The Leading of the Spirit, an Evidence of Divine Sonship
William Nicholson, 1862
"As many as are led by the Spirit of God — they are the sons of God." Romans 8:14
To be a child of God, an heir of God, and joint-heir with Jesus Christ — is a privilege, the greatness and blessedness of which no human tongue can describe! Nothing is of more consequence to us, than to ascertain our state before God, in prospect of eternity.
This chapter, and especially the immediate verses, furnish sufficient tests by which to ascertain our character. Take verse 13, "If you live after the flesh, you will die!" Or the text, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God — they are the sons of God."
Do we live after the flesh?
Do we through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body?
Are we led by the Spirit of God?
Life and death are suspended on these questions. Spiritual death here, perdition hereafter — Divine sonship here, an eternal inheritance hereafter — are matters to which we may know our relation, by the answers which we are able to give to these questions!
I. The Character of God's People:They are "led by the Spirit."
1. It is the office of the Spirit to lead, guide, and instruct in the way of salvation. The Spirit is the third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, and of course invested with all the attributes of Deity — infinitely wise, powerful, good, etc., and therefore his guidance and teaching will be perfect.
2. The Spirit leads the sinner to a perception of his lost and ruined condition. "He shall convict the world of sin."
The methods of the Divine operation to convict of sin are various.
Sometimes by meditation upon some solemn subject,
sometimes by personal affliction and approximation to death,
sometimes by the death of some acquaintance or friend,
sometimes by the prayers of Christians,
sometimes by some sermon.
Some of these may be powerfully applied to the soul by the Spirit.
By such influence, Christ apprehends, lays hold on the soul, stops it in its impenitent progress, and causes it to "hear his voice." The solemnities of death and judgment are forcibly presented to the attention. The day of judgment appears nearly to commence, and the awful scenes of eternity appear near. The careless sinner is awakened to perceive his guilt and danger, and compelled to cry out, "What must I do to be saved?" As when the earthquake, and the opening of the prison-doors, accompanied with unspeakable terrors, impressed the obdurate mind of the jailer, and made him fall down at the feet of his prisoners, trembling and amazed.
Or the three thousand at the day of Pentecost, we read, "that they were pricked in their heart." Others, like the Ethiopian eunuch, and Lydia, are wrought upon in a more gentle manner — drawn with "the cords of love, and the ties of a man." All this is the leading of the Spirit.
3. The Spirit then leads to contrition, according to the promise, "They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son!" Zechariah 12:10
Sin now appears to the mind, as delineated there by the Spirit, in all its hateful qualities and effects, as that . . .
which has offended God;
which condemns, curses, and defiles the soul;
which separates from God, and consigns to the blackness of darkness forever.
The Spirit leads to "Godly sorrow, which works repentance unto salvation," etc., Matthew 5:4.
4. The Spirit then leads the sinner to a discovery of Christ as the Savior. "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you!" John 16:13-14
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." John 12:32. No radical or saving change is effected without the exhibition of this object. Nor are the terrors of the law alone ever sufficient for this purpose. They are sufficient to show the heinousness of sin, and the great danger to which the sinner is exposed, but cannot produce a complete renovation. "By the law is the knowledge of sin."
The law will reveal our disease — but the knowledge of Christ is a discovery of the remedy. The law denounces its awful sentence — the discovery of Christ points out the method of escape. The law at most is but a "schoolmaster to bring us to Christ." All saving influence and solid consolation springs from him, and from him alone. "The law kills," as the ministration of condemnation; it is "Christ who makes alive."
The revelation of Christ is in the Scriptures. But in conversion, the Spirit removes "the veil on the heart," dispels prejudice, and affords that inward and Divine light by which alone Christ is discerned for saving purposes. "It pleased God to reveal his Son in me." Galatians 1:16.
The minds of men, before regeneration, resembles a room, shut up and enclosed without windows. The light shines around with much splendor, but the room remains dark, because its entrance is obstructed.
Unbelief, love of the world, and of sin, pride, and prejudice — form the obstructions in question. "The light shined in darkness, and the darkness did not understand it." Paul was in this state before his conversion. His prejudices against the Gospel were inveterate — his hatred was violent and active; but no sooner was Christ revealed in him, than all was changed.
(1.) The Spirit reveals to the sinner, the greatness and dignity of Christ. Sinners have very base thoughts of Christ. They esteem him as "a root out of a dry ground." Paul had the most contemptible thoughts of Christ before his conversion. But after that, these mistaken views were corrected. See 2 Corinthians 3:16-18. Then he confessed Christ's divinity, and was enraptured with his glory. A saving interest in Christ appeared supremely valuable, his approbation supremely desirable. The knowledge of Christ, was accounted by him as the most excellent knowledge.
(2.) The Spirit reveals to the sinner, the power of Christ to save to the uttermost. The Spirit reveals Christ as . . .
the end of the law for righteousness,
the great atonement for sin,
the Mediator between man and God,
the fitness of his vicarious sufferings and death to our situation,
the richness and perfection of the provision which there is in Christ for our ruined souls. He reveals him as our "Wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption."
5. Consequently, the Spirit leads the sinner to the exercise of faith in Christ, that he may be saved. Feeling his state of guilt and ruin; being convinced of Christ's ability and willingness to save him — the Spirit further inclines him to venture his soul upon him and upon Christ alone.
He is led by the Spirit to cast away his doubts and fears arising from his vileness and unworthiness. He "believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and is saved."
He has faith in Christ as the great Prophet, the Light of the world, who saves him from spiritual darkness, and enlightens his mind.
He has faith in him as the great High-priest, who delivers him from guilt and pollution.
He has faith in him as his King, who subjugates his heart and fills it with the love of Christ.
6. The Spirit renovates the mind — deadens the soul to sin; and disposes it to holy obedience and love. John 3:3, 5; Titus 3:4, 5.
II. The Privilege of God's People:"They are the Sons of God."
Adoption into the family of God, is a glorious privilege. It is the result of the Spirit's influence. He has operated on their souls to bring them to Christ, and into God's family. None have a right to Divine Sonship, except those who are led by the Spirit.
They are the sons of God because they . . .
have complied with the prerequisites of adoption,
have been enlightened,
have sincerely repented,
have believed with their hearts unto righteousness,
and are renewed in the spirit of their minds.
Adoption is not a mere relation — the privilege and the image of the sons of God go together. A state of adoption is never without a separation from defilement. "Therefore come out from them and be separate. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." 2 Corinthians 6:17-18
The new name in adoption is never given, until the new creature is formed. Regeneration of heart, gives us a likeness to God in our nature. Adoption as a legal act, and gives us a right to an inheritance! Regeneration makes us formally his sons by conveying a principle of new life, 1 Peter 1:23; adoption makes us relatively his sons by conveying a power, John 1:12. By the one we are instated in the Divine affection; by the other we are partakers of the Divine nature.
The privileges of adoption are many and great. Consider,
1. The names by which they are distinguished, so expressive of their elevation and dignity. Once they were called strangers, etc. See Ephesians 2:19, 20. They were enemies, but being now reconciled to God by faith in Christ, they are become the "sons and children of God." They are not only a "chosen generation," but a "royal priesthood," and hence become "kings and priests unto God." And however unworthy they feel themselves — yet, "this honor have all the saints!"
2. "The liberty with which Christ has made them free." They were captives under . . .
the guilt and dominion of sin,
the tyranny of Satan,
the curse of the law,
the sting of death and damnation.
But they are delivered from all these. "If the Son sets you free — you shall be free indeed."
3. Inexhaustible provision and riches. All the blessings of a temporal kind that are for their good, shall be given them, "The LORD will give grace and glory. No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly!" Psalm 84:11. All the blessings of grace are treasured up in Christ for them, Ephesians 1:3. "All things are yours." 1 Corinthians 3:21, 22.
4. Paternal care and protection, "He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge!" Proverbs 14:26. As an earthly parent defends the members of his family — so Christ is engaged to protect and defend his people, Isaiah 32:18; Hebrews 1:14.
5. Free, certain, and delightful access to God as their Father, Romans 5:2; Ephesians 3:12. His children may come "boldly to the throne of grace," and God will hear their cries. 1 John 5:14, 15.
6. A title to the everlasting inheritance. Galatians 3:29. Christians are frequently called heirs. "Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory!" Romans 8:17; "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is!" 1 John 3:1-2
III. The People of God Cherish and Enjoy the Influence of the Spirit, and Thereby Evidence That They Are the Sons of God.
By the Spirit, sinners are not merely led to become the children of God, but led by the Spirit until they come into a measure of spiritual maturity in Christ. Ephesians 4:13.
1. They are sensible of their ignorance and weakness, and recognize the enlightening and strengthening energy of the Spirit. Ephesians 3:10.
2. They are careful not to "quench" or "grieve" the Holy Spirit, 1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30.
3. They frequently petition for that influence. Psalm 50:11. The Spirit has been promised, Galatians 3:14.
4. In the discharge of their duties, they are ever anxious to have the aid of the Spirit. Romans 8:26; Acts 2:4.
5. They have the inward witness of the Spirit, Romans 8:16, and the external manifestation of the "fruits of the Spirit," Galatians 5:22. This is to resemble God.
1. Mark the amazing love of God displayed in the privilege of adoption. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1
2. From the text, learn your own character and experience. If you are led by your lusts, your own inclinations, by the spirit and example of the world — then you are the children of Satan, etc. "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die!" Romans 8:13