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by its efficacy in subduing that corruption, must be invariably beneficial: it is such an immediate emanation from God, the fountain of blessedness, that it can never fail of being intrinsically, essentially, and eternally good. It is also deserving our attention, that the injunction of seeking it by prayer is prefaced by a parable constructed on purpose to teach us the propriety of urging our suit with importunity. In imploring other gifts (which we are at liberty to do with submission,) it is still a great point of duty to moderate our desires, and to be prepared for a disappointment, because, as we have already remarked, it is possible the things we are seeking may neither conduce to the glory of God nor to our ultimate benefit; for who knoweth what is good for a man all the days of this his vain life? But when we present our requests for a larger measure of his grace we labour under no such uncertainty, we may safely let forth all the ardour and vehemence of our spirits, since our desires are fixed upon what is the very knot and juncture where the honour of God and the interests of his creatures arc indissolubly united. Desires after grace are, in fact, desires after God; and how is it possible they can be too vehement or intense, when directed to such an object? His gracious presence is not like the limited goods of this life, fitted to a particular crisis, or adapted to a special exigency in a fluctuating scene of things; it is alike suited to all times and seasons, the food of souls, the proper good of man under every aspect of Providence, and even the exchange of worlds. My 'soul, said David, panteth after God, yea, for the living God. My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me. The most eminent effusions of the Spirit we read of in Scripture were not only afforded to prayer, but appear to have taken place at the very time that exercise was performed. The descent of the Holy Ghost, at the day of Pentecost, was while the disciples were with one accord in one place; and after the imprisonment of Peter and John, who being dismissed, went to their own company, While they prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken with a mighty wind, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. When a new heart and a new spirit are promised in Ezekiel, it is added, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.
3. Habitual dependence on divine influence is an important duty. This may be considered as opposed to two things; first, to depending on ourselves, to the neglect of divine agency; next, to despondency and distrust. When the Holy Spirit has condescended to take the conduct of souls, it is unquestionably great presumption to enter upon duty in the same manner as if no such assistance were needed or to be expected; and the result will be as with Samson who said, I will go forth and shake myself, as in time past, while he wist not that the Lord was departed from him. It is one thing to acknowledge a dependence on heavenly influence in speculation, and another thing so to realize and to feel it as to say from the heart, I will go in the strength of the Lord God. A mere assent to this proposition, that the Spirit must concur in the production of every good work (an assent not easily withheld without rejecting the Scriptures), falls very short of the prac
tical homage due from feeble worms to so great an Agent; and a most solemn and explicit acknowledgment of entire dependence may reasonably be expected. When you engage in prayer or in any other duty, endeavour to enter upon it with a serious and deliberate recollection of your need of the Spirit. Let the consciousness of your weakness and insufficiency for every good work be a sentiment rendered familiar to your minds and deeply impressed on your hearts.
But while we recommend this, there is another extreme against which we think it our duty to guard you, and that is, a disposition to despondency and distrust. We are most ready to acknowledge that the assistance you need is most free and gratuitous, neither given to our deservings nor flowing from any natural connexion subsisting between our endeavours and the exertion of divine agency. The Spirit of God is a free Spirit; and it is impossible to conceive how either faith or prayer should have an intrinsic efficacy in drawing down influence from heaven. There is, however, a connexion established by divine vouchsafement, which entitles believers to expect, in the use of means, such measures of gracious assistance as are requisite to sustain and support them in their religious course. The Spirit is spoken of as the matter of promise to which every Christian is encouraged to look the promise is to you and to your children, and to as many as the Lord your God shall call. Agreeable to this, it is represented as the express purpose of Christ's becoming a curse for us, that the promise of the Spirit might come on the gentiles through faith. The same expectation is justified by the Saviour's own declaration, when on the last and great day of the feast he stood and cried, Whoever is athirst, let him come unto me and drink; for he that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. This, says the evangelist, he spoke of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.
The readiness of the Holy Ghost to communicate himself to true believers is also evinced by the tenor of evangelical precepts: be ye strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. To command a person to be strong seems strange and unusual language, but is sufficiently explained when we reflect, that a portion of spiritual power is ready to be communicated to those who duly seek it be ye filled with the Spirit, which is the exhortation of the same apostle, takes it for granted that a copious supply is at hand, sufficient to satiate the desires of the saints. We are at a loss to account for such precepts, without supposing an established connexion between the condition of believers and the further communication of divine influence. To the same purpose Paul speaks with apostolic authority, this I say, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh; and Jude inculcates the duty of praying in the Spirit, which would be strange if no assistance were to be obtained; and as prayer is a duty of daily occurrence, the injunction implies that it is ready to be imparted to Christians, not by fits and starts, or at distant intervals, but in a stated, regular course.
For this reason, when we hear Christians complaining of the habitual withdrawment of the divine presence, we are under the necessity of
ascribing it to their own fault: not that we mean to deny there is much of sovereignty in this affair, or that the Spirit, like the wind, bloweth where it listeth. But it should be remembered, we are now adverting to the situation of real believers, who are entitled to the promise; and though it is probable there is much of sovereignty exercised even with respect to them, we apprehend it rather concerns those influences which are consolatory than such as are sanctifying; though there is a degree of satisfaction intermingled with every exercise of genuine piety, yet it is manifest some influences of the Spirit tend more immediately to comfort, others to purification. Some are engaged in the fixed contemplation of objects which exist out of ourselves, the perfections of God, the excellency of Christ, the admirable constitution of the gospel, accompanied with a delightful conviction of a personal interest in whatever comes under our view; the natural fruit of which is joy unspeakable and full of glory. By others, we are more immediately impressed with a lasting sense of our extreme unworthiness, and made to mourn over remaining corruption and the criminal defects inherent in our best services.
In the midst of such exercises, it is possible hope may languish and comfort be reduced to a low ebb, yet the divine life may be still advancing and the soul growing in humility, deadness to the world, and the mortification of her own will, as the sap during winter retires to the root of the plant, ready to ascend and produce verdure and beauty on the return of spring. This is the will of God, even our sanctification; and though he delights in comforting his people at proper seasons, he is much less intent on this than in promoting their spiritual improvement, to which, in this their probationary state, every thing is made subservient. Let us not then confound the decay of consolation with the decay of piety, nor imagine we can want the aids. necessary to prevent the latter, unless we have forfeited them by presumption, negligence, and sloth. Whenever Christians sensibly decline in religion, they ought to charge themselves with the guilt of having grieved the Spirit; they should take the alarm, repent and do their first works; they are suffering under the rebukes of that paternal justice which God exercises in his own family. Such a measure of gracious assistance in the use of means, being by the tenor of the new covenant ascertained to real Christians, as is requisite for their comfortable walk with God, to find it withheld should engage them in deep searchings of heart, and make them fear lest a promise being left them of entering into rest, they should appear to come short of it. But this leads us to observe, in the last place, that,
4. If we wish to enjoy the light of the Spirit, we must take care to maintain a deportment suited to the character of that divine agent. When the apostle exhorts us not to grieve the Spirit of God, by which we are sealed to the day of redemption, it is forcibly implied that he is susceptible of offence, and that to offend him involves heinous ingratitude and folly: ingratitude, for what a requital is this for being sealed to the day of redemption! and folly, inasmuch as we may fitly say on this, as Paul did on a different occasion, Who is he that maketh us glad,
but the same that is made sorry by us? Have we any other comforter when he is withdrawn? Is there a single ray of light can visit us in his absence, or can we be safe for a moment without his guidance and support? If the immense and infinite Spirit, by a mysterious condescension, deigns to take the conduct of a worm, ought it not to yield the most implicit submission? The appropriate duty owing to a faithful and experienced guide is a ready compliance with his dictates; and how much more may this be expected when the disparity between the parties in question is no less than infinite? The language of the Holy Ghost, in describing the manners of the ancient Israelites, is awfully monitory to professors of religion in every age; they rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit, therefore he turned to be their enemy, and fought against them. As we wish to avoid whatever is more curious than useful, we shall not stay to inquire precisely on what occasions or to what extent the Spirit is capable of being resisted: it may be sufficient to observe, it is evident from melancholy experience that it is very possible to neglect what is the obvious tendency of his motions, which is invariably to produce universal holiness. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, meekness, gentleness, temperance, faith: whatever is contrary to these involves an opposition to the Spirit, and is directly calculated to quench his sacred influence. From his descending on Christ in the form of a dove, as well as from many express declarations of Scripture, we may with certainty conclude the indulgence of all the irascible and malignant passions to be peculiarly repugnant to his nature; and it is remarkable, that the injunction of not grieving the Holy Spirit is immediately followed by a particular caution against cherishing such dispositions; let all bitterness and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Have you not found by experience that the indulgence of the former has destroyed that self-recollection and composure which are so essential to devotion? Vindictive passions surround the soul with a sort of turbulent atmosphere, than which nothing can be conceived more opposite to that calm and holy light in which the blessed Spirit loves to dwell. The indulgence of sensual lusts, or of whatever enslaves the soul to the appetites of the body, in violation of the rules of sobriety and chastity, it seems almost unnecessary to add, must have a direct tendency to quench his sacred influences; wherever such desires prevail, they war against the soul, immerse it in carnality, and utterly indispose it to every thing spiritual and heavenly. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit; it bears a resemblance to its Author in being a spiritual production, which requires to be nourished by divine meditation, by pure and holy thoughts.
If you wish to live in the fellowship of the Spirit, you must guard with no less care against the encroachments of worldly-mindedness, recollecting we are Christians just as far as our treasures and our hearts are placed in heaven and no farther. A heart overcharged with the cares of this world is as disqualified for converse with God,
and for walking in the Spirit, as by surfeiting and drunkenness; to which, by their tendency to intoxicate and stupify, they bear a great resemblance.
How many, by an immoderate attachment to wealth and by being determined at all events to become rich, have fallen into divers foolish and hurtful lusts, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows! and where the result has not been so signally disastrous, a visible languor in religion has ensued, the friendship of serious Christians been shunned, and the public ordinances of religion attended with little fruit or advantage. As it is the design of the Spirit, in his sacred visitations, to form us for an habitual converse with spiritual and eternal objects, nothing can tend more directly to contract it than to bury our souls in earth: it is as impossible for the eye of the mind as for that of the body to look opposite ways at once; nor can we aim at the things which are seen and temporal, but by losing sight of those which are unseen and are eternal.
But though a general attention to the duties of piety and virtue, and careful avoidance of the sins opposed to these, is certainly included in a becoming deportment to the Holy Spirit, perhaps it is not all that is included. The children of God are characterized in Scripture by their being led by the Spirit: led, evidently not impelled, not driven forward in a headlong course, without choice or design; but being, by the constitution of their nature, rational and intelligent, and by the influence of grace rendered spiritual, they are disposed to obey at a touch, and to comply with the gentler insinuations of divine grace; they are ready to take that precise impression which corresponds with the mind and purpose of the Spirit. You are aware of what consequence it is in worldly concerns to embrace opportunities and to improve critical seasons; and thus, in the things of the Spirit, there are times peculiarly favourable, moments of happy visitation, where much more may be done towards the advancement of our spiritual interest than usual. These are gales of the Spirit, unexpected influences of light and of power, which no assiduity in the means of grace can command, but which it is a great point of wisdom to improve. If the husbandman is attentive to the vicissitudes of weather and the face of the sky, that he may be prepared to take the full benefit of every gleam of sunshine and every falling shower, how much more alert and attentive should we be in watching for those influences from above which are necessary to ripen and mature a far more precious crop! As the natural consequence of being long under the guidance of another is a quick perception of his meaning, so that we can meet his wishes before they are verbally expressed, something of this ready discernment, accompanied with instant compliance, may reasonably be expected from those who profess to be habitually led by the Spirit.
The design of his operation is in one view invariably the same-the production of holiness; but the branches of which that consists and the exercises of mind which are rendered subservient to it are various; and he who is intent on walking in the Spirit will be careful to fall in with that train of thought and cherish that cast of reflection to which