Project Canterbury

Parochial Sermons

The Posthumous Works of the Late Right Reverend John Henry Hobart, D.D.
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York.

Volume Three.

New-York: Swords, Stanford, and Co., 1832.

Sermon XXXIII. The Witness of the Spirit.

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. Romans viii. 16, 17.

This passage exhibits a most interesting view of the exalted condition of Christians. They are "children of God," enjoying the intimate favour of that glorious Being who is possessed of every perfection, and in whose favour substantial and everlasting felicity is to be found. They are "heirs of God," entitled to that inheritance of glory which God from the fulness of his bliss hath prepared for them. They are "joint-heirs with Christ;" associated with him in a title to that glory to which, as the Son of God, in his human nature he is exalted in heaven.

This passage also assures to them these blessings, not only by the testimony of their own hearts, but also by the witness of the Spirit of God "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our Spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ."

Christians! let me at this time call you to contemplate your privileges, as described in the text; and the nature of the testimony by which they are assured to you.

The privileges of Christians.

The testimony by which these privileges are assured to them.

I. The privileges of Christians.

1. They are "the children of God."

This interesting appellation implies the most tender affection, the most anxious care, not of some earthly parent, of goodness, wisdom, and power enlarged and exalted--but of that infinite and eternal Being whose goodness, wisdom, and power transcend all human conception. Animate as well as inanimate creation is the work of that Almighty Jehovah, who, in this sense, is the Father of the universe. All intellectual and moral beings acknowledge, as their Father, him, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named: all men are, in one sense, the sons of God, as they derive from him their life, their reason, their moral perception, their capacity for happiness,--and are destined by him for the enjoyment of his favour, for everlasting felicity in his presence. But sin has made them strangers to their Father's home--aliens from his family. By nature, they are children of wrath; that is, without any covenant title to his favour; and, on account of the actual transgressions which they commit, subject to his eternal displeasure.

But, thanks to the goodness and mercy of their heavenly Father, they are not left destitute of the means of return to his family and home, and of regaining his love and favour. On the conditions of truly repenting of their sins, of exercising lively faith in the merits of him whom God hath set forth as the Saviour of the world, and of steadfastly purposing to lead a new life, all who are admitted by [401/402] baptism into that spiritual family which is chosen out of the world, become again "children of God." God, as their Father, promises to them forgiveness to purify their hearts by his Holy Spirit, and to give them the spirit of adoption. Fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, they are born, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which abideth for ever. And if, as his children, they render to God the constant homage and affection of their hearts, and serve him with filial reverence and fear, he will continue to extend to thern his fatherly protection and love.

2. Not only are Christians children of God--they are also heirs of God.

"If children," is the inference of the apostle, "then heirs, heirs of God."

Of little value indeed would be the privileges of "children of God" which Christians enjoy, if he had not in reserve for them, blessings beyond this frail and transitory life. For the privileges of children in this their state of exile, they only imperfectly enjoy their home: their heavenly Father's house is in heaven; and, distant from it, they here only in a small degree partake of that favour which, in heaves, God their Father will, in its rich fulness, bestow upon them. They here only imperfectly partake of that divine image, as God's children, which in heaven will be fully impressed upon their souls. And here, clothed as they are with an earthly tabernacle, they must wait in earnest desire to be clothed upon with a house which is from heaven.

Christians, then, are heirs of God. He hath prepared for them blessings, of which, in the [402/403] present life, they only imperfectly partake. An inheritance is reserved for them, incorruptible, and that fadeth not away--the inheritance of the saints in light. A kingdom is established for them, which cannot be moved. A city is preparing for them, which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. So certain is their final possession of these blessings, provided they do not, by disobedience, forfeit their Father's love, that the apostle speaks of Christians as already "sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus;" as already "come unto Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem;" as having already joined "the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of the just made perfect;" as already beholding, in the unclouded radiance of heaven, "God, the Judge of all, and Jesus, the Mediator of the covenant."

3. Christians are "joint-heirs with Christ."

Immortal life and felicity are blessings which no creature can merit, or which he can exact from his Almighty Creator as due to his obedience, however perfect; much less are they blessings to which man, as a sinner, can lay claim. They are the free gift of God, through his Son Jesus Christ. Him hath God exalted to be "head over all things to his church," his redeemed people--the Author to all who believe in him, of spiritual life and felicity. Of that kingdom of glory which is to subsist for ever in the power and in the felicity of the Godhead, Jesus Christ, in his capacity as Mediator, is the head; and they who, through the strength and protection of this their divine Leader, overcome in that spiritual contest to which they are called with the world, the flesh, and the great adversary, are [403/404] finally to be admitted to share with him the felicity and glory of this his kingdom--in the figurative language of Scripture, to sit with him on his throne. He, their divine head and Saviour, hath, by the merit of his sufferings and death, purchased for them that heavenly inheritance, to which, infinitely exalted as it is above their deserts, no services of their own could possibly entitle them. He hath gone, in that glorified human nature which he assumed in order to become their Redeemer, to take possession of this inheritance of glory. By his resurrection from the dead he became "the firstborn among many brethren," giving to "as many as received him, power to become the sons of God," and finally exalting them to be "joint-heirs with himself of everlasting glory."

In this your title then, Christians, of "joint-heirs with Christ," you are called to realize the important truths, that your salvation, unattainable by human efforts, is the Work of him to whom, as your Redeemer, all power is given in heaven and on earth; and that with him, the first-born from the dead, and first entering on the possession purchased by his meritorious cross and passion, you are finally to share the felicity of that everlasting life which is the free gift of God through Jesus Christ.

Christians, then, are "children of God, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." They enjoy the favour of God, their heavenly Father; they «re destined for the enjoyment of the felicity of his presence; they are to share with their highly exalted Saviour in the glories of that heavenly kingdom, of which he is the head and ruler.

[405] Highly interesting to us must be the testimony which assures these privileges to us.

II. The testimony by which the privileges of Christians are assured to them.

1. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with bur spirit." The exalted privileges of Christians are assured to them by the twofold witness of the Spirit and of their own hearts. It is not the Spirit alone witnessing to our hearts--he witnesses with them. The witness then is distinct--that of our own hearts, and that of the Spirit of God.

"If our heart condemn us not," saith the apostle John, "then have we confidence towards God." And the apostle Paul speaks in the person of sincere Christians--"Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have had our conversation in the world." When then our hearts do not condemn us of habitual and wilful violations of the laws of God; when they do not accuse us of neglect of his holy word, worship, and ordinances--when, on the contrary, they bear testimony to the sincerity, the fervency, and the constancy of our desires to serve him; when unfeigned sorrow for all our transgressions, lively faith in the merits of Jesus, the Redeemer of the world, love to God, and love to man, are the emotions and principles that regulate our affections and our conduct; when thus conscience, that faithful witness, arrays against us no wilful sin for which we have not deeply repented, no infirmity against which we have not sedulously guarded, and which we have not humbly confessed; when it is her testimony that the graces and virtues of the Christian character have animated our hearts and [405/406] shone forth in our lives, and that, rich in good works, and walking in the commandments and ordinances of God, we have adorned the doctrine of God our Saviour--then we have the witness of our own spirit that we are "children of God, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." But,

2. These exalted privileges are also assured to Christians by the witness, external and internal, public and private, of the Holy Spirit of God.

The external and public witness of the Spirit consists in those miraculous gifts whereby- the truth of the Gospel, and of all its promises, was fully established. This Gospel proclaims to all those who, humbly renouncing their sins, steadfastly believe in Jesus" Christ, and obey him as their Lord and Master, a title to pardon, to the favour of God, and to the glory and bliss of heaven.

When, therefore, the first believers heard the simple and illiterate apostles of Jesus of Nazareth "speaking with divers tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance," and, enlightened by this Spirit, declare "the words of wisdom and knowledge;" when they beheld these weak and despised men endued with the power of the Holy Ghost, open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, unloose the tongue of the dumb, restore the withered arm and the diseased limb; and, still more glorious triumph, enter the domains of the grave and raise the dead--when they beheld all these signs, and wonders, and mighty works wrought by the power of that Spirit which Jesus sent on his disciples, then did they enjoy the witness of the Spirit, that the Gospel of Christ was indeed the power of God unto salvation, that all its promises were faithful and true, and that as many as [406/407] received it were "children of God, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ."

And, my brethren, when the faithful record of these things is open before us--a record written in the blood of its authors, and, with every possible mark of credibility, handed down as the sacred testimony of eye-witnesses; when the miraculous propagation of Christianity, and the constant fulfilment of prophecies, add their powerful testimony to the work of the Spirit in the first ages of Christianity, then do we, Christians of these last days, enjoy the witness of the Spirit, that, while faithful to him who hath quickened us from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, we are "children of God, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ."

But there is the internal and private witness of the Spirit assuring to Christians the same exalted privileges.

And this witness consists in his renovating and sanctifying power on the soul.

The great object of the reasoning of the apostle in the verses preceding the text, is to show that holy affections and a holy life are the evidence of being led by the Spirit. They who are under the power of the Spirit, he says, "walk not after the flesh:" they mind the things of the Spirit; they mortify the deeds of the body; and thus the Spirit witnesseth with their spirit that they are the sons of God.

The renovating and sanctifying power of divine grace, producing in us all holy affections and virtues, is the internal witness-of the Spirit.

In the incomprehensible agency assigned in Scripture to the three Persons of the Godhead in the work of man's redemption, the Holy Ghost is [407/408] represented as the Author of our spiritual life. All the virtues which animate and adorn our hearts, all the good works which shine forth in our lives, are attributed to his invisible but powerful operations quickening us from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, working together with us--in the appropriate language of our church, "going before us, that we may have a good will; and working with us, when we have that good will;" and by his instruction we think the things that are good, and by his merciful guiding perform the same; and in all things, it is he who directs and rules our hearts. The holy graces and virtues, then, which animate and rule our souls, are the evidences that he dwells in us by his sanctifying power; and by them he witnesses that we are translated from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

You behold, then, professing Christians, the standard by which you may test your title to the glorious privileges of your Christian calling.

The descent of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles, and the miraculous works which, through his power, they performed; the establishment of the Gospel in the world by their supernatural labours, and the constant fulfilment of those prophecies which the Holy Ghost indited--these are general evidences to Christians, they are the general witness of the Spirit that those who have received, by a lively and obedient faith, that Saviour whom this Gospel sets forth, are "children of God, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ."

But the evidence to each Christian that he is entitled to these privileges, must be sought in the sanctifying operations of the Spirit on his own [408/409] soul. He has been regenerated in baptism, born again into a new slate, a state of salvation, and made, on the conditions of repentance and faith, a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. For the apostle says, "Ye are saved by the washing of regeneration; and by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body," and thus enjoy a title to the privileges of this body. But these privileges of his baptismal regeneration, conditionally conferred, will be forfeited, unless his baptismal vows, which pledged him to die to sin and to rise again unto righteousness, be fulfilled--unless, in the language of the apostle, he be the subject of the renewing of the Holy Ghost, be transformed by the renewing of his mind. In our regeneration, we are called into a state of salvation, a state in which the forgiveness of our sins, and all the blessings of salvation, are conferred on us, on certain conditions. Our renovation consists in the fulfilment of these conditions; by being born of God; by mortifying our sinful passions--in the figurative language of Scripture, by putting off the old man, and, in the same figurative language, by putting on the new man, created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works. If then, through the power of divine grace, pledged to us as the members of Christ's mystical body the church, and conveyed to us through its ministry and ordinances, we are quickened from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness, and crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts; abound in all the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; and live righteously, soberly, and godly in the world; then we may be assured that we enjoy the witness of [409/410] the Spirit of God, and of our own spirit, that we are the children of God.

Try yourselves then, professing Christians, by this standard, and by this standard alone. All expectation of some special and distinct revelation of the Spirit to the mind, apart from his sanctifying influence upon them, is wholly unauthorized. It is as dangerous as it is unauthorized. The impulses of the imagination, of animal sensibilities, and of heated passions, may be mistaken for the impulses of the Spirit of God; and the spirit of delusion, instead of the Spirit of truth, may obtain dominion over you, and lead you to false hopes, and to dangerous security. But ascertain that your hearts are the subjects of his holy influence, so that, in the forcible and scriptural language of our church in her baptismal offices, "all sinful affections die in you, and all things belonging to the Spirit live and grow in you; and that, through him, you are endued with heavenly virtues, and are daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living;" and you may be assured that you have the Holy Spirit witnessing with your spirit that you are children of God.

Commence without delay, then, this important scrutiny. By the power of the Holy Ghost, in signs, and wonders, and mighty works, God hath assured to you a revelation of his will, the exceeding great and precious promises of his Gospel. By the gracious covenant, of which your baptism was the seal, he conveyed to you a title to these promises. You were made children and heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, of immortal, glory. If seduced, by the false but alluring objects by which the world tempts you, to forget your high [410/411] vocation, you despise or neglect these privileges, and fail to secure them; and, instead of exercising repentance and faith, mortifying the deeds of the body, and living to the service of God, you live only to the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof--you will incur the tremendous guilt of contemning the counsel of God for your salvation; instead of continuing the children and heirs of God, you will make yourselves the children and heirs of him whose works ye do; and, instead of being joint-heirs with Christ of immortal glory, you will be (the sentence will be just, the condemnation unavoidable) heirs, with the devil and his angels, of everlasting wo.

But if, fulfilling the conditions of the Gospel-covenant, dead to sin and living unto righteousness, born of God, so that you are new creatures in Christ Jesus, you can indulge the humble hope that you are entitled to the witness of the Spirit testifying with your own hearts that you are entitled to the privileges of your Christian calling, transcendently exalted and happy is your condition. God is your reconciled God and Father; and the affection of the most ardent earthly parent is not to be compared with the love which your heavenly Father exercises towards you. The watchfulness and solicitude of the most affectionate earthly parent for the child of his hopes, afford but a faint idea of the watchful solicitude with which your heavenly Father regards you, his children in Jesus Christ. The pleasures and glory of the world are not worthy of a comparison with those transcendent blessings to which you are heirs. You are joint-heirs with the Son of God, and he hath gone before to take possession of the promised inheritance; [411/412] and you shall share with him a kingdom that shall never be moved, a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

What love and gratitude to your God and Saviour, and what holy superiority to the corrupting pleasures of the world--what inflexible resistance to its temptations--what patience and consolation under its adversities--what joy and triumph amid air the varied scenes of life, should these most exalted privileges inspire in your souls! They were conditionally conferred in your baptism; secure them by the constant exercise of that holy faith which purifieth the heart, which leads you to keep all the commandments and ordinances of God. Take heed lest, seduced by the temptations of the world, you fall short of the promised glory. Guided and defended by the Spirit of God, persevere unto the end. Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. The Lord of hosts is with you. In the time of trouble he will be your refuge, in the hour of temptation your strength; even through the valley of the shadow of death he will be with you; and you shall finally reach your Father's home. In the glories of his presence you shall enjoy your inheritance with your Saviour, who hath gone before to prepare it for you--a happiness exalted as the highest heavens, and lasting as the ages of eternity.

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