Object. I do not partake of those special communications of God mentioned in the Scripture, and of those actings and outgoings of his Spirit, of which gracious people often are speaking, and to which they attain. The want of these things makes me much suspect my state.
Ans. I shall shortly notice some of these excellent communications; and I hope, upon a right discovery of them, there will he but small ground found for the jealous complaints of many gracious people.
1. Besides these convictions of the Spirit of God, which are wont to usher Christ’s way into the souls of men, and those also which afterwards do ordinarily attend them, there is a seal of the Spirit of God spoken of in Scripture, the principal thing whereof is the sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost, imprinting the draughts and lineaments of God’s image and revealed will upon a man, as a seal or signet doth leave an impression and stamp of its likeness upon the thing sealed. So it is: “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his; and. let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” And thus I conceive the seal to he called “a witness:” “He that believeth hath the witness in himself;” that is, The grounds upon which an interest in Christ is to be made out and proved, are in every believer; for he hath somewhat of the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit in him, which is a sure, although not always a clear and manifest witness.
II. There is communion with God much talked of among Christians, by which they understand the sensible presence of God refreshing the soul exceedingly. But if we speak properly, communion with God is a mutual interest between God and a man, who has closed with him in Christ. It is a commonness, or a common interest between God and a man; not only is a man interested in God himself, but in all that is the Lord’s; so the Lord hath a special interest in the man, and also all that belongs to him.
There is a communion between husband and wife, whereby they have a special interest in each others’ persons, goods, and concerns; so is it here: there is such a communion with God, he is our God, and all things are ours, because he is ours. This communion with God all true believers have at all times, as we shall afterwards show. I grant there is an actual improvement of that communion, whereby men do boldly meddle with any thing that belongs unto God, and do meddle with himself, as their own, with much homeliness and familiarity; especially in worship, when the soul doth converse with a living God, partaking of the divine nature, growing like unto him, and sweetly travelling through his attributes, and, with some condence of interest, viewing these things as the man’s own goods and property: this we call communion with God in ordinances.
This indeed is not so usually nor frequently made out to men, and all his people do not equally partake of it: and it is true, that what is in God, goes not out for the behoof of the man to his apprehension equally at all times; yet certainly communion with God, properly so called, namely, that commonness of interest between God and a man, who is savingly in covenant with him, does always stand firm and sure; and so much of communion with God in ordinances all believers have, so that their heart converses with a living God there, now and then, and is in some measure changed into that same image; and there needeth be no doubt about it any further.
III. There is what is called fellowship with God, often mistaken also amongst believers. If by fellowship be meant the walking in our duty, as in the sight of a living God, who seeth and heareth us, and is witness to all our carriage, it is a thing common unto all gracious men; they all have it habitually, and in design: “I have set the Lord always before me.” Yea, and often they have it actually in exercise, when their spirit is in any good frame they walk as if they saw God standing by them, and have some thought of his favour through Christ: “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
If we by fellowship mean a sweet, refreshing, familiar, sensible conversing with God, which doth delight and refresh the soul, besides what the conscience of duty doth; it is then a walking in the light of his countenance, and a good part of sensible presence: and although it seems Enoch had much of it, whilst it is said, “He walked with God,” yet it is not so general as the former, nor so common to all Christians: for here the soul is filled as with marrow and fatness, following hard after its guide, and singularly upheld by his right hand: “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips. My soul followeth hard after thee, thy right hand upholdeth me.”
IV. There is what is called access unto God; and this I take to be the removing of obstructions out of the way between a man and God, so that the man is admitted to come near. We are said to have access to a great person when the doors are cast open, the guards removed from about him, and we are admitted to come close to him; so it is here. Now this access, in Scripture, is sometimes taken for Christ’s preparing the way, the removing of enmity between God and sinners, so as men now have a patent way to come unto God through Christ. “For through him we both have an access by one Spirit unto the Father.” Sometimes it is taken for the actual improvement of that access purchased by Christ, when a man finds all obstructions and differences, which do ordinarily fall in between him and God, removed: God is not reserve to him, nor as a stranger, keeping up himself from him, or frowning on him; but the man is admitted to “come even to his seat.” Of the want of this doth Job complain, whilst he saith, “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him.”
The first sort of access is common to all believers; they are brought near by the blood of the covenant, and are no more afar off, as the deadly enmity between God and them is removed: but access in the other sense is dispensed more according to the Lord’s absolute sovereignty and pleasure, and it is left in the power of believers to obstruct it to themselves, until it please the Lord mercifully and freely to grant it unto them again; so it is up and down, and there needs be no question as to a man’s state about it.
V. There is what is called liberty before God; and this property is freedom, or free speaking unto God. Many do much question their state, been use of the want of this now and then, since the Scripture hath said, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;” but they do unjustly confine that liberty spoken of there unto this free speaking before God. I grant, where the Spirit of the Lord doth savingly discover God’s will in the Scriptures to a man, there is liberty from any obligation to the ceremonial law, and from the condemning power of the moral law, and from much of that gross darkness and ignorance which is on natural men’s hearts as a veil hiding Christ in the gospel from them. I grant also, that sometimes even this liberty, which is a free communing with God, and “ordering of our cause before him, and filling of our mouth with arguments,” is granted to the godly, but not as liberty taken in the former senses. Although the Lord hath obliged himself to “pour out the spirit of prayer upon all the house of David” in some measure, yet this communication of the Spirit, which we call liberty, or free speaking unto God, dependeth much on the Lord’s absolute pleasure, when, and in what measure to allow it. This liberty, which we call freedom or free speaking with God in prayer, is sometimes much withdrawn from any great confidence in the time of prayer, at least, until it draw towards the close of it; it stands much in a vivacity of the understanding to take up the case which a man is to speak before God, so that he can order his cause: and next, there be words, or verbal expressions, elegant, suitable, and very emphatical, or powerful and pithy. There is also joined a fervency of spirit in prayer, of which the Scripture speaks; the soul is warm and bended, and very intent. There is also usually in this liberty a special melting of the heart often joined with a great measure of the “spirit of grace and supplication.” So the soul is poured out before God as for a first-born. Such is the liberty which many saints get before God, whilst, in much brokenness of heart and fervency of spirit, they are admitted to speak their mind fully to God, as a living God, noticing (at least) their prayer. Sometimes this liberty is joined with confidence, and then it is not only a free but also a bold speaking before God. It is that “boldness with confidence.” “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence, by the faith of him.” This is more rarely imparted unto men than the former, yet it is ordinary: it hath in it, besides what we mentioned before, some influence of the Spirit upon faith, making it put forth some vigorous acting in prayer. There is a sweet mournful frame of spirit, by which a man poureth out his heart in God’s bosom, and, with some confidence of his favour and good-will, pleadeth his cause before him as a living God; and this is all the sensible presence to which many saints do attain. There is no ground of doubt concerning a man’s state in the point of liberty before God, in this last sense, because there is nothing essential to the making up of a gracious state here: some have it, some want it, some have it at some times, and not at other times, so that it is much up and down; yet I
may say, gracious men may do much, by a very ordinary influence, in contributing towards the attaining and retaining, or keeping, of such a frame of spirit.
VI. There is what is called influence, or breathing of the Spirit.
This gracious influence (for of such only do I now speak) is either ordinary; and this is the operations of the Holy Spirit on the soul, and the habits of grace there, whereby they are still kept alive, and in some exercise and acting, although not very discernible. This influence, I conceive, always attends believers, and is that “keeping and watering night and day, and every moment.”
Or this influence is more singular and special, and is the same to a gracious, although a withered, soul, as the “wind and breath to the dry bones,” putting them in good case, and “as the dew or rain to the grass,” or newly mown field and parched ground. Such influence is meant, by the “blowing of the south wind, making the spices to flow out.” When the Spirit moveth thus, there is an edge put upon the graces of God in the soul, and they are made to act more vigorously. This is the “enlarging of the heart,” by which a “man doth run in the ways of God.” This influence is more discernible than the former, and not so ordinarily communicated.
Also here, sometimes the wind bloweth more upon one grace, and sometimes more discernibly upon another, and often upon many of the graces together; and, according to the lesser or greater measure of this influence, the soul acteth more or less vigorously towards God: and since faith is a created grace in the soul, this influence of the Spirit is upon it, sometimes less, sometimes more, and accordingly is the assurance of faith small or great.
VII. There is the hearing of prayer often spoken of in Scripture; and many vex themselves about it, alleging that they know nothing of it experimentally.
I grant, there is a favourable hearing of prayer; but we must remember it is twofold:
Either, 1. It is such as a man is simply to believe by way of argument on scriptural grounds: as if I have fled unto Christ, and do approach to God in him, pray according to his will, not regarding iniquity in my heart, exercising faith about the thing I pray for absolutely or conditionally, according to the nature of the thing and promises concerning it: I am obliged to believe that God heareth my prayer, and will give what is good, according to these Scriptures: “Whatsoever ye ask in my name, I will do it.”—” This is our confidence, that whatsoever we ask according to his will, he heareth us.”—” Believe that ye receive, and ye shall have what ye desire.” “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear:” then, if I regard not iniquity, I may believe that he doth hear me.
Or, 2. A man doth sensibly perceive that God hears his prayer: it is made out to his heart, without any syllogistical deduction. Such a hearing of prayer got Hannah; “Her countenance was no more sad.” Surely the Lord did breathe upon her faith, and made her believe that she was heard: she could not make it out by any argument; for she had not grounds upon which to build the premises of the argument, according to Scripture, in that particular: God did stamp it some way upon her heart sensibly, and so made her believe it. This is but rarely granted, especially in cases clearly deducible in Scripture: therefore people are much to be satisfied in exercising their faith about the other, and ought to leave it to God to give of this latter what he pleaseth. A man’s gracious state should not be brought into debate upon the account of such hearing of prayer.
VIII. There is assurance of God’s favour by the witnessing of our own spirits; which assurance is deduced by way of argument syllogistically, thus: Whosoever believeth on Christ shall never perish: but I do believe on Christ; therefore, I shall never perish. Whoso hath respect unto all God’s commandments shall never be ashamed: but I have respect unto all his commands; Therefore, I shall never be ashamed. I say, by reasoning thus, and comparing spiritual things with spiritual things, a man may attain to a good certainty of his gracious state. It is supposed, “That by loving the brethren in deed and in truth we may assure our hearts before God – And that a man may rejoice upon the testimony of a good conscience: “A man may have confidence towards God, if his heart do not condemn him.” We may then attain to some assurance, although not full assurance, by the witness of our own spirits. I do not deny that in this witnessing of our spirits concerning assurance, there is some concurrence of the Spirit of God: but, I conceive, there needs but a very ordinary influence, without which we can do nothing. Now, this assurance, such as it is, may be reached by intelligent believers, who keep a good conscience in their walk. So, I hope, there needs be no debate about it, as to a man’s gracious state; for if a man will clear himself of heart-condemnings, he will speedily reach this assurance.
IX. There is a “witnessing of God’s Spirit,” mentioned as “bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” This operation of the Spirit is best understood, if we produce any syllogism by which our spirit doth witness our sonship; as, for example. Whosoever loveth the brethren is passed from death to life, and consequently is in Christ: but I love the brethren; therefore, I am passed from death to life. Here there is a threefold operation of the Spirit, or three operations rather:
The first is a beam of divine light upon the first proposition, convincing of the divine authority of it, as the word of God. The Spirit of the Lord must witness the divinity of the Scriptures, and that it is the infallible word of God, far beyond all other arguments that can be used for it.
The second operation is a glorious beam of light from the Spirit, shining upon the second proposition, and so upon his own graces in the soul, discovering them to be true graces, and such as the Scripture calls so. Thus we are said to “know by his Spirit the things that are freely given unto us of God.”
The third operation is connected with the third proposition of the argument, or the conclusion, and this I conceive to be nothing else but an influence upon faith, strengthening it to draw a conclusion of full assurance upon the foresaid premises.
Now, with submission to others, who have greater light in the Scripture, and more experience of these precious communications, I do conceive the witness of the Spirit, or witnessing of it, which is mentioned, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God,” is not that first operation upon the first proposition; for that operation is that testimony of the Spirit by which he bears witness to the divinity of the whole Scriptures, and asserts the divine authority of it unto the souls of gracious men; and such an operation may be upon a truth of Scripture, which does not relate to a man’s sonship or interest in Christ at all. The Spirit may so shine upon any truth, relating to duty, or any other fundamental truth, impressing the divinity of it upon and unto the soul, and speak nothing relating to a man’s interest in Christ. Neither is the third operation of the Spirit, by which he makes faith boldly draw the conclusion, this witnessing of the Spirit; for that operation is nothing else but an influence upon faith, bringing it out to full assurance: but that upon which this full assurance is drawn or put out is somewhat confirmed and witnessed already.
Therefore I conceive the second operation of the Spirit upon the second proposition, and so upon the graces in the man, is that witness of God’s Spirit, that beam of divine light shining upon those graces by which they are made very conspicuous to the understanding. That is the witness, the shining so on them is his witnessing: for only here, in this proposition, and in this operation, doth the Spirit of God prove a co-witness with our spirit: for the main thing wherein the witness of our spirit lies, is in the second proposition; and so the Spirit of God witnessing with our spirits, is also in that same proposition. So these two witnesses having confirmed and witnessed one and the same thing, that is, the truth and reality of such and such graces in the man, which our own spirit or conscience doth depone according to its knowledge, and the Spirit of the Lord doth certainly affirm and witness to be so; there is a sentence drawn forth, and a conclusion of the man’s sonship by the man’s faith, breathed upon by the Spirit for that purpose: and this conclusion beareth the full assurance of a man’s sonship. It may be presumed, that some true saints do not partake of this all their days: “And deliver them, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
X. I speak with the experience of many saints, and, I hope, according to Scripture, if I say there is a communication of the Spirit of God which is sometimes let out to some of his people, that is somewhat besides, if not beyond, that witnessing of a sonship spoken of before. It is a glorious divine manifestation of God unto the soul, shedding abroad God’s love in the heart: it is a thing better felt than spoken of: it is no audible voice, but it is a flash of glory filling the soul with God, as he is life, light, love, and liberty, countervailing that audible voice, “O men, greatly beloved,” putting a man in a transport with this on his heart, “It is good to be here.”
It is that which went out from Christ to Mary, when he but mentioned her name: “Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni, which is to say. Master.” He had spoken some words to her before, and she understood not that it was he: but when he uttereth this one word Mary, there was some admirable divine conveyance and manifestation made out to her heart, by which she was so satisfyingly filled, that there was no place for arguing and disputing whether or no that was Christ, and if she had any interest in him. That manifestation wrought faith to itself, and did purchase credit and trust to itself, and was equivalent with “Thus saith the Lord.”
This is such a glance of glory, that it may in the highest sense be called, “the earnest,” or first fruits, “of the inheritance,” for it is a felt manifestation of the holy God, almost wholly conforming the man unto his likeness, so swallowing him up, that he forgetteth all things except the present manifestation.
O how glorious is this manifestation of the Spirit! faith here riseth to so full an assurance, that it resolves wholly into sensible presence of God. This is the thing which doth best deserve the title of sensible presence, and, it is probable, is not given unto all believers, some whereof “are all their days under bondage, and in fear;” but here, love, almost perfect, casteth “out fear.” This is so absolutely let out upon the Master’s pleasure, and so transient or passing, or quickly gone, when it is, that no man may bring his gracious state into debate for want of it.
XI. There is what we call peace, about which many do vex themselves. This peace is either concerning a man’s state, that he is reconciled unto God by Jesus Christ, or it is concerning his present case and condition, that he is walking so as approven of God, at least, so far as there is no quarrel or controversy between God and him threatening a stroke. Both of these are either such in the court of Scripture, and consequently in God’s account; or in the court of a man’s own conscience.
Peace concerning a man’s state, as being in Christ, is sure in the court of Scripture and of heaven, when a man doth by faith close with Christ and the new creature: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.”
It being sure and solid in the court of Scripture, it should hold sure in the court of a man’s conscience, if it be rightly informed; for, in that case, it still speaks according to Scripture: but, because the conscience is often misinformed and in the dark, therefore, there is often peace concerning a man’s state according to Scripture, whilst his conscience threatens the contrary, and still condemns, and refuses to assoilzie the man, as being reconciled unto God through Christ. In this case, the conscience must be informed, and the man’s gracious state made out by the marks of grace, as we showed before; and here the witness of my own spirit will do much to allay the cry of the conscience: and if the Spirit of the Lord join his witness and testimony, the conscience is perfectly satisfied, and proclaimeth peace to the man.
The other peace concerning a man’s present case or condition, that is, that it is approven of God in a gospel-sense, it may be wanting, and justly wanting, although the peace concerning a man’s state be sure. This peace concerning a man’s case and condition, is either such in the court of Scripture; and this is when a man is not regarding iniquity, and respecting the commands of God without exception; then the Scripture saith, he stands in an even place, and he needeth fear no stated quarrel between God and him, in order to a temporary stroke: and when it is thus, his conscience should also assoilzie him that same way, and would do so, if it were rightly informed: but because the conscience is often in the dark, therefore a man may be alarmed with evil in the court of conscience, as if he were justly to expect a stroke from God because of his sin, and some quarrel God hath with him, although he intend salvation for him. This is enough to keep a man in disquiet, and to prohibit him the rejoicing allowed to him, whilst he is walking in his integrity: therefore a man must here also inform his conscience, and receive no accusations nor condemnings from it, unless it make them clear by Scripture. At that bar let every man stand, both concerning his state, and his condition or case; and let him appeal from all other courts to that, and not receive any indictment but what is conformable to the truth of God, by which the conscience is to proceed in all things. And if this were well looked to, there would not be so many groundless suspicions amongst the Lord’s people, either concerning their state, or their condition, upon every thought which enters their mind.
XII. There is the joy of the Holy Ghost; and this is when the Spirit breathes upon our rejoicing in God, which is a grace very little in exercise with many, and makes it set out sensibly and vigorously; and he excites and stirs the passion of joy and of delight in the soul, so that there is an “unspeakable and glorious joy in the soul,” in the apprehension of God’s friendship and nearness unto him: “In whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” This joy followeth upon peace, and peace followeth righteousness: “The kingdom of God . . . is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” This joy generally will not fail to be according to the measure of the assurance of faith, as “In whom believing, ye rejoice.” So that the removal of mistakes about other things will allay doubts concerning this.
Now, because some of these excellent communications of the Spirit, after they are gone, are brought in question as delusions of Satan; for vindication of them, we say, that the special operations of God’s Spirit in any high degree, usually are communicated to people after such brokenness of spirit: “Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.”
After singular pains in religious duty: “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplication, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes. – And whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin – the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me.”
Or in time of much suffering for righteousness: “Rejoice, in as much as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.”
Or if they break in as the rain that waiteth not for man, then they do so humble and abase the person: “Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips – for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” And there are found so many evidences of grace in the man; “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”
Or these things do so provoke unto holiness, and to have every thing answerable and conformable unto these manifestations of God: “Let every one that nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity.” The person under them doth loathe all things besides God’s friendship and fellowship: “Peter said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here:” and these things carry on them and with them so much authority and divine superscription, whilst they are in the soul, that afterwards they may appear sufficiently to be special communications of God, and singular gracious operations of his Spirit, and no delusions of “Satan transforming himself into an angel of light.” Nor such common flashes of the Spirit as may admit afterwards of irrecoverable apostacy from God: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come; if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.”
Now then, to conclude this part of the work that relates to the trial; I say to all those who complain of the want of the precious out-pourings of the Spirit,
1. Bless God if you want nothing essential for the making out of a saving interest in Christ. God hath given unto you Christ Jesus, the greatest gift he had; and since your heart is laid out for him, he will, with him, give you all things that are good for you in their season.
2. I do believe, upon a strict search and trial, after you have understood the communications of the Spirit, you are not so great a stranger to many things as you suspected yourself to be. But,
3. Remember the promises of life and of peace with God are nowhere in Scripture made unto those special things of which you allege the want: the promises are made unto faith, followed with holiness; and it may be presumed, that many heirs of glory do not in this life partake of some of these things, but “are in bondage all their days through fear of death,” so that there should be no mistake about these things: we may seek after them, but God is free to give or withhold them.
4. Many do seek after such manifestations before they give credit by faith to God’s word. He hath borne record that there is life enough for men in Christ Jesus; and if men would by believing set to their seal that God is true, they should partake of more of these excellent things.
5. I may say, many have not honourable apprehensions and thoughts of the Spirit of God, whose proper work it is to put forth the foresaid noble operations. They do not adore him as God, but vex, grieve, quench, and resist him: and many people, complaining of the want of these things, are not at the pains to seek the Spirit in his outgoings, and few do set themselves apart for such precious receptions: therefore, be at more pains in religion, give more credit to his word, and esteem more highly of the Spirit of God, and so you may find more of these excellent things.