-Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.'
HOW shall I know that I am accepted of God?that I am saved or sanctified? The Bible declares God's love and pity for sinners, including me, and reveals His offer of mercy to me in Jesus Christ, on condition that I fully repent of my sins and, yielding myself to Him, believe on Jesus Christ and, taking up my cross, follow Him. But how shall I know that I have met these conditions in a way to satisfy Him, and that I am myself saved?
1. The Bible cannot tell me this. It tells me what to do, but it does not tell me when I have done it, any more than the signboard at the country cross-roads, pointing out the road leading to the city, tells me when I have reached the city.
2. My religious teachers and friends cannot tell me, for they cannot read my heart, nor the mind of God toward me. How can they know when I have in my heart repented and believed, and when His righteous anger is turned away? They can encourage me to repent, believe, obey, and can assure me that, if I do, He will accept me and I shall be saved; but beyond that they cannot go.
3. My own heart, owing to its darkness and deceitfulness and liability to error, is not a safe witness previous to the assurance God Himself gives. If my neighbour is justly offended with me, it is not my own heart, but his testimony that first assures me of his favour once more.
How, then, shall I know that I am justified or wholly sanctified? There is but one way, and that is by the witness of the Holy Spirit. God must notify me, and make me to know it; and this He does when, despairing of my own works of righteousness, I cast my poor soul fully and in faith upon Jesus. Says Paul: ' 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 Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God' (Rom. viii. 15, 16). 'And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father' (Gal. iv. 6), Unless He Himself assures me, I shall never know that He accepts me, but must continue in uncertainty all my days.
Come, Holy Ghost, Thyself impress
On my expanding heart;
And show that in the Father's grace
I share a filial part.
The Founder says: 'Assurance is produced by the revelation of forgiveness and acceptance made by God Himself directly to the soul. This is the witness of the Spirit. It is God testifying in my soul that He has loved me and given Himself for me, and washed me from my sins in His own Blood. Nothing short of this actual revelation, made by God Himself, can make anyone sure of Salvation.'
John Wesley says: 'By the testimony of the Spirit, I mean an inward impression of the soul, whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God; that Jesus hath loved me, and given Himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.'
This witness of the Spirit addressed to my consciousness enables me to sing with joyful assurance:
My God is reconciled,
His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child,
I can no longer fear;
With confidence I now draw nigh
And Father, Abba Father! cry
When the Holy Spirit witnesses to me that I am saved and adopted into God's family as His child then other evidences begin to abound also. For instance:
I. My own spirit witnesses that I am a new creature. I know that old things have passed away and all things have become new. My very thoughts and desires have been changed. Love and joy and peace reign within me. My heart no longer condemns me. Pride and selfishness, and lust and temper, no longer control my thoughts nor lead captive my will. I am a new creature' and I know it, and I infer without doubt that this is the work of God in me.
2. My conscience bears witness that I am honest and true in all my purposes and intentions; that I am without guile; that my eye is single to the glory of God, and that with all simplicity and sincerity of heart I serve Him; and, since by nature I am only sinful, I again infer that this sincerity of heart is His blessed work in my soul and is a fruit of salvation.
3. The Bible becomes a witness to my salvation. In it are accurately portrayed the true characteristics of the children of God; and as I study it prayerfully, and find these characteristics in my heart and life I again infer that I am saved. This is true selfexamination and is most useful.
These evidences are most important to guard us against any mistake as to the witness of the Holy Spirit. The witness of the Spirit is not likely to be mistaken for something else, just as the sun is not likely to be mistaken for a lesser light, a glow-worm or a moon. But one who has not seen the sun might mistake some lesser light for the sun. So an unsaved man may mistake some flash of fancy, some pleasant emotion, for the witness of the Spirit. But if he is honest, the absence of these secondary evidences and witnesses will correct him. He must know that so long as sin masters him, reigns within him, and he is devoid of the tempers, ,races and dispositions of God's people as portrayed in
the Bible, that he is mistaken in supposing that he has the witness of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit cannot witness to what does not exist. He cannot lie. Not until sin is forgiven does He witness to the fact. Not until we are justified from our old sins and born again does He witness that we are children of God; and when He does so witness, these secondary evidences always follow. Charles Wesley expresses this in one of his matchless hymns:
How can a sinner know
His sins on earth forgiven?
How can my gracious Saviour show
My name inscribed in Heaven?
We who in Christ believe
That He for us hath died,
We all His unknown peace receive,
And feel His Blood applied.
His love, surpassing far
The love of all beneath,
We find within our hearts, and dare
The pointless darts of death.
Stronger than death and Hell
The mystic power we prove;
And, conquerors of the world, we dwell
In Heaven, who dwell in love.
The witness of the Spirit is far more comprehensive than many suppose. Multitudes do not believe that there is any such thing, while others confine it to the forgiveness of sins and adoption into the family of God. But the truth is that the Holy Spirit witnesses to much more than this.
He witnesses to the sinner that he is guilty, condemned before God, and lost. This we call conviction; but it is none other than the witness of the Spirit to the sinner's true condition; and when a man realizes it, nothing can convince him to the contrary. His friends may point out his good works, his kindly disposition, and try to assure him that he is not a bad man; but, so long as the Spirit continues to witness to his guilt, nothing can console him or reassure his quaking heart. This convicting witness may come to a sinner at any time, but it is usually given under the searching preaching of the gospel, or the burning testimony of those who have been gloriously saved and sanctified; or in time of danger, when the soul is awed into silence so that it can hear the 'still small voice' of the Holy Spirit.
Again, the Holy Spirit not only witnesses to the forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God, but He also witnesses to sanctification. ' For by one offering He (that is, Jesus) hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us' (Heb. x. 14, 15)
Indeed, one who has this witness can no more doubt it than a man with two good eyes can doubt the existence of the sun when he steps forth into the splendour of a cloudless noonday. It satisfies him, and he cries out exultingly, 'We know, we know!' Hallelujah!
Paul seems to teach that the Holy Spirit witnesses to every good thing God works in us, for he says: ' We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God ' (I Cor. ii. 12). It is for our comfort and encouragement to know our acceptance of God and our rights, privileges and possessions in Jesus Christ; and the Holy Spirit is given for this purpose, that we may know.
But it is important to bear in mind God's plan of work in this matter.
I. The witness of the Spirit is dependent upon our faith. God does not give it to those who do not believe in Jesus; and if our faith wavers, the witness will become intermittent; and if faith fails, it will be withdrawn. Owing to the unsteadiness of their faith, many young converts get into uncertainty. Happy are they at such times if someone is at hand to instruct and encourage them to look steadfastly to Jesus. But, alas! many old Christians through unsteady faith walk in gloom and uncertainty and, instead of encouraging the young, they discourage them. Steadfast faith will keep the inward witness bright.
2. We must not take our attention off Jesus, and the promises of God in Him, and fix it upon the witness of the Spirit. The witness continues only while we look unto Jesus and trust and obey Him. When we take our eyes off Him, the witness is gone. Many people fail here. Instead of quietly and confidently looking unto Jesus and trusting Him, they are vainly looking for the witness; which is as though a man should try to realize the sweetness of honey, without receiving it in his mouth; or the beauty of a picture, while having his eyes turned inward upon himself instead of outward upon the picture. Jesus saves. Look to Him, and He will send the Spirit to witness to His work.
3. The witness may be brightened by diligence in the discharge of duty, by frequent seasons of glad prayer, by definite testimony to salvation and sanctification, and by stirring up our faith.
4. The witness may be dulled by neglect of duty, by sloth in prayer, by inattention to the Bible, by indefinite, hesitating testimony, and by carelessness, when we should be careful to walk soberly and steadfastly with the Lord.
5. I dare not say that the witness of the Spirit is dependent upon our health, but there are some forms of nervous and organic disease that seem so to distract or becloud the mind as to interfere with the clear discernment of the witness of the Spirit. I knew a nervous little child who would be so distracted with fear by an approaching carriage, when being carried across the street in her father's arms, that she seemed to be incapable of hearing or heeding his reassuring voice. It may be that there are some diseases that for the time prevent the sufferer from discerning the reassuring witness of the heavenly Father. Dr. Asa Mahan told me of an experience of this kind which he had in a very dangerous sickness. And Dr. Daniel Steele had a similar experience while lying at the point of death with typhoid fever. But some of the happiest Christians the world has seen have been racked with pain and tortured with disease.
And so there may be seasons of fierce temptation when the witness is not clearly discerned; but we may rest assured that if our hearts cleave to Jesus Christ and duty, He will never leave or forsake us. Blessed be God!
6. But the witness will be lost if we wilfully sin, or persistently neglect to follow where He leads. This witness is a pearl of great price, and Satan will try to steal it from us; therefore, we must guard it with watchful prayer continually.
7. If lost, it may be found again by prayer and faith and a dutiful taking up of the cross which has been laid down. Thousands who have lost it have found it again, and often they have found it with increased brightness and glory. If you have lost it, my brother, look up in faith to your loving God, and He will restore it to you. It is possible to live on the right side of plain duty without the witness, but you cannot be sure of your salvation, joyful in service, or glad in God, without it; and since it is promised to all God's children, no one who professes to be His should be without it.
If you have it not, my brother or sister, seek it now by faith in Jesus. Go to Him, and do not let Him go till He notifies you that you are His. Listen to Charles Wesley:
From the world of sin and noise
And hurry, I withdraw;
For the small and inward voice
I wait with humble awe;
Silent am I now and still,
Dare not in Thy presence move;
To my waiting soul reveal
The secret of Thy love.
Do you want the witness to abide? Then study the word of God and live by it; sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord; praise the Lord with your first waking breath in the morning, and thank Him with your last waking breath at night; flee from sin; keep on believing; look to Jesus, cleave to Him, follow Him gladly, trust the efficacy of His Blood, and the witness will abide in your heart. Be patient with the Lord. Let Him mould you, and 'He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing' (Zeph. iii. 17); and you shall no longer doubt, but know that you are His. Hallelujah!
There are in this loud stunning tide
Of human care and crime,
With whom the melodies abide
Of th' everlasting chime,
Who carry music in their heart
Through dusky lane and wrangling mart,
Plying their task with busier feet
Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat.
And that ' holy strain' is but the echo of the Lord's song in their heart, which is the witness of the Spirit.
' HAVE YE RECEIVED THE HOLY GHOST SINCE YE BELIEVED?
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