by Octavius Winslow, 1852
No Condemnation in Christ Jesus
The Spirit Testifying to the Believer's Adoption
"The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." Romans 8:16
Having affirmed the Divine relationship of the believer, the Apostle now proceeds to adduce the divine evidence of a truth so great. He assumes that the actual existence of the believer's sonship, may, to his own soul, at times be a matter of painful uncertainty. This leads him to unfold the agency of the Spirit in authenticating the fact, thus at once neutralizing in the mind all doubt, and allaying all fear. "The Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God."
With regard to the first point; it is not strange that the fact of his adoption should meet with much misgiving in the Christian's mind, seeing that it is a truth so spiritual, flows from a source so concealed, and has its seat in the profound recesses of the soul. The very stupendousness of the relationship staggers our belief. To be fully assured of our divine adoption demands other than the testimony either of our own feelings, or the opinion of men. Our feelings sometimes excited and visionary—may mislead; the opinion of others—often fond and partial—may deceive us. The grand, the Divine, and only safe testimony is, "the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit." There exists a strong combination of evil tending to shake the Christian's confidence in the belief of his sonship. Satan is ever on the watch to insinuate the doubt. He tried the experiment with our Lord. "If you are the Son of God." In no instance would it appear that he actually denied the truth of Christ's divine relationship; the utmost that his temerity permitted was the suggestion to the mind of a doubt, leaving it there to its own working. Our blessed Lord thus assailed, it is no marvel that his disciples should be exposed to a like assault. The world, too, presumes to call it in question. "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not." Ignorant of the Divine Original, how can it recognize the divine lineaments in the faint and imperfect copy? It has no vocabulary by which it can decipher the "new name written on the white stone." The sons of God are in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, illumining it with their light, and preserving it by their grace, yet disguised from its knowledge, and hidden from its view. But the strongest doubts touching the validity of his adoption are those gendered in the believer's own mind. Oh, there is much there to generate and foster the painful misgiving. We have said that the very greatness of the favor, the stupendousness of the relationship, startles the mind, and staggers our faith. "What! to be a child of God! God my Father! Can I be the subject of a change so great, of a relationship so exalted? Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you should exalt me to be a king's son? Is this the manner of men, O Lord God?"
And, then, there crowd upon the believer's mind thoughts of his own sinfulness, and unworthiness of so distinguished a blessing. "Can it be? With such depravity of heart, such carnality of mind, such rebellion of will, such a propensity to evil each moment, and in everything such backslidings and flaws, does there yet exist within me a nature that links me with the Divine? It seems impossible!" And when to all this are added the varied dispensations of his Heavenly Father, often wearing a rough garb, assuming a somber aspect, threatening, and crushing; oh, it is no marvel that, staggered by a discipline so severe, the fact of God's love to him, and of his close and tender relation to God, should sometimes be a matter of painful doubt. That thus he should reason—"If his child, reposing in his heart, and sealed upon his arm, why is it thus? Would he not have spared me this heavy stroke? Would not this cup of suffering have passed my lips? Would he have asked me to slay my Isaac, to resign my Benjamin? All these things are against me." And thus are the children of God constantly tempted to question the fact of their adoption.
But the Lord has graciously and amply provided for this painful part of Christian experience in the Witness of the Spirit. The perfect competence of the Spirit is assumed. Who can reasonably question it? Is verity essential to a witness? Then is he most competent, for he is the "Spirit of truth." Essentially Divine, his testimony is to be received as of one whose truthfulness cannot be impeached. If he witnesses to us that we are born from above, and belong to the one family, then we may safely credit his testimony, and receive the comfort it imparts. Is it essential that he should know the fact whereof he affirms? Who so competent to authenticate the work of the Spirit in the heart as the Spirit himself? We, then, may safely confide in the truthful and intelligent testimony which the Spirit of God bears to our being the sons of God.
As to the great truth thus witnessed to by the Spirit, we are not to suppose that the testimony is intended to make the fact itself more sure; but simply to confirm our own minds in the comfortable assurance of it. Our actual adoption cannot be more certain than it is. It is secured to us by the predestinating love of God, and the everlasting covenant of grace; is confirmed by our union with the Lord Jesus, and is sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." But the testimony which the Spirit bears is designed to meet the phase of Christian experience just adverted to—the painful uncertainty to the children of God themselves, by which this truth is often enshrouded. It is not for the benefit of our fellow-creatures, still less for the satisfaction of God himself, but for the assurance and comfort of our own hearts, that the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. The testimony is for the confirmation of our own faith, and the consolation of our own hearts.
But the question arises, What is the mode of his testimony? In attempting to supply an answer, we must acknowledge that we have no certain data to guide us. Sufficient light, however, beams from his work in general, to assist us in forming an intelligent and correct idea of his operations. How, then, may we suppose the Spirit witnesses with our spirit? Not by visions and voices; not by heats and fancies; nor by any direct inspiration, or new revelation of truth. Far different from this is the mode of his testimony. We may gather from the measure of light vouchsafed, that he first implants within the soul the germ of spiritual life, which beneath his culture produces the "fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." From these we are left to draw the rational deduction of our adoption. If, for example, a child of God, with all lowliness of spirit, and after much prayerful inquiry, discover that, more or less, some of these effects of the Spirit's operation are developed in his experience, then it is no presumption in that individual, honestly and humbly to conclude that he is a child of God. This is the Spirit's witness, and he cannot gainsay it without wilful blindness, nor reject it without positive sin. The breathing of the renewed heart after holiness, supplies another illustration of the mode of the Spirit's testimony. The panting after Divine conformity is the Spirit's inspiration. Where, therefore, it exists, the deduction is, that the individual is a child of God. Thus, by begetting in us the Divine nature—by producing in us spiritual fruits—and by breathing in our souls a desire for holiness, the Spirit conducts us to the rational conclusion that we are born of God. By shedding abroad God's love in the soul by sprinkling the conscience with the atoning blood—by endearing the Savior to our hearts by leading us more simply to rest in his finished work, yes, to rest in himself—by creating and increasing love to the members of the one family, and fellowship with whatever is holy, and heavenly, and useful, he thus testifies to our divine relationship.
Nor would we pass by the harmony which subsists between the Bible and the experience of the sanctified heart, by which the Spirit witnesses that we are born of God. Whatever may be the mode of his testimony, it never contradicts the word of truth, but always is in perfect agreement with, and fully sustains it. As it is by the truth he quickens, and through the truth he sanctifies, so with the truth he witnesses. If our sentiments, and feelings, and actions are invariably and unequivocally opposed to God's revealed word, we may boast as we will of our divine relationship, we yet are self-deceived, and are "illegitimate children and not true sons." Is there in our lives a correspondence of Christian experience and revealed truth?
"I could not, without making my own doctrine outstrip my own experience, vouch for any other intimation of the Spirit of God, than that which he gives in the act of making the word of God clear unto you, and the state of your own heart clear unto you. From the one you draw what are its promises—from the other what are your own personal characteristics; and the application of the first to the second may conduct to a most legitimate argument, that you personally are one of the saved—and that not in tardy or elaborate argument either, but with an evidence quick and powerful as the light of intuition. By a single deposition of conscience, for example, I may know that I do indeed hunger and thirst after righteousness; and by a single glance with the eye of my understanding, I may recognize a Savior's truth, and a Savior's tenderness in the promise that all who do so shall be filled; and without the intervention of any lengthened process of reasoning, I may confidently give to the general announcement in the gospel such a specific application to myself, as to convey my own distinct and assured hope of a particular interest therein. Thus there is no whisper of the Spirit distinct from the testimony of the word. Thus there is no irradiation, but that whereby the mind is enabled to look reflexly and with rational discernment upon itself. And hence there is no conclusion, but what comes immediately and irresistibly out of promises which are clear to me, while they lie hidden in deepest obscurity from other men: and all this you will observe with the rapidity of thought by a flight of steps so few, as to be got over in an instant of time—by a train of considerations strictly logical, while the mind that enjoys and is impressed with all this light is not sensible of any logic—and yet withal by the Spirit of God, for it is he who has brought the word near, and given it weight and significancy to my understanding, and it is he who has manifested to me the thoughts and intents of my own heart, and evinced some personal characteristic within that is coincident with the promise without, and it is he who sustains me in the work of making a firm and confident application. In all this he utters no voice. The word of God made plain to my convictions, and his own work upon me made plain to my conscience—these are the vocables, and I do imagine the only vocables, by which he expresses himself; but enough to furnish any Christian with a reason of the hope that is in him, and better than articulation itself to solace and to satisfy the inquiring spirit of its relationship to the family of God." (Chalmers).
Nor is the comfort which the Spirit imparts the least evidence of our adoption. As our chastenings are marks of our sonship, equally so are our consolations. The kindly view the Spirit gives of our Father's dispensations—the meek submission of the will—the cordial acquiescence of the heart—and the entire surrender of the soul to God, which he creates, supplies us with indisputable ground for drawing a conclusion favorable to the reality of our being the children of God. There is a depth of sympathy and a degree of tenderness in God's comforts, which could only flow from the heart of a Father—that Father, God himself. "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him." Sweet to know that the correction and the consolation, the wounding and the healing, flow from the same heart—come from the same hand, and each bear a message of love, and a token of sonship. Is the God of all comfort sustaining, soothing, and quieting your oppressed, chafed, and sorrowful heart? Oh, it is the Spirit's witness to your adoption.
Bending to your grief, and associating himself with every circumstance of your sorrow, he seeks to seal on your softened heart the deeper, clearer impress of your filial interest in God's love. And oh, if this overwhelming bereavement—if this crushing stroke—if the bitterness and gloom of this hour be the occasion of the Spirit's gentle, gracious lifting you from the region of doubt and distress, as to your sonship, into the serene sunlight of your Father's love, so that you shall question, and doubt, and deny no more your acceptance in the Beloved, and your adoption into his family, will you not kiss the rod, and love the hand, and bless the heart that has smitten? One word in conclusion. Forget not that the inward seal of adoption is testified by the outward seal of sanctification, and that if the Spirit of Christ is in your heart, the fruits of the Spirit will be exhibited in your life. Then, thus meek, and gentle, and lowly, like the Savior; separated from the world, that you live not and joy not, as the world does—in the secret chamber of your soul you shall often hear the voice of God, saying, "I will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."