"The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we
are the children of God."
1. How many vain men, not understanding what they spake, neither whereof
they affirmed, have wrested this Scripture to the great loss if not the
destruction of their souls! How many have mistaken the voice of their own
imagination for this witness of the Spirit of God, and thence idly presumed
they were the children of God while they were doing the works of the devil!
These are truly and properly enthusiasts; and, indeed, in the worst sense
of the word. But with what difficulty are they convinced thereof, especially
if they have drank deep into that spirit of error! All endeavours to bring
them to the knowledge of themselves they will then account fighting against
God; and that vehemence and impetuosity of spirit which they call "contending
earnestly for the faith," sets them so far above all the usual methods
of conviction that we may well say, "With men it is impossible."
2. Who can then be surprised if many reasonable men, seeing the dreadful
effects of this delusion, and labouring to keep at the utmost distance
from it, should sometimes lean toward another extreme? -- if they are not
forward to believe any who speak of having this witness concerning which
others have so grievously erred? -- if they are almost ready to set all
down for enthusiasts, who use the expressions which have been so terribly
abused? -- yea, if they should question whether the witness or testimony
here spoken of, be the privilege of ordinary Christians, and not, rather,
one of those extraordinary gifts which they suppose belonged only to the
3 . But is there any necessity laid upon us of running either into one
extreme or the other? May we not steer a middle course? -- keep a sufficient
distance from that spirit of error and enthusiasm, without denying the
gift of God, and giving up the great privilege of his children? Surely
we may. In order thereto, let us consider, in the presence and fear of
First. What is this witness or testimony of our spirit; what is the
testimony of God's Spirit; and, how does he "bear witness with our spirit
that we are the children of God?"
Secondly. How is this joint testimony of God's Spirit and our own, clearly
and solidly distinguished from the presumption of a natural mind, and from
the delusion of the devil?
I. 1. Let us first consider, what is the witness or testimony of our
spirit. But here I cannot but desire all those who are for swallowing up
the testimony of the Spirit of God, in the rational testimony of our own
spirit, to observe, that in this text the Apostle is so far from speaking
of the testimony of our own spirit only, that it may be questioned whether
he speaks of it at all, -- whether he does not speak only of the testimony
of God's Spirit. It does not appear but the original text may fairly be
understood thus. The Apostle had just said, in the preceding verse, "Ye
have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father;" and
immediately subjoins, _Auto to pneuma_ (some copies read _to auto pneuma_)
_symmartyrei tOi pneumati hEmOn, hoti esmen tekna Theou_, which may be
translated, "The same Spirit beareth witness to our spirit that we are
the children of God" (the preposition _syn_ only denoting that he witnesses
this at the same time that he enables us to cry Abba, Father.) But I contend
not; seeing so many other texts, with the experience of all real Christians,
sufficiently evince, that there is in every believer, both the testimony
of God's Spirit, and the testimony of his own, that he is a child of God.
2. With regard to the latter, the foundation thereof is laid in those
numerous texts of Scripture which describe the marks of the children of
God; and that so plain, that he which runneth may read them. These are
also collected together, and placed in the strongest light, by many both
ancient and modern writers. If any need farther light, he may receive it
by attending on the ministry of God's Word; by meditating thereon before
God in secret; and by conversing with those who have the knowledge of his
ways. And by the reason or understanding that God has given him, which
religion was designed not to extinguish, but to perfect; -- according to
that of the Apostle, "Brethren, be not children in understanding; in malice"
or wickedness "be ye children; but in understanding be ye men;" (1 Cor.
14:20;) -- every man applying those scriptural marks to himself, may know
whether he is a child of God. Thus, if he know, First, "as many as are
led by the Spirit of God," into all holy tempers and actions, "they are
the sons of God;" (for which he has the infallible assurance of holy writ;)
Secondly, I am thus "led by the Spirit of God;" he will easily conclude,
-- "Therefore I am a son of God."
3. Agreeable to this are all those plain declarations of St. John, in
his First Epistle: "Hereby we know that we do know him, if we keep his
commandments." (1 John 2:3.) "Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is
the love of God perfected; Hereby know we that we are in him;" that we
are indeed the children of God. (1 John 2:5.) "If ye know that he is righteous,
ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of him." (1 John
2:29.) "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love
the brethren." (1 John 3:14) "Hereby we know that we are of the truth,
and shall assure our hearts before him;" namely, because we "love one another
not in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." "Hereby know
we that we dwell in him, because he hath given us of his" loving "Spirit."
(1 John 4:13.) And, "hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the" obedient
"spirit which he hath given us." (1 John 3:24.)
4. It is highly probable there never were any children of God, from
the beginning of the world unto this day, who were farther advanced in
the grace of God and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, than the Apostle
John, at the time when he wrote these words, and the fathers in Christ
to whom he wrote. Notwithstanding which, it is evident both the Apostle
himself, and all those pillars in God's temple, were very far from despising
these marks of their being the children of God; and that they applied them
to their own souls for the confirmation of their faith. Yet all this is
no other than rational evidence, the witness of our spirit, our reason
or understanding. It all resolves into this: Those who have these marks
are the children of God: But we have these marks. Therefore we are children
5. But how does it appear, that we have these marks? This is a question
which still remains. How does it appear, that we do love God and our neighbour,
and that we keep his commandments? Observe, that the meaning of the question
is, How does it appear to ourselves, not to others? I would ask him, then,
that proposes this question, How does it appear to you that you are alive,
and that you are now in ease, and not in pain? Are you not immediately
conscious of it? By the same immediate consciousness, you will know if
your soul is alive to God; if you are saved from the pain of proud wrath,
and have the ease of a meek and quiet spirit. By the same means you cannot
but perceive if you love, rejoice, and delight in God. By the same you
must be directly assured, if you love your neighbour as yourself; if you
are kindly affectioned to all mankind, and full of gentleness and longsuffering.
And with regard to the outward mark of the children of God, which is, according
to St. John, the keeping his commandments, you undoubtedly know in your
own breast, if, by the grace of God, it belongs to you. Your conscience
informs you from day to day, if you do not take the name of God within
your lips unless with seriousness and devotion, with reverence and godly
fear; if you remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy; if you honour your
father and mother; if you do to all as you would they should do unto you;
if you possess your body in sanctification and honour; and if, whether
you eat or drink, you are temperate therein, and do all to the glory of
6. Now this is properly the testimony of our own spirit; even the testimony
of our conscience, that God hath given us to be holy of heart, and holy
in outward conversation. It is a consciousness of our having received,
in and by the Spirit of adoption, the tempers mentioned in the Word of
God as belonging to his adopted children; even a loving heart toward God
and toward all mankind; hanging with childlike confidence on God our Father,
desiring nothing but him, casting all our care upon him, and embracing
every child of man with earnest, tender affection: -- A consciousness that
we are inwardly conformed, by the Spirit of God, to the image of his Son,
and that we walk before him in justice, mercy, and truth, doing the things
which are pleasing in his sight.
7. But what is that testimony of God's Spirit, which is superadded to,
and conjoined with, this? How does he "bear witness with our spirit that
we are the children of God?" It is hard to find words in the language of
men to explain "the deep things of God." Indeed, there are none that will
adequately express what the children of God experience. But perhaps one
might say, (desiring any who are taught of God to correct, to soften or
strengthen the expression,) The testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression
on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit,
that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself
for me; and that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled
8. That this testimony of the Spirit of God must needs, in the very
nature of things, be antecedent to the testimony of our own spirit, may
appear from this single consideration: We must be holy of heart, and holy
in life before we can be conscious that we are so; before we can have the
testimony of our spirit, that we are inwardly and outwardly holy. But we
must love God, before we can be holy at all; this being the root of all
holiness. Now we cannot love God, till we know he loves us. "We love him,
because he first loved us." And we cannot know his pardoning love to us,
till his Spirit witnesses it to our spirit. Since, therefore, this testimony
of his Spirit must precede the love of God and all holiness, of consequence
it must precede our inward consciousness thereof, or the testimony of our
spirit concerning them.
9. Then, and not till then, -- when the Spirit of God beareth that witness
to our spirit, "God hath loved thee, and given his own Son to be the propitiation
for thy sins; the Son of God hath loved thee, and hath washed thee from
thy sins in his blood," -- "we love God, because he first loved us;" and,
for his sake, we love our brother also. And of this we cannot but be conscious
to ourselves: We "know the things that are freely given to us of God."
We know that we love God and keep his commandments; and "hereby also we
know that we are of God." This is that testimony of our own spirit, which,
so long as we continue to love God and keep his commandments, continues
joined with the testimony of God's Spirit, "that we are the children of
10. Not that I would by any means be understood, by anything which has
been spoken concerning it, to exclude the operation of the Spirit of God,
even from the testimony of our own spirit. In no wise. It is he that not
only worketh in us every manner of thing that is good, but also shines
upon his own work, and clearly shows what he has wrought. Accordingly,
this is spoken of by St. Paul, as one great end of our receiving the Spirit,
"that we may know the things which are freely given to us of God:" That
he may strengthen the testimony of our conscience, touching our 'simplicity
and godly sincerity;" and give us to discern, in a fuller and stronger
light, that we now do the things which please him.
11. Should it still be inquired, "How does the Spirit of God bear witness
with our spirit, that we are the children of God,' so as to exclude all
doubt, and evince the reality of our sonship?" -- the answer is clear from
what has been observed above. And, First, as to the witness of our spirit:
The soul as intimately and evidently perceives when it loves, delights,
and rejoices in God, as when it loves and delights in anything on earth.
And it can no more doubt, whether it loves, delights, and rejoices or no,
than whether it exists or no. If, therefore this be just reasoning,
He that now loves God, that delights and rejoices in him with an humble
joy, and holy delight, and an obedient love, is a child of God;
But I thus love, delight, and rejoice in God;
Therefore, I am a child of God: -- Then a Christian can in no wise doubt
of his being a child of God. Of the former proposition he has as full an
assurance as he has that the Scriptures are of God; and of his thus loving
God, he has an inward proof, which is nothing short of self-evidence. Thus,
the testimony of our own spirit is with the most intimate conviction manifested
to our hearts, in such a manner, as beyond all reasonable doubt to evince
the reality of our sonship.
12. The manner how the divine testimony is manifested to the heart,
I do not take upon me to explain. Such knowledge is too wonderful and excellent
for me: I cannot attain unto it. The wind bloweth, and I hear the sound
thereof; but I cannot tell how it cometh, or whither it goeth. As no one
knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man that is in him; so
the manner of the things of God knoweth no one, save the Spirit of God.
But the fact we know; namely, that the Spirit of God does give a believer
such a testimony of his adoption that while it is present to the soul,
he can no more doubt the reality of his sonship, than he can doubt of the
shining of the sun, while he stands full blaze of his beams.
II. 1. How this joint testimony of God's Spirit and our spirit may be
clearly and solidly distinguished from the presumption of a natural mind,
and from the delusion of the devil, is the next thing to be considered.
And it highly imports all who desire the salvation of God, to consider
it with the deepest attention, as they would not deceive their own souls.
An error in this is generally observed to have the most fatal consequences;
the rather, because he that errs, seldom discovers his mistake till it
is too late to remedy it.
2. And, First, how is this testimony to be distinguished from the presumption
of a natural mind? It is certain, one who was never convinced of sin, is
always ready to flatter himself, and to think of himself, especially in
spiritual things, more highly than he ought to think. And hence, it is
in no wise strange, if one who is vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
when he hears of this privilege of true Christians, among whom he undoubtedly
ranks himself, should soon work himself up into a persuasion that he is
already possessed thereof. Such instances now abound in the world, and
have abounded in all ages. How then may the real testimony of the Spirit
with our spirit, be distinguished from this damning presumption?
3. I answer, the Holy Scriptures abound with marks, whereby the one
may be distinguished from the other. They describe, in the plainest manner,
the circumstances which go before, which accompany, and which follow, the
true, genuine testimony of the Spirit of God with the spirit of a believer.
Whoever carefully weighs and attends to these will not need to put darkness
for light. He will perceive so wide a difference, with respect to all these,
between the real and the pretended witness of the Spirit, that there will
be no danger, I might say, no possibility, of confounding the one with
4. By these, one who vainly presumes on the gift of God might surely
know, if he really desired it, that he hath been hitherto "given up to
a strong delusion," and suffered to believe a lie. For the Scriptures lay
down those clear, obvious marks, as preceding, accompanying, and following
that gift, which a little reflection would convince him, beyond all doubt,
were never found in his soul. For instance: The Scripture describes repentance,
or conviction of sin, as constantly going before this witness of pardon.
So, "Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 3:2.) "Repent
ye, and believe the gospel." (Mark 1:15.) "Repent, and be baptized every
one of you for the remission of sins." (Acts 2:38.) "Repent ye therefore,
and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out." (Acts 3:19.) In conformity
whereto, our Church also continually places repentance before pardon, or
the witness of it. "He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent,
and unfeignedly believe his holy gospel." "Almighty God -- hath promised
forgiveness of sins to all them, who, with hearty repentance and true faith,
turn unto him." But he is a stranger even to this repentance: He hath never
known a broken and a contrite heart: "The remembrance of his sins" was
never "grievous unto him," nor "the burden of them intolerable." In repeating
those words, he never meant what he said; he merely paid a compliment to
God. And were it only from the want of this previous work of God, he hath
too great reason to believe that he hath grasped a mere shadow, and never
yet known the real privilege of the sons of God.
5. Again, the Scriptures describe the being born of God, which must
precede the witness that we are his children, as a vast and mighty change;
a change "from darkness to light," as well as "from the power of Satan
unto God;" as a "passing from death unto life," a resurrection from the
dead. Thus the Apostle to the Ephesians: "You hath he quickened who were
dead in trespasses and sins." (Eph. 2:1.) And again, "when we were dead
in sins, he hath quickened us together with Christ; and hath raised us
up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
(Eph. 2:5, 6.) But what knoweth he, concerning whom we now speak, of any
such change as this? He is altogether unacquainted with this whole matter.
This is a language which he does not understand. He tells you he always
was a Christian. He knows no time when he had need of such a change. By
this also, if he give himself leave to think, may he know, that he is not
born of the Spirit; that he has never yet known God; but has mistaken the
voice of nature for the voice of God.
6. But waving the consideration of whatever he has or has not experienced
in time past; by the present marks may we easily distinguish a child of
God from a presumptuous self-deceiver. The Scriptures describe that joy
in the Lord which accompanies the witness of his Spirit, as a humble joy;
a joy that abases to the dust, that makes a pardoned sinner cry out, "I
am vile! What am I, or my father's house? Now mine eye seeth thee, I abhor
myself in dust and ashes!" And wherever lowliness is, there is meekness,
patience, gentleness, long-suffering. There is a soft, yielding spirit;
a mildness and sweetness, a tenderness of soul, which words cannot express.
But do these fruits attend that supposed testimony of the Spirit in a presumptuous
man? Just the reverse. The more confident he is of the favour of God, the
more is he lifted up; the more does he exalt himself, the more haughty
and assuming is his whole behaviour. The stronger witness he imagines himself
to have, the more overbearing is he to all around him; the more incapable
of receiving any reproof; the more impatient of contradiction. Instead
of being more meek, and gentle, and teachable, more "swift to hear, and
slow to speak," he is more slow to hear, and swift to speak; more unready
to learn of anyone; more fiery and vehement in his temper, and eager in
his conversation. Yea, perhaps, there will sometimes appear a kind of fierceness
in his air, his manner of speaking, his whole deportment, as if he were
just going to take the matter out of God's hands, and himself to "devour
7. Once more: the Scriptures teach, "This is the love of God," the sure
mark thereof, "that we keep his commandments." (1 John 5:3.) And our Lord
himself saith, "He that keepeth my commandments, he it is that loveth me."
(John 14:21.) Love rejoices to obey; to do, in every point whatever is
acceptable to the beloved. A true lover of God hastens to do his will on
earth as it is done in heaven. But is this the character of the presumptuous
pretender to the love of God? Nay, but his love gives him a liberty to
disobey, to break, not keep, the commandments of God. Perhaps, when he
was in fear of the wrath of God, he did labour to do his will. But now,
looking on himself as "not under the law," he thinks he is no longer obliged
to observe it. He is therefore less zealous of good works: less careful
to abstain from evil; less watchful over his own heart; less jealous over
his tongue. He is less earnest to deny himself, and to take up his cross
daily. In a word, the whole form of his life is changed since he has fancied
himself to be at liberty. He is no longer "exercising himself unto godliness;"
"wrestling not only with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers,"
enduring hardships, "agonizing to enter in at the strait gate." No; he
has found an easier way to heaven; a broad, smooth flowery path, in which
he can say to his soul, "Soul, take thy ease; eat, drink, and be merry."
It follows, with undeniable evidence, that he has not the true testimony
of his own spirit. He cannot be conscious of having those marks which he
hath not; that lowliness, meekness, and obedience: Nor yet can the Spirit
of the God of truth bear witness to a lie; or testify that he is a child
of God when he is manifestly a child of the devil.
8. Discover thyself, thou poor self-deceiver! -- thou who art confident
of being a child of God; thou who sayest, "I have the witness in myself,"
and therefore defiest all thy enemies. Thou art weighed in the balance
and found wanting; even in the balance of the sanctuary. The word of the
Lord hath tried thy soul, and proved thee to be reprobate silver. Thou
art not lowly of heart; therefore thou hast not received the Spirit of
Jesus unto this day. Thou art not gentle and meek; therefore thy joy is
nothing worth: It is not joy in the Lord. Thou dost not keep his commandments;
therefore thou lovest him not, neither art thou partaker of the Holy Ghost.
It is consequently as certain and as evident, as the Oracles of God can
make it, his Spirit doth not bear witness with thy spirit that thou art
a child of God. O cry unto him, that the scales may fall off thine eyes;
that thou mayst know thyself as thou art known; that thou mayest receive
the sentence of death in thyself, till thou hear the voice that raises
the dead, saying, "Be of good cheer: Thy sins are forgiven; thy faith hath
made thee whole."
9. "But how may one who has the real witness in himself distinguish
it from presumption?" How, I pray, do you distinguish day from night? How
do you distinguish light from darkness; or the light of a star, or glimmering
taper, from the light of the noonday sun? Is there not an inherent, obvious,
essential difference between the one and the other? And do you not immediately
and directly perceive that difference, provided your senses are rightly
disposed? In like manner, there is an inherent, essential difference between
spiritual light and spiritual darkness; and between the light wherewith
the Sun of righteousness shines upon our heart, and that glimmering light
which arises only from "sparks of our own kindling:" And this difference
also is immediately and directly perceived, if our spiritual senses are
10. To require a more minute and philosophical account of the manner
whereby we distinguish these, and of the criteria, or intrinsic marks,
whereby we know the voice of God, is to make a demand which can never be
answered; no, not by one who has the deepest knowledge of God. Suppose
when Paul answered before Agrippa, the wise Roman had said, "Thou talkest
of hearing the voice of the Son of God. How dost thou know it was his voice?
By what criteria, what intrinsic marks, dost thou know the voice of God?
Explain to me the manner of distinguishing this from a human or angelic
voice." Can you believe the Apostle himself would have once attempted to
answer so idle a demand? And yet, doubtless, the moment he heard that voice
he knew it was the voice of God. But how he knew this, who is able to explain?
Perhaps neither man nor angel.
11. To come yet closer: Suppose God were now to speak to any soul, "Thy
sins are forgiven thee," -- he must be willing that soul should know his
voice; otherwise he would speak in vain. And he is able to effect this;
for, whenever he wills, to do is present with him. And he does effect it:
That soul is absolutely assured, "this voice is the voice of God." But
yet he who hath that witness in himself, cannot explain it to one who hath
it not: Nor indeed is it to be expected that he should. Were there any
natural medium to prove, or natural method to explain, the things of God
to unexperienced men, then the natural man might discern and know the things
of the Spirit of God. But this is utterly contrary to the assertion of
the Apostle, that "he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned;"
[1 Cor. 2:14] even by spiritual senses, which the natural man hath not.
12. "But how shall I know that my spiritual senses are rightly disposed?"
This also is a question of vast importance; for if a man mistake in this,
he may run on in endless error and delusion. "And how am I assured that
this is not my case; and that I do not mistake the voice of the Spirit?"
Even by the testimony of your own spirit; by "the answer of a good conscience
toward God." [Acts 23:1] By the fruits which he hath wrought in your spirit,
you shall know the testimony of the Spirit of God. Hereby you shall know,
that you are in no delusion, that you have not deceived your own soul.
The immediate fruits of the Spirit ruling in the heart, are "love, joy,
peace, bowels of mercies, humbleness of mind, meekness, gentleness, long-suffering."
[Gal. 5:22, 23] And the outward fruits are, the doing good to all men;
the doing no evil to any; and the walking in the light, [1 John 1:7] --
a zealous, uniform obedience to all the commandments of God.
13. By the same fruits shall you distinguish this voice of God, from
any delusion of the devil. That proud spirit cannot humble thee before
God. He neither can nor would soften thy heart, and melt it first into
earnest mourning after God, and then into filial love. It is not the adversary
of God and man that enables thee to love thy neighbour; or to put on meekness,
gentleness, patience, temperance, and the whole armour of God. [see Col.
3:12-14; Eph. 6:11] He is not divided against himself, or a destroyer of
sin, his own work. No; it is none but the Son of God who cometh to "destroy
the works of the devil." [1 John 3:8] As surely therefore as holiness is
of God, and as sin is the work of the devil, so surely the witness thou
hast in thyself is not of Satan, but of God.
14. Well then mayst thou say, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable
gift!" [2 Cor. 9:15] Thanks be unto God, who giveth me to "know in whom
I have believed;" [2 Tim. 1:12] who hath "sent forth the Spirit of his
Son into my heart, crying, Abba, Father," [Gal. 4:6] and even now, "bearing
witness with my spirit that I am a child of God!" [Rom. 8:16] And see,
that not only thy lips, but thy life show forth his praise. He hath sealed
thee for his own; glorify him then in thy body and thy spirit, which are
his. [1 Cor. 6:20] Beloved, if thou hast this hope in thyself, purify thyself
as he is pure. While thou beholdest what manner of love the Father hath
given thee, that thou shouldst be called a child of God; [1 John 3:1] cleanse
thyself "from all filthiness of flesh and Spirit, perfecting holiness in
the fear of God;" [2 Cor. 7:1] and let all thy thoughts, words, and works
be a spiritual sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God through Christ Jesus!
[Rom. 12:1, 2]
[Edited by Connie Dunn (Academic Dean, Australian Nazarene
Theological College) with corrections by George Lyons for the Wesley Center
for Applied Theology of Northwest Nazarene College (Nampa, ID).]