ROMANS,viii, 16.
'The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.'

WE can well imagine the desirousness, wherewith an earnest and aspiring Christian might enter upon the interpretation of this verse. For, at the first view of it, he might think that it so far outstrips his own personal experience, as to leave him utterly behind all legitimate hope of his own personal salvation. He may be honestly conscious to himself, that he hath never felt any such witnessing as the text seems at least to advert to - no secret and preternatural intimation of his being one of Gods children - no inward communion going on between the Spirit of God and his own spirit, whereby he might assure himself of that test whereby the apostle and his converts assuredly knew that they were the heirs of coming glory - no whisper of this sort to the ear of the inner man - no feeling of any other principle that was active and astir in his own heart, but the thoughts, and the emotions, and the desires of his own busy and familiar self - And thus, on the perusal of this verse, and of those in St. John where the apostle speaks of the witness in himself, and of his positively knowing that God had taken up His abode and dwelt in him even by the Spirit which He had given him - why there are many, who, from the want of all finding and participation in this sort of experience, feel themselves thrown at an utter distance from that which ministered the high hopes of immortality to the Christian of the New Testament; and who seek in v xain for that inscription on the tablet within. which shone in characters of such bright and legible reflection to the primitive disciples, and assured them of their being indeed sealed unto the clay of redemption, of their indeed having the mark imprest upon them of God's own family.

Now the first thing that I would say unto all who are in this state of painful ambiguity, is, that if they can obtain no satisfaction in their enquiry after the tests which they are looking for within, they ought to remember, that these tests are come at in no other way, than by a believing contemplation on theirpart of certain truths which they should often and habitually be looking to without. Even the Spirit, whose presence and whose inward witnese they so vehemently desiderate, cometh by the hearing of faith. It was in the act of listening to the words spoken by Peter, that the Holy Ghost fell upon Cornelius and the members of his household. The word of God is the vehicle upon which this heavenly visitant maketh entrance into the heart and the very first announcement that He gives of his presence, is by the truths of that word imprest convincingly and feelingly upon the mind. This is the way in which He beeometh sensible; and if on look for the Holy Ghost in any other way than through the power of Bible doctrine seen to be real, and felt to be morally touching and impressive, you will have no more success than if you looked for a spectre or some airy phantom of superstition. And therefore, if you will to realize upon your own person the test by which Paul knew of himself and his disciples that the were the children of God, begin at the beginning. Are you look for that joy which is one fruit of the Spirit, look to the tidings by which von are made joyfnl. Ere you look for the peace which is another of His -fruits, read the pacific message that came from heaven to earth; and you will cease from your disquietude, when you know that God hath ceased from His displeasure. Ere you make sure of love being in your hearts towards God, make sure of hove being in His heart towards you - for it is only upon your believing sight of that love which looketh down from Heaven that a responding love will rise back again from the earth.

We know not if the shepherds of Bethlehem became spiritual men. It is very likely that they did, and that the Holy Ghost took up His residence within them. But they first heard the voice from the sky, of glory to God in the highest and peace on earth and good-will to men; and, under all the doubts and perplexities of your various cogitations, do we also bid you attend to the import of the same voice - and it is in the attitude of a full outlook on the objects, that you realise upon your own person the work and the consequences of faith. And therefore, in defect of experience, in defect of all feeling or confidence on your part that the Spirit is within you, in utter darkness though you may be on the question whether you are the subjects of grace, gaze upwardly and outwardly on the revealed objects of that economy of grace which hath been set up in the view of all - and that, from the uttermost ends of the earth all may look and be saved. Your first business is with the gospel. Your first attention should be to its overtures. They are the approach and the errand and the work of the great Mediator, which have a prior and a preferable claim upon you. What you have done once, you have to do always; and if ever a confidence sprung up in your bosom, when to Christ as a great Saviour, you brought yourself as an empty unfurnished and altogether helpless sinner, this you have to do again and again - this beginning of your confidence you have to hold fast unto the end; and it is by a constant renewal of your affections at the fire of this spiritual altar, that the flame of your spiritual grace can be so upheld as to be at all distinct or discernible.

And even when all discernment of your inward graces is lost, and nothing remains of which you are sensible but a desire after them - when utterly at a stand on the question whether you ever had the Spirit, or whether you have it at this moment still - You have a patent way by which to secure the attainment that your heart is set upon, if it be really so set. If there be nothing within to which you can look with any satisfaction, still you have God above standing forth in the aspect of graciousness, and waiting the applications of human willingness and human want. You have that Being to repair to, who hath pledged His truth to the promise, that He will give the Holy Spirit to them who ask it. When in the chaos and confusion of the inner man, all appearance of His workmanship hath disappeared, still you can pray; and just as the natural hunger ever recurring stands in need of constant and periodical supplies, so it is of our spiritual necessities. They are not met and conclusively provided for by one effusion of living water from on high. You perhaps have been counting upon a stock in hand - when in fact the style of this spiritual administration, is of grace to help you in the time of need. And the felt time of your need, is the fit time of your applicatiorn So that let you at present be as far aback as possible, on the question of your having an unction from the Holy One - there are expedients between you and utter despondency. There is the direct act of faith on the truths of the gospel, by which the Spirit cometh. There is the exercise of prayer, in answer to which the Spirit is abundantly poured upon you.

Now how shall we verify the answer to this prayer? How shall we ascertain that upon us there has been the fulfilment of that promise which is unto faith - even the Holy Ghost who is given to as many as shall believe? In reply to this it is most important to observe, that His work is visible, but His working is not so. It is not of His operation that we are conscious, but of the result of that operation. We do not see the wind, though we see the impulse and the direction which it gives to many sensible things. And neither can we tell of the Spirits agency on a human soul, though the impression which He hath made upon it may be quite palpable. We do not see Him at work, though we may see the workmanship that he leaves behind Him. As in vegetation our eye is upon the fruit, and not upon the secrets of that hidden physiology whence all the efflorescence cometh - so, in spiritual husbandry, the eye of our consciousness is upon deeds that are palpably done and desires that are palpably felt, and not upon the primary influence which touches the inner mechanism and originates all its goings. There is much, in that parable, where the kingdom of heaven is likened unto seed thrown into the ground, and which springeth up one knoweth not how; but which still leaves the test unaffected that by its fruit ye shall know it. The Spirit may not be felt in His access to the soul, but His fruits may be recognised in the now holy and heavenly affections of the soul. There is neither a light, nor a voice, nor a felt stirring within, to warn us of His presence; but there may now be a goodness, and a righteousness, and a truth, in the heart which give testimony to His power. It is thus that from certain plain characteristics we may come at the inference that we are the children of God - from distinct and intelligible marks to which we have access without mysticism; and on which apostles have condescended in other parts of the New Testament - ' Hereby know we that we know him if we keep his commandments.' My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.' 'And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.'

There is one very obvious way then, in which the Spirit may bear witness with our spirit that we are the children of God; or in which, according to the translation of many, the Spirit may bear witness to or attest to our spirit that we are God's children. It is He who worketh a work of grace in our souls, and that work may become manifest to our own consciences. We may read the lineaments of our now renovated character; and it may be regarded as an exercise of our own spirit, that by which we become acquainted with the new features or the new characteristics that have been formed upon ourselves. And we may furthermore read in the Bible, what be the Scripture marks of the new creature; and as all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God - this is one way in which a joint testimony may be made out between God's Spirit, and our spirit upon the subject; or in which a communication may be made to pass from the one to the other - so that they both shall concur in one and the same sentence that we are indeed God's children.

The part that the Spirit of God hath had in this matter is, that He both graves upon us the lineaments of a living epistle of Christ Jesus, and tells us in the epistle of a written revelation what these lineaments are. The part which our own spirit has is, that, with the eye of consciousness, we read what is in ourselves; and, with the eye of the understanding, we read what is in the book of God's testimony: And upon our perceiving that such as the marks of grace which we find to be within, so are the marks of grace which we observe in the description of that word without that the Spirit hath indited, we arrive at the conclusion that we are born of God.

But what is more, it is the work of the Spirit to make one see more clearly in both of these directions - to open ones eyes both that he might behold the things contained in the Bible with brighter manifestation, and also that he might behold the things which lie deeply and to most undiscoverably hidden within the arcana of their own hearts. In virtue of his clearer outward discernment, he may have a more sure and satisfying belief in the Son of God; and in virtue of his clearer inward discernment, this belief; now more sure and strong, may also become more sensible. There are many natural truths in authentic history, in science, in common life and experience, which you not only believe, but which you know that you believe - so that you can not only say of them that these are truths, but of which you can say I know the firmness and the certainty of my own faith in them.

In like manner, a man may both believe in a gospel truth, and which is a distinct thing, may know that he believes it. The Spirit may have so far enlightened him as to the doctrine, that he is quite satisfied as to the truth of it; and may also have so far enlightened him as to the state of his own mind, that he knows the belief or the conviction to be assuxedly there. Let him have no doubt upon this point; and, on the single assertion that he who believeth in Christ shall be saved, he may have no doubt of his salvation. If he know himself to be a believer, and also knoweth that every believer shall go to heaven, what more is necessary to assure him of his own destination to an inheritance of glory! He hath data enough for such a conclusion. He hath both the major and the minor proposition for the winding up of an argument., which to him at least is irresistible. Still it is the Spirit which hath furnished him with both. By it he discerns the evidence that there is in the Bible, and by it he discerns the reflection that there is of that evidence in his own heart - so that he not only recognises the Bible to be true, but recognises himself to be a believer in the Bible. The one recognition in fact may be so there is, confident and strong, as to lead instantaneously and forcibly to the other.
And thus believing in the Son of God, may he come to have the witness in himself, and assuredlyto know that he is one of Gods children. No man can know any thing, or believe any thing, but upon evidence. Yet this evidence may be of such prompt occurrence to him when he goes in quest of it; and it may work its convictions upon the rnind so quickly and so powerfully; and with all the rapidity of consciousness might so hasten on the argument - that, as the Bible is true, and he is thoroughly aware of his own belief in it, therefore to him all its promises are sure, and all its glorious prospects are unquestionably in reserve for him: And this sunshine of hope may come so immediately on the back of prayer, or be so lighted up at the view of a scriptural passage, or be so supported by all the regards that he is enabled to throw on his past history or on his present feelings - as not only to assure him of the sufficiency of all these proofs for his personal interest in the gospel, but also that it is the Spirit of God who at the moment hath assembled them in such force and frequency and radiance around him - Not an intimation from that Spirit either by a voice or a direct impulse, but an intimation rationally gathered from those materials of contemplation which it is the office of the Spirit to set before him - gathered from that written record, to understand which the Holy Ghost hath opened his understanding - gathered from what he knows of his own believing heart, to perceive which the Holy Ghost hath enlightened his conscience - gathered from the retrospect of his bygone experience, for the perusal of which the Holy Ghost hath performed the office that belongs to Him, of bringing all things to his remembrance.

And thus through the medium, not of visionary but most significant and substantial proofs, yet proofs brought together in a way that announces the preternatural agency concerned in the representation of them - may the Spirit of God witness to the spirit of man, that he is a child of mercy and that the seal of his redemption is set upon him. I could not, without making my own doctrine outstrip my own experience, vouch for any other intimation of the Spirit of God, than that which He gives in the act of making the word of God clear unto you, and the state of your own heart clear unto you. From the one you draw what are its promises - from the other what are your own personal characteristics; and the application of the first to the second may conduct to a most legitimate argument, that you personally are one of the saved - and that not a tardy or elaborate argument either, but with an evidence quick and powerful as the light of intuition.
By a single deposition of conscience, for example, I may know that I do indeed hunger and thirst after righteousness and, by a single glance with the eye of my understanding, I may recognise a Saviour's truth and a Saviour's tenderness in the promise that all who do so shall be filled; and, without the intervention of any lengthened process of reasoning, I may confidently give to this general announcement in the gospel such a specific application to myself, as to carry my own distinct and assured hope of a particular interest therein. Thus there is no whisper by the Spirit, distinct from the testimony of the word.

Thus there is no irradiation, but that whereby the mind is enabled to look reflexly and with rational discernment upon itself. And hence there is no conclusion, but what comes immediately and irresistibly out of premises which are clear to me, while they lie hid in deepest obscurity from other men - And all this you will observe with the rapidity of thought - by a flight of steps so few, as to be got over in an instant of time - by a train of considerations strictly logical, while the mind that enjoys and is imprest with all this light is not sensible of any logic - and yet withal by the Spirit of God; for it is He who hath brought the word nigh, and given it weight and significancy to my understanding; and it is He who hath manifested to me the thoughts and intents of my own heart, and evinced some personal characteristic within that is coincident with the promise without; and it is He who sustains me in the work of making a firm and confident application.
In all this He utters no voice. The word of God made plain to my conviction, and His own work upon me made plain to my conscience - these are the vocables, and I do imagine the only vocables, by which He expresses Himself; but enough to furnish any Christian with a reason of the hope that is in him, and, better than articulation itself, to solace and to satisfy the enquiring spirit of its relationship to the family of God. Mine eye can carry me no farther among these experimental processes - these hidden mysteries of the Christian life - these lofty eminences of grace and of attainment, which, high and inaccessible as they may appear to many who are here present, have nevertheless been reached and realized by believers in this world. And would you like to realize them? Are you convinced that there is much of recorded experience in the Bible, and even much of actual and yet occurring experience among the Christians of the day, which overshoots all that you have ever felt or become familiar with in the intimacies of your own bosom? Would you like personally to taste of this experience, to ascertain and upon your own finding what sort of thing after all it is - Really to have to do with these witnessings of the Spirit - these communications of light and love from the upper sanctuary - these foretastes of a coming blessedness - these ecstacies, that, almost look like so many inspirations of which you read in the lives of the holy, but which belong it would seem to a more elevated region of faith or of fancy than you have yet soared into? We hold it to be no fancy.

We deem that such a region exists, and we also deem that there is a series of firm stepping-stones by which it may be gained. We have already spoken, and at the outset of these remarks, of the direct exercise of faith in the gospel; and we now say, that, up to your faith in the doctrine, let be your diligent following of the duties of the gospel. The manifestations for which you long, are given to those who do the commandments of Christ. You desire to reach the assurance of so bright and joyful an anticipation, as the apostle expresses in our text. It is to be reached by a path of labour, and so he says in another place - 'labour with all diligence unto the full assurance of hope unto the end.' It is not by a flight of imagination that you gain the assents of spiritual experience. It is by the toils and the watchings and the painstakings of a solid obedience. Performance alone will not do it - for performance un-sanctified by prayer is a legal and a presumptuous offering.

Prayer alone will not do it - for prayer unaccompanied with performance, is an idle or a hypocritical effusion. But prayer and performance together will do it. What looks now a secret and inaccessible thing will then become familiar - for the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. What now looks dark and deep and wholly undiscernible, will then become manifest - for to him that ordereth his conversation aright will God show His covenant. There is a working to establish a righteousness of your own, that will land you in utter disappointment and defeat; but there is also a working which is taken up with a looking unto Christ as the Lord your righteousness, that brings down upon your soul the illuminations which He is ever ready to bestow on His faithful followers; and which He delights in showering down upon them from His seat of exaltation - as the tokens of His love to all those who evince the sincerity of their love to Him, in the keeping of His commandments.
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