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- When the Holy Ghost is Come - 6/29 -
at the country cross-roads, pointing out the road leading to the city, tells me when I have got to the city.
2. My religious teachers and friends cannot tell me, for they cannot read my heart, nor the mind of God toward me. How can they know when I have in my heart repented and believed, and when His righteous anger is turned away?
They can encourage me to repent, believe, obey, and can assure me that, if I do, He will accept me, and I shall be saved; but beyond that they cannot go.
3. My own heart, owing to its darkness and deceitfulness and liability to error, is not a safe witness previous to the assurance God Himself gives. If my neighbour is justly offended with me, it is not my own heart, but his testimony that first assures me of his favour once more.
How, then, shall I know that I am justified or wholly sanctified? There is but one way, and that is by the witness of the Holy Spirit. God must notify me, and make me to know it; and this He does, when, despairing of my own works of righteousness, I cast my poor soul fully and in faith upon Jesus. "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear," says Paul, "but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans viii. 15, 16). "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Gal. iv. 6). Unless He Himself assures me, I shall never know that He accepts me, but must continue in uncertainty all my days.
"Come, Holy Ghost, Thyself impress On my expanding heart: And show that in the Father's grace I share a filial part."
The General says: "Assurance is produced by the revelation of forgiveness and acceptance made by God Himself directly to the soul. This is the witness of the Spirit. It is God testifying in my soul that He has loved me, and given Himself for me, and washed me from my sins in His own blood. Nothing short of this _actual revelation_, made by God Himself, can make anyone sure of salvation."
John Wesley says: "By the testimony of the Spirit, I mean an inward impression of the soul, whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God; that 'Jesus hath loved me, and given Himself for me'; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God."
This witness of the Spirit addressed to my consciousness enables me to sing with joyful assurance:--
"My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear: He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear: With confidence I now draw nigh, And, 'Father, Abba, Father,' cry."
When the Holy Spirit witnesses to me that I am saved and adopted into God's family as His child, then other evidences begin to abound also. For instance:--
1. My own spirit witnesses that I am a new creature. I know that old things have passed away, and all things have become new. My very thoughts and desires have been changed. Love and joy and peace reign within me. My heart no longer condemns me. Pride and selfishness, and lust and temper, no longer control my thoughts nor lead captive my will. I am a new creature, and I know it, and I infer without doubt that this is the work of God in me.
2. My conscience bears witness that I am honest and true in all my purposes and intentions; that I am without guile; that my eye is single to the glory of God, and that with all simplicity and sincerity of heart I serve Him; and, since by nature I am only sinful, I again infer that this sincerity of heart is His blessed work in my soul, and is a fruit of salvation.
3. The Bible becomes a witness to my salvation. In it are accurately portrayed the true characteristics of the children of God; and as I study it prayerfully, and find these characteristics in my heart and life, I again infer that I am saved. This is true self-examination, and is most useful.
These evidences are most important to guard us against any mistake as to the witness of the Holy Spirit.
The witness of the Spirit is not likely to be mistaken for something else, just as the sun is not likely to be mistaken for a lesser light, a glow-worm or a moon. But one who has not seen the sun might mistake some lesser light for the sun. So an unsaved man may mistake some flash of fancy, some pleasant emotion, for the witness of the Spirit. But if he is honest, the absence of these secondary evidences and witnesses will correct him. He must know that so long as sin masters him, reigns within him, and he is devoid of the tempers, graces, and dispositions of God's people, as portrayed in the Bible, that he is mistaken in supposing that he has the witness of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit cannot witness to what does not exist. He cannot lie. Not until sin is forgiven does He witness to the fact. Not until we are justified from our old sins and born again does He witness that we are children of God; and when He does so witness, these secondary evidences always follow. Charles Wesley expresses this in one of his matchless hymns:--
"How can a sinner know His sins on earth forgiven? How can my gracious Saviour show My name inscribed in Heaven?
"We who in Christ believe That He for us hath died, We all His unknown peace receive, And feel His blood applied.
"His love, surpassing far The love of all beneath, We find within our hearts, and dare The pointless darts of death.
"Stronger than death and hell The mystic power we prove; And conquerors of the world, we dwell In Heaven, who dwell in love."
The witness of the Spirit is far more comprehensive than many suppose. Multitudes do not believe that there is any such thing, while others confine it to the forgiveness of sins and adoption into the family of God. But the truth is that the Holy Spirit witnesses to much more than this.
He witnesses to the sinner that he is guilty, condemned before God, and lost. This we call conviction; but it is none other than the witness of the Spirit to the sinner's true condition; and when a man realises it, nothing can convince him to the contrary. His friends may point out his good works, his kindly disposition, and try to assure him that he is not a bad man; but, so long as the Spirit continues to witness to his guilt, nothing can console him or reassure his quaking heart. This convicting witness may come to a sinner at any time, but it is usually given under the searching preaching of the Gospel, or the burning testimony of those who have been gloriously saved and sanctified; or in time of danger, when the soul is awed into silence, so that it can hear the "still small voice" of the Holy Spirit.
Again, the Holy Spirit not only witnesses to the forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God, but He also witnesses to sanctification. "For by one offering," says the Apostle, "He" (that is, Jesus) "hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us" (Hebrews x. 14, 15).
Indeed, one who has this witness can no more doubt it than a man with two good eyes can doubt the existence of the sun when he steps forth into the splendour of a cloudless noon-day. It satisfies him, and he cries out exultingly, "We know, we know!" Hallelujah!
Paul seems to teach that the Holy Spirit witnesses to every good thing God works in us, for he says: "We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God" (1 Cor. ii. 12). It is for our comfort and encouragement to know our acceptance of God and our rights, privileges, and possessions in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit is given for this purpose, that we may _know_.
But it is important to bear in mind God's plan of work in this matter.
1. The witness of the Spirit is dependent upon our faith. God does not give it to those who do not believe in Jesus; and if our faith wavers, the witness will become intermittent; and if faith fails, it will be withdrawn. Owing to the unsteadiness of their faith, many young converts get into uncertainty. Happy are they at such times if some one is at hand to instruct and encourage them to look steadfastly to Jesus. But, alas! many old Christians through unsteady faith walk in gloom and uncertainty, and, instead of encouraging the young, they discourage them. Steadfast faith will keep the inward witness bright.
2. We must not get our attention off Jesus, and the promises of God in Him, and fix it upon the witness of the Spirit. The witness continues only while we look unto Jesus, and trust and obey Him. When we take our eyes off Him, the witness is gone. Many people fail here. Instead of quietly and confidently looking unto Jesus, and trusting Him, they are vainly looking for the witness; which is as though a man should try to realise the sweetness of honey, without receiving it in his mouth; or the beauty of a picture, while having his eyes turned inward upon himself instead of outward upon the picture. Jesus saves. Look to Him, and He will send the Spirit to witness to His work.
3. The witness may be brightened by diligence in the discharge of duty, by frequent seasons of glad prayer, by definite testimony to salvation and sanctification, and by stirring up our faith.
4. The witness may be dulled by neglect of duty, by sloth in
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