The Spirit itself beareth witness to our spirit, that we are the children of God. Rom. 8:16
Understanding or hearing the voice of the Spirit could sometimes be confusing to human comprehension. How often have many vain men mistaken the voice of their own imagination for this witness of the Spirit of God, and thence idly presumed they were the children of God while they were doing the works of the devil!
Though they are truly and properly enthusiasts, yet all endeavors to bring them to the knowledge of the truth seem difficult. They have set themselves so far above all the usual methods of conviction that we may well say, “With men it is impossible. They have the tendency to be seen fighting against God in that vehemence and impetuosity of spirit which they call “contending earnestly for the faith,”.
Let us examine the witness or testimony of our spirit in relation to the testimony of God’s Spirit and how he “bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God?”
The witness and testimony of our spirit;
Believers have the Spirit of God when they became children of God. The Apostle wrote in Roman 8:15, “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father;” and immediately subjoins, _Auto to pneuma_ (some copies read _to auto pneuma_) _symmartyrei tOi pneumati hEmOn, hoti esmen tekna Theou_, which may be translated, “The same Spirit beareth witness to our spirit that we are the children of God” (the preposition _syn_ only denoting that he witnesses this at the same time that he enables us to cry Abba, Father.) It suffices to note that the experience of all real Christians, sufficiently proved that there is in every believer, both the testimony of God’s Spirit and the testimony of his own, that he is a child of God.
The foundation of the Spirit indwelling is laid in the numerous texts of Scripture that describe the marks of the children of God. These are also collected together, and placed in the strongest light, by many both ancient and modern writers. Every man applying the scriptural marks to himself may know whether he is a child of God. Thus, if he knows, First, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God,” into all holy tempers and actions, “they are the sons of God;” (for which he has the infallible assurance of holy writ;) Secondly, I am thus “led by the Spirit of God;” he will easily conclude, — “Therefore I am a son of God.”
The many plain declarations of St. John, in his First Epistle: “Hereby we know that we do know him if we keep his commandments.” (1 John 2:3.) “Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected; Hereby know we that we are in him;” that we are indeed the children of God. (1 John 2:5.)
“If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” (1 John 2:29.) “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.” (1 John 3:14)
“Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him;” namely, because we “love one another not in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, because he hath given us of his” loving “Spirit.” (1 John 4:13.) And, “hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the” obedient “spirit which he hath given us.” (1 John 3:24.)
The Apostles and all those pillars in God’s temple were in agreement with these marks of their being the children of God; and that they applied them to their own souls for the confirmation of their faith. Rational evidence is the witness of our spirit, our reason, or understanding. It all resolves into this: Those who have these marks are the children of God: But we have these marks. Therefore we are children of God.
How a believer senses within himself the indwelling of the spirit could be compared to how that he is conscious of himself to be alive, and that he is now at ease, and not in pain. One will know if his soul is alive to God; if he is saved from the pain of proud wrath, and have the ease of a meek and quiet spirit. By the same means, one cannot but perceive if he loves, rejoices, and delights in God. By the same one must be directly assured, if one loves his neighbour as himself; if he is kindly affectioned to all mankind, and full of gentleness and longsuffering. And with regard to the outward mark of the children of God, which is, according to St. John, the keeping his commandments, one undoubtedly knows in his own breast, if, by the grace of God, it belongs to him.
The function of the conscience is to inform us from day to day, if and how we keep his commandments. Now this is properly the testimony of our own spirit; even the testimony of our conscience, that God hath given us to be holy of heart, and holy in outward conversation.
It is a consciousness we receive in and by the Spirit of adoption, the tempers mentioned in the Word of God as belonging to his adopted children; even a loving heart toward God and toward all mankind; hanging with childlike confidence on God our Father, desiring nothing but him, casting all our care upon him, and embracing every child of a man with earnest, tender affection. A consciousness that we are inwardly conformed, by the Spirit of God, to the image of his Son, and that we walk before him in justice, mercy, and truth, doing the things which are pleasing in his sight.
Moreover, the testimony of God’s Spirit is superadded to and conjoined with our consciousness. The testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; and that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God. This testimony of the Spirit of God must needs, in the very nature of things, be antecedent to the testimony of our own spirit, may appear from this single consideration: We must be holy of heart, and holy in life before we can be conscious that we are so; before we can have the testimony of our spirit, that we are inwardly and outwardly holy.
The entire Holiness is dependent on our love towards God. The Love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. Now we cannot love God, till we know he loves us. “We love him because he first loved us.” And we cannot know his pardoning love to us, till his Spirit witnesses it to our spirit. Therefore this testimony of his Spirit must precede the love of God and all holiness which also of consequence must precede our inward consciousness thereof or the testimony of our spirit concerning them.
A Christian can in no wise doubt of his being a child of God. He has as full an assurance as he has that the Scriptures are of God; and of his thus loving God, he has an inward proof, which is nothing short of self-evidence. Thus, the testimony of our own spirit is with the most intimate conviction manifested to our hearts, in such a manner, as beyond all reasonable doubt to indicate the reality of our sonship.
The manner the divine testimony is manifested to the heart is above human understanding and cannot be explained with a mere logical reason. The wind blows, and I hear the sound thereof, but I cannot tell how it comes, or where it goes. As no one knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man that is in him; so the manner of the things of God knoweth no one, save the Spirit of God. But the fact we know; namely, that the Spirit of God does give a believer such a testimony of his adoption that while it is present to the soul, he can no more doubt the reality of his sonship than he can doubt of the shining of the sun, while he stands full blaze of his beams.
“This is the love of God,” the sure mark thereof, “that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 5:3.) And our Lord himself said, “He that keepeth my commandments, is he that loveth me.” (John 14:21.) Love rejoices to obey; to do, in every point whatever is acceptable to the beloved. A true lover of God hastens to do his will on earth as it is done in heaven.
A presumptuous pretender to the love of God is entirely selfish. He considers the love of God as liberty to disobey, to break, not keep, the commandments of God. Perhaps, when he was in fear of the wrath of God, he did labor to do his will. But now, looking on himself as “not under the law,” he thinks he is no longer obliged to observe it. A hypocrite sees it as an easier way to heaven; a broad, smooth flowery path, in which he can say to his soul, “Soul, take thy ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” It follows, with undeniable evidence, that he has not the true testimony of his own spirit. He cannot be conscious of having those marks which he has not; that lowliness, meekness, and obedience: Nor yet can the Spirit of the God of truth bear witness to a lie; or testify that he is a child of God when he is manifestly a child of the devil.