophetic description, and to draw the conclusion for themselves. The miracles that Jesus wrought were sufficient to prove him to be a Teacher come from God; but no miracles, except those the prophets had foretold, could have proved him to be the Messiah. In the instance above cited, we see our Lord answered those who came to inquire of him whether he was the Christ, by an appeal to his works; those very works the prophets had foretold the Christ, when he come, should perform. In the same manner, all who receive him as their Saviour, are to prove their relation to him, and their title to his promises. Having a true faith, that faith they must manifest by those works which Christ himself hath declared to be the genuine fruits of faith, and to proceed from his Spirit. Those works show the law of Christ to be written in the heart; they show the doer of them to be his true disciple, who with the heart believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth maketh confession unto salvation. Placing our claims and Christian character on this footing, the evidence rises beyond any presumptive assertion of our own; and stands upon the high authority of Christ, and of the Spirit himself speaking to us in his Gospel. Guided by that authority, the more clearly [10/11] the subject is investigated, the more fully will it appear that the agency of the Holy Spirit is a joint act with human endeavours, and conducts men in the Christian life, by the fixed rules of the Gospel. Viewed in this light, he is the Spirit of Truth; by his gentle, yet continual influences, disposing our minds and opening our hearts to attend to the word of God, as he did the heart of Lydia to attend to the words spoken of Paul. He excites us to listen to the scriptures, at first given by him, as he did Cornelius and his company, who stood before God to hear from Peter all things that are commanded of God. He is our Comforter, by cleansing the thoughts of our hearts, and inclining us to perform the various duties required; and strengthening us with stedfast confidence to pursue the course of life the Gospel points out. Thus, through him, we attain to that conversation which becometh the Gospel of Christ, and are finally made such as we should be in all holy conversation and godliness.
We may now inquire into the degree of hope or persuasion, which the witness of the Spirit truly produces and authorizes in the Christian, with respect to his final salvation.
On this point, an admired writer of the present day is so clear and home to my purpose, it must be for your advantage to give you his thoughts in his own words. "TheChristian, who would travel surely in the road to heaven, must steer equally clear of self-confidence on the one hand, and of vain dependence on the other. From the consideration, that the Christian dispensation is a covenant of grace on the part of God, and that every covenant, from its nature, implies conditions, conditions of entering into it, and conditions of continuing in it; it necessarily follows, that the acquisition of the benefits contained under the Christian covenant, must depend on the fulfilment of the conditions which have been annexed to it. When the Christian disciple, therefore, talks of what the grace of God has done for his soul, he should at the same time examine how far that grace has produced its intended effect on his conduct, by enabling him to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. According to his conclusion on this subject, admitting it to be justly drawn, must be his encouragement to look forward in hope to the glorious appearing [11/12] of the great God and his Saviour Jesus Christ; on this most settled conviction, that the objects of Christ's coming was not only to die for sin, and thereby purchase salvation for the sinner, but also to prepare the sinner for the salvation purchased, by making him meet, through the sanctification of his Spirit, to be a partaker of the saints in light."
Such, my Brethren, is the Gospel which we preach. Examine it by your Bible, and you will find that it contains the words of truth and soberness. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
Every true member of the Church militant is in a state of progression towards the Church triumphant. Such as is the state of the Church in this world, such must be the state of every one who belongs to it. The militant state is a state of trial and probation; to which, humble trust, with a mixture of doubts and fears, must ever be attached. Assurance can only be the privilege of those, who, having passed their state of probation, are admitted into the Church triumphant. Whoever, therefore, asserts that he has arrived to a state of assurance, his assertion implies that he does not belong to the militant, but to that Church which is composed of the spirits of just men made perfect. When the victory is won, what remains but to enjoy the promised reward? Every person who claims this high character, to be consistent with himself and the tenet he holds, must dismiss the exhortations to grow in grace, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God, as not pertinent to him. For why should he seek to grow, who is already assured that he has attained his full stature? And of whom or of what can he be afraid, who, by the irresistible operation of the Spirit, has the decree of God irreversibly stamped upon him? At the point where assurance of a future event begins, for that event probation ends.
Arguments of this kind, I am sensible, will not be seen, nor the force of them felt, by persons who are accustomed to combine things that are opposite, and to hold themselves blind to the most glaring contradictions. The same is to be expected from those who do not and will not understand the nature of the Christian Church; who have no regular notions of the manner [12/13] in which Christ holds communion with it, and as the Head and King rules and governs it. Be it allowed, that human reasoning is fallible, and often inconclusive; but the word of Christ is spirit and truth; and where the word of a king is, there is power. Let us then have recourse to God and the word of his grace.
"Watch and pray; for ye know not the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh." The exhortation is general, and may be applied to every man; from which duty, no supposed condition can exempt him to the end of life; for that is the period to which our Lord assigns the reward. "Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing." "To him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God."
We do not find that St. Paul, notwithstanding his divine raptures and visions, speaks of them as giving him such a certainty of heaven, that he could not forfeit, or finally miss of it. On all occasions he utters a very different language. "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away." "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded." Such is the account St. Paul gives of his own manner of life. To the like conduct he exhorts all Christians, even the most perfect. The prize is at the end of the race: towards that we are, like him, to press, and in no one stage of the course to boast of security, or think the victory is won, until we arrive at the mark. Faith and hope are the great springs of action in the Christian warfare. These two are the shield and the helmet with which we must fight the good fight, and lay hold on eternal life. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection.
The relation recorded in the 27th of the Acts, of St. Paul's voyage to Rome, affords an illustration of the highest degree of assurance the word of God will warrant, under any circumstance, [13/14] to be imagined. The apostle was forewarned of the shipwreck. "Sirs," said he to the men who were with him, "be of good cheer; for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship: For there stood by me, this night, an angel of the Lord, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Thou must be brought before Caesar; and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.--I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me." Afterwards, in the critical hour of peril, when the shipmen were about to leave the ship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, "Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved." Had the purpose of God been without conditions; had it been, according to that purpose, impossible for the men to have left the ship, St. Paul's assertion had been without meaning, or not true; his fears had been groundless, and his warning superfluous. More than an angel hath informed us of the salvation God hath appointed; and as we perform the conditions, and attain to the qualifications prescribed, the Spirit witnesseth with our conscience that we are the heirs of grace, and are in favour with God. The exceeding great and precious promises of the Gospel now stand by us as the angel did by Paul; and if we abide stedfastly within our place and station, and strive for the preservation of life, within the limits and according to the spirit of the promises, we shall be saved. Assurance relates to the promises; for they are certain.
Hope is excited by a firm faith, and belongs to us, while the great and final blessings exist in promises. Assurance, so long as we are in a state of probation, cannot transcend the nature and limits of that state; and therefore, when applied to the human mind, to express its prospect of eternal life, cannot go beyond hope, nor be divided from faith and hope, until the Christian arrives to that state, where faith and hope shall have an end. In this world, the highest attainment in the Christian life, is the full assurance of hope; and a strong consolation is the encouragement given as a reward to those who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them: "Which hope we have as an anchor, to which our soul is fastened in this stormy sea of life, both strong and stedfast, because fixed into the place within the vail; that is, into heaven, whither we shall be drawn by this anchor, as ships are drawn to the place where their anchors are fixed."
 Recorded saints lived by faith, and are said to have died in faith. That faith, which is "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen," sustained them under every trial. Animated by a lively hope, they regarded the afflictions they endured but light and momentary, and as working out for them "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." With this armour they triumphed even in death, and were crowned with glory.
The exhortation left for us, is, to be followers of them, "who through faith and patience inherit the promises." Patience in well-doing worketh experience, and experience hope; but hope gives us no absolute certainty of salvation: And therefore it is great presumption to talk of security. Certainty, in whatever degree it may be supposed, can only relate to our present condition, which is enough to keep our minds easy and contented. Other certainty than this, might make us remiss: This may encourage us to run with patience the race that is before us, and to labour in the Lord; knowing that our labour shall not be in vain.