By Rev. Asa Mahan
WITNESS, DEMONSTRATION, AND POWER OF THE SPIRIT.
There are certain peculiar and special forms of speech employed by the sacred writers to represent the relations of the mind to the truth of God when under the illumination of the Spirit. The word know is most commonly employed for such purposes. We give the following passages as examples:"We know that we are of God." "And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God: that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." "At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you."
Assurance is another form of utterance by which the same relations are expressed: "And shall assure our hearts before Him." So also the sacred writers speak of "the full assurance of hope," "the full assurance of faith," and of the "full assurance of understanding."
In the last text at the head of this chapter the apostle speaks of "the demonstration of the Spirit." Demonstration produces conviction which absolutely excludes doubt. No term more emphatic and powerfully expressive could possibly be employed to represent the mental results to the Christian of the inward illumination of the Spirit.
Those who are thus Divinely taught are denominated spiritual "He that is spiritual judgeth all things: yet He Himself is judged of no man." This Divinely-imparted knowledge has in it what no other has the elements of life everlasting: "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent." Let us endeavor to attain an apprehension of the forms of knowledge under consideration.
There are different forms and degrees of conviction which the mind may have in regard to a given truth. At one time a proposition may appear as possibly, and at another as probably, true. Here conviction takes on the form of belief or opinion. In other cases conviction takes on forms still higher and more positivethose of certainty, which excludes doubt. We here find ourselves within the circle of knowledge proper, and begin to affirm that we know that this and that proposition is true or false. Knowledge, in its absolute forms, is intuitive or demonstrative. Of the former kind is that in which we have a direct and immediate perception or knowledge of a given objectsuch as the consciousness which we have of our own existence and mental states, and of objects of direct and immediate perception in the world around us. Knowledge is demonstrative when we perceive that a given proposition not only is, but must be, true.
Here we attain to an apprehension of the character of all convictions induced by the illuminations of the Spirit. In all such cases there is a direct and inward beholding of Divine truth, followed by convictions which arise even above ordinary demonstration. In such beholdings doubt has no place. Nothing remains but absolute certainty. We "know the things which are freely given us of God." "Now the Lord is that Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
Let us now contemplate a few facts and illustrations of the various forms of Divine teaching and illumination. You have, no doubt, reader, been subject to experiences like the following:A given truth of God has for years, it may be, laid in the outer circle of thought. Doubt, and even unbelief, may at times have had place in your mind in regard to it; nor was it possible to render it the object of impressive apprehension. It lay, as a dead letter, at an infinite remove from the heart. All at once, and in a manner not at all understood, that truth makes an advance from the circle and sphere of doubt and disbelief into an open and impressive view, and we now know it as a Divine verity. It is a matter of inexpressible wonder now that we ever could for a moment have had a solitary doubt in respect to it, or could have regarded it with indifference. Disbelief, doubt, and indifference, on the other hand, appear infinitely absurd and criminal. No other forms of intuitive knowledge, and no demonstration, can induce such absolute and impressive conviction.
The wife of a friend of mine was passing away through the gradual advance of consumption. From childhood death had been to her mind "the king of terrors." During her sickness, also, she had been greatly alarmed with the idea of dying. As her husband entered the room one day, she exclaimed, with an unearthly glow upon her countenance, "My dear husband, there is nothing fearful about dying. Death has no terrors. The idea of dying is sweet to me now." From that moment she adjusted her spirit for the approaching change with all the sweet equanimity with which she had before adorned herself for the bridal hour. Indeed, the embrace of death was to her mind the bridal hour of her immortal spirit. Here we have one illustration of the effects of Divine illumination. All truth, as apprehended through the Spirit, passes from those outer spheres of thought and apprehension where disbelief and gloomy doubts prevail, and where vision is dim and unimpressive, into the inner circle of open and all-impressive vision, and of absolute knowledge. "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee."
We have special examples and illustrations of the form of illumination in the experience of converted menthat of infidels, Universalists,, and moralists, especiallywhen under the convicting power of the Spirit. When walking in carnal security, amid the deep midnight of unbelief, impregnably fortified, as they supposed, in their opinions and beliefs, and doubly armed against all the arguments and weapons of "the truth as it is in Jesus," in a moment of deep and solemn thought, such as from time to time comes over all minds in common, the cloud is lifted, and they find themselves in the clear sunlight of truth itself. Their arguments, reasonings, and objections to the gospel appear lighter than "airy nothing"as only so many absurdities. The evidences in favor of Christianity, on the other hand, stand out before the mind as immovable as the everlasting mountains. Such individuals cannot themselves tell how this sunlight came to them. But when it did come they found themselves at once within the sphere of absolute knowledge, the circle where doubt forever disappears.
A very intelligent gentleman in Boston, years ago, requested me to visit him. During our interview he made this statement: "For fifty years of my life up to a few weeks since, I was a confirmed atheist. I had no idea that my belief could be shaken. As I lay upon my bed from a slight indisposition, the following reflections passed through my mind. There are in the Bible a vast number of predictions which no human foresight could have divined. Every one of these, when the time specified arrived, was fulfilled to the letter. The same Book foretells for the soul a future state of eternal retribution. These last predictions will come to pass just as all the others have done. All this came before my mind with such distinctness and force as to render doubt impossible; and I am here, a believer in Jesus."
A distinguished moralist, who had long and openly gloried in the all-sufficiency of his own self-originated righteousness, determined at one time, in conformity to a suggestion which he had heard from an evangelical pulpit, to take a careful survey of his life, write down his good deeds in one column and his bad ones in another, and then strike the balance between them. He sat down with the most undoubting assurance of finding the result immensely in his own favor. With much self-congratulation he wrote out a long catalogue of meritorious acts. But when he commenced putting down his acts of sin, one and another suggested itself, until this last catalogue far outnumbered the first. Still his sins, in appalling succession, came rushing in upon his memory. Their number appeared to be infinite. I must have forgotten many of my good deeds, he said to himself. I will run over the record of these, that others may thereby be suggested. As his eye rested upon the first set down to his own credit, that act, he said again to himself, is sinful. The motive which prompted it was wrong. So of every other of the same class, until his whole life stood out before his mind as "evil, and only evil, continually." Truth, under the searching power of the Spirit, having become "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," the man apprehended not only his general sinfulness, but his absolute totality in sin. At the same time he perceived, with equal distinctness, the infinite criminality of such a life. Now he knew his need of Christ, and was soon found a trembling, trusting, hoping, and believing penitent, at the foot of the cross. Throughout the whole process there was, instead of former darkness and unbelief, absolute conviction, which totally excluded doubt. Similar results obtain in the experience of all impenitent persons when under the convicting power of the Spirit. They know, as by direct and absolute intuition, their sin and ill desert, their ruin in sin, and need of the redemption of Christ.
The effects of Divine illumination, however, become still more manifest in the experience of the believer when "the Holy Ghost comes upon him." A real Christian may, for example, continue in long and painful doubt in respect to the genuineness of his conversion, and the question of his acceptance with God. Inquiry, and even prayer, tend but to dim vision and intensify doubt upon the subject. All at once he emerges from all this chilling fog into a bright spot, where more than sunlight shines upon the question about which his mind has so long hung in the agony of doubt and uncertainty. He knows that he is accepted in the Beloved," and without fear hangs his eternity upon that assurance. Were he asked the question, how and why he knows this, he might be at a loss for an answer. Of the fact of his adoption, however, he has an assurance as absolute as he has of his own existence. "Behold," he exclaims, "God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid. For the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song. He also has become my salvation."
The believer reads upon the sacred page such passages as the following: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love. Therefore, with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." "As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you." "The hairs of your head are all numbered." "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Such passages, as everyone knows, represent a form of love "which passeth knowledge." Yet to the unillumined mind that love not real. God seems to be afar off. He does seem to love Christ, and angels. and glorified spirits. It appears, however, as if He had forgotten and forsaken me. I cannot make it real that His ear is bent toward me when I pray to Him. All at once the veil is lifted from the face of God, and with open vision we behold His glory. Nothing seems so real now as God's love to us and His care for us. God is love; and our dwelling-place is in the fullness of that love. All that the sacred writers affirm of "the fellowship of the Spirit," of "God's dwelling in us, and we in Him," of "Christ in you, the hope of glory," of His manifesting Himself unto us, and with the Father "making His abode in us," of "the Father in Him, and He in us," and of the Father loving us even as He loves the Son, all is consciously real to the mind now. We "comprehend the length, and breadth, and depth, and height," and "know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." We "know and believe the love that God hath to us. The same holds true of Divine illumination in all its forms. When the Spirit comes, He "takes of the things of Christ, and shows them unto us," and "shows us plainly of the Father." Christ, with the Father, is to us a real and manifested personal presence, and "with open face" we "behold His glory." We receive from Christ "eye-salve, that we may see." "We read the precious Scriptures with new eyes;" and have a direct immediate and open vision of their great revelations. When we speak of these things, "what we have seen and heard," of these we give testimony.
We are now prepared to apprehend what is meant by the witness of the Spirit to the truth. There are two revealed objects to which His testimony pertains: to the truth as revealed in the Sacred Word, and to individuals in regard to the fact of their Divine adoption. That first designated is the form of testimony of which we are now to speak. "It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth," trustworthy, giving testimony only to what is true. There are various forms in which this testimony is given. The Spirit is the Author of the Bible. "The holy men of old" who wrote it "spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." In giving us this revelation, we have His testimony to its truth. Doubting what is written, we "make God a liar." We have similar testimony in the stupendous Spirit-wrought miracles, and in the numberless Spirit-inspired prophecies which encircle the Sacred Word and affirm its Divine origin.
In the nature of the production itself, the Spirit has also given a form of testimony to the truth equally absolute and impressive. It would be no more absurd to affirm that man originated the solar system, than is the dogma that the Bible is a mere human production. "The footprints of the Creator" are as manifest here as in the organization of the universe. Through the work produced, the Spirit has given absolute testimony to the truth.
The form of testimony of all others the most impressive, however, is that which is constantly being witnessed in the interior of the mind itself when under the special influence and illumination of the Spirit. We call a physician, who prescribes a certain medicine, and at the same time designates certain specific effects which will follow its administration. In the experience of those identical results, we have proof of that physician's knowledge and integrity. The Scriptures map out beforehand endlessly diversified forms of experience and character, as resulting from our believing and obeying the gospel. As these experiences follow our faith and obediencecall in exact accordance with "what is written"and as these results do and can follow under no other influences, we know, and cannot but know, that "the Spirit is truth." As these results are Divine in their nature, we also know that the truth which induces them must, through the Spirit, "come down from the Father of lights." The "everlasting consolations," the immortal hopes the Divine fellowships, the moral virtues, and the fullness of joy all consciously received through a superhuman and Divine influence, are so many witnesses within, that we are being led, and taught, and filled by "the Spirit of the living God." "We have the witness in ourselves."
"The Spirit," we are also told, "beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." How is this testimony borne? Of this we are, in one particular, informed in the context. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." The apostle then adds: "The Spirit beareth witness with "that is, in connection with or through"our spirit"the spirit of adoption which He induces in us"that we are the children of God." In the exercise of the spirit of adoption, we recognize God as our Father, and ourselves as His children. In effecting this spirit within us, the Holy Ghost super-adds His testimony to the fact that we are God's sons and daughters. If we were not such, the Holy Ghost would not create the spirit of sonship in our hearts.
The believer, as he advances onward "in the light of God"and we always walk in that light when we have the Spiritreceives at length an absolute inward assurance of His Divine adoption. From that moment "he knows that he is of God," and can no more doubt it than he can cease to be conscious of his own being. In giving us that assurance, the Spirit gives us with it His testimony that "we are children of God," and we distinctly recognize His testimony to that fact.
The believer often passes through a form of experience in which "patience has her perfect work," and in which "tribulation worketh patience, and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." When the Spirit thus "sheds abroad" that love, He gives with it His absolute testimony to the fact that "we are the children of God." In conducting us through such hallowed experiences, He testifies to and with our spirit that God is dealing with us "as with sons," disciplining us "for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness."
So, when "the Spirit helpeth our infirmities," we, "not knowing what we should pray for as we ought," "He maketh intercession for us according to the will of God;" and thus influenced and directed, we "ask and receive" "until our joy is full." In inducing these filial and parental relations between us and God, the Spirit, in the most absolute form conceivable, "testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God." During the era of deadly persecution in Scotland, when "the baptism of the Spirit" was the common experience of believers, and the myrmidons of the persecuting power were marauding the whole country to murder the saints and breakup the religious assemblies, a young woman, on her way to such a meeting, was met by a company of cavalry, and required to give her destination. She could not "deny the faith," and would not reveal the place of meeting. At that moment this promise presented itself to her mind: "It shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak." She lifted a secret prayer that God would then give her what she should speak. Instantly these words presented themselves, and she uttered them as presented: "I am going to my Father's house. My elder Brother has died. His will is to be read today, and I have an interest in it." The commander bid her go on her way. "I hope," he added, "you will find a rich portion left to yourself." Could the Spirit have given that young saint any more absolute testimony that she was a child of God? At that same era, two brethren were helping their loved pastor, who was crippled with rheumatism, on to such a meeting. On their way, they discovered a troop of those murderers approaching. As they could not in time carry their pastor to a place of safety, he entreated them to leave him, and save themselves. They replied that they should stay and die with him. As they would not be persuaded, he lifted a prayer that God would interpose, and conceal them from their persecutors. Instantly a thick cloud came over the top of the mountain, and covered them, so their murderers passed close by their victims without seeing them at all. Did those individuals need from the Spirit any other testimony that they were "the children of God?" Every answer we receive to prayer is a testimony of the same kind.
We remark once more, when the Spirit brings us into conscious "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ;" when He enables us to "know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge," and "fills us with all the fulness of God:" when we "behold with open face the glory of the Lord," and are "changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord;" and when, by His indwelling presence and illumination, "God becomes our everlasting light, and the days of our mourning are ended"in all this we have the absolute testimony of the Spirit to our adoption. We need, as Mr. Wesley says, no voice without, and no words within, to know that we have this witness. What we do need is, "full assurance of hope," "full assurance of faith," and "full assurance of understanding." These the Spirit gives us; and in these we have His testimony that "we are the children of God."
Truth in all its forms, when apprehended through the Spirit, has not only an all-illuminating and all-convincing, but equally an all-vitalizing powera power to quicken into the highest possible activity every faculty and susceptibility of our nature. Every truth of God, and at the same time all that we are capable of being and becoming through Divine influence, lie out with perfect distinctness under the eye of the Spirit. At each successive moment, therefore, He is able, we co-working with Him, to produce in us those specific apprehensions, desires, and purposes, which will render our activity the most perfect, our blessedness the most full, and our virtues the most divine. Nothing possible to our natures lies beyond His power to induce in us, and to enable us to accomplish. He knows us as we do not and cannot know ourselves; and not what we know of ourselves, but what He knows us as capable of being, becoming, doing, and enjoying, is the limit and measure of His power to do in and through us.
As "laborers together with God" for His kingdom and glory, the Spirit knows how to produce in us just those apprehensions of God, Christ, life, death, duty, redemption, eternity, and retribution, just those emotions, desires, purposes, forms of utterance, and modes of action, which will render our agency the most efficient for the purposes of our "high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Yes, reader, God by His Spirit is "able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work." Girded by the power of the Spirit, the weakest among us may do valiant service "for the great Captain of our salvation." The same Almighty power which the Spirit "wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at the right hand of God in the heavenly places, far above all "principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come," we are absolutely assured, is equally mighty to usward in reference to all our spiritual necessities and exigencies; yes, equally mighty to do in and for us "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." Nothing can exceed the impressiveness of the language of the apostle upon this subject, viz.,
"Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all."
There are two distinct and opposite states and relations in which the believer in Jesus may be contemplated. In the one state he has repented of sin, "believed to the saving of his soul," entertains sincere purposes of obedience, and is not utterly barren of good works. In the other state he has all these, with "the power of the Spirit" superadded. As a necessary consequence, a fundamental difference arises in the forms which Christian experience and action take on. In the former state the leading characteristics of such experience are imbecility, inward emptiness, and want; doing what we would not, and not doing what we would; a perpetual "laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works to serve the living God;" intervals of light, with longer continued periods of darkness and gloom; periods of hope and assurance, but more of doubt and fear; occasional joys, "but much of sorrow, much of woe;" much of crying after God, but very little, if any "communion of the Spirit;" and many fightings, but very few "victories by the blood of the Lamb and the word of His testimony." In the latter state the equally marked characteristics of that experience are courage and strength; "everlasting consolations and good hope through grace;" "victories by the blood of the Lamb and the word of His testimony;" "the light of God, and with it full assurance of faith," "full assurance of hope," and "full assurance of understanding;" "all-sufficiency in all things," and thereby "abounding unto every good work;" immortal fellowships and "fulness of joy;" and God as our "everlasting light," while "the days of our mourning are ended."
"The Church of the living God" should ever be in that state in which "he that is feeble among us is as David, and the house of David as God, as the angel of the Lord before Him," On what conditions can we be girded with this everlasting strength? We must, in the first place, fully appreciate our own weaknesses and insufficiency in ourselves, and utterly and forever renounce and repudiate the principle of self-sufficiency and dependence. "We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves." This truth must be omnipresent in our mind. In the next place, we must as fully appreciate the available strength which exists for us in God. "Our sufficiency is of God," and in Him we have "all-sufficiency for all things." We "can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth us." In our assurance of available "strength in the Lord, and in the power of His might," we must never waver. Lastly, our hope and our trust must be, "not in ourselves, but in God." "If we will not believe, we shall not be established." If we do believe, our "light will go forth as brightness, and our salvation as a lamp that shineth." At all times and in every exigency "the grace of Christ will be sufficient for us." Here lies the grand secret of holy living. "Have faith in God." We believe, and therefore speak." "If thou canst believe: all things are possible to him that believeth." Self-distrust and "faith in God." Here is the Divine secret, which "none of the wicked," and too few believers "understand;" but which the "wise do understand." May you, reader, know this Divine secret!
As far as "the full assurance of faith," "the full assurance of hope," "the full assurance of understanding," and that form of fear which is "cast out by perfect love," are concerned, fear should have no place whatever in Christian experience. All in common should "serve God without fear, in righteousness and holiness before Him, all the days of their lives." Yet there are certain possibilities and perils attendant on the Christian life which should induce that sober vigilance and wakeful circumspection and watchfulness, represented by the words "godly fear" and "fear and trembling." Notwithstanding the availability, the all-sufficiency of Divine grace, and "the power of the Spirit," we may "cast away our confidence," "sell our birthright," "quench the Spirit," and be "corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." The immutable condition of final salvation with us is, that we "hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast, even unto the end." For the want of proper diligence in "stirring the gift of God which is in us," the gift of the Spirit, we may fail to glorify God by "bearing much fruit." We must "keep our bodies under, and bring them into subjection," or ourselves be "castaways." In every department of the Christian life and work, we are "laborers together with God," and encircled with adversaries ever wakeful, watchful, and of mighty power. Such considerations, while they should not dim our hopes, weaken our assurances, or lessen our fullness of joy, should render us "sober-minded" and "watchful unto prayer." "There is no time for trifling here," for anything but sober-minded circumspection. If we will be thus "sober and vigilant," Christ through the Spirit will "make all grace abound toward us," so that we shall "always have all-sufficiency in all things." But "if we will not watch, Christ will come upon us as a thief," and "remove our candlestick out of its place."