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  • CHAPTER - THE SPIRIT WITNESSING
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    The Holy Spirit is first a witness for Christ, and then He is a witness to His people of Christ’s infinite love and the sufficiency of His finished work. “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify (bear witness) of Me” ( John 15:26).

    The Spirit bears His testimony for Christ in the Scriptures; He bears His testimony to us in our renewed minds. He is a Witness for the Lord Jesus by all that is revealed in the Sacred Volume concerning Him. He bears witness to the abiding efficacy of Christ’s offering: that sin is effectually put away thereby, that the Father hath accepted it, that the elect are forever perfected thereby, and that pardon of sins is the fruit of Christ’s oblation.

    The sufficiency of the Spirit to be Witness for Christ unto His people appears first, from His being a Divine Person; second, from His being present when the Everlasting Covenant was drawn up; third, from His perfect knowledge of the identity of each member of the election of grace.

    When the ordained hour strikes for each one to be quickened by Him, He capacitates the soul to receive a spiritual knowledge of Christ. He shines upon the Scriptures of Truth and into the renewed mind. He enables the one born again to receive into his heart the Father’s record concerning His beloved Son, and to give full credit to it. He enables him to realize that the Father is everlastingly well pleased with every one who is satisfied with the Person, righteousness, and atonement of His co-equal Son, and who rests his entire hope and salvation thereon. Thereby He assures him of the Father’s acceptance of him in the Beloved.

    OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE WITNESS Now the Spirit is a Witness unto God’s people both objectively and subjectively: that is to say, He bears witness to them, and He also bears witness in them—such is His wondrous grace toward them. His witness to them is in and through and by means of the Scriptures. “By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.

    Whereof the Holy Spirit also is a Witness to us” ( Hebrews 10:14,15), which is explained in what immediately follows. A quotation is made from the Prophet Jeremiah, who had spoken as he was moved by the Holy Spirit ( 2 Peter 1:21). The Lord declares of His people “their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” ( Hebrews 10:17). Whereupon the Holy Spirit points out, “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (v. 18). Thus does He witness to us, through the Word, of the sufficiency and finality of Christ’s one offering.

    But something more is still required by God’s needy people, for they are the subjects of many fears, and Satan frequently attacks their faith. It is not that they have any doubt about the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures, or the unerring reliability of every thing recorded therein. Nor is it that they are disposed for a moment to call into question the infinite sufficiency and abiding efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ. No—that which occasions them such deep concern is, whether they have a saving interest therein. They are aware that there is a faith (such as the demons have— James 2:19) which obtains no salvation. They perceive that the faith of which many empty professors boast so loudly is not evidenced by their works. And they discover so much in themselves that appears to be altogether incompatible with their being new creatures in Christ, until they often fear their own conversion was but a delusion after all.

    When an honest soul contemplates the amazing greatness of the honor and the stupendousness of the relation of regarding itself as a joint-heir with Christ, it is startled and staggered. What, me a child of God! God my Father! Who am Ito be thus exalted into the Divine favor? Surely it cannot be so. When I consider my fearful sinfulness and unworthiness, the awful depravity of my heart, the carnality of my mind, such rebellion of will, so prone to evil every moment, and such glaring flaws in all I undertake— surely I cannot have been made a partaker of the Divine nature. It seems impossible; and Satan is ever ready to assure me that I am not God’s child.

    If the reader be a stranger to such tormenting fears, we sincerely pity him.

    But if his experience tallies with what we have just described, he will see how indispensable it is that the Holy Spirit should hear witness to him within.

    But there are some who say that it is a sin for the Christian to question his acceptance with God because he is still so depraved, or to doubt his salvation because he can perceive little or no holiness within. They say that such doubting is to call God’s Truth and faithfulness into question, for He has assured us of His love and His readiness to save all who believe in His Son. They affirm it is not our duty to examine our hearts, that we shall never obtain any assurance by so doing; that we must look to Christ alone, and rest on His naked Word. But does not Scripture say, “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world” ( 2 Corinthians 1:12)?

    And again we are told, “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him” ( 1 John 3:18,19).

    DOUBTING AND PROFESSING CHRISTIANS But it is insisted that Scripture forbids all doubting: “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” ( Matthew 14:31).

    Yes, but Christ was not there blaming Peter for doubting his spiritual state, but for fearing he would be drowned. Yet Christ “upbraided them with their unbelief’ ( Mark 16:14): true, for not believing He was risen from the dead—not for calling into question their regeneration! But Abraham is commended because “against hope (all appearances) he “believed in hope” ( Romans 4:18): yes, and that was that he should have a son!—how is that relevant to what we are now discussing? But “we walk by faith, not by sight” ( 2 Corinthians 5:7): yes, the conduct of the Apostles was governed by a realization of that which is to come (see 5:11). But “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” ( Romans 14:23): but this is nothing to the purpose; if a man does not believe it is right to do some act, and yet ventures to do it, he sins.

    Let us define more closely the point now under discussion. We may state it thus: Does God require anyone to believe he has been born again when he has no clear evidence that such is the case? Surely the question answers itself: the God of Truth never asks anyone to believe a lie. If my sins have not been pardoned, then the more firmly convinced I am that they have been, the worse for me; and very ready is Satan to second me in my selfdeception!

    The Devil would have me assured that all is well with me, without a diligent search and thorough examination for sufficient evidence that I am a new creature in Christ. O how many he is deceiving by making them believe it is wrong to challenge their profession and put their hearts to a real trial!

    True, it is a sin for a real Christian so to live that his evidences of regeneration are not clear; but it is no sin for him to be honest and impartial, or to doubt when, in fact, his evidences are not clear. It is sin to darken my evidences, but it is no sin to discover that they are darkened. It is a sin for a man, by rioting and drunkenness, to make himself ill; but it is no sin to feel he is sick, if there be grounds for it, to doubt if he will survive his sickness. Our sins bring upon us inward calamities as well as outward, but these are chastisements rather than sins. It is the Christian’s sin which lays the foundation for doubts, which occasions them; yet those doubtings are not themselves sins.

    But it will be said, Believers are exhorted to “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” ( Hebrews 3:6) and that “we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end” (v. 14). Yes, but that “confidence” is that Jesus is the Christ, together with a true faith in Him, as is clear from the whole context there. Nothing is more absurd than to say that professing Christians are made partakers of Christ by holding fast the confidence that they are saved, for that is what many a deceived soul does, and does to the very end ( Matthew 7:22). There can be no well-grounded confidence unless it rests upon clear evidence or reliable testimony. And for that, there must be not only “the answer of a good conscience” ( 1 Peter 3:21), but the confirmatory witness of the Spirit.

    THE OFFICE OF WITNESS The Holy Spirit who dwells in Christ, the great and eternal Head of His people, dwells also in all the living members of His mystical Body, to conform them to Him and to make them like Him in their measure. He it is who takes possession of every quickened soul, dwelling in them as the Spirit of life, of grace, of holiness, of consolation, of glory. He who made them alive in the Lord, now makes them alive to the Lord. He gives them to know the Father in the Son, and their union with Christ. He leads them into communion with the Father and the Son, and fulfills all the good pleasure of His will in them and the work of faith with power ( Thessalonians 1:11). In the carrying on of His “good work” in the soul— commenced in regeneration, and manifested in conversion to the Lord— the Spirit is pleased to act and perform the office of Witness: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” ( Romans 8:16).

    Now the office of a “witness” is to bear testimony or supply evidence for the purpose of adducing proof. The first time this term occurs is in the Epistle to the Romans in 2:15, “Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing.” The reference is to the Heathen: though they had not received from God a written revelation (like the Jews had), nevertheless, they were His creatures, responsible creatures, subject to His authority, and will yet be judged by Him. The grounds upon which God holds them accountable are, first, the revelation which He has given them of Himself in creation, which renders them “without excuse” ( Romans 1:19,20); and second, the work of His Law written in their hearts, that is, their rationality or “the light of nature.” But not only do their moral instincts instruct them in the difference between right and wrong, and warn them of a future day of reckoning, but their conscience also bears witness—it is a Divine monitor within, supplying evidence that God is their Governor and Judge.

    But while the Christian ever remains a creature accountable to his Maker and Ruler, he is also a child of God, and, normally (that is, while he is sincerely endeavoring to walk as such), his renewed conscience bears witness to—supplies evidence of—the fact. We say “renewed conscience,” for the Christian has been renewed throughout the whole of his inner man.

    The genuine Christian is able to say, “We trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly” ( Hebrews 13:18)—the bent of his heart is for God and obedience to Him. Not only is there a desire to please God, but there are answerable endeavors: “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and men” ( Acts 24:16).

    When these endeavors are carried on there is inward assurance of our state: “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience” ( 2 Corinthians 1:12).

    Thus, the Christian’s sincerity is evidenced by his conscience. It is true that there is also “another law in his members, warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin” ( Romans 7:23); yet that is his grief, and not his joy; his burden and not his satisfaction. It is true that “to will is present with him; but how to perform that which is good (how to attain unto what he ardently desires and prays for) he finds not.” Yea, the good that he loves to do, he often does not; and the evil which he hates, he often falls into ( Romans 7:18,19). Even so; yet, blameworthy and lamentable though such things are, it in no way alters the fact that the one whose experience it is, can call God Himself to witness that he wishes with all his heart it were otherwise; and his own conscience testifies to his sincerity in expressing such a desire.

    WHAT HE BEARS WITNESS TO It is most important that the Christian should be quite clear as to what it is his own “spirit” or conscience bears witness to. It is not to the eradication of evil from his heart, nor is it to any purification of or improvement in his carnal nature—anyone whose conscience bears witness to that, bears witness to a lie, for “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” ( 1 John 1:8).

    So long as the Christian remains on earth, “the flesh (the principle of sin) lusteth against the Spirit”—the principle of grace ( Galatians 5:17).

    Moreover, the more our thoughts are formed by the Word, the more do we discover how full of corruption we are; the closer we walk with God, the more light we have, and the more are the hidden (unsuspected) things of darkness within discovered to our horrified gaze. Thus, the Christian’s assurance that he is a regenerate person by no means signifies he is conscious that he is more and more dying to the presence and activities of indwelling sin. God does not intend that we should be in love with ourselves.

    That which the renewed conscience of the Christian bears witness to is the fact that he is a child of God. Side by side with the sink of iniquity which indwells the believer—of which he becomes increasingly conscious, and over which he daily groans—is the spirit of adoption which has been communicated to his heart. That filial spirit draws out his heart in love to God, so that he craves after the conscious enjoyment of His smiling countenance, and esteems fellowship with Him high above all other privileges. That filial spirit inspires confidence toward God, so that he pleads His promises, counts on His mercy, and relies on His goodness.

    That filial spirit begets reverence for God, so that His ineffable majesty is held in awe. His high authority is respected, and he trembles at His Word.

    That filial spirit produces subjection to God, so that he desires to obey Him in all things, and sincerely endeavors to walk according to His commands and precepts.

    Now here are definite marks by which the Christian may test himself. True, he is yet very far from being what he should be, or what he would be could his earnest longings only be realized; nevertheless, is not his present case very different from what it once was? Instead of seeking to banish God from your thoughts, is it not now the desire of your heart for your mind to be stayed upon Him, and is it not a joy to meditate upon His perfections?

    Instead of giving little or no concern as to whether your conduct honored or dishonored the Lord, is it not now your sincere endeavor to please Him in all your ways? Instead of paying no attention to indwelling sin, has not the plague of your heart become your greatest burden and grief? Well, then, these very things evidence you are a child of God. They were not in your nature, so they must have been implanted by the Holy Spirit. Those graces may be very feeble, yet their presence struggling amid corruptions—are marks of the new birth.

    If with honesty of purpose, lowliness of heart, and prayerful inquiry, I find myself breathing after holiness, panting after conformity to Christ, and mourning over my failures to realize the same, then so far from it being presumption for me to conclude I am a child of God, it would be willful blindness to refuse to recognize the work of the Spirit in my soul. If my conscience bears witness to the fact that I honestly desire and sincerely endeavor to serve and glorify God, then it is wrong for me to deny, or even to doubt, that God has “begun a good work” in me. Take note of your health, dear reader, as well as of your disease. Appropriate to yourself the language of Christ’s Spouse, “I sleep, but my heart waketh” ( Song of Solomon 5:2)—grace is to be acknowledged amid infirmities; that which is a cause for humiliation must not be made a ground for doubting.

    But notwithstanding the evidences which a Christian has of his Divine sonship, he finds it no easy matter to be assured of his sincerity, or to establish solid comfort in his soul. His moods are fitful, his frames variable.

    Grace in the best of us is but small and weak, and we have just cause to mourn the feebleness of our faith, the coldness of our love, and the grievous imperfections of our obedience. But it is at this very point the blessed Spirit of God, in His wondrous grace and infinite condescension, helps our infirmities—He adds His witness to the testimony of our renewed conscience, so that (at times) the conviction is confirmed, and the trembling heart is assured. It is at such seasons the Christian is able to say, “My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit” ( Romans 9:1).

    The question which most deeply exercises a genuine saint is not, have I repented, have I faith in Christ, have I any love for God? but rather, are my repentance, faith and love sincere and genuine ? He has discovered that Scripture distinguishes between repentance ( 1 Kings 21:27) and repentance “not to be repented of” ( 2 Corinthians 7:10); between faith ( Acts 8:13) and “faith unfeigned” ( 1 Timothy 1:5), between love ( Matthew 26:49) and “love in sincerity” ( Ephesians 6:24); and only by the gracious enabling of the Holy Spirit can any soul discern between them. He who bestowed upon the Christian repentance and faith must also make him to know the things which are freely given to him of God ( Corinthians 2:12). Grace can only be known by grace, as the sun can only be seen in its own light. It is only by the Spirit Himself that we can be truly assured we have been born of Him.

    ERRORS IN SUBJECTIVE WITNESS Rightly did Jonathan Edwards affirm, “Many have been the mischiefs that have arisen from that false and delusory notion of the witness of the Spirit, that it is a kind of inward voice, suggestion, or revelation from God to man, that he is beloved of Him, and that his sins are pardoned—sometimes accompanied with, sometimes without, a text of Scripture; and many have been the false and vain (though very high) affections that have arisen from hence. It is to be feared that multitudes of souls have been eternally undone by it.” Especially was this so in the past, when fanaticism made much of the Spirit witnessing to souls.

    An affectionate and dutiful child has within his own bosom the proof of the peculiar and special relationship in which he stands to his father. So it is with the Christian: his filial inclinations and aspirations after God prove that he is His child. In addition to this, the Holy Spirit gives assurance of the same blessed fact by shedding abroad in his heart the love of God ( Romans 5:5). The Holy Spirit’s indwelling of the Christian is the sure mark of his adoption. Yet the Spirit cannot be discerned by us in His essence: only by means of His operations is He to be known. As we discern His work, we perceive the Worker; and how His work in the soul can be ascertained without diligent examination of our inward life and a careful comparison of it with the Scriptures, we know not. The Spirit reveals Himself to us by that spirit which He begets in us. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” ( Romans 8:16).

    Let it be carefully noted that this verse does not say the Spirit bears witness to our spirit (as it is so often misquoted), but “with—it is a single word in the Greek (a compound verb) “beareth witness with.” It is deeply important to notice this distinction: the witness of the Spirit is not so much a revelation which is made to my spirit, considered as the recipient of the testimony, as it is a confirmation made in or with my spirit, considered as co-operating in the testimony. It is not that my spirit bears witness that I am a child of God, and that then the Spirit of God comes in by a distinguishable process with a separate testimony, to say Amen to my assurance; but it is that there is a single testimony which has a conjoint origin.

    The “witness” of the Spirit, then, is not by means of any supernatural vision nor by any mysterious voice informing me I am a child of God—for the Devil tells many a hypocrite that. “This is not done by any immediate revelation or impulse or merely by any text brought to the mind (for all these things are equivocal and delusory); but by coinciding with the testimony of their own consciences, as to their uprightness in embracing the Gospel, and giving themselves up to the service of God. So that, whilst they are examining themselves concerning the reality of their conversion, and find Scriptural evidence of it, the Holy Spirit from time to time shines upon His own work, excites their holy affections into lively exercise, renders them very efficacious upon their conduct, and thus puts the matter beyond all doubt” (Thomas Scott).

    GUIDELINES FOR SUBJECTIVE WITNESS First, the Spirit’s witness is in strict accord with the teaching of Holy Writ.

    In the Word He has given certain marks by which the question may be decided as to whether or not I am a child of God: He has described certain features by which I may identify myself—see John 8:39, Romans 4:12 and 8:14 and contrast John 8:44 and Ephesians 2:2,3. It is by the Truth that the Spirit enlightens, convicts, comforts, feeds, and guides the people of God; and it is by and through the Truth that He bears witness with their spirit. There is a perfect harmony between the testimony of Scripture and the varied experiences of each renewed soul, and it is by revealing to us this harmony, by showing us the correspondence between the history of our soul and the testimony of the Word that He persuades us we are born again: “Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him” ( 1 John 3:19).

    Second, He works such graces in us as are peculiar to God’s children, and thereby evidences our interest in the favor of God. He makes the Christian to feel “poor in spirit,” a pauper dependent upon the charity of God. He causes him to “mourn” over much which gives the worldling no concern whatever. He bestows a spirit of “meekness” so that the rebellious will is, in part, subdued, and God’s will is submitted unto. He gives a “hunger and thirst after righteousness” and gives the soul to feel that the best this perishing world has to offer him is unsatisfying and but empty husks. He makes him “merciful” toward others, counteracting that selfish disposition which is in us by nature. He makes him “pure in heart” by giving him to pant after holiness and hate that which is vile ( Matthew 5:3-8, etc.). By His own fruit in the soul, the Spirit makes manifest His indwelling presence.

    Third, He helps us to discern His work of grace in our souls more clearly.

    Conscience does its part, and the Spirit confirms the same. The conjoint witness of the Spirit gives vigor and certainty to the assurance of our hearts. When the flood-waters of a land mingle themselves with a river they make one and the same stream, but it is now more rapid and violent. In like manner, the united testimonies of our own conscience and of the Spirit make but one witness, yet it becomes such as to break down our fears and overcome our doubts. When the blessed Spirit shines upon His own work of grace and holiness in our souls, then in His light we “see light” ( Psalm 36:9). Inward holiness, a filial spirit, an humble heart, submission to God, is something that Satan cannot imitate.

    Fourth, He helps us not only to see grace, but to judge of the sincerity and reality of it. It is at this point many honest souls are most sorely exercised.

    It is much easier to prove that we believe, than to be assured that our faith is a saving one. It is much easier to conclude that we love Christ, than it is to be sure that we love Him in sincerity and for what He is in Himself. Our hearts are fearfully deceitful, there are many minglings of faith and unbelief ( Mark 9:24), and grace in us is so feeble that we hesitate to pronounce positively upon our state. But when the Spirit increases our faith, rekindles our love, strengthens us with might in the inner man, He enables us to come to a definite conclusion. First He sanctifies and then He certifies.

    The deceits of Satan, though often plausible imitations up to a point, are, in their tendency and outcome, always opposed to that which God enjoins.

    On the other hand, the operations of the Spirit are ever in unison with the written Word. Here, then, is a sure criterion by which we may test which spirit is at work within us. The three truths of Scripture which more directly concern us are, our ruin by nature, our redemption by grace, and the duties we owe by virtue of our deliverance. If then, our beliefs, our feelings, our assurance, tend to exalt depraved nature, depreciate Divine grace, or lead to a licentious life, they are certainly not of God. But if they have quite the opposite tendency, convincing us of our wretchedness by nature, making Christ more precious to us, and leading us into the duties He enjoins, they are of the Holy Spirit.

    It only remains for us to ask, Why does not the Holy Spirit grant unto the Christian a strong and comforting assurance of his Divine sonship at all times? Various answers may be given. First, we must distinguish between the Spirit’s work and His witness: often it is His office to convict and make us miserable, rather than to impart comfort and joy. Second, His assuring consolation is often withheld because of our slackness: we are bidden to “make your calling and election sure” and “be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace” ( 2 Peter 1:10 and 3:1 4)—the comforts of the Spirit drop not into lazy souls. Third, because of our sins: “The Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the Word” ( Acts 10:44) —not while they were walking in the paths of unrighteousness. His witness is a holy one: He will not put a jewel in a swine’s snout ( Proverbs 11:22). Keep yourselves in the love of God ( Jude 1:21) and the Spirit’s witness will be yours.

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