By Adam Clarke
THE WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT .—As
every pious soul that believed in the coming Messiah, through the
medium of the sacrifices offered up under the law, was made a
partaker of the merit of his death, so every pious soul that
believes in Christ crucified is made a partaker of the Holy Spirit.
It is by this Spirit that sin is made known, and by it the blood of
the covenant is applied; and, indeed, without this the want of
salvation cannot be discovered, nor the value of the blood of the
covenant duly estimated.
From the foundation of the church of God it was ever believed by his followers that there were certain infallible tokens by which he discovered to genuine believers his acceptance of them and of their services. This was sometimes done by a fire from heaven consuming the sacrifice; sometimes by an oracular communication to the priest or prophet; and at other times, according to the Jewish account, by changing the fillet or cloth on the head of the scape goat from scarlet to white: but most commonly, and especially under the gospel dispensation, he gives this assurance to true believers by the testimony of his Spirit in their consciences that he has forgiven their iniquities, transgressions, and sins for His sake who has carried their griefs and borne their sorrows.
"The Spirit itself"—that same Spirit, the Spirit of adoption; that is, the Spirit who witnesses this adoption; which can be no other than the Holy Ghost himself, and certainly cannot mean any disposition or affection of mind which the adopted person may feel; for such a disposition must arise from a knowledge of this adoption, and the knowledge of this adoption cannot be known by any human or earthly means; it must come from God himself. "With our spirit"—in our understanding, the place or recipient of light and information; and the place or faculty to which such information can properly be brought. This is done that we may have the highest possible evidence of the work which God has wrought. As the window is the proper medium to let the light of the sun into our apartments, so the understanding is the proper medium of conveying the Spirit's influence to the soul. We therefore have the utmost evidence of the fact of our adoption which we can possibly have: we have the word and Spirit of God, and the word sealed on our spirit by the Spirit of God. And this is not a momentary influx: if we take care to walk with God, and not grieve the Holy Spirit, we shall have an abiding testimony; and while we continue faithful to our adopting Father, the Spirit that witnesses that adoption will continue to witness it; and hereby we shall know that we are of God by the Spirit which he giveth us.
"The same Spirit," viz., the Spirit that witnesses of our adoption and sonship, makes intercession for us. Surely, if the apostle had designed to teach us that he meant our own sense and understanding by the Spirit, he never could have spoken in a manner in which plain common sense was never likely to comprehend his meaning. Besides, how can it be said that our own spirit, our filial disposition, bears witness with our own spirit; that our own spirit helps the infirmities of our own spirit; that our own spirit teaches our own spirit that of which it is ignorant; and that our own spirit maketh intercession for our spirit, with groanings unutterable? This would have been both incongrouous and absurd. We must, therefore, understand these places of that help and influence which the followers of God receive from the Holy Ghost; and consequently of the fulfilment of the various promises relative to this point which our Lord made to his disciples.
This Holy Spirit is sent forth to witness with their spirit. He is to bear his testimony where it is absolutely necessary,—where it can be properly discovered,—where it can be fully understood, and where it cannot be mistaken:—viz., in their hearts; or, as St. Paul says, "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit:" the Spirit of God with the spirit of man—spirit with spirit—intelligence with intelligence; the testimony given and received by the same kind of agency: a spiritual agent in a spiritual substance.
This witness is not borne in their passions, nor in impressions made upon their imagination; for this must be from its very nature doubtful and evanescent; but it is borne in their understanding, not by a transitory manifestation, but continually—unless a man by sins of omission or commission grieve that divine Spirit, and cause him to withdraw his testimony—which is the same thing as the divine approbation. And God cannot continue to the soul a sense of his approbation when it has departed from the holy commandment that was given to it: but, even in this case, the man may return by repentance and faith to God, through Christ, when pardon will be granted and the witness restored.
Wherever this Spirit comes, it bears a testimony to itself. It shows that it is the divine Spirit by its own light; and he who receives it is perfectly satisfied of this. It brings a light, a power, and conviction, more full, more clear, and more convincing to the understanding and judgment, than they ever had, or ever can have, of any circumstance or fact brought before the intellect. The man knows that it is the divine Spirit, and he knows and feels that it bears testimony to the state of grace in which he stands.
So convincing and satisfactory is this testimony, that a man receiving it is enabled to call God his Father with the utmost filial confidence. Surprised and convinced he cries out at once, "Abba, Father! my Father! my Father!" having as full a consciousness that he is a child of God, as the most tenderly beloved child has of his filiation to his natural parent. He has the full assurance of faith; the meridian evidence that puts all doubts to flight.
And this, as was observed above, continues; for it is the very voice of the indwelling Spirit: for "crying" is not the only participle of the present tense denoting the continuation of the action; but, being neuter, it agrees with the Spirit of his Son; so it is the divine Spirit which continues to cry, "Abba, Father!" in the heart of the true believer. And it is ever worthy to be remarked that when a man has been unfaithful to the grace given, or has fallen into any kind of sin, he has no power to utter this cry. The Spirit is grieved and has departed, and the cry is lost! No power of the man's reason, fancy, or imagination, can restore this cry. Were he to utter the words with his lips his heart would disown them. But, on the other hand, while he continues faithful the witness is continued; the light and conviction, and the cry, are maintained. It is the glory of this grace that no man can command this cry; and none can assume it. Where it is, it is the faithful and true witness: where it is not, all is uncertainty and doubt.
The persons mentioned, Rom. viii, 15, 16, had the strongest evidence of the excellence of the state in which they stood; they knew that they were thus adopted; and they knew this by the Spirit of God, which was given them on their adoption; and, let me say, they could know it by no other means. The Father who had adopted them could be seen by no mortal eye; and the transaction, being of a purely spiritual nature, and transacted in heaven, can be known only by God's supernatural testimony of it upon earth. It is a matter of such solemn importance to every Christian soul, that God in his mercy has been pleased not to leave it to conjecture, assumption, or inductive reasoning; but attests it by his own Spirit in the soul of the person whom he adopts through Christ Jesus. It is the grand and most observable case in which the intercourse is kept up between heaven and earth; and the genuine believer in Christ Jesus is not left to the quibbles or casuistry of polemic divines or critics, but receives the thing and the testimony of it immediately from God himself. And were not the testimony of the state thus given, no man could possibly have any assurance of his salvation which could beget confidence and love. If to any man his acceptance with God be hypothetical, then his confidence most be so too. His love to God must be hypothetical, his gratitude hypothetical, and his obedience also. If God had forgiven me my sins then I should love him, and I should be grateful, and I should testify this gratitude by obedience. But who does not see that these must necessarily depend on the "if" in the first case? All this uncertainty, and the perplexities necessarily resulting from it, God has precluded by sending the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, by which we cry, "Abba, Father;" and thus our adoption into the heavenly family is testified and ascertained to us in the only way in which it can possibly be done, by the direct influence of the Spirit of God. Remove this from Christianity, and it is a dead letter.
The fact to be witnessed is beyond the knowledge of man: no human power or cunning can acquire it: if obtained at all, it must come from above. In this, human wit and ingenuity can do nothing. It is to tell us that we are reconciled to God; that our sins are blotted out; that we are adopted into the family of heaven. The apostle tells us that this is witnessed by the Spirit of God. God alone can tell whom he has accepted; whose sins he has blotted out; whom he has put among his children: this he makes known by his Spirit in our spirit; so that we have (not by induction or inference) a thorough conviction and mental feeling, that we are his children.
There is as great a difference between this and knowledge gained by logical argument, as there is between hypothesis and experiment. Hypothesis states that a thing may be so: experience alone proves the hypothesis to be true or false. By the first, we think the thing to be possible or likely; by the latter we know, experience, or prove, by practical trial, that the matter is true, or is false, as the case may be.
I should never have looked for the "witness of the Spirit," had I not found numerous scriptures which most positively assert it, or hold it out by necessary induction; and had I not found that all the truly godly of every sect and party possessed the blessing—a blessing which is the common birthright of all the sons and daughters of God. Wherever I went among deeply religious people, I found this blessing. All who had turned from unrighteousness to the living God, and sought redemption by faith in the blood of the cross, exulted in this grace. It was never looked on by them as a privilege with which some peculiarly favoured souls were blessed: it was known from Scripture and experience to be the common lot of the people of God. It was not persons of a peculiar temperament who possessed it; all the truly religious had it, whether in their natural dispositions sanguine, melancholy, or mixed. I met with it everywhere, and met with it among the most simple and illiterate, as well as among those who had every advantage which high cultivation and deep learning could bestow. Perhaps I might, with the strictest truth, say that during the forty years I have been in the ministry, I have met with at least forty thousand who have had a clear and full evidence that God, for Christ's sake, had forgiven their sins, the Spirit himself bearing witness with their spirit that they were the sons and daughters of God.
We never confound the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins with final perseverance. This doctrine has nothing to do with a future possession; the truly believing soul has now the witness in himself; and his retaining it depends on his faithfulness to the light and grace received. If he give way to any known sin, he loses this witness, and must come to God through Christ as he came at first, in order to get the guilt of the transgression pardoned, and the light of God's countenance restored. For the justification which any soul receives is not in reference to his future pardon of sin, since God declares his righteousness "for the remission of sins which are past." And no man can retain his evidence of his acceptance with God longer than he has that faith which worketh by love. The present is a state of probation: in such a state a man may rise, fall, or recover; with this, the doctrine of the "witness of the Spirit" has nothing to do. When a man is justified all his past sins are forgiven him; but this grace reaches not on to any sin that may be committed in any following moment.
But it may be objected: "The human mind easily gets under the dominion of superstition and imagination; and then a variety of feelings, apparently divine, may be accounted for on natural principles." To this I answer, 1. Superstition is never known to produce settled peace and happiness; it is generally the parent of gloomy apprehensions and irrational fears: but surely the man who has broken the laws of his Maker, and lived in open rebellion against him, cannot be supposed to be under the influence of superstition, when he is apprehensive of the wrath of God, and fears to fall into the bitter pains of an eternal death. Such fears are as rational as they are Scriptural; and the broken and contrite heart is ever considered, through the whole oracles of God, as essentially necessary to the finding redemption in Christ. Therefore such fears, feelings, and apprehensions are not the offspring of a gloomy superstition; but the fruit and evidence of a genuine Scriptural repentance.
2. Imagination cannot long support a mental imposture. To persuade the soul that it is passed from darkness to light; that it is in the favour of God; that it is an heir of glory, &c., will require strong excitement indeed; and the stronger the exciting cause, or stimulus, the sooner the excitability and its effects will be exhausted. A person may imagine himself for a moment to be a king, or to be a child of God; but that revery, where there is no radical derangement of mind, must be transient. The person must soon awake, and come to himself. 3. But it is impossible that imagination can have any thing to do in this case, any farther than any other faculty of the mind, in natural operation; for the person must walk as he is directed by the word of God, abhorring evil, and cleaving to that which is good: and the sense of God's approbation in his conscience lasts no longer than he acts under the spirit of obedience; God continuing the evidence of his approbation to his conscience while he walks in newness of life. Has imagination ever produced a life of piety? Now multitudes are found who have had this testimony uninterruptedly for many years together. Could imagination produce this? If so, it is a unique case; for there is none other in which an excitement of the imagination has sustained the impression with any such permanence. And all the operations of this faculty prove that to an effect of this kind it is wholly inadequate. If, then, it can sustain impressions in spiritual matters for years together, this must he totally preternatural, and the effect of a miraculous operation; and this miracle must he resorted to, to explain away a doctrine which some men, because they themselves do not experience it, deny that any others can.
But might I, without offence, speak a word concerning myself? Those that know me know that I am no enthusiast; that I have given no evidence of a strong imagination; that I am far from being the subject of sudden hopes or fears; that it requires strong reasons and clear argumentation to convince me of the truth of any proposition not previously known. Now I do profess to have received, through God's eternal mercy, a clear evidence of my acceptance with God; and it was given me after a sore night of spiritual affliction, and precisely in that way in which the Scriptures promise this blessing. It has also been accompanied with power over sin; and I hold it through the same mercy, as explicitly, as clearly, and as satisfactorily, as ever. No work of imagination could have ever produced or maintained any feeling like this. I am, therefore, safe in affirming, for all these reasons, that we have neither misunderstood nor misapplied the scriptures in question.
As to the doctrine of assurance, (or the knowledge of our salvation by the remission of sins; or, in other words, that a man who is justified by faith in Christ Jesus knows that he is so, the Spirit hearing witness with his spirit that he is a child of God,) against which such a terrible outcry has been made, I would beg leave to ask, What is Christianity without it? A mere system of ethics; an authentic history; a dead letter. It is by the operations of the Holy Spirit in the souls of believers, that the connection is kept up between heaven and earth. The grand principle of the Christian religion is to reconcile men to God by Christ Jesus; to bring them from a state of wrath to reconciliation and favour with God; to break the power, cancel the guilt, and destroy the very being of sin; for Christ was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil. And can this be done in any human soul, and it know nothing about it, except by inference and conjecture? Miserable state of Christianity indeed, where no man knows that he is born of God! This assurance of God's love is the birthright and common privilege of all his children. It is a general experience among truly religions people: they take rest, rise up, work, and live under its influence. By it they are carried comfortably through all the ills of life, bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, triumph in redeeming grace, and die exulting in Him whom they know and feel to be the God of their salvation. Nor is this confined to superannuated women, as Mr. Southey charitably hopes Mrs. Wesley was, when she professed to receive the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins. Men also as learned as Mr. Badcock, as philosophical as Mr. Southey, as deeply read in men and things as Bishop Lavington, and as sound divines at least as the rector of Manaccan, have exulted in the same testimony, walked in all good conscience before God, illustrated the doctrine by a suitable deportment, and died full of joyful anticipation of eternal glory! Alas, what a dismal tale do these men tell, who not only strive to argue against the doctrine, but endeavour to turn it into ridicule! They tell us that they are not reconciled to God!
No salvation by induction or inference can satisfy a guilty conscience, which feels the wrath of God abiding on it; nothing but the witness of God's Spirit in our own spirit, that we are the children of God, can appease the terrors of an awakened sinner, give rest to a troubled heart, or be a foundation on which the soul can build a rational and Scriptural hope of eternal life.
The Holy Spirit in the soul of a believer is God's seal, set on his heart to testify that he is God's property, and that he should be wholly employed in God's service.
As Christ is represented as the ambassador of the Father, so the Holy Spirit is represented as the ambassador of the Son, coming vested with his authority, as the interpreter and executor of his will.
We know by the Spirit which he hath given us that we dwell in God, and God in us. It was not by conjecture or inference that Christians of old knew they were in the favour of God; it was by the testimony of God's own Spirit in their hearts; and this Spirit was not given in a transient manner, but was constant and abiding, while they continued under the influence of that faith which worketh by love. Every good man is a temple of the Holy Ghost; and wherever He is, He is both light and power. By his power he works; by his light he makes both himself and his work known. Peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Ghost must proceed from the indwelling of that Holy Spirit; and those who have these blessings must know that they have them, for we cannot have heavenly peace and heavenly joy without knowing that we have them. But this Spirit in the soul of a believer is not only manifest by its effects, but it bears its own witness to its own indwelling. So that a man not only knows that he has the Spirit from the fruits of the Spirit, but he knows that he has it from its own direct witness. It may be said, "How can these things be?" And it may be answered, "By the power, light, and mercy of God." But that such things are, the Scriptures uniformly attest; and the experience of the whole genuine church of Christ, and of every truly converted soul, sufficiently proves.
"As the wind bloweth where it listeth," and we "cannot tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth, so is every one that is born of the Spirit:" the thing is certain, and fully known by its effects; but how this testimony is given and confirmed is inexplicable. Every good man feels it, and knows he is of God by the Spirit God has given him.
We may witness in the experience of multitudes of simple people, who have been by the preaching of the gospel converted from the error of their ways, such a strength of testimony in favour of the work of God in the heart, and his effectual teaching in the mind, as is calculated to still, or reduce to silence, every thing but bigotry and prejudice, neither of which has either eyes or ears. This teaching and these changing or converting influences come from God. They are not acquired by human learning: and those who put this in the place of the divine teaching never grow wise to salvation. To enter into the kingdom of heaven a man must become as a little child.
There is nothing more usual among even the best educated and enlightened of the members of the Methodist society, than a distinct knowledge of the time, place, and circumstances, when and where, and in which way, they were deeply convinced of sin, and afterward had a clear sense of God's mercy to their souls, in forgiving their sins, and giving them the witness in themselves that they were born of God.
The Methodists, in proof of the doctrine of the witness of the Spirit, refer to no man, not to Mr. John Wesley himself: they appeal to none—they appeal to the Bible, where this doctrine stands as inexpugnable as the pillars of heaven. Nor do they need solitary instances as facts, to prove that on this point they have not mistaken the Bible, while they, by the mercy of God, have thousands of testimonies every year of its truth; and they know it to be the common birthright of all the sons and daughters of God. Without it the whole life of faith would be hypothetical. And if a man have not the consolations of the Holy Spirit, and a Scriptural and satisfactory evidence of his own interest in Christ, and of his title through him to the kingdom of heaven, the Koran, for aught he knows, may be as true as the Bible. No man can inherit unless he be a son: "For if sons, then heirs;" and to them that are sons "God sends the Spirit of his Son into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father." These are the true sayings of God, and all his people know them.
Those who feel little or none of the work of God in their own hearts are not willing to allow that he works in others. Many deny the influences of God's Spirit, merely because they never felt them. This is to make any man's experience the rule by which the whole word of God is to be interpreted; and, consequently, to leave no more divinity in the Bible than is found in the heart of him who professes to explain it.
When moral effects, the purest, the most distinguished, and the most beneficial to society are attributed to natural causes, human passions, and the inquietudes of vanity, and not to the Author of all good, the Father of lights, then we may safely assert that the person who so views him is one of those unwise men of whom the psalmist speaks. He excludes God from his own peculiar work; gives to nature what belongs to grace; to human passions what belongs to the divine Spirit; and to secondary causes what must necessarily spring from the First Cause of all things.
Were not the subject too grave, it would be sufficient to excite something more than a smile, to see men both of abilities and learning, in their discussion of spiritual subjects which they have never thoroughly examined, because they have never experimentally felt them, labour to account for all the phenomena of repentance, faith, and holiness, by excluding the Spirit of God from his own proper work; and to the discredit of their understanding, and the dishonour of religion and sound philosophy, search for the principle that produces love to God and all mankind, with all the fruits of a holy life, in some of the worst passions of the human heart.
The Holy Ghost so satisfies the souls that receive it, that they thirst no more for earthly good: it purifies also from all spiritual defilement, on which account it is emphatically styled the Holy Spirit; and it makes those who receive it fruitful in every good word and work.
To produce inward spirituality is the province of the Spirit of God, and of him alone; therefore he is represented under the similitude of fire, because he is to illuminate and invigorate the soul, penetrate every part, and assimilate the whole to the image of the God of glory.
As truly as the living God dwelt in the Mosaic tabernacle and in the temple of Solomon, so truly does the Holy Ghost dwell in the souls of genuine Christians.
No man who has not divine assistance can either find the way to heaven, or walk in it when found. As Christ, by his sacrificial offering, has opened the kingdom of God to all believers; and, as Mediator, transacts the concerns of their kingdom before the throne, so the Spirit of God is the great Agent here below, to enlighten, quicken, strengthen, and guide the true disciples of Christ; and all that are born of this Spirit are led and guided by it; and none can pretend to be the children of God who are not thus guided.
To purify the soul, to refine and sublime all the passions and appetites, the operation of the Holy Spirit is promised. Spirit only can act successfully on spirit; and this Spirit is called the Holy Spirit, not only because it is holy in itself, but because it is the Author of holiness to them who receive it. Hence it is represented under the notion of fire, because it enlightens, warms, refines, and purifies. It is the property of fire either to consume and destroy, or assimilate every thing to itself with which it is brought into contact. It pervades all things, transfuses itself through every part, destroys or decomposes whatever cannot withstand its action; and communicates its own essential properties to whatever abides its test. Thus the Holy Spirit, the "Spirit of burning," destroys the pollution of the heart, and makes pure and divine all its powers and faculties.
"The communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all." May that Holy Spirit, that divine and eternal energy which proceeds from the Father and the Son; that heavenly fire that gives light and life, that purifies and refines, sublimes and exalts, comforts and invigorates, make you all partakers with himself. This points out the astonishing privileges of true believers: they have communion with God's Spirit; share in all his gifts and graces; walk in his light; through him they have the fullest confidence that they are of God, that he is their Father and Friend, and has blotted out all their iniquities: this they know by the Spirit which he has given them. And is it possible that a man shall be a partaker with the Holy Ghost, and not know it! that he shall be full of light and love, and not know it! that he shall have the Spirit of adoption by which he can cry, "Abba, Father!" and yet know nothing of his relationship to God but by inference from indirect proofs? in a word, that he shall have the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost with him, and all the while know nothing certain of the grace, as to his portion in it; feel nothing warming from the love, as to its part in him; and nothing energetic from the communion, as to his participation in the gifts and graces of this divine energy? This is all as absurd as it is impossible. Every genuine Christian, who maintains a close walk with God, may have as full an evidence of his acceptance with God as he has of his own existence. And the doctrine that explains away this privilege, or softens it down to nothing, by making the most gracious and safe state consistent with innumerable doubts and fears, and general uncertainty, is not of God. It is a spurious gospel, which, under the show of a voluntary humility, not only lowers, but almost annihilates the standard of Christianity.
One communication of this Spirit always makes way and disposes for another. Neither apostle nor private Christian can subsist in the divine life without frequent influences from on high. When reconciled to God, and thus brought nigh by the blood of Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the fruit of the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord. And this Spirit, which is emphatically called the Holy Spirit, because he is not only infinitely holy in his own nature, but his grand office is to make the children of men holy, is given to true believers, not only to "testify with their spirits that they are the children of God," but also to purify their hearts; and thus he transfuses through their souls his own holiness and purity; so that the image of God in which they were created, and which by transgression they had lost, is now restored; and they are, by this holiness, prepared for the enjoyment of eternal blessedness, in perfect union with Him who is the Father and God of glory, and the Fountain of holiness.
God promised his Holy Spirit to sanctify and cleanse the heart, so as utterly to destroy all pride, anger, self-will, peevishness, hatred, malice, and every thing contrary to his own holiness.
The very Spirit which is given them, on their believing in Christ Jesus, is the Spirit of holiness; and they can retain this spirit no longer than they live in the spirit of obedience.
It is the office of the Holy Spirit to witness to the conscience of man the covenant and its conditions, to apply the blood of sprinkling, and to take the things that are Christ's and show them to men; and it is his province to witness to the heart of the believing penitent, that by this shed blood his "conscience is purged from dead works to serve the living God." He is also the sanctifying Spirit; the Spirit of judgment, and the Spirit of burning; and, as such, he condemns to utter destruction the whole of the carnal mind, and purifies the very thoughts of the heart by his inspiration, enabling the true believer perfectly to love God and worthily to magnify his holy name. And this same Spirit dwelling in the soul of a believer seals him an heir of eternal glory. The Holy Spirit is called an advocate, because he transacts the cause of God and Christ with us, explains to us the nature and importance of the great atonement, shows the necessity of it, counsels us to receive it, instructs us how to lay hold on it, vindicates our claim to it, and makes intercessions in us with unutterable groanings.
Our Lord makes intercession for us by negotiating and managing, as our friend and agent, all the affairs pertaining to our salvation. And the Spirit of God maketh intercession for the saints, not by supplication to God in their behalf, but by directing and qualifying their supplications in a proper manner, by his agency and influence upon their hearts; which, according to the gospel scheme, is the peculiar work and office of the Holy Spirit. So that God, whose is the Spirit, and who is acquainted with the mind of the Spirit, knows what he means when he leads the saints to express themselves in words, desires, groans, sighs, or tears; in each God reads the language of the Holy Ghost, and prepares the answer according to the request.
This Spirit is not sent to stocks, stones, or machines, but to human beings endued with rational souls; therefore, it is not to work on them with that irresistible energy which it must exert on inert matter, in order to conquer the vis inertiae, or disposition to abide eternally in a motionless state, which is the state of all inanimate beings; but it works upon understanding, will, judgment, conscience, &c., in order to enlighten, convince, and persuade. If, after all, the understanding, the eye of the mind, refuses to behold the light; the will determines to remain obstinate; the judgment purposes to draw false inferences; and the conscience hardens itself against every check and remonstrance; (and all this is possible to a rational soul, which must be dealt with in a rational way;)then the Spirit of God, being thus resisted, is grieved, and the sinner is left to reap the fruit of his doings. To force the man to see, feel, repent, believe, and be saved, would be to alter the essential principles of his creation and the nature of mind, and reduce him into the state of a machine, the vis inertiae of which was to be overcome and conducted by a certain quantum of physical force, superior to that resistance which would be the natural effect of the certain quantum of the vis inertiae possessed by the subject on and by which this agent was to operate. Now man cannot be operated on in this way, because it is contrary to the laws of his creation and nature; nor can the Holy Ghost work on that as a machine which himself has made a free agent. Man, therefore, may, and generally does, resist the Holy Ghost; and the whole revelation of God bears unequivocal testimony to this most dreadful possibility and most awful truth. It is trifling with the sacred text to say that resisting the Holy Ghost here means "resisting the laws of Moses, the exhortations, threatenings, and promises of the prophets," &c. These, it is true, the uncircumcised ear may resist; but the uncircumcised heart is that alone to which the Spirit that gave the laws, exhortations, promises, &c., speaks; and, as matter resists matter, so spirit resists spirit. These were not only uncircumcised in ear, but uncircumcised also in heart; and, therefore, they resisted the Holy Ghost, not only in his declarations and institutions, but also in his actual energetic operations upon their minds.
"Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God," by giving way to any wrong temper, unholy word, or unrighteous action. Even those who have already a measure of the light and life of God, both of which are not only brought in by the Holy Spirit, but maintained by his constant indwelling, may give way to sin, and so grieve this Holy Spirit that it shall withdraw both its light and presence; and, in proportion as it withdraws, then hardness and darkness take place, and, what is still worse, a state of insensibility is the consequence; for the darkness prevents the fallen state from being seen, and hardness prevents it from being felt.
LOVE .—Love is a sovereign preference given to one above all others, present or absent; a concentration of all the thoughts and desires in a single object, which is preferred to all others. Now, apply this definition to the love which God requires of his creatures, and you will have the most correct view of the subject. Hence, it appears that by this love the soul cleaves to, affectionately admires, and consequently rests in, God, supremely pleased and satisfied with him as its portion; that it acts from him, as its Author; for him, as its Master; and to him, as its end; and that by it all the powers and faculties of the mind are concentrated in the Lord of the universe; that by it the whole man is willingly surrendered to the Most High; and that, through it, an identity or sameness of spirit with the Lord is acquired, the person being made a partaker of the divine nature; having the mind in him that was in Christ; and thus dwelling in God, and God in him.
He loves God with all his heart who loves nothing in comparison of him, and nothing but in reference to him; who is ready to give up, do, or suffer, any thing, in order to please and glorify him; who has in his heart neither love nor hatred, hope nor fear, inclination nor aversion, desire nor delight, but as they relate to God, and are regulated by him. Such a love that Being who is infinitely perfect, good, wise, powerful, beneficent, and merciful, merits and requires from his intelligent creatures; and in fulfilling this duty the soul finds its perfection and felicity; for it rests in the Source of goodness, and is penetrated with incessant influences from Him who is the essence and centre of all that is amiable; for he is the God of all grace.
He loves God with all his soul, with all his life, who is ready to give up his life for His sake; who is ready to endure all sorts of torments, and to be deprived of all kinds of comforts, rather than dishonour God; he who employs life, with all its comforts and conveniences, to glorify Him in, by, and through all; to whom life and death are nothing, but as they come from, and lead to God; who labours to promote the cause of God and truth in the world, denying himself, taking up his cross daily; neither eating, drinking, sleeping, resting, labouring, toiling, but in reference to the glory of God, his own salvation, and that of the lost world.
He loves God with all his mind, with all his intellect, or understanding, who applies himself only to know God and his holy will; who receives with submission, gratitude, and pleasure, the sacred truths which he has revealed to mankind; who studies neither art nor science, but as far as it is necessary for the service of God, and uses it at all times to promote his glory; who forms no projects nor designs but in reference to God, and to the interests of mankind; who banishes, as much as possible, from his understanding and memory, every useless, foolish, and dangerous thought; together with every idea which has any tendency to defile his soul, or turn it for a moment from the centre of eternal repose; who uses all his abilities, both natural and acquired, to grow in the grace of God, and to perform his will in the most acceptable manner: in a word, he who sees God in all things, thinks of him at all times, having his mind continually fixed upon God; acknowledges him in all his ways; who begins, continues, and ends all his thoughts, words, and works to the glory of his name; continually planning, scheming, and devising how he may serve God and his generation more effectually; his head, his intellect, going before; his heart, his affections, and desires, coming after.
He loves God with all his strength who exerts all the powers and faculties of his body and soul in the service of God; who, for the glory of his Maker, spares neither labour nor cost; who sacrifices his body, his health, his time, his ease, for the honour of his divine Master; who employs in his service all his goods, his talents, his power, his credit, authority, and influence; doing what he does with a single eye, a loving heart, and with all his might; in whose conduct is ever seen the work of faith, patience of hope, and labour of love.
O glorious state of him who has given God his whole heart, and in which God ever lives and rules! Glorious state of blessedness upon earth, triumph of the grace of God over sin and Satan! state of holiness and happiness far beyond this description, which comprises an ineffable union and communion between the ever blessed Trinity and the soul of man! OGod! let thy work appear unto thy servants, and the work of our hands establish upon us! The work of our hands establish thou it! Amen. Amen.
This love is the spring of all our actions; it is the motive of our obedience; the principle through which we love God; "we love him because he first loved us;" and we love him with a love worthy of himself, because it springs from him: it is his own; and every flame that rises from this pure and vigorous fire must he pleasing in his sight: it consumes what is unholy; refines every passion and appetite; sublimes the whole, and assimilates all to itself. And we know that this is the love of God: it differs widely from all that is earthly and sensual. The Holy Ghost comes with it; by his energy it is diffused and pervades every part; and by his light we discover what it is, and know the state of grace in which we stand. Thus we are furnished to every good word and work; have produced in us the mind that was in Christ; are enabled to obey the pure law of our God in its spiritual sense, by loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbour, every son of man, as ourselves. This is, or ought to be, the common experience of every believer.
The love of Christ is opposed to our enmity, and by it our hatred to God and goodness is overcome. Love counteracts the whole carnal mind, draws out the heart in affectionate attachment to God, and is the incentive to all obedience, as being the fulfilling of the law. Such a person is not obliged to derive the principle of his obedience from any thing outward: the moral law is before his eyes; but the love of God, shed abroad in his heart, is the principle by which he obeys it. He performs nothing merely as a duty; he has the law of God written in his heart, and this ever disposes him to do what is right in the sight of his Judge. If it were not even infallibly true that a life of sin must terminate in endless misery, yet he would abhor the way of the wicked. He has tried the path of disobedience, and found it the road to ruin: he now knows the way of righteousness, and finds it the path of peace and happiness. Satan, the enslaver of the world, he found to be a hard task master, during the long period in which he laboured under chains, in the house of his bondage. God, the Saviour of the world, he finds to be a beneficent Father, and his service perfect freedom. He delights in obedience; it is the element in which his soul lives, prospers, and is happy.
Love is properly the image of God in the soul; for "God is love." By faith we receive from our Maker; by hope we expect a future and eternal good; but by love we resemble God; and by it alone are we qualified to enjoy heaven, and be one with him throughout eternity. Faith and hope respect ourselves alone; love takes in both God and man. Faith helps, and hope sustains us; but love to God and man makes us obedient and useful. Love is the means of preserving all other graces; indeed, properly speaking, it includes them all; and all receive their perfection from it. Love to God and man can never be dispensed with. It is essential to social and religious life; without it no communion can be kept up with God; nor can any man have a preparation for eternal glory whose heart and soul are not deeply imbued with it. Without it there never was true religion, nor ever can be; and it not only is necessary through life, but will exist throughout eternity. What were a state of blessedness if it did not comprehend love to God and to human spirits in the most exquisite, refined, and perfect degrees?
That man is no Christian who is solicitous for his own happiness alone, and who cares not how the world goes, so that himself be comfortable. How much good is omitted, how many evils caused, how many duties neglected, how many innocent persons deserted, how many good works destroyed, how many truths suppressed, and how many acts of injustice authorized, by those timorous forecasts of what may happen, and those faithless apprehensions concerning the future!
Where is our zeal for God? Where the sounding of our bowels over the perishing nations who have not yet come under the yoke of the gospel? multitudes of whom are not under the yoke, because they have never heard of it;—and they have not heard of it, because they who enjoy the blessings of the gospel of Jesus have not felt (or have not obeyed the feeling) the imperious duty of dividing their heavenly bread with those who are famishing with hunger, and giving the water of life to those who are dying of thirst! How shall they appear in that great day when the conquests of the Lion of the tribe of Judah are ended; when the mediatorial kingdom is delivered up unto the Father; and the Judge of quick and dead sits on the great white throne, and to those on his left says, "I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink?" I say, how shall they appear who have made no exertions to tell the lost nations of the earth the necessity for preparing to meet their God; and showing them the means of doing it, by affording them the blessings of the gospel of the grace of God? Let us beware lest the stone that struck the motley image, and dashed it to pieces, fall on us, and grind us to powder!
A religion, the very essence of which is love, cannot suffer at its altars a heart that is revengeful and uncharitable, or which does not use its utmost endeavours to revive love in the heart of another.
Union among the followers of Christ is strongly recommended. How can spiritual brethren fall out by the way! Have they not all one Father, all one Head? Do they not form one body, and are they not all members of each other? Would it not be monstrous to see the nails pulling out the eyes, the hands tearing off the flesh from the body, the teeth biting out the tongue? &c., &c. And is it less so to see the members of a Christian society bite and devour each other till they are consumed one of another?
God has many imitators of his power, independence, justice, &c., but few of his love, condescension, and kindness.
God is merciful; he will have man to resemble him: as far as he is merciful, feels a compassionate heart, and uses a benevolent hand, he resembles his Maker; and the mercy he shows to others God will show to him. But it is not a sudden impression at the sight of a person in distress, which obliges a man to give something for the relief of the sufferer, that constitutes the merciful character. It is he who considers the poor; who endeavours to find them out; who looks into their circumstances; who is in the habit of doing so; and actually, according to his power and means, goes about to do good; that is the merciful man of whom God speaks with such high approbation, and to whom he promises a rich reward. The apostle, 1 Cor. xvi, 2, prescribeth the most convenient and proper method of making contribution for the relief of the poor. 1. Every man was to feel it his duty to succour his brethren in distress. 2. He was to do this according to the ability which God gave him. 3. He was to do this at the conclusion of the week, when he had cast up his weekly earnings, and had seen how much God had prospered his labour. 4. He was then to bring it on the first day of the week, as is most likely, to the church or assembly, that it might be put into the common treasury. 5. We learn from this that the weekly contribution could not be always the same, as each man was to lay by as God had prospered him. Now, some weeks he would gain more; others, less. 6. It appears from the whole that the first day of the week, which is the Christian Sabbath, was the day on which their principal religious meetings were held in Corinth and the churches of Galatia; and, consequently, in all other places where Christianity had prevailed. This is a strong argument for the keeping of the Christian Sabbath. 7. We may observe that the apostle follows here the rule of the synagogue; it was a regular custom among the Jews to make their collections for the poor on the Sabbath day, that they might not be without the necessaries of life, and might not be prevented from coming to the synagogue. 8. For the purpose of making this provision, they had a purse, which was called "the purse of the alms," or, what we would term, "the poor's box." This is what the apostle seems to mean when he says, "Let him lay by him in store"—Let him put it in the alms purse, or in the poor's box. 9. It was a maxim also with them that, if they found any money, they were not to put it in their private purse, but in that which belonged to the poor. 10. The pious Jews believed that as salt seasoned food, so did alms riches; and that he who did not give alms of what he had, his riches should be dispersed. The moth would corrupt the bags, and the canker corrode the money, unless the mass was sanctified by giving a part to the poor.
Whatever love we may pretend to mankind, if we are not charitable and benevolent, we give the lie to our profession. If we have not bowels of compassion we have not the love of God in us; if we shut up our bowels against the poor, we shut Christ out of our hearts, and ourselves out of heaven.
Let the person who is called to perform any act of compassion or mercy to the wretched, do it, not grudgingly nor of necessity, but from a spirit of pure benevolence and sympathy. The poor are often both wicked and worthless; and if those who are called to minister to them as stewards, overseers, &c., do not take care, they will get their hearts hardened with the frequent proofs they will have of deception, lying, idleness, &c. And on this account it is that so many of those who have been called to minister to the poor in parishes, workhouses, and religious societies, when they come to relinquish their employment, find that many of their moral feelings have been considerably blunted, and perhaps the only reward they get for their services is the character of being hard- hearted. If whatever is done in this way be not done unto the Lord, it can never be done with cheerfulness.
Works of charity and mercy should be done as much in private as is consistent with the advancement of the glory of God, and the effectual relief of the poor.
He whom God has employed in a work of mercy has need to return, by prayer, as speedily to his Maker as he can, lest he should be tempted to value himself on account of that in which he has no merit; for the good that is done upon earth the Lord doeth it alone.
Love heightens the smallest actions, and gives a worth to them, which they cannot possess without it.
Love never supposes that a good action may have a bad motive; gives every man credit for his profession of religion, uprightness, godly zeal, &c., while nothing is seen in his conduct or in his spirit inconsistent with this profession.
Labour after a compassionate or sympathizing mind. Let your heart feel for the distressed; enter into their sorrows, and bear a part of their burdens. It is a fact, attested by universal experience, that by sympathy a man may receive into his own affectionate feelings a measure of the distress of his friend, and that his friend does find himself relieved in the same proportion as the other has entered into his griefs. "But how do you account for this?" I do not account for it at all: it depends upon certain laws of nature, the principles of which have not been as yet duly developed.
Do not withhold from any man the offices of mercy and kindness; you have been God's enemy, and yet God fed, clothed, and preserved you alive; do to your enemy as God has done to you. If your enemy be hungry, feed him; if he be thirsty, give him drink; so has God dealt with you. And has not a sense of his goodness and long suffering toward you been the means of melting down your heart into penitential compunction, gratitude, and love toward him? How know you that a similar conduct toward your enemy may not have the same gracious influence on him toward you? Your kindness may be the means of begetting in him a sense of his guilt; and, from being your fell enemy, he may become your real friend.
He who loves only his friends does nothing for God's sake. He who loves for the sake of pleasure, or interest, pays himself.
A moral enemy is more easily overcome by kindness than by hostility. Against the latter he arms himself; and all the evil passions of his heart concentrate themselves in opposition to him who is striving to retaliate by violence the injurious acts which he has received from him. But where the injured man is labouring to do him good for his evil; to repay his curses with blessings and prayers, his evil passions have no longer any motive, any incentive; his mind relaxes; the turbulence of his passions is calmed; reason and conscience are permitted to speak; he is disarmed, or, in other words, he finds that he has no use for his weapons; he beholds in the injured man a magnanimous friend, whose mind is superior to all the insults and injuries which he has received, and who is determined never to permit the heavenly principle that influences his soul to bow itself before the miserable, mean, and wretched spirit of revenge. This amiable man views in his enemy a spirit which he beholds with horror, and he cannot consent to receive into his own bosom a disposition which he sees to be destructive to another; and he knows that as soon as he begins to avenge himself, he places himself on a par with the unprincipled man whose conduct he has so much reason to blame, and whose spirit he has so much cause to abominate. He who avenges himself receives into his own heart all the evil and disgraceful passions by which his enemy is rendered both wretched and contemptible. There is the voice of eternal reason in, "Avenge not yourselves: overcome evil with good;" as well as the high authority and command of the living God.
Wicked words and sinful actions may be considered as the overflowings of a heart that is more than full of the spirit of wickedness; and holy words and righteous deeds may be considered as the overflowings of a heart that is filled with the Holy Spirit, and running over with love to God and man.
"Love ye your enemies."—This is the most sublime precept ever delivered to man: a false religion durst not give a precept of this nature, because, without supernatural influence, it must be for ever impracticable. In these words of our blessed Lord we see the tenderness, sincerity, extent, disinterestedness, pattern, and issue of the love of God, dwelling in man; a religion which has for its foundation the union of God and man in the same person, and the death of this august Being for his enemies; which consists on earth in a reconciliation of the Creator with his creatures, and which is to subsist in heaven only in the union of the members with the Head: could such a religion as this ever tolerate hatred in the soul of man, even to his most inveterate foes?
We are not to suppose that the love of God casts out every kind of fear from the soul; it only casts out that which has torment. A filial fear is consistent with the highest degrees of love; and even necessary to the preservation of that grace. This is properly its guardian; and without this, love would soon degenerate into listlessness or presumptive boldness. Nor does it cast out that fear which is so necessary to the preservation of life; that fear which leads a man to flee from danger lest his life should be destroyed. Nor does it cast out that fear which may be engendered by sudden alarm. All these are necessary to our well being. But it destroys, 1. The fear of want; 2. The fear of death; and, 3. The fear or terror of judgment. All these fears bring torment, and are inconsistent with this perfect love.
PEACE .—Christ keeps that heart in peace in which he dwells and rules. This peace passeth all understanding; it is of a very different nature from all that call arise from human occurrences; it is a peace which Christ has purchased, and which God dispenses; it is felt by all the truly godly, but can be explained by none; it is communion with the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ, by the power and influence of the Holy Ghost.
To live in a state of peace with one's neighbours, friends, and even family, is often very difficult. But the man who loves God must labour after this, for it is indispensably necessary even for his own sake. A man cannot have broils and misunderstandings with others, without having his own peace very materially disturbed; he must, to be happy, be at peace with all men, whether they will be at peace with him or not. The apostle knew that it would be difficult to get into and maintain such a state of peace; and this his own words amply prove: "And if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably." Though it be but barely possible, labour after it.
In civil society men must, in order to taste tranquillity, resolve to bear something from their neighbours, they must suffer, pardon, and give up many things; without doing which, they must live in such a state of continual agitation as will render life itself insupportable. Without this giving and forgiving spirit there will be nothing in civil society, and even in Christian congregations, but divisions, evil surmisings, injurious discourses, outrages, anger, vengeance, and, in a word, a total dissolution of the mystical body of Christ. Thus our interest in both worlds calls loudly upon us to give and forgive. Most of the disputes among Christians have been concerning nonessential points. Rites and ceremonies, even in the simple religion of Christ, have contributed their part in promoting those animosities by which Christians have been divided. Forms in worship and sacerdotal garments have not been without their influence in this general disturbance.
Such is the natural bigotry and narrowness of the human heart that we can scarcely allow that any beside ourselves possess the true religion. To indulge a disposition of this kind is highly blamable. The true religion is neither confined to one spot nor to one people; it is spread in various forms over the whole earth. He who fills immensity has left a record of himself in every nation and among every people under heaven. Beware of the spirit of intolerance; for bigotry produces uncharitableness; and uncharitableness harsh judging; and in such a spirit a man may think he does God service when he tortures or makes a burnt-offering of the person whom his narrow mind and hard heart have dishonoured with the name of "heretic." Such a spirit is not confined to any one community, though it has predominated in some more than in others. But these things are highly displeasing in the sight of God. He, as the Father of the spirits of all flesh, loves every branch of his vastly extended family; and, as far as we love one another, no matter of what sect or party, so far we resemble him.
It is astonishing that any who profess the Christian name should indulge bitterness of spirit. Those who are censorious, who are unmerciful to the failings of others, who have fixed a certain standard by which they measure all persons in all circumstances, and unchristianize every one that does not come up to this standard, they have the bitterness against which the apostle speaks. In the last century there was a compound medicine, made up from a variety of drastic acid drugs and ardent spirits, which was called, hiera picra, the holy bitter; this medicine was administered in a multitude of cases, where it did immense evil, and perhaps in scarcely any case did it do good. It has ever appeared to furnish a proper epithet for the disposition mentioned above, the holy bitter, for the religiously censorious act under the pretence of superior sanctity. I have known such persons do much evil in a Christian society, but never knew an instance of their doing any good.
Beware of contentions in religion; if you dispute concerning any of its doctrines, let it be to find out truth; not to support a preconceived and pre- established opinion. Avoid all polemical heat and rancour; these prove the absence of the religion of Christ. Whatever does not lead you to love God and man more is most assuredly from beneath. The God of peace is the Author of Christianity, and the Prince of peace the Priest and Sacrifice of it; therefore love one another, and leave off contention before it be meddled with.
JOY .—Religious joy, properly tempered with continual dependence on the help of God, meekness of mind, and self-diffidence, is a powerful means of strengthening the soul. In such a state every duty is practicable, and every duty delightful. In such a frame of mind no man ever fell.
Every man flies from sorrow, and seeks after joy; and yet true joy must necessarily be the fruit of sorrow.
Is it not common for interested persons to rejoice in the successes of an unjust and sanguinary war, in the sackage and burning of cities and towns? and is not the joy always in proportion to the slaughter that has been made of the enemy? And do these call themselves Christians? Then we may expect that Moloch and his subdevils are not so far behind this description of Christians as to render their case utterly desperate. If such Christians can be saved, demons need not despair.
HOPE .—Hope is a sort of universal blessing, and one of the greatest which God has granted to man. To mankind in general life would be intolerable without it; and it is as necessary as faith is, even to the followers of God.
Every man hopes for happiness; and it is this hope that bears him up through all the ills of life. He sees and he feels evil, but he hopes for good. Despair is the opposite to hope; where this takes place, a total derangement of all the mental faculties ensues; and generally, if not soon relieved, the wretched subject dies, or puts an end to life.
What is the proper definition of hope? The following is the most common, and probably the best:—"The expectation of future good;" an expectation, too, that arises from desire. It must be good, else it could not be desired; it must be future, or it would not be an object of expectation: good in possession precludes hope.
"Hope that is seen (possessed) is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." A thing that was once an object of hope may have been attained; and if so, hope, in reference to that, is at an end. Hope is never exercised but where there is a conviction, less or more deep, of the possibility of attaining its object. As hope implies desire, it must be a natural or moral good that is its object, for nothing can be desired that is known to be evil. That which is good can alone gratify the heart; and to gratify is to please, satisfy, and content. When Milton puts in the mouth of Satan the following speech:
"So farewell hope, and with hope, farewell fear; Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost;
Evil, be thou my good:" the poet does not mean that the nature or operation of evil can be changed; but that the diabolic heart might be pleased, satisfied, for the time, and contented with it, as a means of gratifying revenge and malice; as all good was then to him beyond the reach and sphere of hope. None but the devil could have uttered such a speech; as none but that archangel ruined could bring the fellest malice and revenge into successful action, so as to desire gratification from the result. Could Satan have taken evil in the place of good, so as to have rested satisfied with it, in that moment the nature of evil must have been changed to him, and hell cease to be a place of torment. But it is a diabolical boast, and has neither truth nor reason in it.
In examining this grand subject farther, I would observe that hope may be considered in a threefold sense: 1. Simple hope. 2. Dead hope. 3. Living hope.
1. HOPE, simply considered in itself, according to its definition above, the expectation of future good; this shows the existence of the thing, without activity in itself, or operation in reference to its object. It exists, but in a state of carelessness and unconcern. This sort is nearly common to all men; is not only without profit to them, because not used, but is generally, in its flutterings in the breast, like the ignus fatuus, that, instead of leading aright, leads astray, causing its possessor to rest in mere expectation, inoperative and indefinite; without any time to commence, or place to act in; a principle which, from its misuse, rather deceives than helps the soul. In consequence of this, it has been called delusive hope, false hope, vain hope, &c.; but hope in itself, which is a gift from God, is neither deceptive, false, nor vain. It is the misuse, or abuse of it, that deceives, leads astray, fills with vanity, &c. If properly used and applied, it may become even the anchor of the soul; and is that power or principle on which the grace of God works in order to bring forth, in the end, that faith by which even mountains are removed. A wicked man may have this simple hope, and so may a hypocrite, and neither receive benefit from it; yea, they may abuse it to their eternal damage; and thus every power of the soul, and every gift of God, may be abused; and in reference to this we may apply the homely but expressive lines of old Francis Quarles:—
"Thus God's best gifts, usurp'd by wicked ones, To poison turn by their con-ta-gi- ons."
2. DEAD HOPE .—I do not mean, by this, hope that is extinct; for then it would cease to be hope, or any thing else. Nor do I mean hope that is entirely inactive, and which may, on this account, be considered morally dead; but I mean that hope which has for its objects good things to come, after life is ended; a hope that expects fruition of the objects of its attention when the present state of things closes for ever on its possessor. Nor do I mean the hope that has for its object the glories of the invisible world; but the hope which misplaces its objects, that refers things which belong to the present state of being to a future state; as it does the things which should be received here, in order to prepare for glory hereafter. This is a species of religious hope, it has to do with religious matters; such as pardon of sin, sanctification of the soul, and the acquisition of those graces which constitute "the mind that was in Christ:"—in a word, that holiness without which none shall ever see the Lord. It expects none of these in this life; and that no consciousness of having received pardon can take place before death, if even then; nor can any person, according to this hope, be saved from his sins till his body and soul are separated. Hence, all its operations are in reference to death, and the separate state immediately succeeding. This hope, or this perversion of simple hope, paralyzes the Christian spirit, and in effect grieves the Spirit of God. No man ever receives good from it: it serves indeed to amuse the mind, and, in the proper sense of the word, divert the soul:—it turns it away from seeking present blessings, because its owner has made up his mind that none of these blessings can be received before death, and therefore he neither seeks nor expects them. It has the form, but it is the bane, of every good. In many, this species of hope, or this abuse of hope, is associated with much uncertainty, and sometimes with a degree of despair, even in reference to the things which it professes to have for its object, till at last the man doubts the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection of the body; and in fine, the joys of heaven become problematical! This is "dead hope"—the hope that is looking for no spiritual good before death; and generally appears to be inactive, and unconcerned even about them. It is the inhabitant of a dead soul; of a lifeless, careless, Christless professor of Christianity;—one who, though he have a name to live, yet is dead; and who will find, when he comes to that bourne where his hope is expected to act, and be realized, that it is like regiving up of the ghost:—he gives up his ghost and his hope together. It is also the hope of the wicked; they expect to find God’s mercy when they come to die: but the hope of the wicked, in death, perisheth. Of such persons, none can entertain hope but themselves.
3. LIVING HOPE.—The hope that lives and flourishes by hoping! This is simple hope, in its greatest activity and operation:—hope with all the range of possible good in its eye, its expectation, and its desire. Its objects are necessarily future; but all is future that is in the least degree removed from the present; hence, the future, properly speaking, verges on the time that now is. The blessings that are necessary now it sees at hand; desires the possession; believes the possibility of immediate attainment; claims the grace from God through Christ; and thus realizes its object. Having received this blessing, it is strengthened to go out after more; sees, desires, and claims the next in course; receives this, and thus realizes another good that a short time before was future; and continues to be future still to all others who do not act in this way.
This hope is ever living by receiving. Pardon and holiness, the forgiveness of all sin, and purification from all unrighteousness, must be attained here. This it sees; of this it is convinced; and these blessings are the first objects of its attention. It claims them by a living energy, through faith; for hope cannot exist nor act without faith; and by faith is its work made perfect. Thus it is ever receiving. All future blessings, belonging to the human state of probation, which extends from the cradle to the grave, in the whole series of their approximations, becoming present, are realized in their order; and the innate power of the last received serves to support that which was received before, and thus on all the increasing glory there is a defence.
This hope takes up all God’s blessings in their places and proper series. There are some of its objects, as stated above, which necessarily belong to this life; others that as necessarily belong to the world to come. It will not refer the blessings to be obtained here to the state after death; nor will it attempt to anticipate those blessings which belong to eternity, in the present state. It is a discriminating grace, for it is ever supported by knowledge and faith. It walks uprightly, and therefore surely.
"Grace is in all its steps, heaven in its eye; In every gesture dignity and love."
The hope of eternal life is represented as the soul’s anchor; the world is the boisterous, dangerous sea; the Christian course the voyage; the port everlasting felicity; and the veil, or inner road, the royal dock in which that anchor was cast. The storms of life continue but a short time; the anchor, hope, if fixed by faith in the eternal world, will infallibly prevent all shipwreck; the soul may be variously tossed by various temptations, but will not drive, because the anchor is in sure ground, and itself is steadfast; it does not drag, and it does not break; faith, like the cable, is the connecting medium between the ship and the anchor, or the soul and its hope of heaven; faith sees the haven, hope desires and anticipates the rest; faith works, and hope holds fast; and shortly the soul enters into the haven of eternal repose.
A hope that is not rationally founded will have its expectations cut off; and then shame and confusion will be the portion of its possessor. But our hope is of a different kind; it is founded on the goodness and truth of God; and our religious experience shows us that we have not misapplied it, nor exercised it on wrong or improper objects.
MEEKNESS.—That man walks most safely who has the least confidence in himself. True magnanimity keeps God continually in view. He appoints it its work, and furnishes discretion and power; and its chief excellence consists in being a resolute worker together with him. Pride ever sinks where humility swims, for that man who abases himself God will exalt. To know that we are dependent creatures is well; to feel it, and to act suitably, is still better.
A proud man is peculiarly odious in the sight of God; and in the sight of reason how absurd! A sinner, a fallen spirit—an heir of wretchedness and corruption, proud! Proud of what? Of an indwelling devil! Well;—such persons shall be plentifully rewarded. They shall get their due, their whole due, and nothing but their due.
The presumptuous person imagines he can do every thing, and can do nothing; thinks he can excel all, and excels in nothing; promises every thing, and performs nothing. The humble man acts quite a contrary part.
The wise and just God often, in the course of his providence, permits great defects to be associated with great eminence, that he may hide pride from man, and cause him to think soberly of himself and his acquirements. "Let him that most assuredly standeth take heed lest he fall!" and let him who is in honour bear himself meekly, lest God defile his horn in the dust; for God grants his gifts, not that the creature, but that himself, may be magnified.