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Jive and glowing; God still acts through all His works preserving and upholding the whole system of things, and carrying forward the designs of infinite wisdom and goodness. His providence is a continued exertion of creating power. As he is employed in the material, he acts also upon the moral world. The Father of spirits communicates himself to holy men^ Enlightens their understandings with divine knowledge; by secret ways* at oace strengthen$ and ravishes the mind, and fills them with a conscious sense of his Own presence. Hence the wisest among the heathens^ guided only by the light Of nature, acknowledged the necessity of supernatural aids, and taught that nothing great or good could be performed without the influence of a divine Spirit. But as this doctrine hath been by some denied altogether, and by Others involved in mysticism and absurdity, it will be proper to give you that just and rational account of it, which the Scripture authorizes.
There is hardly any one thing of which mankind may be made more sensible from their own experience, than the necessity of divine aids. For, alas! the balance in human nature, between reason and appetite, between the powers of the mind, and the inclinations arising from the body, is in a great degree lost. There may be, and there once was, a more harmonious temperament in the human frame. The rational part Of our nature was better enlightened and more vigorous; the passions and appetites of the animal part moved under its controul. But that state of innocence is no more. Our nature is now degenerated; we find a law in the members warring against the law of the mind. This disorder of our frame is more and more increased by those false notions of happiness which we are apt to imbibe, ar\d by the many bad examples among which we pass our early years, insomuch, that by the time that we are grown up to the full power and exercise of reason, we find ourselves brought under the dominion of sensual and wicked inclinations. How then shall we recover our liberty *
Vol. ii. T t
How shall we regain the original rectitude of our nature, and obtain a victory over the vices which war against the soul? f s nature, such as it now is, sufficient for these things? Is reason alone an equal match for the passions and desires of the heart, broke loose from all their restraints, authorized by'custom, and inflamed by example? Can we cease to do evil apd learn to do well, purely of ourselves, and be able to turn the stream of our affections from sensible and earthly ihings, to objects worthy of the choice and pursuit of a reasonable nature? Can we, in short, convert ourselves by our own strength, and turn from the power of Satan unto the living God ? Arc we sufficient for these things?
We are not. When we would do good, evil is present with us: the sensual part of our nature obtains dominion over the rational; we are chained down to the earth, while we attempt to soar to the heavens. Here, therefore, God hath graciously interposed for our recovery. As he sent his Son into the world to redeem us from the guilt of sin and the curse of the law, he gives us his Holy Spirit to deliver us from the dominion of sin, and to translate us from the bondage of Satan into the family of Heaven, and the glorious liberty of the children of God. Hence he is said to work in us both to will and to do that which is his good pleasure. We are said to receive the Spirit, and our bodies are styled the temples of tiie Holy Ghost.
Concerning this Spirit given to those that ask him, I observe, ia liwfost place, That his influence is consistent with the freedoin of a reasonable being. The assistance which we receive from above, both in our first conversion from sin, and through the whole course of a religious life, are entirely rational, and have only a persuasive and moral influence. They do not resemble the inspiration of the prophets of old, which was sudden and violent, and overpowered the mind : which superseded the use of reason, and suspended for a while the exercise of the natural faculties. The prophets were but the instruments of the Spirit, but we work together with God. The grace of Heaven does not take away the powers of the mind, but exalts them. It does not destroy the natural liberty of the mind, it makes us free indeed. If a man loses his free agency, he ceases to be man. He is a machine, and is acted upon. In opposition to this, God is said, in Scripture, to draw us with the cords of love, and with the bands of a man: that is, in such a manner as is most consistent with freedom of choice, and agreeable to the constitution of a reasonable nature. Reason being the noblest faculty of the human frame, it first partakes the influence of the divine Spirit. Its views are enlarged to take in the system of divine truth, and its power is increased to govern the whole man. These divine aids extend to the heart and the affections, place them on proper objects, and give them their noblest joys. In short, they take in the whole of the Christian life. They inspire good resolutions and purposes of new obedience; they carry us on, and encourage us in the ways of righteousness ; they render the practice of our duty easy and delightful, and'bring us at last to the enjoyment of uninterrupted.and everlasting happiness.
Thus you see, that the influence of the divine Spirit is in a way agreeable to the frame of human nature, gentle and persuasive; not controuling or obstructing the use of reason, but by the use of reason influencing the will, moderating the affections, and regulating the whole conversation. It is no argument agaiiibt the reality of such divine aids, that they are not distinguishable from the operation of our own minds, and that we feel them not in a sensible and striking manner. How difficult is it in our own character to distinguish what is natural from what is acquired ; to distinguish between the natural treasures of the mind, and those foreign stores which she imports from education. The Spirit of God acts in such a manner as is most agreeable to the faculties of the mind. It is in this manner also, that God acts in the material world. Whatever is done in the heavens, or in the earth, or in the sea, is brought about by divine providence. Yet all that chain of causes and effects, from the lowest up to the throne of' God, we call by the name of the course of nature. But what is this? The course of nature is the energy of God.
In the second place, I observe, concerning the in-*fluence of the Spirit, that its reality is only known by its operation and effect upon our lives.— "Marvel not," said our Lord to Nicodemus, " that I "said unto you, Thou must be born again. The wind "bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound "thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and "whither it goeth, So is every one that is born of the "Spirit." That is, as if he had said, the influences of the Spirit are indeed imperceptible to sense, and cannot be distinguished in the precise moment of their Operation, but they are visible and certain in their effects, and in the fruits which they produce. A life of obedience arid holiness., therefore, is the proof, and the only proof, that the Spirit dwells in us. The fruit of the Spirit, say the Scriptures, is goodness, and righteousness, and truth. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, meekness, and temperance. The life, then, my friends, the life is the criterion and test by which we shall know if we are born of the Spirit. There are indeed Other marks, easier attained, which some people have found out to themselves. A light within, a call from, heaven, a secret voice, and an extraordinary impulse, these are often the, effects, nqt of a divine favour, but of a weak understanding, and a wild imagination, and often of something worse, even of arrant hypocrisy and unblushing imprudence. These indeed are the ma»ks of a spirit which hath often appeared in the world, but which is very different from the Spirit of* God. These are the symptoms of that intolerant and persecuting spirit, the offspring of darkness and of der -taio.PSi which, excepting a few favotp-ites, pursues the human race with unrelenting hatred in this world, and consigns them over to eternal pains in the next. This is a spirit which hath slain its thousands. Fire and sword marks its approach; its steps are in the blood of the just, and it shakes the rod of extermination over the affrighted earth. But the Spirit of God is the Spirit of love. It fills us with affection and benevolence towards all our brethren of mankind. For he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God dwelleth in him.
This doctrine of the Spirit dwelling in us, and asr sisting us to perform good works, furnished) a strong argument for humility. Why boastest thou, O man? What hast thou which thou hast not received ? From God descended) every good and every perfect gift. We can do nothing of ourselves, not even so much as to think a good thought. It is by the grace of God that we are what we are. He graciously accepts of oar sincere endeavours to please him; and at last rewards those services, which by his grace he enables us to perform. Let us therefore be sensible of our own imperfections, and give all the praise to him. Let this stir us up to activity in our Christian course. The proper use and improvement of this doctrine is not to sit still and take our rest, because God gives us his Holy Spirit, but relying on the assistance of his Spirit to move forwards in our Christian race. Seeing God worketh in you, therefore work out your salvation. Up, therefore, and be doing, seeing the Lord is with you. You not only act with the force of Providence on your side; you have not only the Captain of Salvation fighting with you ; but you have also his Spirit within you, leading you on to victory.
In the lust place, Let us express our gratitude and praise to this divine Guest, who vouchsafes to be our guide and our comforter; let us be careful not to grieve and offend him by wicked actions, lest he withdraw himself from us : and let us always remember, that He who is a pure and a holy Spirit, cannot dwell in polluted heartsj and in temples that are not his own,