“Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
and for the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.”—Rom. 15:30
The absolute dependence of a sinner for regeneration, and of the regenerate soul for the exercise, the comfort, and the availability of his regenerate gifts, on the influences of the Holy Spirit, will be taken as something of a discouragement unless guarded from misapprehension of the real truth involved in the case. The sinner frequently makes it an excuse for his idleness, and his refusal to use the means of grace. It is often cited by the enemies of the evangelical faith of Christians, as an argument against the doctrine of grace, that it cuts the nerves of energy and logically discounts the value of all human effort. But this objection in the mouth of a sinner only lies in his mind so long as his view of his own necessities is dull and incompetent. Just let his mind wake up to the real nature of the facts in the case; let him realize the peril of his position; and he will no longer make his dependence on the Spirit an excuse for inaction. Nay, more, just in proportion as his own efforts fail to give him relief, and he feels his need of help, he will only be all the more solicitous to gain any help he can find. He then finds out that his dependence on the Spirit, so far from warranting his inactivity, was the very thing to rouse him to action by placing help in his reach when his own exertions had failed. The difference in the matter is, that in the first case he did not understand his dependence, nor realize his own infirmity, and in the advanced portion of his experience he did fully comprehend both. The objection in the lips of a speculative opponent of the doctrine of grace springs from the same root—the ignorance of the real necessities of a sinful soul. When he denies the dependence of such a soul on the influences of the Spirit, he consistently denies the actual ruin of a fallen moral nature. As long as this is done, no matter by whom or on what pretext, there is no prospect of a gospel salvation.
The same feeling is sometimes found measurably discouraging the Christian. Whenever it does, it is due to careless living, and the consequent darkening of the gospel ideas before eyes dimmed by sin. The influence of the Spirit is the very provision made in the covenant to give success to prayer, to develop the whole series of the regenerate graces, and to unseal the gladness and comfort of the gospel; and, therefore, instead of being a discouragement to the feeble or back-slidden Christian, is the very thing which warrants him to hope, and animates him to energy in seeking for the restoration of his peace. It is equally advantageous to the eager and watchful Christian, yearning after stronger graces and more assured hope; for if the Spirit was not available for his help in seeking these ends, it would be vain to desire or expect them. To break down all this feeling of discouragement, and to replace it by the feeling properly excited by the offices of the Holy Ghost, we design to open one single consideration, which in itself alone is sufficient to accomplish this purpose, and to lead both the regenerate and the unregenerate soul to find encouragement instead of discouragement in their dependence on the Holy Ghost. We pass by the consideration of the official work assigned to him in the economy of redemption, and his zeal for the glory of the Godhead; we pass all references to his power or his faithfulness, although all these are powerful inducements to confide in him. We simply fix attention on the love of the Spirit; his infinite and tender personal affections towards the sinners of the human race; his great pity and compassion towards the victims of their sin; his delight in his work of bringing them to pardon, to peace, to the rest of heaven, and to the whole manifestation of the unsearchable riches, the freedom, and the resolute tenacity of his grace towards them.
1. Love is the emphatic attribute of God; it is that quality in his character which under one of its manifestations leads him to distribute good, not for any increase to his own blessedness, already perfect, but simply to widen the range of happiness in other beings beside himself. This attribute is so masterly an element in his infinitely complete being that it defines his nature and gives him his name, “ God is love.” It was this which prompted him to create; it was, at least, one of his ends; it is this that regulates his whole plan of creation, his whole policy of administration. Like all his other attributes, it is literally infinite in its strength, in its tenderness, in its patience, in its bounteous fertility, in its eagerness to bless. The large-hearted spirit of a benevolent man is a noble quality. The love in the heart of a great angel is a still higher form of the sweet and magnanimous feeling. As you rise in the conception of intellectual and moral being, this quality, an essential constituent of moral excellence, expands proportionally on the view. But in God it exists in the highest degree it can possibly reach; love cannot exist, nor any other conceivable excellence, in a higher or more perfect form than it exists in God; in him it is literally infinite. This lovely quality in him overpasses every conceivable or possible modification of it in any other being, actual or possible, as far as the infinite passes beyond the finite. God is love, and the Spirit is God; and our first step in the effort to form some notion of the love of the Spirit places us face to face with the fact that love in its illimitable and divine degree is his intrinsic, essential, and unchangeable attribute.
2. The love of God takes on its most wonderful and peculiar form in its application to sinners. He is infinitely holy; a sinner is a being morally polluted. To him this pollution is an essential horror and disgust. He is infinitely just; a sinner as a breaker of law is criminal, a being on whom justice has a claim, a claim to punish his criminal conduct; and God is bound by eternal rightness to do justice, no matter what justice may demand. Yet the loving-kindness of the just and holy one goes out upon sinners. The impulse is altogether what the impulse of love always is, to do them good. The instinctive feeling which springs up in a sinning soul is dread of God, because he is just, a being whose judgment must be graduated by the nature of the fact before him, and who must therefore seek to requite an evil with a result naturally and justly answerable to it. Such a result is necessarily the opposite of a benefit to the transgressor. This seems to present an issue on which a collision ensues between his love seeking a benefit to the sinner and his justice prohibiting it. But when the love of God takes on that peculiar modification which is called grace, the very thing which distinguishes it from every other modification of divine benignity is sin. How it could be brought into harmony with the claims of justice and holiness is the great wonder in the divine nature. This is that, as then, unknown and inconceivable mystery in the just and holy one, whose sudden display in the day of Adam’s fall confounded the murderous archangel, and filled all heaven with wonder and delight—. That God should love sinners and let loose on them all the tides of that infinite quality in his nature—on those who were an offence to his holiness, and the objects of his inflexibly righteous and true justice—this was the mystery of mysteries. Yet it was done, and it was so done that no claim of justice was sacrificed, no demand of holiness failed of full contentment. The redemption from the claims of justice was committed to the love of the Son; and we know how a dying Saviour redeemed us from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for us. The redemption from the inward power and pollution of sin in the soul was committed to the love of the Spirit. The love of the Father shone glorious in the proposal and contrivance of the whole wondrous plan. The grand sum of all the marvelous policy was this wonderful assurance to sinners of the human family, that the love of the whole Godhead, the love of the Father, the love of the Son, and the love of Spirit, the whole energy of an infinite attribute of love, was now turned loose, free from every restraint, armed with infinite power, and fully supported by infinite holiness, justice, and truth, to walk all the wards of the sin-sick soul, to save sinners at its own will. The love of the Son, the Paraclete for sin, confronts the miseries of guilt; the love of the Spirit, the Paraclete for all inward wants, confronts all the weakness and the wickedness in the soul. If, therefore, any sinner, seeking for peace and assured safety, is discouraged by the strength of the evil within him, and is dreaming of first accomplishing some preliminary purification within himself ere he will be fit to ground any appeal for help, let him endeavor to take in the meaning of the offices and the loving-tenderness of the Holy Spirit, who has charge of that work. It is only necessary to appeal to his power as the agent of the royal Saviour. If, therefore, any discouraged Christian, oppressed by conscious sins; by unbelief; by a hard heart; by a quick temper; by an unmastered overeagerness after worldly good; by any sin, is yet anxious to overcome these faults, let him not dream that he must wait to get the better of them before he applies for the grace of the Spirit; let him come at once for the grace to overcome them. If any eager Christian soul, sick of the infirmities, the weak graces, the mutilated comforts, the ineffective prayers, the whole imperfect service of his low and feeble spiritual development, desires to attain unto better things, let him at once renew his courage, and appeal to the Comforter. His infinite and most tender love has been put in charge of all the inward work needful to the healing of a sinful soul.
3. The love of the Spirit is displayed in a more or less effective way, literally upon all sinners in restraining the natural growth of their depravity and in thus limiting the desolating effects of it. He exerts a restraint upon every heathen soul, sufficient at least to preserve the moral element in human nature from being utterly eclipsed, and to make society, civilization, domestic life, and civil law possible. Sin is a powerful energy; it works towards all its natural results with a swift, relentless determination. It corrupts and breaks the force of the instinctive moral sentiments; it inflames the passions; it pollutes the whole nature of the sinning actor. Through this evil influence on himself it affects all the relations of the man—his social, domestic, business, and political relations. A certain amount of good moral sentiments, a sense of moral obligation, a perception of truth, honor, and justice, are necessary to bind the social structure together and make it workable, to make homes possible and trade possible, and all the interchanges and connections between men possible. But for the secret restraints of the Holy Spirit sin would have long ago broken up all human associations, and not only ruined civilization, but swept the human race from the face of the earth in the torrents of their own vices and crimes. To the love of the Spirit it is due that any man enjoys every benefit, every joy, every right, every comfort which the old and vast heathen peoples have ever possessed. To it it is due that there is such a thing as a respectable man, a being with any effective moral ideas, to be found anywhere. He alone prevents the utter depravation and ruin of the moral element in human nature, and preserves the mighty interests which are conditioned upon its preservation in some sufficient degree of serviceable working order.
4. The love of the Spirit is still more wonderfully displayed in his dealings with sinners generally under the gospel dispensation. The two great agencies in the conversion of sinners are, the truth revealed in the gospel, and the concurrent influences of the Holy Spirit. The truth alone is powerless to save; the Spirit, as a rule, only operates in connection with the truth. But wherever the truth comes the Spirit comes. Wherever the truth is neglected or repudiated the Spirit ceases to strive. But on whatever ear the truth falls the Spirit makes his way into the conscience and the heart. If he ever suspends his influence in connection with the truth, it is because the truth has been abused, and his own incitements to obey it have been presumptuously resisted. The glad tidings never fell on the ear of harlot, or gambler, or thief, or murderer, that the Holy Spirit did not enter, or endeavor to enter, the darkened and crime-haunted heart. He is always resisted, met at the threshold and rudely rebuffed. Satan and his satellites, viewless and unsuspected, are always leading on the unholy soul, quickening its evil impulses, stimulating its passions, obscuring the influence of healthful views, laying snares for the willing feet, mocking at suggestions of danger. Gaily the victim advances, seeing nothing but pleasant things in his lawless career. But the loving Spirit steps across his path, and lays his gentle hand on the deluded wanderer. Instantly blows are struck at him. The tempting angels put forth all their skill and cunning. The poor foolish lover of his own wild will pulls back from the loving hand of the Deliverer. But he will not yield; he makes his way in; and there, amid the darkness and the stench of excited carnal passions, his resolute tenderness, for days, and weeks, and months, and sometimes for years together, struggles for a foothold. Sometimes he will yield and go his way; sometimes to return and renew the conflict; and only at the last will he take his final flight, and abandon Ephraim to his idols. What a scene is this conflict of the Holy Spirit with the unholy passions of a human heart and the watchful angels of the abyss! What wickedness on one side; what grace on the other! What infinite love; what sweet pity; what eager compassion; what heroic patience; what resolute fortitude; what divine lovingkindness, does the love of the Spirit yield in this strife with and for an unconverted sinner! Yet this he shows in greater or less degree to every sinner to whom the gospel message comes. He shows it even to those who, he knows, will fight him to the bitter end. He shows the infinite love of his sweet compassion, not only to those who will yield to him, but to those who will go on in their sins, and down into the pit at last. No. words can tell the tale of the love of the Spirit, even to the most unholy and reckless of disobedient men.
5. But the love of the Spirit takes on its sweetest and most charming form in his dealings with those whom he resolves to regenerate and save. All without exception resist him; some he abandons to their own devices after a long and desperate conflict; but some he determines to conquer. Not because they are better or more worthy, but solely because of his own sovereign and distinguishing grace, because for reasons in his own wise and sovereign counsels his love burns for them into a higher and an intenser flame! He puts forth his strength; he rouses their fears, and intensifies their convictions of their sin until resistance is overmastered. He teaches them to pray in passionate earnestness; he makes them keenly desire his aid now, and to find the way to Christ. He gives them experimental knowledge of their own perversity, blindness, hardness of heart, and their helplessness in the dreadful strait. He keeps them under lights which reveal the delusions under which they have hitherto lived and acted. He overwhelms them by such a consciousness of their guilt, danger, and need of a Saviour, as to prepare them to appreciate the deliverance and the Deliverer offered to them. He breaks down all their self-righteous excuses. He then makes plain the way of salvation; he leads them to Jesus; he gives them the faith which is the fruit of the Spirit, and they pass within the muniments of the covenant of life. This act of regeneration is the first step in this peculiar manifestation of the love of the Spirit to the saints. Now comes the highest and most impressive of all its wonderful displays. It is called the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. It is always shown to every regenerate soul; it is begun in the act of regeneration which opens the way to his permanent occupation of the soul now pledged to eternal life by the act of faith in the Saviour. Until then his entry into the unholy heart, and his contact with all its pollutions, has been at will, not under the bond of any covenant engagement, most freely entered, most binding when made. He was free to leave as he was to enter before the terms of mercy were closed. The offer is, Believe, and thou Shalt be saved; and when the regenerate soul puts forth the act of faith the covenant is closed, and that happy spirit stands in new and invincible relations with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The promise to faith is a pledge of an absolute salvation, a salvation from sin as well as from its consequences. Its sacred assurance is, Sin shall not have dominion over you. This is not a pledge that all sin shall be destroyed at once and the soul made perfectly holy. If that were so, there would be no place for the peculiar display of the love of the Spirit to the saints; for he world then have a holy and a pleasant place to occupy. The promise secures a full conquest over all sin in the end, but only that sin shall not be master in the progress towards the end. Sin shall not have dominion; but this implies that sin shall still have a standing, and exert an influence, until the end of the natural life puts a period to the presence and the mischiefs of moral evil.
It will be impossible for us to appreciate suitably the unsearchable love of the Holy Spirit as involved in his indwelling in the saints, until we can form some conception of the state of a regenerate soul, in which the law of grace in the mind is perpetually confronted by the law of sin in the members. It is a scene of conflict, not of peace; a scene of evil as well as good, for the grace given is living grace, and the remaining sin is real sin, a power broken, but not destroyed; weakened, but still formidable; wounded, but still capable of long and desperate strife even against the Spirit of the living God. Into that chequered scene in every regenerate heart that holy agent enters to make good the pledge of the covenant, sin shall not have the mastery. He enters it not as a wayfarer who turneth to tarry but a night. He enters it to dwell there; he enters it as his home; he enters it as his workshop, the chosen place where his wonderful achievements are to be accomplished. He enters it under a covenant promise, more durable than the everlasting hills, to stay there and never to abandon it, until his work is done and the covenant with the believer is fulfilled. If he left, all would be undone. But the bond and security of his holding his place is the strongest that can be conceived; the faithfulness and the pledged veracity and honor of the whole Godhood, Father, Son, and Spirit. His love and zeal rejoice to confirm the grand guarantees of the covenant and the divine integrity. The very throne and life of the sovereign and immortal God stand not on a firmer basis, or under a more absolute assurance, than the permanence of the Spirit’s indwelling in the regenerate human heart.
But to appreciate the love, the faithfulness, and the delight of the Spirit in his work, we must comprehend the place where he dwells, and the nature of his activity in it. As already said, the power of sin is broken, but the evil still abides. It is there, with all the elements and particular evils which sin involves, just as it was before. The lusts of the eye and the pride of life still linger, weakened, but not destroyed; the new law is infused, a new energy is created in opposition to these evils, and a perpetual collision is inaugurated. But sin is still there, and sin is an infinite offence to a holy being, even when lying quiet and inactive; it is far more so when stirred into activity. Just as a foul pool shows nauseous to sight, and emits its odors slowly and faintly when in repose, but becomes far more offensive to eye and nostril when stirred out of its stillness. The Holy Spirit goes into a regenerate heart to dwell in the midst of sin, in habitual presence, and often in fierce activity. The Scripture symbols of a sinful heart are absolutely fearful: darkness, stony hardness, a cage of unclean birds, a den of serpents, a lonely cottage in the stillness of a desert, within whose swept and garnished walls, eight devils, supreme in wickedness, are holding an infernal revel, and making the midnight wilderness hideous with their appalling and malicious glee. This is the home of the Holy Spirit. By his side within the dreadful walls that “new man” he has created in Christ Jesus stands confronting the awful array in the armed attitude of watchful war—war to the beltknife. See the pale, resolute face of the spiritual man, crossed often by pangs of mortal fear, or wrenched with agony at some sly serpent bite, or pierced by some devil’s poisoned arrow or fiery dart, or anon stupefied and stiffened by some foul blast of air, or the touch of some foul wing, as the unclean birds slip through the shadows. Ah! can he win; can he come safe out of such a scene? Look at the grand figure at his side. The Spirit of the living God is dwelling with him and is in him; he is on guard. He is sitting in the fined posture of one who has come to stay. He kindles a gentle light, which qualifies the murky darkness, and shows the lurking figures of the hostile forces. His glorious face beams with serene peace, and kindles with infinite loving tenderness, as he supplies all needed strength and comfort to the tried and wearied soldier at his side. Now and then his mighty hand is stretched forth, and a stroke of sword or hammer falls on some over-insolent intruder, and at the touch the devils crouch and whine, the serpents writhe and twist, and the foul birds droop wing or slumber. Now and then he pours a fresher and a stronger grant of grace into his weary charge, and then songs in the night ring cheerily in the beleaguered fortress of the regenerate soul.
So it goes until the end; but the victory is assured by the presence of the divine indwelling Spirit. In one sense his perils are great; in another his safety is absolute. In one sense his trials are awful; in another his blessedness is unspeakable. His danger is in himself; for these vultures, serpents, and devils, which the poverty of human thought and words compel us to represent as in him, but distinct from him, are his own unholy energies and passions. His safety is in the blood and righteousness of Jesus, in the fatherhood and faithfulness of the Father, and in the presence and love of the Holy Ghost. But this scene of the Spirit on guard in a regenerate heart compels the question, if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? The same awful company are in his heart, but no indwelling Spirit of grace is found there to oppose and subdue the deadly mischief. The answer to the question asked can only be, they will appear the ruined victims of the infernal garrison; they will appear on the left hand of the judgment throne; they will appear in the long line of the devil’s captives, moving down to the iron gates; they will appear in the final scene riding on the waves of the lake of fire; for they have grieved and repelled the Holy Spirit, and he did not dwell in them. But his victorious love will finally exterminate the birds, and serpents, and devils of an unholy heart, and the soul, delivered by the love of the Spirit, will appear on the right hand of the Judge, on the highway to the gates of pearl, in the long procession of the King’s ransomed, and on the sweet fields by the river of life forever. All their fitness for this high destiny will be due to the love of the Spirit; their title to it, to the love of the Son; their opportunity for gaining both title and fitness, to the love of the Father. Salvation is all of grace.
6. The love of the Spirit is also powerfully illustrated by that delight in all his official work, in all its general and special acts in the regenerate soul, which is assured by that love itself. Love delights in its own exercises and its own offices. It would seem that such a constant dwelling in such a devil-haunted cottage in a wilderness, as we have just described, might afford room for the exhibition of the faithfulness and power of the Holy Spirit, but could hardly allow of his finding any delight in it. Perhaps this will account for the general recognition of the fidelity and strength of the Spirit, and the equally general scanty recognition of his love, the unspeakable tenderness and freedom of his grace. But we are emphatically assured of his love; and this certifies that his delight in fulfilling the will and counsel of the Godhead in his work in the saints is fully equal to the delight which the Son found in doing his part, and the Father in his. Although the Holy Comforter finds an amount of offence, which no mortal mind can conceive, in the pollutions of a soul only partially purified, yet, in spite of all, his loving heart finds an infinite complacency and delight in the work which he enters that heart to do. He is there on a mission of cleansing and healing; and he delights to do it. He is there to accomplish the grandest enterprise of the counsels of God; and he delights to accomplish it. He is there to defeat the malignant counsels of the kingdom of darkness; and he delights to do it. He is there to save millions of immortal spirits from an unimaginable ruin for eternal ages; and he glories in the mighty undertaking. He delights in the exercise of his glorious energies, in the indulgence of his infinite tenderness, in every part and specialty of his glorious office. He delights to awaken and arrest sinners as they are dancing along, devil-led, on the primrose path to the everlasting bonfire. He delights in raising the dead soul to life by his regenerating grace, as Jesus delighted his own sad, loving heart in raising Lazarus, and in turning the sorrows of the Bethany home, which he loved so dearly, into songs of rejoicing. He delights in teaching the dim eyes of his children to see all the things of Christ. He rejoices to seal, anoint, testify, lead, intercede, and give the earnest of the Spirit. He delights in all his work. He is never idle; never reluctant; never churlish in doing it. He is the Comforter, and delights in comforting; he is the universal Paraclete of his people, and delights for them to call him to their side in any of their times of need.
The love of the Spirit gives the full assurance of the absolute freedom and completeness of our access to the gracious influences of the Spirit. It is just as free an access as we have to the unsearchable riches of the love and redemption work of the Saviour himself. The symbols of both are the wide, free winds of heaven, sweeping every inch of ground in a continent, stirring every leaf in the forests, and every blade of grass in the fields; and second, the water, covering two-thirds or more of the planet in its oceans, piercing every section with its running streams, every nook in wood or mountain with its springs and falling rains, and entering as a principal factor into the composition of well-nigh everything that exists—vegetable, mineral, or animal. These are the symbols of the love and free grace of the blessed Spirit. This love on his part stands side by side with the command of the Father, and the pleading love of the Son, and unites with these in giving the grand assurance to every needy sinner, and especially to every yearning Christian heart, touching that wide and welcome privilege they have to appeal for any grant of faith, hope, clear vision, holy affections, of guidance, strength, patience, love, comfort; for any grace they may need. No regenerate sinner need want for any comfort in life or death; no unregenerate sinner need stay in the peril or bond of his sin for a single hour, since we all have such free access to the power and the tender love of the Spirit. That love is so marked with every high and winning quality of love in its infinite and unsurpassable form; it is a love so distinguished by its tenderness, by its infinite sweetness, by its grand energy, by its absolute fidelity and trustworthiness, by its tender, unweariable patience, by its wise and resolute faithfulness to every interest entrusted to it, by its zeal and fervor, by its boundless power, by its delight in all its work, by its complacency in all its glorious results—that there is really no excuse for any poverty or slackness of either strength or comfort in the gifts of the Spirit. He is so necessary to us, to our trust in the Son, to our confidence in the Father, to our reliance on himself; he is so essential to our success in prayer, to our understanding and compliance with the terms of mercy, to the guarantees of our hope, to the soundness of our graces; he is so important to our safety in temptation, to our comfort in affliction, to our satisfaction in life, to our usefulness in service, to our support in death; in a word, so vast and absolute is our dependence on the influences of the Holy Ghost that we need every possible encouragement to go to him. That encouragement is given by this wonderful love of the Spirit in as complete a degree as need be hoped or desired. Infinite love, and infinite delight in his work, discount all fear of refusal in appealing for his grace.
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