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of prayer, provided it be earnest ; every act of worship, provided it be sincere, may participate in the same effect; may be to us the occasion, the time, and the instrument of this greatest of all gifts.
In all these instances, and in all, indeed, that relates to the operations of the Spirit, we are to judge, if we will take upon us to judge at all (which I do not see that we are obliged to do), not only with great candour and moderation, but also with great reserve and caution ; and as to the modes of Divine grace, or of its proceedings in the hearts of men, as of things undetermined in Scripture and indeterminable by us. In our own case, which it is of infinitely more importance to each of us to manage rightly, than it is to judge even truly of other men's, we are to use perseveringly, every appointed, every reasonable, every probable, every virtuous endeavour to render ourselves objects of that merciful assistance, which undoubtedly and confessedly we much want, and which, in one way or other, God, we are assured, is willing to afford.
ON THE INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT.
1 Cor. 111. 16.
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God; and that
the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? As all doctrine ought to end in practice, and all sound instruction lead to right conduct, it comes, in the last place, to be considered, what obligations follow from the tenet of an assisting grace and spiritual influence ; what is to be done on our part in consequence of holding such a persuasion ; what is the behaviour corresponding and consistent with such an opinion. For we must always bear in mind, that the grace and Spirit of God no more take away our freedom of action, our personal and moral liberty, than the advice, the admonitions, the suggestions, the reproofs, the expostulations, the counsels of a friend or parent would take them away. We may act either right or wrong, notwithstanding these interferences. It still depends upon ourselves which of the two we will do. We are not machines under these impressions : nor are we, under the impression of the Holy Spirit. Therefore there is a class of duties relating to this subject, as much as any other, and more, perhaps, than any other, important.
And, first, I would apply myself to an objection which belongs to this, namely, the practical part of the
subject : which objection is, that the doctrine of spiritual influence, and the preaching of this doctrine, causes men to attend chiefly to the feelings within them ; to place religion in feelings and sensations, and to be content with such feelings and sensations, without coming to active duties and real usefulness; that it tends to produce a contemplative religion, accompanied with a sort of abstraction from the interests of this world, as respecting either ourselves or others; a sort of quietism and indifference which contributes nothing to the good of mankind, or to make a man serviceable in his
generation; that men of this description sit brooding over what passes in their hearts, without performing any good actions, or well discharging their social or domestic obligations, or indeed guarding their outward conduct with sufficient care.
Now if there be any foundation in fact for this charge, it arises from some persons holding this doctrine defectively; I mean from their not attending to one main point in the doctrine, which is, that the promise is not to those who have the Spirit, but to those who are led by the Spirit ; not to those who are favoured with its suggestions, but to those who give themselves up to follow, and do actually follow, these suggestions. Now though a person, by attending to his feelings and consciousnesses, may persuade himself that he has the Spirit of God; yet if he stop and rest in these sensations without consequential practical exertions, it can by no possibility be said of him, nor, one would think, could he possibly bring himself to believe, that he is led by the Spirit, that he follows the Spirit: for these terms necessarily imply something done under that influence ; necessarily carry the thoughts to a course of conduct entered into and pursued in obedience to, and by virtue
of, that influence. Whether the objection here noticed has
any foundation in the conduct of those who hold the doctrine of which we treat, I am uncertain ; accounts are different : but at any rate the objection lies, not against the doctrine, but against a defective apprehension of it. For, in confirmation of all which we have said, we may produce the example of Saint Paul. No one carried the doctrine of spiritual influence higher than he did, or spoke of it so much ; yet no character in the world could be farther than his was from resting in feelings and sensations. On the contrary, it was all activity and usefulness. His whole history confirms what he said of himself, that “ in labours,” in positive exertions, both of mind and body, he was “above measure.” It will be said, perhaps, that these exertions were in a particular way, viz. in making converts to his opinions : but it was the way in which, as he believed, he was promoting the interest of his fellow-creatures in the greatest degree possible for him to promote it ; and it was the way also which he believed to be enjoined upon him by the express and particular command of God. Had there been any other method, any other course and line of beneficent endeavours, in which he thought he could have been more useful, and had the choice been left to himself (which it was not), the same principle, the same eager desire of doing good, would have manifested itself with equal vigour in that other line. His sentiments and precepts corresponded with his example: “Do good unto all men, especially unto them that are of the household of Christ.” Here doing is enjoined. Nothing less than doing can satisfy this precept. Feelings and sensations will not, though of the best kind. “Let him that stole, steal no more, but rather let him labour with his hands, that he
to give to him that needeth.” This is carrying active beneficence as far as it can go.
Men are commanded to relieve the necessities of their poor brethren out of the earnings of their manual labour, nay, to labour for that very purpose : and their doing so is stated as the best expiation for former dishonesties, and the best proof how much and how truly they are changed from what they were. “ Let him that ruleth, do it with diligence.” This is a precept which cannot be complied with without activity. These instructions could not come from a man who placed religion in feelings and sensations.
Having noticed this objection (for it well deserved notice), I proceed to state the particular duties which relate to the doctrine of spiritual assistance. And the first of these duties is to pray for it. It is by prayer that it is to be sought; by prayer that it is to be obtained. This the Scriptures expressly teach. “ How much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him ?” The foundation of prayer, in all cases, is a sense of want. No man prays in earnest or to any purpose for what he does not feel that he wants. Know then and feel the weakness of your nature. Know the infinite importance of holding on, nevertheless, in a course of virtue. Know these two points thoroughly, and you can stand in need of no additional motive (indeed none can be added), to excite in you strong unwearied supplications for divine help: not a cold asking for it in any prescribed form of prayer, but cryings and supplications for it, strong and unwearied. The description, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, of our Lord's own devotion, may serve to describe the devotion of a Christian, praying, as he ought, for the Spirit ; that is, praying from a deep